Enjoy post-apocalyptic survival films such as Bird Box and A Quiet Place? This week, New Era Entertainment (A new arm of Devilworks) released their own title in the subgenre you might like, F.E.A.R. (Forget Everything And Run). The film takes place in the desolate regions of the Pacific Northwest, and follows a young family who faces a group of bandits that steal the last of their supplies. With time running out, they must form an alliance with the outlaws to protect their children. There are many elements that stick out about this film, one of them being the cinematography by Jimmy Matlosz. While F.E.A.R. may not have the studio budget of the films mentioned earlier, the snowy landscape shots and interesting camerawork make for a visually pleasing film to watch. To learn more about how the film was shot, we spoke with Jimmy in the exclusive interview below. F.E.A.R. is available now on all digital sites.
First off, can you briefly explain what some of your responsibilities were as cinematographer for F.E.A.R.?
First and foremost, once you have met the producers and director and they agree you’re the right person to shoot their film, you have to find crew, this includes Camera department 1st Ac, 2nd Ac, DIT (if you’re lucky), Key Grip and Gaffer. For me, I prefer to hire the keys and then let the keys hire their crew that works under them, this process has worked well for me in the past, thinking that most keys would hire crew that would support them through any job. Of course, this is all relative to budget as well, in this case, we were so low budget we wouldn’t qualify for a union shoot even if we wanted to, so this makes finding qualified personnel more challenging. In this case my usual crew could not do the job, so I had to hire a group of people I knew nothing about and never worked with before. During that process, its tech scouts, discussing lighting, mostly natural light, what is the trajectory of the sun? How long or short are our days, and where are we shooting. On this film, I utilized the natural sun as much as possible for interiors and of course as well as exteriors. Making sure the talent is always back lit, never front lit and establishing that this is a rule I will push to keep constant and work with the director for the best blocking for the best lighting. During all that, we may discuss films which have influenced, but perhaps more than anything, the pitfalls we’d like to avoid, how the set will be run and what we all expect from one another each day. It’s my job to accentuate or add to the directors and writer’s vision as well as to accommodate and enhance the performances by the actors. I know long winded answer… and that isn’t all.
There is a lot of snow in the film. Was that thoroughly planned out or unexpected? If unexpected, did that change the way the film was lit?
Well, we hoped for snow, it’s in the script, what we had over the 3-week shoot was a blizzard on day 1, warm temps, rain, and freezing cold, on that first day the snow really enhanced the look of that scene in a million-dollar way, it also changed the blocking for me in a better way, you’d have to ask the director(s) if it helped them. Lastly it caused us to have to light scenes that would have relied on natural light, still a perk though, as the lighting was just accents. What this did do for the entire crew, was to bring us all together in a bonding moment, we were all working together to help one another out, to layout a complex camera move and some intense dialogue, it really brought home that we were fast becoming a family on a film that will look pretty cool.
What did you do to prepare for F.E.A.R.? Did you create storyboards?
Personally, I had less than 2 weeks to prepare, Jason Tobias, who wrote the film, had prepared a pitch deck with visuals and movie references, luckily his aesthetic was one of which I am quite fond, additionally I had seen a re-issue of the John Carpenter’s The Thing at the Dolby theater in LA, during prep, this was quite inspiring for where we were heading and what we could do, granted we had about 2% of their 1982 budget. Otherwise, I bought a jacket, shoes and socks. As for storyboards, I don’t recall any boards, but Geoff and Jason would block out every scene on Geoff’s iPad the night before, they quickly had a grasp of how I would capture the film so they often left room for camera moves and placement based on intuition and homework.
What was the relation between the storyline of F.E.A.R. and the cinematographic techniques, moods, or styles you employed?
Post-apocalyptic is a highly sought-after genre for many DP’s, we get to put our education to work and make cool dramatic and contrasty films. We get to let shadows go darker and add more mystery in camera moves and placement. You get to experiment, but well within the storyline and look of the film. For F.E.A.R. I was lucky that Jason led the production design with his own hand on set, there wasn’t a single corner or wall that didn’t look great, which allowed me to light bigger, more intense and more importantly without concern of making spaces work that don’t. But to that, it allowed me to move the camera freely, instead of adding a lot of cuts, we were able to fly the camera around following dialogue and characters, leading the audience. Having a set that I could film on average 160 degrees, but in more than one case 360 degrees helps with storytelling, intensity and mystery, it makes the world feel real and tangible, which hopefully gives the viewer an immersive feeling
What was the biggest challenge with shooting F.E.A.R.?
Budget and time are always your biggest challenges, never enough of either, and this is for me as a DP, the actors and the director. F.E.A.R. was planned out with precision by Jason, Geoff, Xavier our 1st AD and Anna our line producer. Overall, the film went so well, when I try and reflect on challenges I come up blank outside of yes more time and money.
As a cinematographer, what would you say is your signature style?
