Why Film Is So Haunting

Published on website: October 24, 2013
Categories: Alyson Shurtliff , Matt Stoffel , The StoryBoard Blog

Film is the “trick” for filmmakers who are tasked with “treating” audiences to the spooky, supernatural world of vampires, zombies and ghosts! From big screen scares to TV terror, film is the medium that creatives are choosing to bring chilling, bloodcurdling stories to “real” life.

FX’s American Horror Story is this year’s most Emmy®-nominated program. The third installment, AHS: Coven, is being shot on Kodak film by Michael Goi, ASC on locations in New Orleans. “Shooting with film gives me the freedom to move really quickly with the cameras, unencumbered by trails of cables and the technical stuff that can slow the process down,” he says. “Film also allows me to really push the envelope in terms of how dark I want to go, knowing that there is always a lot more detail on the negative.” Watch Michael and director/co-executive producer breakdown the look for AHS: Coven in this video.


The Walking Dead, which is shot on Super 16, returned for its fourth season in October, delivering the highest ratings of any episode in the series’ history. “We wanted a ‘film look’ (for The Walking Dead) as opposed to something that looked like tape that was super sharp,” said Gale Anne Hurd, executive producer. “It didn’t feel as real. There is also inherent grain in film, which works. You want this to feel gritty and real as opposed to shiny and surreal. In addition to that, you get a much truer representation of the color palette than you do with HD.” See what’s new on this season of The Walking Dead.


(L-R) Rutina Wesley and Anna Paquin star in TRUE BLOOD (credit: John P. Johnson/HBO)

David Klein, ASC and Romeo Tirone, ASC shoot the blood-soaked adventures on HBO’s True Blood in 3-perf 35mm format. “We’ve chosen to stay on film for a couple of reasons,” says producer Gregg Fienberg. “The first is that the show has an amazing look that truly is a big part of our success. Film gives us a certain feel, and I don’t want to mess with that. Film also gives us range. We use several different stocks each season, depending on the type of scene we’re doing, to help us achieve a specific look.”

The underworld of the Shadowhunters was captured on Kodak film for The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones. “Film is still the best image capture and the best reality buffer,” says DP Geir Hartly Andreassen, FSF. “The rich skin tones and overall texture are unbeatable. I think it will take a long time until digital will achieve the soft and organic look of film stocks. And because this story does contain a lot of otherworldly sequences, we needed to achieve a natural and realistic look so that the audience could explore and experience this new fantastical world alongside our main character Clary.”

Dracula Untold, due out in 2014, is currently being captured by John Schwartzman, ASC on Kodak film. The Oscar®-nominated cinematographer insisted on film in part because of its ability to perform under difficult conditions. “Electronics and water don’t mix well,” he notes. “On the location scout, we were standing in the pouring rain, and I said, ‘We need film cameras. We can throw them down on the sandbags in the mud and they work.’ You’re not going to run fiber optic cable across this field. We can’t have a DIT tent on the hillside in the muck. On a 70-day schedule, it ain’t going to work. Framestore is handling the visual effects on Dracula Untold, and they were so relieved to find out that we were shooting film, because of the resolution. You can’t measure it in dots.”

Just like film, a good scare will transcend many generations—remember jumping out of your seat while watching The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, or Halloween? Brace yourself, because there is plenty more fright coming your way on film.