Cinematographer Byron Kopman has had a lengthy career, tackling a widespan of projects via commercials, music videos, and feature films. His frequent collaboration with Director Neill Blomkamp has pushed him to new heights, producing a distinct visual blueprint that can be seen in films such as Anthem, Volition, and – more recently – Blomkamp’s venture into the horror genre, DEMONIC.
For the release of DEMONIC, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Josh Taylor had the opportunity to talk with Byron Kopman, where they discussed his collaborative relationship with Blomkamp in tackling filming their newest film venture, DEMONIC, where he finds inspiration in working both short and long-form films, and how horror films continue to excite him in shooting.
This is an interesting film to take on because it deals with both reality and a simulated world. How do you then approach that from a cinematography style?
Byron Kopman: It’s quite easy actually because the simulation world is 100% computer generated and it’s out of Neill Blomkamp’s head and his vision as the director. He created that world with a team. We shot our motion side of things fully separate. The virtual capture stuff was all a separate unit after the film was shot. So we didn’t have to get too connected. Visually, that was just kind of done after the fact.
With a horror film like this, what excites you?
Byron Kopman: I’m a huge fan of horror because the rules are a little bit more relaxed, you can go a little bit more colorful or darker. It’s kind of like the music video world. With this genre, you can get more creative which I really enjoy. I like not having a reason for something in lighting, or camera movement. Just whatever makes it scarier or fits the scene better. And darkness! Neill pushed me to go real dark. Your mind is what is the scariest. That will make each scene scarier than it could be. You’re always gonna go to the worst-case scenario with your mind if you can’t see too much.
You’ve done music videos, commercials, things like that? What’s the difference here between short-form and full-length features? How do you approach the two differently with cinematography?
Byron Kopman: The main difference in approach between long narrative and commercial or something that’s a day or two is just the prep that takes place. As far as really understanding the script and breaking it down. This is my fourth feature and you never shoot it sequentially so you have to know it really well. You know that you’re going to shoot scene seven on day one, and then scene eight on day twenty and they’re going to cut together. You have to know in writing and in prep how you’re going to shoot each scene so that they flow nicely. That’s the biggest difference that I found between long-form and short form. It’s just the prep time and really having it laid out on paper so that you can reference it as you go because you’ll never shoot it sequentially.
Do you prefer one or the other? Do you prefer the challenge of making a feature-length? Or do you prefer the quick, easy experience of a single-day shoot?
Byron Kopman: I’m kind of mixed. I am kind of leaning towards short form, but long-form is so much more meaningful. You are making something that has a full story whereas, with a commercial, you’re jamming a tiny story into 30 seconds. With a movie, you can really unravel a story. It’s meaningful and I feel like you’re giving more to the audience. You are giving them something deep, whereas the commercial is kind of getting forced down their throat. The film is letting someone remove themselves and just get lost in the world that we’ve created. So I’m really on the fence. I love doing both. So if I can keep doing both, I’ll be a very happy person.
For this movie, like you were saying, it gives a lot of varying shots and lets you be playful. Is there a certain scene or a certain day on set that you felt was your favorite for DEMONIC?
Byron Kopman: Yeah, my favorite scene is pretty much the climax of the film, which is pretty evident. We had all sorts of practical effects and a very large space set up like a sanatorium. Just this big abandoned building in the desert and it all took place at night. We shot over four nights. It’s where the two main characters realize that everything that they were dreading is coming to reality. And then they have to go forward with their plan. That was my favorite part. It is the biggest, most intense section of the film.
Was there anything that you did on this film from a technical aspect that you’ve not done before for anything else?
Byron Kopman: During prep, we tested a bunch of lenses for some of the flashback stuff. We tried all of these vintage lenses, and in the end, the one that Neill loved the most was just putting a stocking on the rear element of the lens. It gave it that really washed out kind of dreamy look and it was quite interesting. It’s funny. I was going to the convenience store and buying all of these women’s pantyhose. I pretty much came through the cashier with pantyhose and vaseline. That’s all I had. Just a bunch of pantyhose. I wondered what that cashier thought of me. It was a combo of that and then the whole film I shot high ISO to give it a bit more of a grungy feel. We shot with the Alexa Mini. Normally I shoot 800 ISO and in this film, I shot the whole thing in 1600 because we were so low light for a lot of scenarios. It also gave it some more grit. That was our technical approach.
DEMONIC is now in theaters and available On-Demand.