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Two Sentence Horror Stories - Interview with Cinematographer Guy Pooles

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If you're a fan of the CW's horror anthology series, Two Sentence Horror Stories, then you might enjoy our interview with the series' cinematographer, Guy Pooles

Whenever you want to make a shot more frightening in Two Sentence Horror Stories what are some of your “go to” techniques?

I think the only “go to” rule that I’ve found to work, is to tie a shot more rigidly to the subjective point of view of your protagonist.

If a moment is perhaps not quite delivering the level of tension that you’d desire, it helps to rethink how that character would actually experience that moment; both in terms of their physical geography as well as their emotional state of mind. Perhaps from where they are located, they would not have a completely clear line of sight to the very thing they’re trying to see. Perhaps extreme anxiety has their adrenaline peaking, and the movement of the camera can somehow evoke that sensation.

So much of the power of horror comes from empathy, and few things can invite a viewer to empathize with a character as strongly as experiencing the story from that character’s POV.

Was there a scene in Two Sentence Horror Stories that was particularly complicated? What did you do to make it work?

Usually the most complicated scenes occur as a result of multiple eye-lines that need to be accommodated, or perhaps a daylight-sensitive scenario; factors that don’t make for the most fascinating behind the scenes anecdotes.

However, one unusual solution to a problem on the set of the episode Scion was designed by my Key Grip, Jeremy Smith.

The scene depicted our protagonist attempting to escape from the ‘Treatment Centre’ in which he was being held. As he makes his way down a hallway toward the building’s front door, he suddenly begins to start losing consciousness. The script then called for a beat that was described as: ‘The hall moves, nothing sits still’. The beat, as written speaks very effectively to the disorientation of the protagonist, but what does such a moment look like? How does one achieve it?

The immediate solution that sprung to the mind of Natalia Iyudin, the episode’s director, and myself, was that of a contra-zoom or ‘Zolly’ effect. However, such a technique would require the use of a zoom lens, and we did not have the camera budget to accommodate an additional rental, nor the time that would be needed to rehearse and execute the effect properly. A shot I thought might evoke a similar sensation would be to have our character and the camera pulled away from the door together down the long hallway, as if by some dark force of nature.

I suggested to Jeremy that we place Colin Oh, our Camera Operator, and Uly Schlesinger, the lead actor on a furniture pad and have the entire Grip Department band together and drag the two of them across the polished floor of the hallway.

At this point, Jeremy reminded me that the “entire grip department” comprised of only two people, and suggested instead that he take a moment to construct a platform upon our Fisher dolly that would allow room for Colin and Uly, and would achieve a much smoother and easier backwards camera movement for the shot.

The final shot is only a couple of seconds of the episode, but is fleeting and bizarre enough to achieve the desired sensation.
All in all, it was a low-tech effect, executed quickly for no additional cost, and was only achievable because I had a crew who were committed, talented and resourceful.

Two Sentence Horror Stories was created by Vera Miao. How much input does she have on your work?

A tremendous amount. From the design of the visual language to the final color grade, Vera remains as a close collaborator across every level of the cinematographic process.

All of the directors on the series, myself, Paul Yee the show’s other cinematographer, Maite Perez-Nievas the show’s production designer, everyone who contributed to the look of the show worked in close collaboration with Vera.

You first began working on Two Sentence Horror Stories in 2017 when it was airing on go90. When it moved to The CW did anything change for you? Style or production wise?

Well, the entire production moved from LA to New York, so on that level the production began to seem a little different. However, it always felt like we were still making the same show.

The spirit of the show remained unchanged, and although we make some tweaks to our visual approach to the network TV version of Two Sentence Horror Stories, our goals and aspirations for the show remained identical.

Is there a Two Sentence Horror Stories topic or theme that hasn’t been explored yet that you would like to see next season if there were to be one?

That’s a tough one to answer. What I like the most about the show is how it so often surprises you with who the characters of each story will be. The show places, front and center, individuals who are conspicuously unrepresented or just entirely absent from the majority of film and TV we have access to. Through the lens of these often unexplored points of view, the writers and directors of Two Sentence Horror Stories are able to give entirely new perspectives to what might have otherwise been quite familiar tropes of the horror genre.

If there is another season of the show, my only hope is that it continues to tell these horror stories from the points of view of characters that we’re not as used to seeing on screen.

Are there any TV shows you are watching right now where the cinematography particularly stands out to you?

Jakob Ihre’s work on Chernobyl was absolutely wonderful. It struck this perfect balance between something that felt very authentic and naturalistic, yet it was steeped in this heavy atmosphere of oppressive soviet tragedy. I was already a huge fan of his work through his collaborations with Joachim Trier, but this series was something very special, that I’m sure I’ll rewatch many times.

Is there another television cinematographer that you would like to collaborate with?

That’s an interesting question, because there a so many cinematographers that I admire and would love to have the opportunity to work alongside and learn from. Yet the mark of a good collaboration is when each individual can receive something from the other so, as much as I love the look Robert Elswit set for The Night Of, I somehow doubt he would personally gain anything from a collaboration with me.

I suppose the best collaboration would be with a cinematographer whose taste, style and ability blended with my own in a manner that led to the elevation of the show. Who that DP might be would, I think, depend entirely upon the narrative of that particular project.

Since you started out, what do you think are the biggest changes that the film and television industry has experienced from your point of view as a cinematographer?

People actually care about the cinematography of television now.

That’s the big one.

Growing up, I would sometimes wonder why TV shows were so restricted in what was deemed appropriate for their cinematography. It clearly was never a budget or schedule restriction that kept the majority of TV series looking identical to each other and rarely ever reflecting the emotion of their narratives.

Although it’s true that, throughout the years, there were examples of fantastic work done in TV cinematography, these shows were anomalies to the convention of TV.

In part, advances in the quality of the TV sets that most people have in their homes can now accommodate choices in framing and exposure that would have been diminished by the quality of an old CRT TV. However, it was never the technology that was scuttling TV cinematography, it was really only ever that Television was seen by all as a lesser medium of storytelling, and because we expected less from the visual language of TV, we were given less.

I’m so thrilled about the recent evolution of TV. Television Writers, Television Directors and Television Cinematographers are now just Writers, Directors and Cinematographers. I think the gates have opened for a lot of exciting new storytelling and I look forward to what is to come.

To finish up, what are the most challenging and most rewarding parts of your job?

In a way, the most challenging aspect and the most rewarding aspect really stem from the same place.

Each new production throws you into the mix with a whole new combination of collaborators. What’s wonderful about constantly collaborating with new Directors, new Production Designers even new 1st ADs and Producers is that different people push and inspire you to attempt new things. New collaborations lead to an entirely fresh set of goals for the cinematography on each project, and it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to attempt new things each day.

The other side of that coin is the challenge that comes from always attempting something new. You’re forever operating outside of your comfort zone, and whenever you’re trying something new the chance of failure is far higher. There’s not much room to ever get comfortable in this job, but if it means that the work will always continue to excite me, then that’s a tradeoff I’ll happily make.

Big thanks to Guy for taking the time to answer these questions. His answers were fascinating and insightful, and I certainly learned a lot. Thanks for reading, and let us know what you thought in the comments below.

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