Magazine article American Cinematographer

Visual Style for ONE DARK NIGHT

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Visual Style for ONE DARK NIGHT

Article excerpt

One Dark Night is a teenage suspense-horror film that blends several cinematographic elements. Each element was chosen for stylistic purposes to complement the story and to enhance the entertainment potential. Conceived by a visual director, Tom McLoughlin, and his co-writer, Michael Hawes, the stylization of One Dark Night began even as it was written.

A primary stylistic element was their intent to make optimum use of subject movement and camera fluidity. Frequent movement of the camera would accomplish three goals: i) give the film production value in excess of its actual budget, z) give the film an internal rhythm, and 3) draw the viewer more deeply into the suspense of the film.

A moving camera is effective in satisfying this last point even when the camera positioning is third-person-objective. This is because the movement of the camera creates a subjective quality due to the sense of "presence" experienced by the audience through the movement itself. What more simple visual device to draw the audience into a film than by moving them closer to the subject? For all these reasons then, in One Dark Night, from fade-in to fade-out, the camera is panning, rising, tilting, following, or tracking.

In writing the screenplay, Tom and Michael had sought to craft a genre picture for a particular audience. The project was organized and sold as a low-budget production, therefore the budget and schedule were fixed; there could be no overages. With this factor in mind, and considering the short daylight hours of winter, the time consuming special effects, and the high number of cuts needed to insure pace and tension, scenes were storyboarded before filming began.

This was an important decision for it enabled us to work quickly, each knowing the other's language, and having a tangible format from which to work. We were then able to begin the day with an organized structure, and because we had this reference we could easily adapt to changing conditions in weather or location without losing stylization or dramatic intent.

Normally on a film of this nature the zoom lens would be used to give the illusion of more set-ups. Instead, Tom and I both preferred hard lenses for clarity and a classic style; so in One Dark Night it is the camera that moves giving the picture a look beyond its modest budget. Carefully selecting technicians for contributive talent and personal interaction characteristics, we were able to average 13 set-ups a day for the 32. day shooting schedule. Told in two separate stories that dove-tail into one, it was decided to use two different lighting styles, thereby complementing the parallel form of storytelling.

The first story is about a psychic and his daughter. For this presentation we chose darker tones, letting shadows sink into eyes, and arranging sources of light to be more acute, and more discomforting. The second story reflects the innocence and youthful fotly of spoiled high-school students. Tom wanted these scenes fresh, bright, and very "up." For these sequences we used very soft ambient forms of light, more frontal in direction and more fully rounded.

Once the story began to propel the innocent heroine toward the inevitable climax, we retained most of this "fullness" for the other high-school kids, but let the heroine play in a mix of edgelighr and shadow. In addition to being a superlative young actress, Meg Tilly who played this roll is blessed with one of those classic faces that can "take the light."

The intensity of suspense in One Dark Night occurs when the heroine is locked in a mausoleum overnight. We were able to match-cut day scenes from the real mausoleum to our stage set principally through the design and construction work of art director, Craig Stearns. In addition to perfectly matching the marble walls and floors with fake marble and linoleum, the art department constructed a skylight to look like the one in the real mausoleum.

This set skylight was made of quarter-inch plexiglass lightly sandblasted to make it translucent. …

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