Blackout / Collin Brazie and Larry Fessenden

Episode #123

Blackout / Collin Brazie and Larry Fessenden

SPONSORED BY: The ASC Master Class

In this episode of the American Cinematographer Podcast, cinematographer Collin Brazie and writer/director/producer Larry Fessenden talk about their work on the feature film Blackout, starring Alex Hurt as Charlie, a tortured man with a dark secret — he's a werewolf — and he might be the only one who can put an end to the random acts of violence plaguing the idyllic hamlet of Talbot Falls.


Collin Brazie received his MFA in Cinematography from Chapman University and has since worked in commercials, TV shows, and on feature films including Retake, All I Need and Foxhole (read AC’s coverage here).

As a director, Larry Fessenden is notable for his contemporary take on vampires in Habit (1995), Algonquin spirits in Wendigo (2001), and Frankenstein's Monster in Depraved (2019). He has produced dozens of films including The House of the Devil, Wendy and Lucy and The Comedy. As an actor, he has appeared in more than 100 films, including River of Grass, Bringing Out the Dead and Broken Flowers. In 1985, he established Glass Eye Pix and launched the careers of filmmakers including Kelly Reichardt, Ty West and Jenn Wexler.


Iain Marcks: All right, Larry and Collin, so, when did the two of you start working together?

Larry Fessenden: I'll start. My son, Jack Fessenden, is a precocious filmmaker. When he was, I don't know, 19, we were making a film called Foxhole, which he had written, and we were looking for a DP. Jack had done a lot of work with me and was yearning for a new collaborator. Obviously, there's the father-son dynamic, but furthermore, he just wanted to have someone that he could talk to and discover the film with. So our old comrade Jesse Locascio, who is the greatest AC you'll ever encounter, recommended Collin, and we looked at Collin's, a website and gave him a call. And on very short notice, hired him. And he came in and was exactly what Jack had hoped for: a tremendous collaborator, and I saw them work together. And obviously I had my nose in the business of moving that film along. So, I was able to also enjoy Collin's work and we all work together nicely. And we made Collin stay at our house. So, well, we invited him as if to be nice, but really what we wanted was to work through the night on the shortlist for the next day. So we've had a very nice, intimate experience. And I realized when I was going to make Blackout, maybe I'd want to continue exploring that relationship. I like working with familiars, and they also know my style, which is maybe similar to Jack's although I will find that interesting to hear Collin's opinion of it, but you know, I do map out the shots so there's a certain probably claustrophobia working with me. But then from there, I think I'm hoping that the DP can be expressive, and we had a lot of common films that we love. I mean, how many more times can we watch Fargo together, Collin?

Iain Marcks: Collin, you were familiar with the Fessenden brand before you did Foxhole, right?

Collin Brazie: Yeah, actually, I mean, yes, I was familiar with Larry and some of his films and some of the stuff that he had, you know, been working on producing, acting in. I think I was probably most familiar with some of the stuff that he'd done like 10, 12 years ago now, films like Stake Land, I Sell the Dead, Ti West's early stuff. And then some of the stuff that he acted in, you know, some of the Joe Swanberg stuff, the Jim Jarmusch stuff, some of that like indie horror that was really prevalent in like the late aughts and like early ’20-teens, you know, Larry has a pretty big reach as far as the network of independent filmmakers that he's, you know, touched along the way and helped out along the way.

Iain Marcks: Larry, how would you describe your style of filmmaking?

Larry Fessenden: Well, of course, you're not supposed to have a style but what I find is that I'm very interested in the rhythms of films. There are many ways to make films I'm not saying this is the only way but it's how I make films, which is to say that I'm writing to shoot shooting to edit and the edit is the real film for me, needless to say, the better the material you have, the more exciting, but I do map it out like a Hitchcock approach. But that's just the structure under which my collaborators then can dive in and make suggestions. And we go from there. So my style is, as I say, it's about the rhythm of the film. We'll get into it later, I'm sure. But for example, at the end of act one, we have a beautiful long shot that cost a great deal of money that is on a crane. And I just felt it was sort of a reset from the chaos that we've shown, it's a werewolf film, so we have night terrors and sort of long languid days. And so it all had to do with the rhythms, and I ended up in the edit... My idea is to make a film that feels very subjective to the character at hand. In fact... There's also the tension between subjective and the objective where there's an indifferent camera.

Iain Marcks: What role the collaborator play in your creative process?

Larry Fessenden: Well, if they have a different perspective, they're immediately invited to leave the production. I demand complete conformity to my ideas. I mean, as I say, I do feel the way I speak about film is, what do we say, Collin? Safety first, the film is second, and egos are third. So ironically, I tried to take my own ego out of it in the sense that I am serving the movie, the vision that you know, has accumulated through the writing process and the... Even in the writing, I'm sort of mapping out the rhythm of the shots. So, I bring that, and then that's when the conversation begins. And I really want to, in a sense, seduce the collaborator, the DP in this case, but even the art department goes through the same hell of conforming to what I'm looking for. So with Collin, we would then go through every scene, and I would pitch my idea. And then he would say, Well, what about this, and of course, I can't wait to have a better idea. God knows. So, that's really where the fun starts. And I think that's where my DP will take ownership of the movie. And what I really love is that we've all internalized the ideas, because the fact is, we're working with no money at all. And very often, we haven't even gotten permission to shoot in these locations beyond a handshake deal. So we need to be very nimble. And you ask one other thing, and then I can shut up. My wife made this joke that when I shot a movie in Iceland, all the crew spoke in Icelandic. And she said, That was obviously really good for me because I couldn't eavesdrop and try to fix every problem. So, I just am very meddling, and I'm trying to make people enjoy their experience. And I'm trying to get what I want. So, there's a lot of discovery on the set. And I do care about everyone feeling engaged. And it's a funny thing, because in the modern world, their cell phones and you know, the- I always have a tiny little heartbreak when a crew member pulls out a cell phone, I'm like, because in the old days, you'd all be watching every take, because you'd be bored. What else would you do? But you... I feel like there was this impulse to engage a little bit more with them. It's even the PA, you know, has nothing to do but to look at the movie being made, and then maybe will make a suggestion. There's so many great moments when some random PA says, ‘Hey, well, well, what if this?’ And, you know, you know what? That's fantastic.

