A Nightmare Wakes: interview with Oren Soffer

Shudder's A Nightmare Wakes cinematographer Oren Soffer. Photo credit Joshua Cote
Shudder's A Nightmare Wakes cinematographer Oren Soffer. Photo credit Joshua Cote /
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Shudder Original A Nightmare Wakes gives us an eerie version of Mary Shelley’s creation of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. 1428 Elm recently spoke with cinematographer Oren Soffer about the authentic look of the film.

1428 Elm: Before we talk about A Nightmare Wakes, let’s start by telling our readers exactly what a cinematographer does on a film.

Oren: Sure, a cinematographer is basically in charge of two separate departments that kind of end up working together, sort of coalescing to create the visual look of a film. One of those departments is everything related to the camera; so, camera placement, lens choice, choice of format and so forth. The  other department is lighting. So, designing the lighting of the scenery, how it interacts with the set and everything, and working with the director to develop and plan and design both of those elements.

1428 Elm: What are some examples of horror and sub-genre films you think are examples of good cinematography?

Oren: It’s interesting, horror is a very infamous and popular genre among cinematographers specifically, because it lends itself to creating very expressive and very dramatic imagery, which is something cinematographers love. We love interplaying with light and shadow, and working in darkness and sort of playing with all of those different elements. Horror is such a great genre that lends itself well to the natural inclinations of things that cinematographers tend to be attracted to. And so, there are so many examples to list, but off the top of my head I think the most well-regarded horror films cinematographically are The Exorcist, Alien, and then moving into the modern era, you have – well, if Silence of the Lambs counts…

1428 Elm: You know what? I always considered it horror.

Oren: Yes, likewise! And then, moving into the modern era, I think there’s a wave of sort of indie horror that’s been really influential in the past few years. Things like It Follows, and The Witch and Hereditary would all be really, really great examples.

1428 Elm: Oh, I love The Witch. And, you’re right, that’s a perfect example. The lighting and the atmosphere were perfect.

Oren: Exactly. Horror has always been such a great genre for cinematographers to work with the interplay between light and shadow, and also to create imagery in lighting that can sometimes be a little bit more stylized.

Comedies and dramas and films that tend to be grounded in reality beg a little more naturalistic approach to cinematography, but it’s always fun to play in worlds that allow you to be more creative and more expressive, and sometimes deviate from what would be considered naturalistic. It’s a really fun genre to play in.

A Nightmare Wakes
Shudder’s A Nightmare Wakes. Photo courtesy Jessica DeNoia /

1428 Elm: Let’s talk a little bit about A Nightmare Wakes. It’s based on the events surrounding Mary Shelley’s famous novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, and this was written in the 1800s. The film’s look is very authentic to the time period, how did you go about achieving that?

Oren: One of the first things that we discussed when deciding on the look of the film – early in the process, the director and I sit down and really start to hammer out how we want this film to look and feel. And one of the guiding principles was the historical context of that summer in Geneva, which was famously overcast.

The reason for that was a volcanic eruption halfway across the world that blanketed the world in ash and created this very dark, and overcast and gloomy year. It was famously called “the year with no summer.” That historic event ended up being the spark that inspired the main aesthetic drive of the film, which is that we wanted it to reflect that historical reality, but also use it as a method to express Mary Shelley’s internal darkness, and her struggle of grappling with this character and all of the other drama in her life that are influencing her writing. So, it ended up working twofold. One was to reflect the reality that we were telling, and the other was on a more metaphysical level.

And in terms of specific planning, the main challenge with A Nightmare Wakes was to shoot our exteriors during overcast days in order to capture that sort of gloomy look. We managed to do it 90% of the time, I’m very impressed and pleased with how our team, and our scheduling and planning managed to work around what weather we were given on every single day. Most of the exteriors were successfully overcast, and we got some nice rain and some gloom.

There were a couple scenes in the film we had to shoot in the sun, but I think they really work thematically really well, they tend to be scenes that reflect the sunnier side of the characters, so it ended up being a nice balance. We got really lucky with the weather in the end.