INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2
A Lantern in the Darkness: Cinematography
Insidious: Chapter 2 reteams Wan with most of the filmmakers he collaborated with on Insidious, including his most frequent collaborator, director of photography John Leonetti (Scorpion King), who also shot Wan's most recent film, The Conjuring.
"James is an all-around filmmaker who has a keen visual sense," says Leonetti, who very early in his career was a first-assistant cameraman on the seminal haunted-house film Poltergeist. "I love collaborating with him to tell a story visually. His understanding of the technical aspects of photography and lighting is quite extensive, which allows us to speak and understand the same visual language. This is my fifth movie in a row with James and most of my crew too. We are a family and I love that."
Thanks to Leonetti's camera and lighting skills, both Insidious films feature dynamic visuals and striking color palettes that belie their modest budgets.
"The approach to the tone of Insidious was to capture a very natural and realistic image that we could further manipulate," Leonetti explains. "The first film started off very realistic and rapidly was manipulated in color and contrast. As it ramped up its 'creep factor,' the saturation was slowly sucked out and the image became cooler and cooler. By the end of the movie it was almost a cold shade of black and white."
Leonetti says he approached Chapter 2 in a similar way, but left the color more saturated than in the first movie. "We retained a bit more color this time because the locations in their natural state are fairly creepy to begin with."
With much of the film shot in tight interior locations, Leonetti had to figure out a way to make it look larger and more cinematic for big screen audiences. To do so, he embraced wide lenses and a moving camera to tell the story. He used a 14mm lens as his workhorse, progressively covering the scenes with tighter lenses.
Leonetti also had to develop a look for the shadowy region known as The Further. In Insidious, the cinematographer says he used blue and green lanterns as the only light source for scenes depicting the great inky space of the afterworld.
He notes that in the new film, The Further has two aspects, one being the Black Void, the other being 'real-life' locations within The Further. "The Black Void is exactly that -- a big space made of black floor, ceiling and walls. The floor is layered with ground fog, Josh carries a lantern, and we move around and with him and his lantern. In post, we control the contrast and the black and create an infinity that goes further and further. In the practical locations in The Further, we still use the ground fog and the lantern, and we remove all the 'lived in' set dressing and just wander throughout those homes."
In addition to traditional lighting, the film features several scenes that take place in dark rooms and hallways where the actors use video-camera lights and flashlights as the principal light source.
"The key to making this all work photographically was to pick the cameras and camera lights and flashlights in prep and test them," Leonetti says. "I like to mix up the color of the flashlights and designate them to the actors to help guide the audience as to who is pointing at what. The realism of using flashlight lighting can be very creepy, but you have to know what you're doing."
Leonetti says Wan is a master at using the various camera techniques the horror genre can exploit to maximum effect. "He loves to push and pull the actors throughout a scene with the camera handheld and then do their POV as well. The decision of whether to use handheld, put the camera on the dolly or use Steadicam is very important, and it is that understanding that separates the men from the boys in shooting horror. Taking the audience along for the ride is what this is all about, and enabling them to be a fly on the wall, right behind or in front of the characters, and how to edit all of that is James's forte."
Whereas the primary camera in Insidious was the RED Mysterium X, Leonetti says that on Insidious: Chapter 2 he chose the Arri Alexa for its considerable contrast range and ability to work in extreme low-light conditions. "Digital cameras have finally taken us to a different zone photographically, and James and I have taken full advantage of that," Leonetti says.
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