By Junsui Films | May 2012
The acclaimed Cinematographer talks exclusively to Junsui Films about the challenges of shooting a ’real-time’ horror movie for his latest film, SILENT HOUSE…
Junsui Films: How did you get involved in Silent House?
Igor Martinovic: Directors Laura Lau and Chris Kentis approached me to shoot a different film a few years ago, which was sadly never realised. But we stayed in touch and when they asked me to join them on Silent House, I didn’t even hesitate for a moment. Opportunities like that don’t come often.
JF: The film, a remake of the Uruguayan movie, La Casa Muda, is presented as a single, uninterrupted 88-minute sequence. What were your initial reactions when you first read the script and how aware were you of [Gustavo] Hernández’s original film?
I watched Casa Muda only once since I didn’t want those images to stick in my mind. Laura wrote a new script which had similarities with the original but was also very different in many ways, so once we started working on the film we never went back to the original. But [Gustavo] Hernández’s film is really well done and featured impressive work by cinematographer Pedro Luque.
JF: Tell us a little about how you and writer/directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau approached the challenge of executing a ‘real time’ horror movie.
Subjectivity was the core of our visual approach. We wanted the audience to feel present in the moment and a “real time” element was an important segment of that approach. The idea was to establish the camera as a witness of the horror Sarah is going through. Even more importantly we tried to portray the horror within her and that is something that often is even scarier than the violence that happens in the outside world.
Technically, the challenges were aplenty. The camera was such an active element of the story that we had to rehearse every moment in the film numerous times in order to be able to film it in continuous takes.
JF: How do you feel your work on documentaries such as Man On Wire and The Tillman Story helped prepare you for capturing the film’s sense of realism?
Silent House was meticulously constructed and there was not much that was left for chance. We rehearsed for almost three weeks and every move by the actors or camera was pre-planned. That said, we had to make an impression that everything happening felt real and not constructed. So we applied various documentary techniques – hand-held, natural, motivated light and focus that is not always perfect.
Talking about focus, we had an interesting challenge to solve. Since the camera was seeing 360′ and there were no marks for actors our focus puller (the amazing young AC Ludovic Littee) pulled focus off of monitor sometimes being over 50 yards from action. It was really important to create a sense of immediacy. The camera had to be ever present but the audience should not be aware of it.
JF: Let’s talk about the location. What were your impressions of the house?
The house was an empty building we took over, decorated it and transformed into a cavernous place. Laura was always talking about house being a representation of Sarah’s subconscious self.
We created a grid of light on the ceilings throughout the house. The film was lit the way theatre plays are lit with a lighting board and an operator hitting the various cues. One exciting thing about the house were numerous stairs that were particular challenges when you as an operator have to walk backwards sometimes even 30-40 times as we would repeat the takes.
JF: What was the most difficult sequence to choreograph?
The most difficult scene was when Sarah runs out of the basement and runs through the field. The camera follows her running for 200 meters. Sarah stops and a little girl miraculously appears behind her. A car stops to a screech in front of her. Then the camera enters the car and gets situated on the back seat. The car drives back those 200 meters and stops in front of the house. As the driver leaves the car the camera travels to the driver’s seat. After numerous cues with the trunk door opening and the appearances of shadowy creatures the camera travels outside the passenger door following Sarah and gets into the house. All that was to be done in one continuous take within a 20-minute window, since we needed to shoot the sequence at dusk. I think we shot that on three different evenings.
JF: Tell us about your interactions with the cast and more specifically Elizabeth Olsen who delivers an emotive and committed performance as protagonist Sarah.
Lizzy is an incredible, nuanced actress with extraordinary concentration and stamina. She didn’t only need to remember her lines but had to remember all the cues, moments when to stop, where to stop, where to look and when you have 30 of those in a span of 14 minutes it is not an easy task. It was incredibly challenging job for her and she did an amazing job.
The camera was an active element in telling the story and she completely understood how technically challenging this film was and she was always patient and supportive. The camera needed to be in complete sync with her and we often joked that we’re not filming but dancing together.
JF: And finally, what are you currently working on?
I recently finished shooting on a feature film, Sunlight Jr. a contemporary drama directed by Laurie Colyer starring Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon.