Moviegoers got a preview of the new Wrong Turn installment on January 26th, for a one night only Fathom Events theatrical screening. The film, written by the original 2003 Wrong Turn screenwriter Alan B. McElroy and directed by Mike P. Nelson, is now being widely released on VOD, Digital, Blu-ray and DVD February 23rd. The official description reads: Despite warnings to stick to the Appalachian Trail, hikers stray off course and cross into land inhabited by a hidden community of mountain dwellers who use deadly means to protect their way of life. Suddenly under siege, the friends seem headed to the point of no return — unless one man can reach them in time. The cinematography in horror films obviously plays a crucial role in creating the overall, menacing vibe, so we spoke with cinematographer Nick Junkersfeld and had him break down the look of Wrong Turn. Read the exclusive interview below.
Can you talk about how you got your start as a cinematographer?
My journey as a cinematographer began after attending a local Minnesota film school at the age of 30. I initially started the program to pursue editing. However, I quickly realized how exciting it was working onset with my fellow classmates, and I also found camera operation came quite naturally to me, so I changed my focus to cinematography. At that stage, lighting was a vast unknown to me, and so began a long journey of developing an eye and skillset for the art form, which continues to this day.
Was there a specific film that you saw that made you want to get in the business?
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) made the biggest impression on me as a child absorbing the many fantastic films of that era (E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Poltergeist etc.). The awe-inspiring visual character of that film made a huge impression on me. It’s the first film I’d seen as a child where I consciously appreciated the use of light as well as optical artefacts such as the beautiful lens flares throughout that film. One of its most impressive achievements is the use of light itself to represent the character of the aliens throughout most of the movie, no wonder it won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography that year (Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC).
Just knowing the previous films, most of Wrong Turn takes place in the woods. What are the pitfalls and benefits to shooting mostly in the woods?
Shooting in the woods, sometimes in remote areas and on a tight schedule brings with it a lot of challenges, and I would say that choosing our locations made the biggest impact on how well a day of shooting might go. Because the quality of light would inevitably change whether by the sun’s movement or by changing cloud-cover, I would look for locations with a dense canopy overhead to help maintain some amount of consistency of ambient light. That would then be pulled together for a more cohesive look in color-grading. We decided early on to shoot much of the film handheld both for flexibility while shooting in the woods, and because it suited the style of the film really well. Another nice benefit of shooting in a forested area is that you can reuse locations because of the disorienting nature of such an environment. It was simple to reposition an actor for lighting reasons, or simply to utilize a space in another way without fear of a continuity issue.
We read that you shot all of the scenes within The Foundation on anamorphic lenses, and nearly all of the other scenes on spherical lenses. Can you explain why this was done?
That was a choice that became clear to me shortly after reading the script, as I considered the chasm between the ideologies of the outside world, and The Foundation. The film’s director Mike P. Nelson was keen to find ways to differentiate the two worlds in a visual way, and we quickly agreed that shooting different lens formats was a tangible and effective way to do that. We shot older, more flawed lenses both for the spherical and anamorphic lens because I really wanted to use the qualities of those lenses (Zeiss Super Speeds and Kowa anamorphic) to add another layer of character to the film’s look.
–hen looking at Wrong Turn, what stands out most to you?
The Foundation itself is what stands out to me the most. The characters, the village and the subterranean tunnels beneath it all combine to create a sense of that community I’m really thrilled to have helped bring to life. From the first day, I was so impressed with the entire cast, and the cast of The Foundation in particular were critical to selling the idea of this hidden community in mountains. I think the actors did a phenomenal job of that.
How do you decide what sort of lighting you would like to use from scene to scene?
It’s a combination of logistics and creative necessity. We had to shoot and move quickly on this film due to the 26-day schedule, therefore much of the decision-making around the camera and grip/lighting departments had to adhere closely to that constraint. My approach coming into a project is to be open to all approaches regarding camera and lighting, and then let the script and director help me understand what the film needs. The advancements in LED lighting helped substantially in having flexible tools for this film, whether for their lightweight or the option to power them with batteries when necessary. In general, the scale of lighting on this film was small-to-medium. Even though I had access to some larger tools, we only used them in a few instances due to the tight schedule of the film.
You have collaborated with director Mike P. Nelson before Wrong Turn. What are the benefits of having worked together with him before this production?
The obvious advantage is the personal knowledge of each other, short-hand communication etc. However, it goes much farther than that – he and I are supportive collaborators in a very conscious and deliberate way. This helps us not only problem-solve and work quickly, but also to be willing to take chances and step outside of our individual comfort zones for the sake of the film. It’s a great pairing, and I’m excited to see where it takes us.
Did you and Mike storyboard all the scenes out as preparation? If not, what did you do before psychical production started? What does your planning phase look like?
He and I did shot-list the film together, some before principal photography and the rest during production. Our familiarity with each other helped tremendously during that process and made for a lot of enjoyable moments as we jumped around our hotel rooms explaining ideas to one another of how a scene might be covered. After reading the script and consulting with the director, my planning phase centers around choosing and understanding our locations, coordinating with the 1st AD, Gaffer, Key Grip and 1st AC to refine logistics, and finally to revisit the script in regards to those logistical details to find the best way to shoot the film. I do create overhead lighting diagrams when I feel the need is there to not only understand for myself how we might light a scene, but also to communicate clearly with the camera, grip and electric departments.
What are you most proud of with this Wrong Turn?
On a personal level, I’m very happy to have shot a feature film for the first time, and to achieve a goal Mike and myself had shared for a long time. On a larger scale, I’m amazed with the enormous amount of effort put forth by the cast and crew of Wrong Turn – it was an incredible experience for me, and I feel everyone involved gave everything they had to bring this script to life.
If there was to be a sequel to this installment, where would you personally like to see it go?
Well, we know The Foundation is still up there in the mountains, even if it has suffered a tremendous blow. I’d like to see where Jen is in her life at this point now that she’s a mother, and I think seeing her cope with a wounded yet vengeful Foundation coming for her again would be a great way to move the story forward…
Many thanks to Nick Junkersfeld for taking the time for this interview.