Collin Brazie: Yeah, I mean, echoing what Larry said, I mean, just as far as like the process, we shot in the fall, and we did have a nice amount of prep time, we prepped a lot throughout the summer off and on. And like Larry said, you know, he does kind of have a Hitchcockian approach to things, you know, where he, you know, the rhythm, and the editing is very important to him in his process. One thing that I really appreciate about Larry and his approach, once we're on set is, even though we've gone through each scene and kind of mapped out, you know, how we think it'll play out. And what we'd like to do with it, assuming that doesn't have you know, some sort of big piece of equipment or big piece of setup is that he is very open, just like finding things on set, I think he is a bit of a jazz musician in that way, where he's able to kind of adapt to what's going on in the situation. And he's not afraid to, you know, let an actor try something new and try something different. And he's not afraid to, like, you know, let a shot, you know, play out. But I also appreciate, you know, the amount of prep that we were able to put in because, again, when you're working with very little money, I think it pays off to prep as much as possible. That goes a long way when you're on set and making your days and you know, needing to wrap locations like we were on multiple days, when you’re über-prepared, I think it then allows you to sort of take a step back and, and let things play out maybe a little bit differently, because you feel confident.

Iain Marcks: How much preparation went into this film?

Collin Brazie: Larry, I mean, correct me. I mean, we kind of prepped throughout the summer. So I mean, we weren't prepping for three months straight or anything like that. But you know, we would prep for a week here week there, I think throughout the summer, and then we shot in September, October, right, Larry?

Larry Fessenden: Well, the other thing, no matter how many movies I've made, I love to ramp into a film and, once again, I try to let the film speak to me. Now the whole thing is you're making a werewolf movie. You want to be sort of aware of the cycles of the moon and all these other things. I mean, if you're making art, you want to be in touch with other things. So, I wanted to film, I think we filmed on a full moon in August. And the idea was that it would still feel like summer. Because it happened three months prior in our story. So, that was a wonderful thing, it was literally just a two-day shoot wasn't even our full crew, which, our full crew was not really a full crew. But it was the two kids that get killed in the sex scene. And that was a fun anxiety to have. And then was the first time we showed the werewolf. And the irony is that it was really a makeup test. And it's one of my favorite monster looks in the film. But it looks different, because we were still working out some ideas. And that works for my vision of monsters that sort of shape shift in front of your eyes, because I'm trying to key into the psychological essence of them. So, if the werewolf looks, you know, randy in one and like a little different than another, that's all sort of part of it. So, this all played nicely for us. And, of course, it had a great moment for the actor as well. Alex Hurt was now on set in the makeup. And he's holding the naked woman bleeding from the neck and I said, ‘Oh, man, this is fantastic. Just howl, howl!’ And he howled. And all the coyotes in the whole county responded! And it was just, I mean, for him it set the whole movie up.

Iain Marcks: Larry, you said before that you were making art...

Larry Fessenden: Not to be pretentious.

Iain Marcks: No, but really, is that how you see yourself, as an artist making art?

Larry Fessenden: I mean, there's no question that I'm putting communication with an audience, I'm putting form over any kind of commercial consideration. It's not because I'm just too cool for school, but I just that seems like the agenda. And somehow it works out that audiences connect.

Iain Marcks: Collin, do you see a difference between making art, and just quote unquote, doing good work?

Collin Brazie: Um, certainly, I mean, you know, again, without, you know, trying to be overly pretentious about it, but, I mean, yeah, you're, you're you're planning, you're hoping that whatever you're making is, is going to, you know, affect people and resonate with people. And yeah, I mean, you're putting in all kinds of time and effort into something that you believe in. So, whether it's the lenses that are going to best tell the story, or the lighting, or you know, the subtle camera push in whatever it might be, you know, I shoot commercial stuff, I shoot some non-scripted stuff. I mean, there's nothing wrong with any of that, either. You know, it's, you know, it's all entertainment at the end of the day, but um, you know, I think when, when you are putting in, you know, the extra effort, and you're trying to really tell a story that that has some some ideas and some themes behind it that you believe in, and that, if we're not trying to elevate what we're doing, then maybe it's not worth doing. Right?

Iain Marcks: Right, because you can feel that attitude coming through in the work itself.

Larry Fessenden: I mean, I want to celebrate, you know, like, a beautiful car ad, you know, you think of the lighting and the glistening, it's just, it's a different agenda. They're basically trying to seduce you with these fantastic images. And that requires tremendous skill and precision and commitment to the idea. But the idea is perhaps a little different, it's to sell you something, convince you of the beauty of a product, an object. There's all manner of artistry there, it's just as essential to acknowledge that, the thing we're talking about — and this comes back to this other pretentious word, but we're going to live in that world for a moment — of cinema. And, you know, Marty gets into all this problems, Scorsese, with all this silliness about Marvel, you know, all he's saying is that we're looking for a, an engagement that surprises you, you're invited to lean in and maybe do a little of the work, but it's not work. It's engagement. In a way, it's a different use of the medium. If my agenda is to enlighten you and console you with my work, that's different than to suggest that you should go spend $40,000 on a car.

Collin Brazie: Yeah. And, yeah, I mean, I, you know, I agree with you, Larry. And I mean, a word that I always go back to when I'm, you know, discussing work or prepping work or anything like that is authenticity. You know, I think that there's a certain authenticity you can bring to work, not that everything has to be, you know, naturalistic or anything like that. But I feel like a lot of the way that I approach lighting comes from that kind of world. Obviously, every story is different. We're talking about a werewolf story here. So the idea of, you know, naturalism and authenticity might go out the window here, but you want someone to feel something, and I think that if you can get to the real human core of it, and if you can help that through the lens choices and the lighting, then you know, then so be it.

Iain Marcks: Well, let's get into that. What were some of the initial conversations you and Larry had about lenses and lighting?

Collin Brazie: Yeah, um, well, Larry and I, when we were prepping, we did do a pretty intensive camera test one day, and we tested probably half-dozen different lenses. And we ended up going with some vintage Cooke Panchros, just because of the softness because the way that they handled colors, we wanted a little bit of a muted, you know, muddy muddiness of it because I think there was a bit of a ’70s influence that we were interested in you know, as far as like the color and and a little bit of the shot design. As far as some at some of the other shots stuff, I mean, we talked a lot about you know, handheld cameras, and something that that we would, you know, that we would probably be utilizing throughout the shoot, you know, not for everything, but for certain certain sequences and certain scenes, we thought that that would just, you know, elevate and obviously give us a little bit of, you know, heightened heightened reality and heightened sense of urgency to certain scenes. As far as like, the lighting design, when I speak of, you know, sort of naturalism and the approach to some of our day interiors and night interiors, things of that nature. I mean, a big reference for us, that Larry mentioned was Fargo, just because I think Larry and I both recoil a little bit from the steel blue, you know, edge light and moonlight that you see in a lot of, you know, ’80s and early ’90s movies. Fargo is a big touch point for us because they don't really use any blue, there's no steel blue, or midnight blue in that film at all. And in our film, there is a big... a big crash sequence that takes place at night and then in a field with an overturned car and, and we definitely, you know, did our best to steal from Roger Deakins [ASC, BSC] there and sort of motivate everything with headlights and rear, rear brake lights and things of that nature and kind of stayed away from from any sort of moonlight, which is a bit of a catch-22 When you're shooting a werewolf movie, obviously, because the setting sun and and moonlight is obviously a big part of the storytelling when you're when you're telling werewolf story, you know, the full moon it, it should sort of be lurking over the entire movie, and it is you can feel it.

Iain Marcks: Could you elaborate on shot design?

Collin Brazie: Larry mentioned earlier about, you know, sort of a, you know, subjective or objective camera, we definitely have some moments where you're really with Charlie, or you're really with the werewolf, you know, and you're kind of seeing stuff either, you know, directly from their point of view. But as far as like an actual shot design standpoint, I'll let Larry weigh in as well. But I kind of feel like we kind of took it, you know, just really scene by scene. And it was really just about, you know, exploring, okay, what's going on in the scene? Where are we at in this location? Where are we at in the story and making sure that we were just doing justice to the script and the characters. Yes, we did some handheld. But we also had a lot of, you know, really clean dolly moves. And we had a Technocrane day where we did a big scene in a oner and we had a couple of scenes where we just, you know, I think if anything, if there was an approach to it, it was probably, you know, simplicity in a way. And, you know, like Larry mentioned, you know, we didn't have a lot of shooting days, we didn't have a huge budget or anything. But, you know, we knew that we had to be light on our feet, we knew that we had to be nimble, we had a lot of locations, a lot of speaking parts. And so we knew that, you know, sometimes simplicity was gonna be the name of the game. One of my favorite scenes that we shot-designed was two of the police officers talking in the police station. And you know, it's a simple page and a half dialogue scene. And, you know, I'm sure we could have set up a, you know, an interesting wide shot and gotten a couple pieces of coverage on each of them. And, but instead, we just did a simple pull out and let them do the whole scene in this one shot. And it's honestly, it's one of my favorite moments in the movie, just because I think it works so well for the relationship between the two characters. And it works so well for just getting us in and out of a nice little scene.

Larry Fessenden: I'm so glad that you mentioned that shot, because to me, that's the essence of the kind of filmmaking that I like, but tracking even further back Collin, because you just had a scene where he's talking about, Oh, I think I've murdered people. Then he shows the newspaper clippings with the horrible reports of dead people, and you go into close-ups there in one location, then you cut to a photo of a dead person. And then you start hearing dialogue of a couple people, and then you just pull out very naturally, and you slowly develop and you realize, oh, it's the two people talking. And they have a lovely exchange. And this is the nuance of being on set as we had to figure out how much of the dialogue was so to speak off-camera when we're still in with the close-up and when you reveal them. So those are the kind of fun little nuanced conversations that you really work with the actors, the DP, everybody has an opinion. But the fundamental design comes from the conceit of you go into the stills, and you live in sort of this world of the horror as depicted through newspapers and photographs. And then you come back to reality. And then they say, I guess we're going to the scary werewolf place. And then you cut back to more scary photos. And we're back with the first people. So you see, this is what I mean by the design of the rhythm of the whole movie. On set. We could have said, Oh, how are we going to film these newspapers and what's fun? What do you think, Collin? But in the end, what I want to do is have that design so that the movie has this kind of fluidity. I'm always in dialogue between subjective and objective. So my point is, is that we all live in a very subjective reality ourselves, each one of us and then there's this complete indifference of reality. In its simplicity, I like to say that the tripod shot especially in a wide is total indifference. It's Bresson. This is hardly like anything I've thought of but this is my quote, style is actually the tension between reality and fiction, and that's why I make a werewolf movie.

