‘The Vault’ DP Andrew Shulkind – Capturing Art And Twisted Sisters
Shot on the Canon Cinema EOS C300 Mark II, “The Vault” is a multi-layered thriller with
horror lurking in the darkness. Focusing on two sisters (Francesca Eastwood and Taryn
Manning) who rob a bank to save their brother, the caper goes very wrong as an evil lurks below waiting to be uncovered. The latest feature co-written and directed by Dan Bush (The Signal), the film is a portrait of claustrophobia, darkness and tension with high end performances. Part of the films appeal and heightened sense of fear that is blended with tight action is the cinematography of talented DP Andrew Shulkind. Working on short form films, television, and creating disturbing memories in horror with the anthology film “Southbound” and “The Ritual,” we turn to “The Vault” as Andrew talks lighting, locations and Filmmaker David Bruckner with Jay Kay for Terror Time.
Terror Time: Thanks Andrew for taking some time to talk about “The Vault.” First, discuss what interests you and why you got involved on this film?
Andrew Shulkind: Thank you, Jay! I was introduced to Dan Bush by our mutual friend, David Bruckner. David was telling me about Dan’s movie and the story was like nothing I’d ever heard before, so Dan and I met and hit it off instantly. the thing that really sold me on doing the movie was Dan’s experience as a cinematographer. I felt like we could collaborate at a really high level on the visual aspect of the movie and make something really special.
TT: Bush is the director and co-writer of “The Vault.” He cut his teeth on a variety of projects including the well-received genre project and a favorite of mine, 2007’s “The Signal.” Talk about the relationship he had with his cast, crew and of course you during the filming of “Th Vault”? What was Bush’s pre-production and planning like from a visual perspective? What influenced the look, camera movement and framing for the film?
AS: Dan has spent a long time with this project, as it had gone through a variety of revisions and modifications. He knows the characters backwards and forwards, knows how to communicate what motivates their choices, and knows how to create tension expertly with an editor’s eye. We had a super collaborative journey making this movie and he had an informed perspective anytime a choice needed to be made. Dan had storyboarded quite a bit of the movie and that gave us a really strong sense of what we owed going into each day. We had a very trim schedule, so we had to move very quickly, and often were able to create compound moves to reduce our coverage. We decided that handheld would feel too frenetic and so we did a lot of dolly work and steadicam.
TT: Can you talk about the various locations used for “The Vault” and how this challenged you as a Cinematographer?
AS: The most challenging location on this movie was definitely the atrium of the bank at the beginning of the movie. The building that we used was actually a vacant bank and had a massive atrium with a skylight, and windows in every direction. We shot the upstairs part of the bank over a couple of weeks (at all times of day and night, through rainstorms, sun and shadow) and needed the light to be consistent across those changing weather patterns. Further, we needed the heist to take place almost in real time from afternoon to sunset to dusk to night and create that simulated lighting effect on top of that consistency. Fortunately, the atrium afforded us the space to light from above when the sun wasn’t where we needed it. I had our grips soften the skylight with muslin diffusion and when the sun had gone, we bounced light into that source. Then we had two 18Ks raking down for a hard kick off the marble floor, and then a cool glow for our dusky effect. I love a good challenge, we had an outstanding camera, grip, and electric crew and I think we achieved that effect artfully and efficiently!
TT: The lighting for the film is a tool of suspense, panic and tension. What was the planning and execution for the lighting setup? What were your lens choices in each location to capture the film?
AS: We had a short schedule so my tricks to working quickly were using zooms and lighting for as much of the 360˚ as possible. This would give actors as much space to work, minimize reset time for turning around, and allow us to make quick modifications, if needed.
TT: How did the process and execution change with natural light versus artificial light to next to no light at all?
AS: As soon as we were out of the wide shots from the main level, we were able to control the light much more specifically. My gaffer German Valle has invented a series of unique dimmable LED tubes in the shape of fluorescents called BAMSTICKS. We put these things all over the set, dimmed down to nearly nothing. But always relying on that very sensitive camera sensor allowed me to use a lot of bounced light of unusual surfaces.