I like to profess my style meets the needs of the production, to be a chameleon, to avoid bringing undo attention to camera and lighting. I have always enjoyed lighting to an enhanced tangible reality, this goes back to college when I was just barely learning, to take what is naturally there and enhance it to make it cinematic, to heighten the experience. I am very much about motivated lighting and sources, lighting that feels natural, but also the most subtle hint to the viewer of where they should be looking, what is important and how the quality of light enhances the dialogue, the actor and the film on a whole. At the same time there is a cheeky side of me, that likes to play with random lights in a scene too, and this cue comes at random times working on a set. It might be something like, throw a magenta light way over there on that painting, I have no idea why, but let’s try it, I’ll then check with the director to get their input to be sure it fits their vision and works for them, I’d wager there are a couple of those in F.E.A.R. that I have since forgotten about.
Do you have a favorite camera that you like to use? Why?
I have 2 favorite cameras for films, any Arri Alexa and Panasonic Varicam. Both are amazing and very reliable in that I know where my parameters are and what my limitations and capabilities are which means I can then riff all day with lighting and movement. When there are great choices, I don’t want to be limited because someone owns a camera or got a deal on a camera that is subpar. So in justifying my use of these cameras it is summed up very simply. Skin tones; how does the camera render a wide variety of skin tones in a wide variety of lighting situations, highlights; how well does the camera handle overexposure, blacks; how well does the camera handle the absence of light, with both of these cameras, I know I can light to eye and adjust with a meter to dial in a look and move the camera freely without compromise or fear of the camera could fail me.
You also work in stop motion cinematography. On your website you have the end credits to The Huntsman: Winter’s War. Can you talk about your work on those end credits? What exactly did you do?
That is two ends of the spectrum, stop motion and extreme high speed, but here goes, I was so lucky to work on The Nightmare Before Christmas with the amazing cinematographer Pete Kozachik, that catapulted my career and taught me things I take to every shoot regardless of speed. After that show about every 6-8 years I get a call for a stop motion shoot, the first was Oedipus, to my knowledge the first ever animated short shot on a DSLR and projected in 35mm , the film premiered at Sundance and garnered me a couple of awards, after that was an episode of My Name Is Earl, ‘Robbed a Stoner Blind’ and lastly was Escape, a project for Dolby Labs, where I shot the sets with a DSLR mounted to a massive moco arm and the characters were added in post. So after my stint on Nightmare, I returned to LA and my training as a High Speed Camera Technician, I went from shooting 60 frames in 10 hours to 2500 per second. In a way it was my way of learning all there was to be had in regards to shooting the motion image. As time progressed and I built my reputation and demo reel, I began to land more and more jobs as a cinematographer and become known as an expert on High Speed Cinematography, I even wrote the chapter for the Visual Effects Society handbook on the discipline. Sorry for the long answers here, anyway, a few years ago, I got a call from The Mill to shoot the credit sequence for a new film, that film turned out to be Snow White and The Huntsman, I understand Greig Fraser, the cinematographer on the film, was quite pleased with my work as I heard was the President of Universal. We shot a few terabytes of footage with actual props, I do recall with my lighting, I intended to match the color and tone that Grieg had delivered in the film, while producers recommended I just shoot as is and they could manipulate (fix) it later, but before that conversation concluded, my gaffer and I had created a proper look in camera that paid homage to the beautiful work we see in the film, I also used a lens baby on that shoot with the Phantom 4k camera, which was fun for director Henry Hobson. So after that, when the sequel returned I was again commissioned to lens that credit sequence adding in The Bolt, high speed motion control to enhance the experience.
You have worked on commercials for Nike, United Airlines and Ford to name a few companies. What would you say is the biggest difference between working on a commercial opposed to a feature film?
The budget, lol… and time, but I don’t mind. I’m going to paraphrase a quote I heard from Zack Snyder once, ‘it’s not my goal to be the most amazing commercial guy, but to make great movies’ something like that, but you get the idea. At the same time, I didn’t go to a proper film school, much of what I learned was on set through observation, a lot of reading and application of technique. I lit music videos and short films by myself with no crew, just a couple of china balls and par cans, meanwhile I then head on over to a Nike shoot and have a crew of 100 and I’m burning 350,000 thousand watts of light to shoot Lebron at 1000fps. I love applying all this knowledge in so many different ways. It really is just way to much fun, especially when you can see it in your head and you know the tools to use and how to apply them, to light a scene once and to be satisfied, sans a few tweaks of course. But moving forward I am very focused on features and narrative, this has been my quest, my holy grail, a 30-year overnight success, a culmination of everything I have learned and everyone I have learned from. I do believe that every experience I have had applies to every job I have had, whether it be stop motion, high speed, a commercial, a documentary or narrative, I feel extremely fortunate, perhaps like a musician would who was lucky enough to play 20 different styles of music with 100’s of different musicians, somewhere in there you’re gonna learn a lot!
Many thanks to Jimmy Matlosz for taking the time for this interview.