Collin Brazie: And yeah, and even echoing and a little bit more about those principles is just you know, we might be doing some handheld in a certain sequence, then we might be doing steady dolly push-ins in other sequences. And I think a lot of that also just stemmed from Charlie our lead character who is very erratic and he's an alcoholic and you're may or may not be aware of what's right and then you are juxtaposing it with him being in situations either with the cops or with other towns, people where, you know, things might be a little bit more normalized. And obviously, that's not like necessarily reinventing the wheel. But the idea that you would have this more jittery handheld camera, while with our lead character, Charlie, I think just felt like a bit of a no-brainer to us.

Larry Fessenden: There's a scene that I have tremendous affection for, and I really feel like it's just me at my most basic loving the sort of the pathos of the werewolf, and it's where, let's just say he's having a bad day in the woods, and he's stumbling, and he's tearing off his shirt, and he's like, Argh, but with all of that, we laid out as long a dolly as we could afford. I mean, the only time I ever lament our budget is when a shot that I'm about to describe is just not quite as grandiose because we literally didn't have more dolly. And also our dolly sucked. It was a goofy little fucking piece of wood on a tube. I mean, it was a nightmare. We couldn't even do elegant stuff, but I will, I will not compromise on the idea. It just may not be quite as successful. I mean, remember the pull up Collin, when he was lying there, I brought this old crazy crane. I'm like, okay, Collin, let's see what you can do. I just pulled this out of the garage, and it's just like, all held together with tape. And we're like, Grr, so all of that. But the point I'm making is that this while the monster's trudging through the woods, we passed by a tree, and then I made a little false tree, and I knew in the edit, I would make it so you could go from a wide lens to a close lens and have the fake tree be the wipe. And it's so invisible. I doubt anybody notices, but just to say that I don't leave ambition on the floor, because we don't have all the shekels.

Iain Marcks: Collin, can you think of another moment on this production where you had to bring your ambitions in line with reality?

Collin Brazie: Yeah, I think there's a key scene early on in the film, actually, it's the the opening of the film, it's, you know, it's two lovers who are, you know, in a field together and, and our werewolf is, you know, peering in on them. And we knew this was one of those circumstances where it was gonna be a bigger set piece that takes place at night, the moon's the only light source. And so we knew that this would be one of those opportunities, where we are going to have, you know, moonlight in our werewolf film, and that it would, you know, be the central light source. And it starts with a big wide shot, we got to see this field, we got to see the trees behind it, the environment was such a, you know, crucial aspect to the opening part of the movie. So I initially I said, Okay, well, you know, what, if we go the light balloon route, you know, we get some helium balloons, we get them, you know, up in the sky, it'll give it like a nice, you know, soft, you know, even moonlight throughout the field. And so I started looking into that and doing some research and at the time, there was a big helium shortage in the United States. So that was definitely a situation where, you know, we had to go back to the indie roots and think, Alright, well, what's a better way to do this? And so we did the old fashioned way, you know, we got some larger lights that were all LED, so they didn't pull a ton of power, hiked them way up on some stands. And we did it the old fashioned way, the indie way where we you know, just had it had a nice, solid even harsher backlight. And then a little bit of moonlight fill spill that we used to balance the scene out.

Iain Marcks: One of the things I like hearing about is how a filmmaker manages to do good work while under pressure to move quickly. And I understand that on this project, Collin, you and Larry had a lot of locations and speaking parts to film, but not a lot of time to do it.

Collin Brazie: Yeah, yeah, we did have a lot of locations and a lot of speaking parts. And especially in our first week, week and a half a shooting, you know, you would have one or two location moves a day. So yeah, we didn't have a lot of time at some of these locations. But I think a big part of independent filmmaking is doing a lot of prep, so that you're very prepared when you get to location. But I mean, we had a very, you know, we had a very modest lighting package, very modest camera package. So we were able to be, you know, pretty quick and nimble when we got the places you know, we'd be able to get stuff set up as quickly as possible. And I would try to bring a naturalistic lighting approach to some of our interiors and exteriors. Also, a big part of that is just, you know, Larry being game and the actors being game for not a lot of takes necessarily, you know, I think Larry knows what he wants and knows what he needs for the edit. And so I think that also goes a long way. And you know, making sure that when you don't have a lot of time in a certain location that every minute counts, and that you're able to make the scene work as best as possible.

Larry Fessenden: And I don't do coverage, unless that's the conceit. And I really I love a scene that will play out in a wide. This is a debate I've even had with pals. Some people say, Well, maybe you should have gone in that scene. And I'm like, I come from a tradition where it is in fact to take that continues and becomes more interesting and makes you lean in like we've discussed. An example though is Joe Swanberg showed up. And so we set up a wide and the scene played out and then we did a second take and I was like, oh my god, that was so fun. Everything about it was hilarious. And you know, they developed and it's Addison Timlin and Joe Swanberg just talking in the kitchen. And that was the scene for me. I mean, it has everything and we are about to do a werewolf attack. So speaking of rhythms, I know we're gonna get into all kinds of cutting and dollies and this and that and loud music. So this is exactly and we just come from another sequence of carnage and madness. So I was like, in my intuition, I said, we've got it, but he’d flown all the way to New York from Chicago. So I'm like, Okay, well, we'll, we'll do coverage. And of course, sometimes that coverage becomes essential and a delicious delight and all the rest. And what's cool is that we did the coverage, but the coverage worked completely, unexpectedly somewhere else. And it's when they're reminiscing about their relationship, which is ended in a werewolf attack, if you get my meaning. This is the thing is that as a result, that day went quickly. You know what I mean? And it's because I kind of know when I have it emotionally and aesthetically. You're living a little on the edge, but I like a little bit more danger in my filmmaking.

Collin Brazie: Yeah, right. Exactly. You know, coverage is the enemy of art, right? Or the enemy of creativity, right, as they say,

Larry Fessenden: It can be, oh, you know, although I should say we have a lot of conversations in the movie. And those are maybe to a fault. I treat very traditionally. I mean, we had car scenes, people just chatting, you get both sides. And that's good. You also want to get in with your characters. But Collin, you know, a lot of the stuff with Earl is so so pleasing, because we just have frames, and he's there and we use, you know, the old-fashioned thing called blocking, you know, where Alex goes back to go get the booze and he's still in the frame, but he gets smaller. And then he comes slowly forward, forward, forward, and says, Yeah, I'll tell you what happened. And then he sits and then you're into coverage. So once again, I find it very pleasing, a certain simplicity. But it also lets the actors work in the proscenium. And that's a pleasure. And then the joy of film is that then you can also go to close-ups and really look into their eyes.

Collin Brazie: Yeah. And I mean, Iain going back to your initial question, yeah, I mean, I think when you have a lot of locations, a lot of actors, I mean, I think there were, there's probably like six, eight scenes in this film, where we don't really cut into coverage. And we didn't really either we either didn't shoot coverage, or if we did, we didn't use it at all. And I think that stems from me having a confident production team, you know, confident director, and then obviously, you know, we put a lot of faith in your actors, you have to have good actors, too. You have to have good talent from the camera.

Iain Marcks: Larry, you mentioned Earl, the character of Earl before and I'm wondering if you're referring to that scene, the scene where Charlie asks Earl to shoot him, Charlie, the werewolf with a silver bullet. That one stands out for me because of the way it's blocked with the characters crossing along different axes within the frame, which is not only interesting to look at, but it also supports the drama.

Larry Fessenden: Oh, man, I really appreciate that you said axis, because that's one thing I'm obsessed with. And I mean, actually, Collin, I had a lot of fun, minor conflicts, discussing certain things and you know, he, he has a better education than me, and I was schooled a few times, in fact, is I love some of the language he uses that I don't even know, which is, what do you say, Collin, when somebody's looking closer to...

Collin Brazie: Like, you're nearsighted versus...

Larry Fessenden: Yeah. I do want to say, even in terms of writing, I think the reason the scene with Earl works is that the movie is very episodic. And this has to do with the sort of the insanity of the werewolf. I mean, the whole point of werewolf is a wild animal’s out there, and he's having these encounters and killing people and so on. So I'm inviting the audience to get to know characters very quickly. And I'm trying not to have clichés but they're cliched situations, like you have the gentlemen who come out of their car to save the the accident, the wealth that somebody has flipped their car, so they get out there rescue, they're the good Samaritans, and they're so kind and then that doesn't go well for them. And there's the next encounter with the two kind of bumbling assholes. But these are fairly brief. So I'm inviting you to get to know these people quickly. And then something happens to them or not, but then with Earl, we finally get to settle in and I hope what we're seeing is is an old friendship between sort of the town outsiders, you know, Earl is sort of a fixer-upper and a collector and that's why he's been tasked with making the silver bullets. And then, you know, obviously, our main character is a painter. So I think that scene is a relief, and it's deliberately right in the middle of the movie. And it might sir, you might say sends us into the last chapter. One thing we didn't mention, I just want to sort of go back because it's sweet. I think we chose a very humble approach to capture our film and Collin, maybe you can speak of it because I'll never remember the name of each camera, but we tested the Arri. Maybe we looked at a Red and then we looked at the Canons, which is what we ended up choosing. I think it was supposed to be the most modest choice, so we had confidence in ourselves in our lighting, and that the lenses would give the patina that we wanted, and then eventually that the color correct would enhance our work. And, you know, yes, we applied grain, but Collin, maybe just, if you could recall, you know, those camera tests weren't only about the lenses.

Collin Brazie: Yeah, we did end up going with the C500 Mark II, just because it was going to be it was gonna be light, it was gonna be nimble, and it was going to be something that we knew, you know, if we were going to be doing, you know, a pre-shoot, and then our principal photography, and then if we're going to do need to do pickups, that it was just something that we're you're going to, you know, have access to and something that wouldn't be overly cumbersome and, you know, something that we could get away with a small camera team with. And so that was very important to us. And when we were pairing it with, you know, different lenses, we liked the quality of the color, like the quality, the saturation, and the dynamic range is great on the camera. You know, something that Larry had mentioned earlier, you know, kind of struck me the sort of structure of his screenplay although, although he wasn't specifically talking about the structure, but just the idea of you know, you're you're meeting with Earl, you're meet with these people, and you only meet these characters for a little bit of time. It does really call back a bit to some of the Universal monster movies, which is something I always loved about the script. You know, you have the preacher character show up, right, you have the townspeople that are kind of rioting, and you have, you know, all these kinds of callbacks, but it also with it still feeling very modern. Larry, I'm sure some of that was purposeful, I'm not sure if all of it was, but I'd love to hear you talk a little bit about that

