Thursday, 26 May 2011

How to create a Psychological Horror film

In order to understand how a psychological terror/horror film works an understanding of what it is will be needed first , so what is it ? Well many people explain the way they feel when watching the films is a sense of unknowing the films rely on a character fears, guilt, beliefs, and emotional instability to build tension and further the plot. An audience will identify with this character as we all have the same fears and emotions.

Psychological horror is different from the type of horror found in "splatter films," which derive their effects of blood and violence, psycho films make you anxious and calm at the same time using specific lighting camera shots and movements you are able to feel what is coming before you see it like in the cases of the films I have had to watch in this project these include The Shining, The Tenant, the Machinist, Rear window and The Haunting(original).

The first film we watched was The Shining which I reviewed earlier on in the blog in this film the vast use of space gave a sense of isolation and being open to attack these types of shots are very common in this genre but it is as much about the set as the technical features of cameras and lighting. The set has to be simple a common place that we feel comfortable in such as a bedroom ,a hallway or a hotel.The film starts to prepare the viewer for isolation with gliding aerial shots of a deserted winding highway leading to the Overlook Hotel these shots remind me of a snake and the evil that it portrays. Another camera angle that works well in captivating the audience is with the use of a "Stedi-Cam which follows Danny's tricycle as he innocently raced around the halls of the vacant Hotel showing further creepy emptiness to the vast space.

The next film I watched was the Machinist a film I had watched previously and enjoyed The machinist" is about a heavy machine operator played by Christian Bale who suffers from insomnia and has his reality breaking down on him, seeing strange characters, eerie notes on his refrigerator and getting paranoid with all his surrounding seeming to turn against him.'The Machinist' is full of an eerie green light, using coral filters on all the lenses and high-key lighting in most scenes, this style is very similar to that of 'Twin peaks'. The claustrophobic camera angles add to this atmosphere and help to enforce the idea that the machinist is living in his own surreal environment. Similar to that of Jack Nicholson’s character in ‘ the Shining’
Visual attitudes of desertion and desolateness are paralleled with Bale's creepy, disturbing-looking thinness correlated with Reznik's psychological state. Insanity slowly creeps its way in to the film you are running with Christian Bale’s character away from his paranoia and mysterious characters which suggest the end to his existence.
In the film 'Rear Window' the Director Hitchcock was a master of suspense without using gore and graphic violence. He scared us with only a camera and some lights. The suspense in the film is based on the unquestionable logic of terror. The story of L.B. Jefferies, a photographer who has been immobilized while photographing a race car crash. His girlfriend, Lisa wants to marry him and tries to get him to settle down, but he is unwilling to give up his adventurous lifestyle for her own high class lifestyle. Trapped in his apartment, he begins to pry into his neighbors' lives by watching through his window. The words curiosity killed the cat comes to mind. All though not my favourite Hitchcock film his work needs no comment as it speak for his self his use of music and camera angles flow and there is not such a use for dialogue you can even see past the shoddy set's. In Rear Window the gentle yet eerie music coming from the Songwriter apartment set a beautiful scene and the use of different colour filters on the camera lens add to the mood.In conclusion to this, through the use of films many subtle things such as the lightning, camera angle and sound be used to create the suspense and fear empathy and terror needed to create the horror in the viewers mind. Physiological horrors often focus on tragedy, entailing madness, conspiracy, violence and even what we would call tragic people, those that we just simple empathise with like in the Machinist. The main Characters aren’t usually the bad guys at the beginning and unusual change in circumstance will change them. The idea is not to scare you but to make you think your not meant to hide behind a pillow but to be on the edge of your seat in anticipation of what the outcome is to this highly built up storyline.

the image above is from ' The Machinist'
The Shining, Stanley Kubrick 1980
The Machinist ,Brad Anderson 2004
Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock 1954

the fooring

Before i forget the flooring,
Now this was difficult to say the least we started with plywood boards and stained them in the wickes varnish as seen in a previous post. After laying them on the floor with much help from Simon we noticed the boards did not lay flat and we decided to tape them down on the underside and hoped the weight of furniture and rugs would hold them down.
The next problem we had was footprints so i spent most of my time in my socks because the floor just seemed to attract the dust and Simon boots were a big culprit so we had to wipe the floor with a damp cloth and sweep numerous times !
but overall we were very happy with our floor and its colouring was perfectly matched to the panneling.

Lights camera action

This post will show all I learnt from the photo shoots and what i have learnt about using lighting to make a set come to life.
There is usually three main lights in film and TV sets they consist of, key, fill and back light. The key light is the brightest light and casts the primary shadows which gives a direction to the light. The fill light does what it says and fills in any shadows left by the key light this light has no real shadows or direction of its own. And finally the back light. Each light has its own job and they are usually combined to create an overall effect. but they all do the same job which is to simulate the light that might occur under normal conditions in the filming space.

After being taught the three lights, we were shown how they were hung on long stands such as a C stand. They can be extended to a great height and this can unbalance the heavy light so sand bags are added to the base to distribute the weigh as seen below.We then went through all the possible effects that could be created with lighting showing us the different size lights , different filters, and how to properly use the barn doors (the hinged shutters on the front) these get very very hot and have to be handled with gloves !
We were then shown how the camera works they worked explained the different setting such as the effect that the aperture can have on the amount of light there is is a shot.Using poor Vicky as a model we filmed 5 second clips on each aperture setting.
The Lighting can help create illusions, shadows can distort the set and fool the audience.
Through the use of different lights we are able to control: The colour, direction, intensity, harsh and soft lighting, the mood and certain compositions.The difference between harsh and soft lighting: HARSH: Harsh and sharp shadows are created, the light is pretty solid. SOFT: The light is often bounced off a board to create a more subtle highlight and produce a more defused look.

