Shot in 24p high definition with a Panasonic Varicam and P+S Technik Pro35 adaptor with Ultra Prime lenses, the feature film Nightmare is a psychological thriller about a film student, Jason (Jason Scott Campbell), who in his nightmares is surrounded by a series of murders experienced in another life. He meets Natasha (Nicole Roderick), a beautiful, exotic woman who will be the inspiration for Jason to direct a movie where the surreal events in his nightmares will be portrayed in his film.
In 2005, the film won Best Feature at the Chicago Horror Film Festival, New York Horror Film Festival and Nolita Film Festival and was FanClub X.com’s Indie Film of the Year. Its run continues in 2006 as an official selection of the Brussels International Film Festival, Semana Internacional de Cine Fantastico Spain and Weekend of Fear Festival in Germany, among others.
Director Dylan Bank and producer-writer Morgan Pheme approached me to shoot this surreal psychological horror/thriller. When I read the script, I showed image references from painters like Ugo da Carpi, Giovanni Baglione, Rembrandt and Caravaggio — chiaroscuro was the key for most of the film, contrast between light and dark.
I envisioned a color film-noir style divided into two realities. I wanted to portray Jason’s nightmare, where he is in most of the film, with saturated color and contrast. Cold yellow, bloody red and green predominates on this chapter. For reality, I wanted to photograph with less saturation but more contrast. In some scenes the main character is in between reality and nightmare, and I mixed the two looks to express the confusion Jason had in his mind.
I explained my approach to Dylan, who was very open and gave me the freedom to execute it without being afraid of taking risks, and he supported me when I was pushing the limits of HD. He wanted a new look for the film, something never seen before. We viewed many David Lynch films, and mainly a film that was a bible for us was The Conformist (shot by Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC).
The photography of the movie is moody and contrasty. I mainly used a direct light source to emphasize the surreal world the characters were exploring. I rarely used fill light, and when I did, I bounced onto bleached muslin. The quality of light coming from bleached and unbleached muslin is unique.
Being my second feature film in HD (I shot many commercials and music videos in the same format), I asked many cinematographers how I should approach the lighting, and the response was always: “Use flat light and then you can fix in post.”