Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Filming of "Scared to Death"

Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Filming of "Scared to Death"

Article excerpt

Technical skill, ingenuity and a certain bravado combine to create a horror feature, complete with elaborate monster, on a very low budget

With all of the money going into elaborate special effects and ambitious set constructions, it's a wonder that smaller budget horror films are still viable. However, director Bill Malone and cinematographer Pat Prince, who recently teamed on Lone Star Pictures' SCARED TO DEATH, were able to create a special kind of atmosphere for their horror romp despite limited financing.

Much of SCARED TO DEATH takes place in a Los Angeles storm drain from where a loathsome synthesized monster launches its attacks on sleeping Los Angeles. Working in a rented warehouse in Northridge where storm drain sets were constructed, Malone and Prince searched for a lighting effect that would give the film a Gothic flavor, even though it is a contemporary piece.

Says director Malone, "One of the things I wanted to do was to keep the contrast level down on the film as much as possible so that our footage would reproduce well in 35mm and maintain its horror elements.

"We started out using a fog machine which drove everyone crazy trying to breathe, and we fogged most of the sets, letting the smoke dissipate so that there was a haze over everything. We'd experimented trying to find the best way to achieve this effect, and we found that real fog was much preferable to a fog filter. When someone was close to the camera they would be nice and clear and sharp, and anyone in the foreground would always be visible through that haze which gave them a certain importance."

To make their storm drain sets as realistic as possible, Malone contacted his wife's uncle who, ironically, owned a Los Angeles-based sewer construction company. Through this contractor, Malone learned about how sewers and storm drains are constructed, which materials are used and how the final product appears.

"Our storm drain is a little more elaborate and interesting looking than a real one," says Malone. "We added some pipes and fittings to make it look better, because in a real storm drain there is nothing more than a series of concrete slabs which are not very interesting.

"Actually, storm drains are nasty places, with black widow spiders and rats and any number of things, plus a lot of dead animals that fall down there by accident through little storm drain openings and gutters."

At one time, Malone considered shooting in a real storm drain, but this idea was abandoned since walls could obviously not be removed and redecorating was impossible. His decision was prophetic because when shooting began in February, a series of terrible rain storms flooded out most of the storm drains in Los Angeles. Interestingly, water seeped into the Northridge warehouse as well, adding a drop of needed realism.

What appears to be miles of storm drain is actually only forty feet of drain constructed on the warehouse floor, using wood sets loaned by filmmaker Bob Burns.

The set was not very long, but Malone worked with a number of "wild walls" so that changes could be achieved rapidly. Most people who see the film will never know that people are running down the same forty feet for about ten minutes.

As far as equipment goes, Malone was limited to a single Arriflex-SR, a small Stint Crab-dolly, one 1OK light, and a number of smaller 1K's and 2K's.

Says Prince, who had worked with Malone on an abortive Vampire project, "We had a lot of antiquated lighting equipment, but we were eventually able to work things out with some quartz lamps and the 1K's and 2K's. …

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