Larry Fessenden: I've given a lot of interviews about this movie. And, of course, I have to keep going on and on about my love of the the Universal monster movies, but I really have internalized some of the tropes beyond just like, you know, the man divided and cursed, you know, day and then that night, he's a wolf and all of that good stuff. But, you know, I have the Mexican community, the migrant workers in mind, and that's very much a callback to the gypsies, which are presented as the other in the werewolf movies. And in fact, I believe the gypsies are responsible for the initial attack on Lon Chaney. Which is to say, I mean, I don't know if that was particularly racist, but it certainly made perfect sense to the audiences of the day that it would be the gypsies problem to bring this person to the white man's world. So, in any case, I'm playing with that in a much more contemporary way. I'm just talking about how these captains of industry are also the ones that are, you know, seizing on racism, and yet they're the ones employing the workers, the migrant workers to build their temples. So I'm playing with that contradiction. Then there's sort of the riffing, Who's carrying the pitchfork? And my point is these migrants, you know, they work in the fields in the gardens of the well-to-do in this little hamlet upstate, and so they know perfectly well about pitchforks. So, this is all the ways that I'm riffing on the classic tropes. And yes, there's always the preacher, man, although that kind of cliché continues on into the ’80s. There's a wonderful movie called Silver Bullets, which I hadn't watched, until maybe after shooting Blackout. And I was tickled. I mean, it's almost the same setup. And there's a scene where the preacher's doing almost the same speech, like, We gotta learn to get along. These are tropes that my film is trying to play on, while sort of gently nodding, that a lot of things haven't changed in our, in our society, but maybe we're able to see them a little differently. But I wanted to speak because we're sort of waxing poetic about some of the shots with Earl and how we get single takes. And you know, all of that is lovely to talk in terms of structure. But Collin... I just wanted to recall the true chaos of the shoot is when we shot at Miguel's house, that is the wonderful Rigo Garay playing the character, Miguel, and I had gotten permission to shoot at this wonderful trailer park, from this one fellow whose mother owned the one trailer where Rigo would be hosting. But we didn't get permission from the whole community. And so it slowly became clear that we were not entirely welcome. I don't know. I don't think that we were making too much chaos. But it started getting around that, yeah, we may not be able to stay here much longer. Well, this was where I wanted to shoot. So we got maybe three takes of Rigo, two lenses. And then we had to shoot Alex Hurt. And another thing that was funny about this movie is that I was the AD. So there was no one to fix this problem. So I literally said okay, And action! And then I ran to find, you know, an authority figure who would give us just another half hour or whatever the lie was to get us the rest of the day there. Anyway, I never saw the take. And then I said I'm sure it's perfect. And you know I always use the Ed Wood voice: ‘Of course the door would break down! That's completely normal, that wouldn't happen! It's perfect!’ And, you know, it's acknowledging that we're hanging by a thread in these productions, and you just have to have that positive attitude. So, anyway, I never saw Alex's take. And we just on faith knew that it was going to be great. And it has come to be one of my favorite scenes. Their interaction is wonderful, and I certainly did watch Rigo's work and I knew that he was solid and heard Alex off-camera. I'm sure Collin felt shortchanged occasionally. In fact, the good thing is you fought for a closer lens in that same location. And I was like, Dude, we gotta go I just- Alright, if you want it, Collin. And it's like a such an essential addition to the coverage of that scene of Rigo and it led to a beautiful close-up of the wife, which is how I end the scene. So, there's really my idea of the collaboration when I'm having a fit, because I'm the AD and I'm like, ‘We can't shoot anymore.’ And Collin's like, ‘Dude, we're here, like... What the hell, we gotta get this other thing? I think it's gonna be better.‘ And then it's like, ‘All right, all right.’ And it's fantastic. And it contributes. So, that's kind of... I like it when we're all sort of in the mud, like, yeah, fighting for each thing.

Collin Brazie: And yeah, so yeah, this whole time, I thought just Larry trusted me a lot. And that's why he wasn't watching Alex's take.

Larry Fessenden: I was literally putting out fires. I mean, I was the AD, which was, of course, somewhat arrogant. But it shows the holistic approach that I wanted to take with this, I felt I knew a lot of the community and I didn't want to introduce a whole new level, because I feel like I would have spooked people. Because I would go to the lumber store and say, ‘Can we film? We'll be here from four to six. And we'll be out of your way. If there's any problem, this will be handheld, so don't worry about us no, no fuss, no muss.’ And then to have an officious person come and say, you know, ‘Can you sign here?’ I just knew that would be all it took to spook these people. So, you see, for this movie, I would simply be downloading what I knew about the community in the locations to someone else. And so I made, you know, a somewhat, as I say, a brazen decision to just handle all that myself. Sorry, to prattle on, but, you see, this was the fun part of how it was just like a bunch of moving pieces. And I invite a little chaos into the proceedings. I think it's fun.

Collin Brazie: Yeah, I mean, it's like a team mentality and a mentality of when you're, when you're in it together, that I think really pushes everything to a better level. There might be some chaos on set, but I know that you're in good hands when you're working with Larry, you know, he goes in with a good plan. And, and we've had so many conversations that I've you know, I'm confident when I'm working with him, I know that he's going to, uh, you know, always put his best foot forward, and he's going to, you know, make sure that we're getting the best stuff and that the the film is going to come together in the end. So, I don't worry about that. But, I mean, I love that I've been invited into this Glass Eye family. I appreciate that. And I've enjoyed my time on set with Larry.

