“One of the Most Harrowing Scene Headings to Read in a Script For a Low-Budget Film is ‘EXT. WOODS – NIGHT'”: DP Brett Jutkiewicz on Them That Follow
The first feature from Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, Them That Follow is a gothic drama set in rural Appalachia, grounded in the unusual context of a Pentecostal church with a heavy emphasis on snake handling. Following its premiere, the film—which stars Olivia Colman and Walton Goggins—has been acquired for worldwide distribution by Sony. Via email, DP Brett Jutkiewicz (Daddy Longlegs, Men Go to War) spoke to his work crafting the film’s visual language.
Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the cinematographer of your film? What were the factors and attributes that led to your being hired for this job?
Jutkiewicz: Before reading the script, I saw a lookbook that Britt and Dan put together and immediately knew I wanted to shoot the film, and then on top of that the script just blew me away. I hadn’t worked with them before, but from our first Skype call it was clear how much passion they had for the project and how deeply they understood this world they were trying to create. We had a great conversation and I guess it went well because then they asked me to shoot the film!
Filmmaker: What were your artistic goals on this film, and how did you realize them? How did you want your cinematography to enhance the film’s storytelling and treatment of its characters?
Jutkiewicz: I really just tried to understand the underlying emotion of each scene and find ways to translate that visually to add more depth to how an audience might experience the film. It’s important to me that I’m not just telling the story but that I’m also creating a feeling. In this case, it was about using our protagonist Mara’s emotional journey as a guide for the visual language—we used a lot of intimate handheld camerawork that really gave us a more subjective perspective while simultaneously a sense of fragility and imbalance, which is a reflection of Mara’s mindset. As a contrast, in the scenes of worship inside the town’s Pentecostal church I used fluid, energetic roaming steadicam shots, almost as if the camera itself—like the characters—had been overtaken by the holy spirit.
Filmmaker: Were there any specific influences on your cinematography, whether they be other films, or visual art, of photography, or something else?
Jutkiewicz: A few of the films Britt, Dan and I liked as references were Wuthering Heights shot by Robbie Ryan, BSC, ISC; Mud shot by Adam Stone; and Mustang shot by David Chizallet and Ersin Gok. We also looked at photographs by Stacy Kranitz who documented Appalachian communities and serpent handling congregations.
strong>Filmmaker: What were the biggest challenges posed by production to those goals?
Jutkiewicz: We had plenty of challenges on this film, but we had an incredible group of people involved who were all there to create something special, and everyone put all of themselves into making it happen. Not least of all my crew, whose patience and creativity and tirelessness made my work better every day. I owe them a lot.
Filmmaker: What camera did you shoot on? Why did you choose the camera that you did? What lenses did you use?
Jutkiewicz: We shot on the Alexa Mini with Cooke Speed Panchro lenses. The film is set in a rural Appalachian community that feels a bit like time moved on without it, so I wanted to create a look with a bit of an otherworldly quality to it, something not too modern or crisp. The image from the Alexa has a very organic, filmic feel and the vintage Cookes have a beautiful softness and a lot of character in how they flare and react to light sources in the frame. The combination of the two helped create a textural, slightly ethereal look.
Filmmaker: Describe your approach to lighting.
strong>Jutkiewicz: My lighting approach usually starts with drawing inspiration from the location and environment. These are homes that have been a bit patchworked together over the years, and so mixing tungsten and fluorescent lighting sources made sense to me. I think that slight imperfection or dirtiness also felt right for the world of these characters. I tend to use practicals as motivating sources and I love having light sources in the frame to play with, so I worked with production designer Carmen Nevis to create the layout and then would supplement the practicals with small LED units that we would tape to walls just outside of our frame. In general I tried to light the spaces rather than the actors to allow us freedom to move with the action and to be spontaneous. I also think lighting this way sometimes you can catch beautiful unexpected moments of how the light falls on an actor.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to realize and why? And how did you do it?
Jutkiewicz: One of the most harrowing scene headings to read in a script for a low-budget film is “EXT. WOODS – NIGHT,” and there is a climactic moment of our protagonist running through the woods at night at the end of the film. I knew we wouldn’t have the budget for enough lights or condors to pull off a convincing moonlight while covering distance with a running actress, but I almost always find day-for-night totally unconvincing. After some head scratching I thought that if we could shoot at the very end of dusk with Alice silhouetted by the sky we could create a dramatic shot that felt like night without using any lights. The problem was finding a location that had everything we needed: room for a four wheeler to shoot from, safe enough for Alice to run, sparse enough to see the sky through the trees but not so sparse that it didn’t feel like a forest, and a slight grade where we could be looking up at Alice from a lower elevation to silhouette her against the sky. It took hours of driving around rural Ohio to find a stretch of woods that checked all the boxes, but I think the resulting shot is quite beautiful and simple and nobody would imagine the headache of creating that little moment.
Filmmaker: Finally, describe the finishing of the film. How much of your look was “baked in” versus realized in the DI?
Jutkiewicz: My colorist Nat Jencks at Goldcrest in New York developed a show LUT we used for the whole shoot that got us pretty close to the look I wanted on set, so the DI was really just about enhancing that in places as well as some matching and tweaking. I think the look of the final film isn’t too far from what we all saw in the dailies.
Film Title: Them That Follow
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lenses: Cooke Speed Panchros
Lighting: Quasar Science LED, Arri HMI & Tungsten
Color Grading: DaVinci Resolve (Colorist Nat Jencks @ Goldcrest NYC)