Gothic Harvest, one of the latest horror films currently in production, follows the aristocratic, wealthy France-born Boudine family, who move to New Orleans in the mid-1800s to make their way in America, only to have their beautiful youngest daughter cross paths with the fiancé of the legendary Queen of Louisiana Voodoo, Marie Laveau.
As with any horror film, the end result once it hits screens is absolutely jaw-dropping, bone-chilling and more. But what happens behind-the-scenes? Cue DP, Dan Kneece, and the rest of the production team. We spoke exclusively with the Director of Photography to find out just what it takes to bring a horror film to life.
ProductionHUB: How's preparing for a horror film different than some of the other productions you've been a part of?
Dan Kneece: Horror films to me are basically fantasies so I approached Gothic Harvest from that angle thought wise. It gave me a lot of freedom as with fantasies anything goes. You can reach into the inner depths of your mind and draw from there. I tend to see things differently than most so there’s a lot to pull from. Not saying better, just different. A fresh set of eyes to the concept.
PH: How'd you go about planning this piece? Your own process for pre-production, casting, locations, crew, etc.
Kneece: My process is the same in all films in the beginning. Read the script. It tells all. The script is your roadmap and either it is a good roadmap or a bad one. If it is a bad one it needs to be fixed to proceed. Once you have a proper script you have a common line of communication. You and the Director can and should talk for some time before if possible, but the script is the foundation of your story. The story is key. Everything is driven by story. Then you and the Director can plan in earnest as can all other department heads. Of course, there are production meetings and casting and scouts and crew interviews and equipment lists and such taking place during pre-pro, but the script is the catalyst that puts all this into motion assuming all financing is in place.
PH: What'd you shoot on?
ARRI Alexa Mini with Zeiss Super Speeds. Photo by B Camera 1st AC Anthony Jaques.
PH: Why did you choose these and how did they enhance production?
Kneece: When shooting electronically I tend to go for Alexa or Canon these days, budget depending. To my eye, ARRI has the most filmic looking digital cinema cameras these days with Canon being a close second. I can get either with PL mounts so I can use Zeiss Super Speeds, which look on electronic cameras very much like they did on ARRIflex 35BL cameras.
Sometimes I will use Panavision lenses as well and carried several on Gothic Harvest to cover the areas where Super Speeds weren’t available outside the standard Zeiss set of 18,25,35,50,65 and 85. I also carried a Panavision 11-1 with Preston microforce. On Gothic Harvest, I carried two camera bodies, an Alexa Mini as my “A” camera and an Alexa Classic as my second body. I’m tending to use the Mini more and more as the quality is the same as the standard Alexas, but I can hold it in my hand and it can go 200fps. Size and weight is important as it overcomes camera placement and mounting limitations that restrict larger cameras. Canon cameras are nice and small as well and produce beautiful images. The Canons are also amazing in low light.
Photo of us setting up for a night shoot by B camera 1st AC Anthony Jaques with the ARRI Alexa Mini with Zeiss Super Speeds.
What was your post on this like? Did you have a ton of hours more like doc-style or was it all shot fairly economically for editing?
Kneece: We are just going into post now. Once we have picture lock having the cinematographer supervise the color or DI is essential. As DP’s, our job is only half over when the cameras stop rolling. In DI the images come to fruition. Then we bring our images to life. As far as footage goes, quality is better than quantity. Get all your shots and coverage of course, but don’t do endless takes or you risk things becoming sterile and stale.
DP Dan Kneece with Alexa Mini and Panavision 11-1 zoom. Photo by B Camera 1st AC Anthony Jaques.
What's your favorite part of the process?
Kneece: I love the whole process from beginning to end. Getting the spark of an idea through its execution through post.
PH: Why New Orleans and how did that add to the film?
Kneece: New Orleans was great for many reasons. New Orleans has many beautiful appropriate locations and an amazing local crew assembled by Ashley “Smash” Wright of Channel One Productions. New Orleans is a very film-friendly town so we are always welcome there - lots of support there for filmmaking. Then there’s the food, the amazingly incredible food. You won’t starve in New Orleans for lack of options.
PH: What did you find most challenging on this project, and why?
Kneece: In films, there are always challenges, but we meet them with a smile. On Gothic Harvest, we did a good job in the time allotted. My goal is always to make the film look like 5 to 10 times the money we are given while serving the script. In other words, the photography has to fit the story. It can’t be too pretty if the story doesn’t call for that.
PH: Where'd you study and learn your craft?
Kneece: I have an Associate, Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Media Arts from the University of South Carolina and a Certificate in Cinema from the University of Southern California. That said, universities inspire you to look further on your own so every work opportunity is a learning opportunity. Also, every teaching opportunity is a learning opportunity which is why I do what others did for me and visit universities and schools to share what I learned along the way. When possible I go back to the University of South Carolina, AFI, UCSB, Duke, University of Michigan and many others to talk with the students because I remember what it was like when I was a student and what it meant when somebody who was working in the business talked with me.
PH: Any other series or projects on the horizon for 2018?
Kneece: Several I can’t talk about at the moment. That said I have received numerous threats of work and am sitting on around 14 scripts at the moment waiting for someone to pull the trigger. I love this business. It’s feast or famine, but never boring.
About Dan Kneece
Dan started filming motion pictures at age 13 when his mother bought him a Super 8 camera. In 1979, while finishing his Master's in Media Arts at the University of South Carolina, Dan began his professional career shooting news at WIS-TV in Columbia, South Carolina. Soon thereafter he was taught Steadicam by inventor Garrett Brown which lead to a 28-year career as a Steadicam Operator and an ongoing professional relationship with Director David Lynch on films such as Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart and Mulholland Drive. Dan's skills evolved into expertise as an "A" Camera Operator on major film, television, commercial and music video productions such as Jackie Brown and Phone Booth. He worked with the best in the business and learned from them all. Dan now uses his knowledge, extensive filmmaking experience and incredible eye to excel in his work as Director of Photography.