Unafraid of the dark: interview with Lucky’s Julia Swain

Lucky. Image courtesy Shudder
Lucky. Image courtesy Shudder /
2 of 3
Behind the scenes of Shudder’s original film Lucky. Image courtesy of Julia Swain and Shudder /

1428 Elm: I recently spoke with the cinematographer for A Nightmare Wakes (Oren Soffer), which is also on Shudder, and he said that horror tends to be a favorite genre for DPs and Cinematographers because it doesn’t have to be overly realistic, you can kind of dip into the surreal. Can you give us some examples of this from your experience on Lucky?

Julia: Yeah, and I think Lucky does both. Lucky starts as a film that’s set in this everyday realistic life of May, and it takes a turn, so you don’t really know where it’s going. So we have a very quiet camera, very nice and steady so it doesn’t move too much.  And we’re just watching her at work, and with her husband, and then we get to dip into something much more surreal, which horror allows cinematographers to do.

I think one of the great things I love about shooting horror is that it goes along with my philosophy that part of being a cinematographer is just being unafraid of the dark. We pay attention to shadows which goes in to this idea of concealing information from the audience, and what to draw the eye to. For example, in Lucky, we have a ton of night, interior and exterior, we get to be a little bit more stylized with our moonlight, and decide how much of the man to show and when not to show him.

And the last act really pushes the envelope in terms of cinematography, and things change. It got to be this really cool progression of a bit more quiet cinematography that doesn’t really draw attention to itself, and then completely transforms as May’s world becomes more and more surreal. Colors change, the camera moves a lot differently, there’s a different quality to the imagery in terms of like, the softness, and if you look at highlight sources in the frame, the shapes are different, things like that. There are just little things that hint at the fact that this may or may not be real. We don’t know what is real in Lucky, and that’s kind of the fun thing about it.

1428 Elm: I think that people who blow off horror are missing that very artistic piece of the puzzle. It’s like you’re saying, dealing with the shadows and the low light levels, that’s a whole different kind of…well, it’s art, that’s what is.

Julia: Yeah, I think if you look at something that’s not horror, like comedy for instance, you’re doing the opposite, right? You’re looking at highlights, and you’re trying to illuminate everything, whereas, we get to play with darkness and what that means.