Creating the Visual Feel of “Night Surf”

22 Aug

Yesterday afternoon, I met with Shaun Clarke, Night Surf’s director of photography. During our meeting, we discussed how to create a visual style that will at once be straightforward but also give depth and insight into the characters and the world they inhabit – aka the visual “feel” of the movie. When creating the “feel”, there is a fine line to follow between entertaining realism and actuality.

Films that cross the line into actuality tend to be disorienting and a bit unsettling, sometime as an advantage. Think of The Blair Witch Project. Here is a film that imitated real life. It brought us into the story with shaky camera work, verité documentary scripting, and improvisation among actors. Yet, when I saw it (and perhaps I’m in the minority here, but I doubt it), I never felt the “wow, this is real” feeling I’ve had with other films. More so, on a repeat viewing, I found The Blair Witch Project unwatchably bad.

The Hurt Locker, I felt, brought me into the action and made it feel like I was there, in Iraq, with the gritty sand and crunching footsteps, diffusing bombs with Ralph Fiennes and Jeremy Renner.  The Hurt Locker (and this is also true of most Katherine Bigelow’s films) was so engaging because it combined the feel of real life with the wonders of cinema. Instead of handheld cameras, they used shoulder-mounted stabilization. Instead of improvisation, there was a tight and believable script.

This helps lead to a suspension of disbelief in the audience that will allow them to forget they’re sitting in a dark room eating $8 popcorn next to a teenager who won’t stop texting and a guy snoring two rows back. Instead, the audience has entered the world of the film.

Leading into the production of a film, the “feel” needs to be consciously decided; it will have an immense impact on the final film. The “feel” can break a story by pushing the audience away and making them watch as a spectator, or it can draw and audience in and have them as part of the action and adventure.

We hope for the latter.

By combining our collective knowledge of cinema with a strong sense of reality, we want to bring the audience into a shocking, bleak, and terrible world – and have them love every minute of it.

Note: This blog post was supposed to be about the basics of production, but I rambled and strayed almost, but not quite, off topic. Sorry about that – it will likely happen again.

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