    Gels are put in front of the light to change the colour, the light shines through the gel.The gels can be layered to create different colours set colour correction and set the mood. Once we were familiarise with all the equipment we started to think about how our rooms should be lit.

    How does light effect the atmosphere in a film ?

    'Low key lighting uses shadows and directed pools of light to create atmosphere
    and suspense. It is often seen in crime or gangster movies. Low key lighting
    suggests an air of mystery. Horror movies often use this style of lighting in
    exaggerated form by over-lighting (placing a light above the face) or under-lighting
    (placing a light under a face) actors to create a dramatic or distorted effect.'
    quote from

    So finally we can shoot so we started with the Study. We set up a light in front of the double door joining the room to the drawing room this was a fill light effect we began to change the filters and the lights. we got more light in the set, We then tried the reflector technique involving the white board to try and create a softer light but we ended up loosing the detail of the room. it was particularly difficult to get the haunting effect we desired but the room worked well with the use of shadows.
    My personal favourite is the drawing room the subtle orange light make the time frame look around sunset its warm and inviting but feels fresh at the same time as the picture below shows.

    the beginging of the end

    Own photo's of set before final touches once the windows and study had been blacked out using black fabric.

    The next post will show how we set the scene and lighting for our official photo shoot.


    Just to show you the varnish used in the rooms for future reference.


    This varnish form Wickes was £9.99 in red mahogany used for the window frames and floor.

    What a Tool !

    In this post I will skim through the use of tools and equipment we used in this set build and the health and safety and PPE needed.
    Before you start any job, you need to weigh it up and decide whether to go ahead. Ask yourself:
    • Is it something I can take on myself?
    • Do I have the right tools and protective equipment?
    • Do I need to get in the experts?
    Cutting corners could mean putting yourself at risk, it can end up costing more than you think. NEVER underestimate the difficulty of the job, especially if you are unfit or nervous about heights - get someone else to do it.

    Band Saw:
    Firstly check your PPE as many times i was wearing unsuitable shoes and was sent packing from the workshop. When using a band saw you must never forget your Safety glasses band saw blades rotate at considerable speed, and small pieces of wood can fly out in nearly any direction.
    You should also wear for working with your band saw. Avoid loose fitting clothing, particularly long sleeved shirts, that could get caught in your work or in the band saw blade as you don't want to loose a hand !
    Remember when you start up the band saw and wait until the motor is at full speed before beginning any cut. When operating a band saw, always place the wood flat against the table. Do not attempt to "free-hand" the wood in mid-air that wold just be stupid ! The wood must remain flat on the surface of the table at all times during the cut to make sure you get a straight clean cut.

    When cutting curves, draw the outline of your curve on the wood before hand Then, keeping the wood flat against the table, ease the wood through the saw along the outer edge of the cut line. It is better to leave excess wood outside the line that can be sanded down at a later date. remember to take your time and not rush any cuts especially curved lines as if you mess up it cant really be fixed again.

    Nail Gun:
    As per usual always wear safety glasses there are many simple ways to use a nail gun but so many dangers i thought it would be easier to bullet point the obvious ones.

    • Do not hold the trigger down unless you're purposefully firing the tool. This is especially important when descending ladders.
    • Never point the tool at anyone. Treat the tool like a firearm. Never assume the tool is empty.
    • Do not fire the tool unless the nose is firmly pressed against a work piece.
    • Keep your free hand safely out of the way of the tool.
    Glue gun

    I was going to write the health,safety and correct usage of a glue gun but we aren't that stupid so i thought I'd tell you an interesting fact instead.
    Hot glue guns range in temperature form around 250 to 430 degrees INTERESTING

    Hand Sander

    Using the hand sander was just plain annoying the vibrations made my hands go numb and the dust coming off covered your hands and made gripping difficult which s very dangerous when the off button is situated on the sander !

    Monday, 23 May 2011

    from the book to the screen

    Once we had all read the novel of "The Death of Ivan Ilych" we discussed as a group the themes that would have to be portrayed in the set design of Ivan's study and drawing room. As much as it it important to be historically correct and represents the baroque interior and architecture of 19th century Russia the psychological terror and insanity of Ivan that has to be portrayed.

    We looked at how we could portray this feeling that only Ivan had and in many brainstorms over the past weeks the below bullet points are the ideas we came up with:

    • A sense of darkness perhaps hidden behind a screen

    • The use of hands grabbing/creeping up on Ivan

    • A dreamlike state shown by the shape of the room or unrealistic furniture

    • Pain shown as a third person such as an 'IT' like creature

    • The idea of a very large or small room either showing his isolation or loneliness
    The next few post will show how we came from the brains storms to the finished article.

    Throughout the team meetings many opinions were raised and in the case of tutorials our ideas were challenged this was the first time for many of us that our ideas were criticised so thoroughly and at the time there was shock in the group but we now come to see how this benefit’s the group. Bad criticism is better then none and we are able to build upon theses ideas and better our work.
    Working in a group was both difficult and helpful, we tried to play to every ones advantages and all though this worked in most cases it was important to remember that people could not always work to the same ability as your own. I felt coming into this project that I would be the ‘underdog’ but found out I was able to work well if left to my own devices. Our group has some very strong characters who sometimes helped in the order of the group yet there was sometimes a few situations where the entire group didn’t agree and we had to come to compromises that would benefit the outcome of our set. All though working in groups is most people idea of a nightmare I would be happy to do it again but have learnt that there is no point of sulking about not having your idea chosen but to inject your own thoughts and opinions into others thus helping the group and yourself learn the importance of team work. I have learnt that in group work you must not rely to strongly on other people as unforeseen circumstances could be the difference between the wok getting done or not.