Making a Horror Short – Short Films for Fun pt.3

Hello all!  I just finished my third film in the “Short Film for Fun” series.  I have never shot a horror movie, though I was a second unit director in a zombie movie that never came came to completion and wrote a horror movie that never got anywhere… I guess you could say third time’s the charm for me on this subject.  Please enjoy:  The Dancing Man

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I knew going in that lighting was going to be the real challenge for this short, especially since I wanted my character against a corner to highlight the fact that he is mentally trapped.  So dingy white walls and light sources, I knew some shadows would be visible, but the goal is to place the light sources where they would not detract from the subject of the shot.  For the wide shots I used one $12 home depot clamp light on a C-stand towards the foot of the bed pointed on an almost 90 degree angle away from the bed to avoid harsh shadows and casts on the wall.  A LED panel was off frame right bouncing off the ceiling to fill in the shadows which I would crush down in post.  This gave the scene a look of the room lights being out.  Then for the close ups, I pointed the clamp light at the actor’s face and adjusted its positioning for the most pleasing shadows.  This set up worked rather well and pretty much relied on a $12 light.  I would have loved to get a hair light in there, but with the position of the bed against the corner it just wasn’t doable.

I used my new Canon Compact Macro 50mm 1:2.5 Lens for many close-up shots and it became an invaluable tool for nightmare cinematography.  I had used this lens at work to photograph small organisms and had to have one for myself.  Naturally, I put it to good use on my new short.  My favorite shot is early on of the sweat on the brow.  This was also great for the “eye” shots which were not zoomed in, but close to the subject’s face giving a more immediate feel to the sequence.  Shooting with a Macro Lens gave me more freedom in the small set and allowed me to get shots I wouldn’t have been able to focus on with a normal lens.  The only sacrifice was about one stop of light.

Editing was another challenge because you need people to feel specific things at certain times.  I gradually sped up the pacing from a suspenseful opening to faster paced shots when the shutter speed was increased.  The shadow or “Dancing Man” was revealed slowly and each shot brings him closer into view.  The flashes were used to emphasize the nightmares and were not something I had originally planned on doing.  The nightmare scenes were the most challenging part of the edit as small adjustments had the power to change your perception of what was happening.

It was a very rewarding process and I hope a future longer-format horror project is in the cards.  I hope you enjoyed it (especially that shocking ending)!  Next project coming at you soon.  If any readers out there have attempted this as well I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section.  Until next time… Keep shooting.