Exclusive Interview – Cinematographer David Kruta on Black Friday, The Last Thing Mary Saw and Agent Game
What is Mel Gibson’s Agent set, the thrill The last thing Mary saw and Screen Media’s Black friday all have in common? Director of photography David Kruta. After taking a hiatus from feature films for a few years, David recently returned to storytelling with these three upcoming feature films. These films can all be very different: Black friday is a horror creature tale, The last thing Mary saw takes place in 1843 and Agent set is a secret agent version of Mad Max: Fury Road, but this strain is what David loves the most in the industry. Each new project is a different challenge, which he takes on at full speed.
The next step for David is that of Casey Tebo Black friday, which thrills genre fans at this year’s Fantastic Fest and is released by Screen Media in November. In the exclusive interview below, he details his work on Black friday, The last thing Mary saw and much more.
Devon Sawa recently said that Black Friday relies heavily on practical effects instead of CGI. Does it make your job easier because you can actually see what you are working with?
Absoutely! The practical effects and the “real” creatures make life easier for everyone (except maybe for Bob Kurtzman who stayed up late to perfect the costumes). This helps us to better frame the shots and to be able to react to the actors, as well as to enlighten them well. Other actors are able to interact with creatures or effects, so what you see on screen is about as real as it gets. I’m all for using visual effects to enhance a movie, but if you can do it in a practical way, I rarely see a reason to do it differently. It’s also great fun to see an actor come out of his trailer in a rubber monster costume and hang out like a normal person – imagine a demon or orc checking his phone and drinking coffee.
What were some of the challenges, individual or collaborative, that you encountered while working on Black Friday?
Black friday was mostly difficult due to its scale – I had to supervise a large G&E team as well as several film crews, a large amount of lighting setups and lighting clues, collaboration with costumes and special effects during their preparation processes, such as discussing what colors and textures the creatures would be, or how we would light the “hive,” a practically constructed mass of breathing creatures and slime. Overall, the level of organization is what kept me busy most of the time, and I could only have done it with the support of my operators John Kopec and T. Acton Fitzgerald, 1st AC Chris Hebert and Nolan Ball, gaffer Ben Heald, and Key grip Dave Romano, who was able to distill and distribute my plans and notes to their teams and execute Director Casey Tebo’s vision.
You filmed Black Friday during the pandemic. How did this affect the shoot?
It was my first big project during the pandemic and I’m not going to lie, it was a challenge. Film making is a closely related and collaborative endeavor, and Covid protocols have made it difficult and slow to get things done. Normally my team and I stay close by, the actors are worked by hairstylists and makeup artists, and we can use our expressions to convey meaning. With restrictions in place such as social distancing, wearing masks, and regular testing, it slowed everything down and there were plenty of instances where you had to repeat yourself in order to get a message across, and you can forget about anyone. hear you if you’re wearing a face shield at the moment. However, I was and am grateful to work, and happy to report that with the supervision of our Covid team, we had no positive cases during our production.
Many critics / fans have pointed out that the horror genre seems to have a different set of rules when it comes to shadows, angles, and quick cuts. What do you think about this?
In a way, genre movies allow you to get away with a lot more when your average viewer is asked to suspend their disbelief, because they exist in a truly made-up world. However, I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules for lighting, shooting, or cutting genre films. High expectations can make a movie spookier or more interesting, as the usual tropes aren’t there to give you clues. I think some of the best movies take the rules and throw them out the window, because that newness and surprise of seeing something different is part of the fun of the movie, and I’m saying that about all genres, not just horror or science- Fi. On the contrary, I would challenge more filmmakers to think outside the box and really think about how they can take advantage of this incredible medium. If you haven’t seen it yet, sorry to disturb you by Boots Riley is one of my favorite movies in recent memory that has done an amazing job playing with the medium in a surprising way.
What attracted you to the script for The Last Thing Mary Saw?
I had taken a hiatus from feature films for a few years, but couldn’t wait to get back into storytelling, and my agent sent me the script and said I had to read it. On paper, the project looked great – there was a great production team attached, the cast was solid, and the timing was right. But it only took the first page to get hooked. A good script is a great script, and between the meticulous attention to detail in its historical accuracy, the winding and often surprising storyline, and the excellent dialogue (or the complete lack of dialogue), it has kept me in mind. breath until the last page.
Did you do any storyboards for The Last Thing Mary Saw? Are you doing storyboards for any of the projects you’re working on or is that a thing of the past now?
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to make storyboards for The last thing Mary saw. We had a very short preparation and the best thing to do was create a complete shot list with references for specific shots or scenes. That said, I love storyboards and will work with anything from stick figures and Artemis app photo boards with virtual substitutes to collaborating with a storyboard artist. Each project has its own needs, so what works for one might not work for the other, but more often than not I’m a fan of storyboards as well as a lot of the preps including general blueprints, storylines, and more. lighting, etc.
Since The Last Thing Mary Saw is set in 1843, did you use any special lenses to make it more like that time?
We shot on the Sony Venice with full frame Cooke S7 spherical premiums, and we always used a ¼ or 1 / 8th Pearlascent filter to soften the image and diffuse the highlights. It’s a modern camera system and new lenses, and we didn’t want the film to look “typical” for period pieces. If you were there personally at that time, it wouldn’t look dated or sepia! Our look went through production design by Charlie Robinson, costume design by Sofija Mesicek and lighting, and finalized with our wonderful colorist Anthony Raffaele.
What do you think is your signature style as a director of photography?
I’m not sure if I have a distinctive style – my priority is to always tell the story in the best way I know how, and a one-size-fits-all approach would limit or eliminate my options altogether. I love the variety that can be found in this industry, and each new project is a different challenge. That said, I gravitate towards stylized projects, because I am interested in the medium as a means of escape and expression. I love to shoot documentaries and they have their time and place, but my passion is creating beautiful images while telling compelling stories in the narrative space, and despite some similarities in my work, I would say it has less. to do with a signature style and more to do with the evolution of my artistic sensibility.
According to your IMDB, you just finished a Mel Gibson thriller called Agent Game, can you tell us something about that movie?
I looked at the cut and can tell it’s gonna be a wild ride – like an anxiety-inducing secret agent version, beating the pulse of Mad Max: Fury Road. It starts with tons of energy and never gives up. Director Grant S. Johnson had a clear vision and methodical approach that enabled action designer Lee Whitaker and I to capture an insane amount of stunts, explosions, and fights. It was an absolute “blast” to shoot and I can’t wait for it to come out.
What are you currently watching on Netflix?
A little unfair to limit yourself to one platform when there are so many options these days! I recently watched and loved it Stowaway by Joe Penna, and as a big fan of Formula 1, Schumacher’s documentary was a welcome addition to the content surrounding the sport. I also loved False positive by John Lee, but it’s on Hulu so hopefully you can mention it.
Thanks to David Kruta for taking the time for this interview.