TT: How does near dark filming push you? Do you have a fear of closed spaces and the dark? If so, did that reflect in your cinematography choices for reaction of the characters and movement?
AS: When I graduated from film school, it was really hard to shoot interiors because the best we could do was push 800ASA filmstock and you couldn’t use practical fixtures without hiding powerful lights inside. So, lighting for dark interiors subtly was out of reach and beyond my skill level. Then I worked on panic room with Darius Khondji and he gave me a real education in lighting dark spaces with a good exposure. It was the ultimate training.
I wouldn’t say that I’m afraid of the dark, but I have always thought that being in a brightly lit space looking out to a dark space is scary. Where you can be seen, but you can’t see others.
TT: Can you talk about the very claustrophobic feel of the film? Also, how much handheld
camera work was done? Did the space in each location cause you to rethink how you framed certain shots or tracked action and movement?
AS: The claustrophobic feeling was something that we really wanted to feature. we decided to go for a smoother dolly moves and a lot of steadicam because we wanted to move the camera deliberately. We didn’t go for big wide shots because we didn’t love every angle in the bank, so we stayed on longer focal lengths to feel more isolating and subjective. everyone felt like they were being watched. but the space was so open with so many glass windows that we really didn’t have a good place to stage all of our equipment!
TT: Was there a different train thought when you filmed the main female characters brought to life by Francesca Eastwood, Taryn Manning and Q’orianka Kilcher versus the lead male cast?
AS: Not necessarily. Obviously, we wanted everyone to look good, but Fran and Taryn and Scott had one look and Q’orinanka and the other hostages were often in the toppy environmental light. They are all such strong actors that the important thing for me was to give Dan and the cast as broad an area to perform in as possible while still being visible. Getting light into the eyes of the gasmasks without seeing a reflection was a bit of a challenge.
TT: What shot are you most proud of on “The Vault?”
AS: I’m proud of the whole movie! We definitely got to have more fun in the basement where we could play with light and shadow and subtlety a little more. There’s a powerful scene between the sisters just before the snipers take a shot that I love. the timing and the way that taryn just catches the edge of the light as lands in the room with Franco really underscores the heat of the moment.
TT: I believe, you have 15 short form projects including television. How did this early film
experience affect your work on genre features like “The Vault” and “The Ritual?”
AS: I came up as an operator under some of the best in the business, guys like Janusz Kaminski, Darius Khondji, Don Burgess, and Chivo. Those experiences shaped my style as a cinematographer. That proficiency launched a career in commercials where I spend most of my time. We get to play with all the toys and really put new products through their paces. That allows me to bring the best of the best in terms of crew and equipment to projects like “The Vault”. Over the past four years, I’ve been shooting and consulting on how to capture most of the high end immersive content out there for the studios, networks, and brands like Samsung, Facebook, and Google. Expanding our field of view to 360˚ will dramatically change the future of content creation and content consumption. But on movies like “The Vault” and “The Ritual”, using the recent advances in lighting and sensor technology allow us to light in 360˚. and that changes the present of how we shoot movies now.
TT: What creative canvas does genre films like “The Vault” and “The Ritual” offer you as
AS: “The Ritual” and “The Vault” presented a real human version of horror and suspense, which was a great canvas to build a real visual landscape. The subtlety in these scripts motivated some good detail in the imaging and using the very latest of modern technology, we were able to create a really next level product.
TT: Could you also talk about working with David Bruckner on “The Ritual?”
AS: Sure! What can I say? After “Southbound”, David Bruckner introduced me to Dan Bush.
They are old filmmaker pals from Atlanta and both killed it on the successful anthology movie “The Signal”. (these are definitive filmmakers with very definitive titles!). Dan had a great script and I trust both of them completely. Both movies were a lot of work, but very rewarding with an outstanding team.
TT: What’s next for you?
AS: I’m doing a project in Hawaii for a big theme park ride and been shooting a lot of the high end VR/AR projects out there for brands, studios and networks. The future of entertainment has a wider field of view than we are used to and it is fun and rewarding to help define this new aspect of our world!
TT: Thanks so much for taking he time out!
AS: Of course! Thank you!
Follow Jay Kay on Twitter @JayKayHorror