Larry Fessenden: I want to certainly shout out to I mean, you know, this isn't a moratorium. But Chris Ingvordsen is an upstate filmmaker who used to do run-and-gun action movies in the ’80s and ’90s, shooting celluloid. And he's a producer on the film because he has access to cars and guns and stunts. This is sort of his world, but he's also a director and he has a lot of equipment that he shared with us. So he's an another essential part of this puzzle. And, you know, once again, as sort of the AD figure, he was a huge support, because I'd be like concerned about the Volvo, which he wasn't sure could travel the full 60 miles between two locations that we had. So, then we put it on a flatbed. I mean, all of this, this is where the money goes — that and the steak dinners we had — but it was just a completely insane logistical drama The whole thing we need the trucks for these guys, we need this car for that guy, and this road and this house, even claiming to be the AD I mean, I didn't have every road figured out it just like almost was too much when you're worrying about getting a motel and Earl's house and then this other location and the greenhouse and the store and this that and the next so then suddenly, we realize, ‘Oh my god, I don't even have a plan for the road. Well, you know, my friend has a farm and we, you know, it's a little quiet there.’ So we... Entirely important scenes were suddenly in the last second like... and, of course, everybody knows just a homebody, so usually they anything within one mile of our house sounds like a perfect location. And then the stream and all these other things, but I wanted to shout out to Chris Ingvordsen and also James McKenney, who's a... Notice that these people are all filmmakers. They're all directors and they're stepping back to support the project. James McKenney has made many films for Glass Eye Pix — he worked for me for years actually, I guess he still does now and he does all the wrangling of the SAG and this and that — and we had Gaby Leyner on, who was new to Glass Eye, and she was a youngster who came in and, you know, really learned by trial by fire. And she was a great co-producer on the movie. And so it was a great support team. And, hopefully, everybody felt essential, because they really were.

Iain Marcks: Any shout outs for the crew, Collin?

Collin Brazie: Yeah, one moment that I'd like to shout out is James Sullivan, who was our first AC on our big crane day. He really nailed the focus on every single take. And it was a complicated shot, you know, a lot of moving parts, whether it was you know, the camera itself, or the actors and where we're going to be focusing at. And then, yeah, our gaffer, Zach Kangas, really nailed it a lot of our night exterior scenes, too, you know, again, we we have, you know, a pretty modest lighting package, but we were able to really utilize everything that we had in there to make the night scenes look right. So, I'm really, really proud of the way that they ended up coming out, especially some of those nights scenes with the transformation, the transformation in the car, the transformation out in the field, I feel like Zach did a really great job helping us execute those plans.

Iain Marcks: Larry, you've been making films long enough to see that technology changed quite a bit. Has that changed the way you make your films?

Larry Fessenden: Not really, I mean, after a third take, unless it's a special scene, you know, like some move or something, that should be it, you know, and you've done everything you can to prepare the actors and the crew for getting that in a couple takes. So what I'm saying is that film, by definition is... Suggests a kind of efficiency. And I try to bring that to the set. The other thing is that I want to be on the set with everybody else, I'm really not the type of guy that goes off into the tent far away and watches the movie, like I really want to be in the physical world with everybody. So, my favorite new thing is these little portable little TVs or whatever they are, and then I can, I can be breathing down everyone's neck and also still see what the frame is. The other thing is, I find that the greatest advance is in lighting. I just absolutely love these little lights that you can do now. And then the kids have their cell phones and they're dimming and changing color. I mean, when I made Habit on film with Frank DeMarco [ASC] the wonderful DP, we shot 16mm. Not even Super 16. Is that even true? But, you know, a lot of the fun was that you wouldn't alter the color temperature. So, you'd have your sodium-vapor coloring, and you'd have your, you know, in New York, that shoot just became so vital, and we just had crazy schemes of color, I mean, almost became you know, design-y and surreal, you know, you'd have your tungsten, and then you'd have your neon, everything was just bananas, and it looks gorgeous. So, all I'm getting at is that now you have a little more control, but you can bring that knowledge into the present day. And you can say, let's do this at 5600[K]. And this will be 3200[K]. You can really work with that. And as Collin says, we didn't have any of that steel-blue... that cliché from the 80s. I mean, the irony is in the ’80s, I shot video, and I was making features in video. And then, by the ’90s, I was able to make my first four movies on film, and it was sort of what I've been building up to. But in the ’90s, video became popular and everybody was like, ‘Larry, you should shoot video’ and like, ‘I did that in the ’80s, what are you crazy?’ So, I feel like things have really gotten better in the digital world. The irony is we're all using old lenses to soften or otherwise bring some life back to the image. I do think digital... we've lost something. The last thing I was gonna... just over the course of this interview, I just want to tribute Werner Herzog, you know. I grew up when that was the way to make a movie. And I just saw a little clip of him talking. And he's like, ‘I want to put my body into it.’ And you see him like, pushing up the set on actually Nosferatu [the Vampyre]. And, you know, playing with the racks or whatever he's doing, he's a maniac. But this is the kind of thing that really inspired me, and sort of the physical engagement with filmmaking. I really believe this holistic engagement with the whole movie and ask the art department... You know, they'll roll their eyes, I just can't leave anything alone. But every object has life. We instill meaning in all the things that surround us. And that's where our mythologies, you know, live and breathe. And I just want to draw attention to the sort of the fundamentals of how the human brain works. It wants storytelling in order to make sense of things. And so I don't know in my filmmaking, I'm trying to sort of remind people of of that tendency, and then that could hopefully also free you from it when it has captivated you as we are so captured now in our modern world by a bunch of lying, bullshit, fake mythologies, so to speak.

