Cinematographer Interview: Shooting Darkness for "The Empty Man"
Anastas Michos 1.jpg

PremiumBeat talks to cameraman Anastas Michos about taking photos with the RED Monstro 8K about its latest feature. Immersion.

While we all know the film industry is in a state of rapid change, how much the audience loves a good fear remains constant. And while many films could be delayed right now, The Empty Man, written and directed by David Prior, has hit theaters and offers a nice escape back into the familiarity of cinema.

However, recording a high-concept horror feature isn't all fun and games, so to speak. Horror presents many unique challenges – from practical to camera ISOs and lighting in dark environments to psychological to finding new ways to scare audiences.

We chatted with Anastas Michos, Director of Photography at The Empty Man, about his cinematography process and his advice and insights for getting started in the industry.

The challenges of setting the mood, time and place

Talking to Michos was a real treat. As a cameraman, he has nearly fifty DP credits drawn from a wide variety of projects and genres. For most, however, he is best known for his collaborations with directors such as Milos Forman, Oliver Stone and Ron Howard, as well as for some well-known films such as Man on the Moon, Texas Chainsaw and The First Purge. As with most filmmakers who have had success for years, I asked what got him into the industry.

I've always felt that filmmaking is about capturing the community and the essence of the universal human experience. And that's exactly what I wanted to do and I had the opportunity to travel through the world of filmmaking. As for cinematography, I realized early on that I was also very interested in visual storytelling and the challenges of setting mood, time and place, even though I have a musical background.

It is these visual storytelling challenges that define the craft of cinematography, as you can see in Micho's career, including The Empty Man. Cinematography for big budget feature films requires a keen eye as well as a creative and technical mind.

Digital recordings with the RED Monstro 8K

The RED Monstro 8K. Image over RED.

Like many in the industry, Michos had to evolve from shooting to a new digital future over the course of his career. The Empty Man is no different when Michos – who has a lot of experience in high definition and even digital IMAX filmmaking – shot his newest horror feature on the RED Monstro 8K. Here's his full breakdown of his camera and gear, and why production chose the Monstro 8K.

It was shot anamorphically with Panavision C-series lenses, with a mix of possibly a G-series lens. And we shot it on the Monstro 8K. Director David Prior is a protégé and friend of David Fincher, and Fincher is a great user and supporter of RED cameras. So we were mainly influenced by our director's familiarity with this camera.

As with any director / cameraman partnership, the choice of camera and format is an important decision. It's also one that has been developed in close collaboration, with both parties having a say in how the footage is shot and what the ultimate goals of the production are. For The Empty Man, which had some notable stars and a decent budget, the Monstro 8K was a good choice based on the duo's familiarity and preferences for the DSMC2 camera.

The challenges of working with darkness

Cinematography: The Empty Man

Since The Empty Man was shot mostly at night, the choice of camera was of the utmost importance. Image via 20th Century Fox.

In addition to the many practical and technical decisions a DP and a director make in choosing their camera for a production, the unique challenges of the film itself need to be addressed. Michos and Prior knew early on that much of The Empty Man would take place in some classic, horror-filled locations – dark tunnels and outdoors at night. Michos spoke about what he was looking for in a camera specifically for these challenges.

In general, when it comes to digital cinematography, I choose a camera for its appearance and sensitivity to light. In the film I would do the same, but with footage. With The Empty Man – it was mainly shot at night – it was a choice to use that particular camera and its native 800 ISO, which was very useful – especially with anamorphic ones – to get those images in those very dark rooms.

It's also interesting to note how an experienced DP deals with these decisions, depending on whether the film is being shot on film or digitally. In the case of films, the decision undeniably depends on the type of footage and the type of sensitivity it can handle for light. The principles for digital are similar. Michos, however, is concerned with ISO and what settings the Monstro 8K could offer for its particular needs.

The rhythm and unpredictability of shooting horror

Cinematography: On the set

Film the empty man. Image via Anastas Michos and 20th Century Fox.

As you can see in the trailer, The Empty Man belongs to the horror genre. And for those who have tried making horror before, the genre can be both approachable and problematic. The biggest problems with many films have less to do with technical aspects and more to do with defining how horror films work and what scares people.

I think to make an effective horror film, you have to understand moving images. Literally the fact that we are making pictures that exist in time and space. Once we have that understanding, you realize that people react to the unpredictable – or what they expect – and then you need to shake that up. It's just as much about studying the rhythm of horror films and what scares a person as photography is. Specifically in terms of lighting how to achieve it.

Michos advises aspiring filmmakers looking to get into horror that your best steps to learning and improving is to devour as much horror content as possible. While Michos has worked just as much in the suspense genre, horror can actually be a lot more satisfying as its goal is to always pay off in the end.

Advice on getting started in the industry

Cinematography: The Empty Man

Michos attributes his success to hard work and mentoring. Image via Anastas Michos and 20th Century Fox.

While desperate to talk about his latest and future projects, Michos has been fortunate enough to have worked in the industry on a variety of projects large and small for decades. He works his way up as a cameraman and credits both hard work and some great mentors for helping him with this.

The advice I have for young cameramen is… perseverance. Study the craft and know the craft and have perseverance to overcome the obstacles that might stand in your way in the jobs you want – they will be overcome if you are persistent enough. People will recognize your skills and recognize your talent and give you your break.

This advice applies to any passion for film. Nobody starts making, directing, or playing a $ 100 million Marvel movie. Instead, it takes a combination of zeal and perseverance to stick with it and make the most of every opportunity that presents itself.

Cover picture about Anastas Michos and 20th Century Fox.

For more interviews and advice on filmmaking, see the articles below.


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