Welcome to World Builders, our ongoing series of conversations with the industry’s most productive and thoughtful behind-the-scenes craftspeople. In this entry, we chat with cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz about Scream 6 and transforming Montreal into New York City.
The Scream franchise features movies talking about movies. From the very first frame of the first film, the audience is extremely aware that they’re watching a movie, and it’s enhanced by the cinematography, specifically the anamorphic lenses capturing the images. Screams one through five were all shot using anamorphic, which provides a filmic quality to the information on the screen. What you’re seeing is a touch distorted, a little more fabricated, and a lot more fantasy.
After shooting the series’ last “requel,” cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz desired a new approach. Scream 6 ditches Woodsboro for the Big Apple, and with that relocation, the director of photography wanted to peel back the franchise’s celebratory artifice. New York City demands intimacy, and Jutkiewicz believed spherical lenses would break down the barrier between viewer and subject. Removing this wall would also heighten the fear and elevate the thrills.
Few cities feel more real than New York. Unfortunately, Scream 6 could not film on location, and like many, many productions that came before, Canada filled in. The venue switcheroo caused anxiety initially but opportunity eventually.
“I’m a New Yorker,” he says. “I currently live in New York. It was doubly exciting for me to read that Ghostface was coming to my city. Then, as I started to get excited about that, I found out we were shooting in Montreal instead of New York. I had to start thinking about how to do our best New York impression in Montreal.”
Jutkiewicz fought the urge to fall back on anamorphic lenses. Mimicking New York City still required the cinematographer to embrace his hometown’s gritty veneer, and spherical lenses were the way to go if he wanted to sell that attractive grime. Scream 6 also ups the gore factor, and Jutkiewicz saw a chance to transform every seat in the theater into a splash zone.
“From a cinematography standpoint,” he continues, “I tried to bring a bit of the feeling that I have from New York into what we were doing in Montreal. In terms of trying to embrace a little bit more of that grittiness and raw energy with darker, moodier night exteriors. Just any way I could help to tell that story.”
Spherical lenses are a bit truer to how the human eye sees. They replicate a clarity that’s impossible with anamorphic, meaning your production design and makeup crew must be on point. Think of them as visual lie detectors, something you don’t always want on set, but if pulled off correctly, could create an unbreakable tether with your audience.
“Anamorphic lenses are beautiful,” says Jutkiewicz. “Cinematographers love them because of their aberrations, the texture of them, the quality of them. They introduce a little layer between what the camera is seeing and what the world is. Spherical lenses let us capture a more raw kind of immediate feeling. They really put us in the spaces and strip away the movieness, for lack of a better term.”
Like the city itself, Jutkiewicz has a strong bond with spherical lenses as well. Before shooting films like Scream and Ready or Not, Jutkiewicz chased reality in a wide variety of features and shorts. His early experience with spherical lenses gave him the confidence to bust up Scream‘s long-lasting romance with anamorphic.
“I spent the first part of my career running around New York,” he says, “shooting on Super 16 and always on spherical lenses. Just personally, they resonated with me. I wouldn’t say we took a documentary approach on Scream 6 in any way, really, but there’s something to that connection. There’s something that connects a realism to what you’re seeing with them.”
There’s no science to making one city look like another, no textbook for a cinematographer to read. One must go by gut. After knocking out so many movies in such a short space of time, Jutkiewicz knows to trust his instincts. His spider-sense tingles whenever a shot rings false.
“Every little decision helps build that world,” says Jutkiewicz. “From a lighting perspective, thinking about the color of the street lights, it wasn’t scientific in any way. It was more like my personal feeling being from New York, of what New York should feel like. So, going with that warmer sodium vapor-colored light, despite the fact that now a lot of that is changing in New York, and it’s all white LEDs now. But, little things like that, mixing color temperatures, and just introducing a little roughness to it, both from a lighting perspective and then obviously production design helps with that too.”
While previous Scream films have flirted with daytime kills, Scream 6 mostly sticks to moonlight. Safety resided under the cover of darkness, contributing to the production’s little magic trick. Any emotional side effects were an added benefit.
“It started with location scouting,” he says. “Especially for the exteriors. We had a bit of an advantage because so much of it takes place at night, which really helps hide the fact that we’re not in New York. Also, it creates a mood and tension inherently doing these things at night.”
Once they found the right Montreal exteriors to play New York, filming became a game of where to place the camera. Jutkiewicz took extreme care regarding what was in the frame, keeping the picture cars, like New York taxis and buses, visible while hiding the real-world monuments that would tell on their production quickly.
“We wanted to stay close to our characters,” says Jutkiewicz. “We wanted to stay in their perspective and get that sense of claustrophobia. We weren’t necessarily avoiding larger vistas because it was Montreal, but it was more like how people actually experience New York, how I experienced New York. It’s not like every time you’re out in the street, you can see the Empire State Building. It’s more about these little apartments, the rundown bodega, and the darker streets. We played into that and tried to find dynamic ways that led us to experience the city in a way that you might actually experience the city.”
The end goal, of course, is for no one in the crowd to be thinking about any of these things while they’re watching Scream 6. Jutkiewicz hopes his sleight of hand remains invisible forever, a curiosity for the movie-obsessed only, which probably makes up for two-thirds of the Scream franchise audience. Staying hidden may prove difficult for Jutkiewicz.
Scream 6 is now playing in theaters everywhere. Watch the film’s trailer here.