Collin Brazie: You know, I agree with Larry, you know about some of the digital versus film stuff, obviously, you know, a lot of the technological advancements have been good, you know, like the LED lighting was huge for us on this, you know, being a low budget film. It meant that we didn't have to have gigantic generators, it meant that we would be able to be nimble. So, when we did have to have lights out in the woods, we were able to just run them off of like, a 2000-watt battery brick, you know what I mean? We didn't have to run hundreds of feet of cable to, you know, out to these lights. And while there was a helium shortage, so we weren't able to get any helium balloons for one of our big field exteriors that we're doing at the time, but we were able to, you know, utilize, you know, obviously, some some big SkyPanels and, you know, big LED lights out there. So, I mean, I think that's one way, equity and what Larry said that, you know, technology really did help us out. And of course, Larry's little handheld wireless monitor that he loves that we needed to like, attach, essentially, like attach to a PA, so it wouldn't get lost.

Iain Marcks: Is there anything else about the making of Blackout that you'd like to mention?

Collin Brazie: I mean, I guess the big thing. I mean, we did have a Technocrane day, which was pretty fun and very special, I think for Larry, and I think we both enjoyed that process a lot. It was, you know, one of those scenes that, you know, I don't know if it was the way Larry wrote it, but I remember right, when I read it for the first time, I was just like, oh, this scene would be great in you know, some sort of oner, you know, where we can start with the paintings and start with the car and then follow these police officers as they as they go up this hill. And they're having this conversation. And I don't know, it was just something probably in the way that was written that it just lent itself to that. And we were both like in exclamated excitement. You know what I mean? Like, right, when we both like, Yes, that's exactly what I want to do, too! And so it was a an exciting day. And it was fun. It was a fun thing to get to rehearse. And you know, we set up and rehearsed it for essentially, like half a day and then shot it probably eight or nine times, you know, just until we were waiting for the light to get completely right. We were shooting dusk for dawn. And, you know, so we were waiting for the sun to go down. And it gave us a lot of time to practice the shot. And then yeah, we just shot a few times got I think we were happy on the fourth or fifth take. But we're like, you know, let's just let's shoot a few more times, you got this beautiful golden hour going down right now let's you know, let's see if we can perfect on perfection. So we just kept doing it. And it was a it was a it was a good shoot day.

Larry Fessenden: Yeah, it was so cool, because we had a night shoot. And then we had this crane shot, which we were going to do at dusk. But you know, the turnaround, which I still try to honor I should say I do try to honor I can't completely pretend like this is my first picture, we're all going to really go the distance. You know, you have an I mean, it's also my aesthetic to be respectful of everybody's time and their commitment and their work ethic. So I want to return in kind, a proper turnaround, and so on. But this created a real problem. We had this location, the car was flipped over. It's not like that can last year, we couldn't come back two days later. So we really did scramble to make it work. And the good thing is that the crane brought its own major crew members. And it was kind of the success of just down and dirty filmmaking. As for the shot itself, I think it is the way it's written because I think I always imagined it as a oner. But it was fun that we did have that moment. In a way, Collin coming to that conclusion at the same time. And just us going. Yeah, man. And the final shot has this amazing duality in the lighting, where there was just a crest have orange at the top in a field behind them. And then we really leaned into the cool blue in the foreground. So I think it really works because it's after a more active series of edits. So this is what I mean back to the first conversation about pacing.

Iain Marcks: Oh, one more thing that I wanted to mention. At the end of the movie, there's a scene that teases the continuation of the story with characters from some of your other films. Larry, is there anything you'd like to say about that?

Larry Fessenden: When I was little, the only way I could make a movie is to tell my friends I was going to do it. And then I felt like public shame if I didn't follow through. So, I've taken that idea to the extreme. And I've basically been telling people in Q&As and maybe even some recorded things that I'm going to make a sequel with all my monsters. And it appeals to me because of course I love these creatures, but also it's so preposterous and it's what Universal Pictures ended up doing out of desperation you know, to keep their franchise going. And you know, by many accounts that the quality degraded but there are actually some real pleasures in the later ones, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, in particular and then they eventually admitted they were being silly and they made Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. But somewhere in there is still a fascinating conversation like what would these monsters... How would you do it in my world Because my my films are fairly earnest, which is a word that most people would recoil from, but I'm very proud to have that in at least one review saying the movie is so remarkably earnest. And this is back to the word “art.” You know, I think I want to convey something personal in my work and I want to be candid, and I want to share my feelings that the world is a difficult place. It's a tough journey. And I want people to feel consoled by my vision, which has some badass aspects, I hope, with werewolves slashing throats, but it's also about the sadness of life and the fragility of it all. And literally encroaching madness, as you face the realities of your eventual demise and, you know, your children are growing and all these sad things are, well, that's a happy thing. But it's that...

Iain Marcks: Well, that's art.

Larry Fessenden: That's art for you. But so the answer is, yeah, I'm gonna make a mash-up and see if I can pull it off. We'll see. And then the good thing is that I can honestly leave this all behind, and everyone says, ‘Aren't you gonna make a mummy movie?’ And I love saying, ‘Absolutely not.’ I couldn't think of anything more dull.

American Cinematographer interviews cinematographers, directors and other filmmakers to take you behind the scenes on major studio movies, independent films and popular television series.

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