Starting tonight, horror fans across North America will begin experiencing Hereditary. We've been covering this movie since it first screened at Sundance for good reason, and we're excited for Daily Dead readers to check it out this weekend. I recently had a chance to catch up with Hereditary's cinematographer, Pawel Pogorzelski, who talked with me about working with Ari Aster, balancing horror and drama, his experience with the cast, and more:
This is such an incredible film and I understand that you and Ari Aster had been discussing this years before filming ever started. How did you first get together?
Pawel Pogorzelski: Well, Ari and I met at AFI in 2008. Almost from the first few weeks, we got a liking of each other's taste in movies. Then, we did a short together at AFI, and knew right away that we wanted to partner up (for other projects).
After AFI, we just kept doing shorts together and building, together, a career. So, I've read all of his scripts that he's been writing. We would jog together and he would pitch me this idea he had for Hereditary, and I thought it was so cool.
So, I've been there since the infancy of Hereditary. From the ideas while we were jogging, all the way to the first script, and then on set. It was quite the journey.
Talking with Ari, he definitely sees this as a family drama as much as it is a horror movie. When it came to your approach, how did you balance the family drama and horror aspects?
Pawel Pogorzelski: Even when reading the script, it was always a family drama. I've went through an unfortunate loss in my family, so it was very close to me. The things he wrote didn’t happen to us, but it could have happened very easily. So, it was very, very real for me.
Drama was definitely the way I approached my cinematography and the lighting. But knowing that we're playing in a horror genre allows me to push that a little bit more. I knew that the audience would forgive if I started going with harder lighting, and a bit more expression as the events move forward in the third act. I definitely did play with that, but it was always grounded in the reality.
Growing up, were you really big into horror movies? Or were they something that was forbidden when you were younger?
Pawel Pogorzelski: I grew up in a traditional Polish family. So, I grew up on classic Polish movies. My dad was a huge action movie fan, so we'd watch a lot of action movies, like Die Hard.
Horror was a big no-no in my family, but when I got into film school, I took a horror class, and it just opened up my mind to how amazing horror films are, and exploring the world that we live in today. They’re really looking deep down into what are our fears, and playing on that.
I thought that was so fascinating that there was so much to be said, and so much interesting things to be explored in horror, that from there on, I really started enjoying horror movies and looking for the complexities. It wasn't just about the gore, but there was more thematic emblems inside to look for.
The miniatures are another great layer of this complex film, and I expect that it added an extra layer of complexity to filming too.
Pawel Pogorzelski: Steven (Newman) did such a wonderful job in creating those miniatures. We just had to shoot them as much as possible and figure out the best way to showcase these beautiful miniatures. We got special lenses. The Frazier system lenses really allowed us to go into those miniatures. It’s a longer tube with a lens at the end, so we could go inside those miniatures and move though them, which was really, really cool. Really difficult for the to pull off, and for me to light it.
The rest of the time, we just had some macro lenses to let us focus closer on these miniatures. Then, using some tilt-shift wide (angle lenses) to make the actual house feel like it was part of the miniature.
There's such a powerhouse cast in this movie. And not just Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne, who have such experience and range. Alex Wolff and you have Milly Shapiro just give such incredible performances.
Pawel Pogorzelski: Milly Shapiro was always so excited when she did a take, then, with, like ... Ari would say, "Cut," and then she would ask, like, "Was that scary? Was I scary?" It was, like, "Yeah," and she was, like, "Whoo!" She was very excited and she was just such a joy to work with, and Alex Wolff was always in character. She was great, he was great.
Everyone was so different and had such a different approach to how they were planning the character. So, being off set was kind of interesting, because they all were affected by their character in a different ways.
I know that Ari's going to be directing a new horror movie for A24. Have you already started working with him?
Pawel Pogorzelski: Yeah, I hope we keep making movies together for a while. For me, he's family. I love working with. He really pushes the envelope, and I love being part of that.
Missed out on our earlier Hereditary coverage? Click here to catch up on our previous Hereditary features and interviews.