American Cinematographer - December 2014 - 30

I

Pop-Up Horror
By Douglas Bankston

The death of her husband years ago
has left Amelia (Essie Davis) psychologically
paralyzed and her young son, Samuel
(Noah Wiseman), emotionally stunted. One
night before bed, Samuel presents his
mother with a mysterious, rather frightening pop-up book to read, titled Mr.
Babadook. Doing so doesn't just leave
Samuel sleepless with night terrors; it
unleashes a sinister presence that forces
Amelia and Samuel to confront their
anguish.
This is the premise of writer-director
Jennifer Kent's stylish horror film The
Babadook, shot by cinematographer Radek
Ladczuk. Israeli director Tali Shalom-Ezer
introduced Kent to the work of her friend
Ladczuk while the two directors were in
Amsterdam developing screenplays at the
Binger Filmlab. Kent became fascinated
with Ladczuk's Suicide Room, and the two
had a meeting via Skype. Soon after, the
director of photography was in Australia for
a week of preproduction meetings and,
after a short break, six more weeks of prep.
Ladczuk, who studied at the famed
National Film School in Lodz, Poland,
became a cinematographer not through
any sense of predestination - he just did it.
30

December 2014

"One day I passed the exam to film school,
and this adventure started," he says matterof-factly from Poland, where he was shooting the feature Princess. "I don't know why!
I don't have any family connection or tradition. I just followed my emotions. It is an
amazing job."
Kent gave Ladczuk a list of some 20
features to watch, including old movies
from Georges Méliès' body of work,
German Expressionism films like Murnau's
Faust, and American horror films from the
1920s and '30s. "She was inspired by old
movies," Ladczuk says. "She wanted to
have all effects in camera and no CGI."
In fact, Kent originally envisioned
shooting The Babadook in black-and-white,
but ultimately decided she wanted to create
something different from the old, silent
horror films. Instead, she went with a
limited color palette - particularly in the
house - of steel blue, burgundy and some
teal. "We had an amazing Australian
production designer in Alex Holmes," says
Ladczuk. "In this movie, Jennifer saw more
of a psychological story than horror, though
we added many horror elements in the
design and camerawork. We understood
that it was a mix of psychological drama and
horror. It really is a story about a woman and
her relationship with her son. Everything
came from the mother's perspective."
American Cinematographer

The production was the first feature
film to occupy the new Adelaide Studios
sound stages in South Australia. The
Babadook's main set, comprising the interiors of Amelia's Victorian-style house, was
built on stage. With its muted hues, the
house reflects Amelia's mental state and, on
a deeper level, serves as a metaphor for her
mind. Initially slated to shoot the project
over 30 days, the filmmakers realized that
the number of in-camera special-effects
shots caused too much of a crunch, so a
few more days were added and paid for -
along with elements of the design budget
- by a small, online Kickstarter campaign.
Ladczuk and camera assistant Maxx Corkindale also worked a few weekends with
Kent to shoot some additional shots in the
house for editing purposes. "It was lowbudget for an Australian production," the
cinematographer says.
Ladczuk, who also served as the
camera operator, shot with a base-model
Arri Alexa with a set of Arri/Zeiss Master
Prime lenses. He recorded HD 1920x1080
ProRes 4:2:2 HQ files to SxS cards.
Kent and Ladczuk were precise in
devising the camera movements and
composition. "We divided our movie into
five chapters: anxiety, fear, terror, possession
and courage," he says. "Each had different
elements of camerawork. At the beginning

The Babadook photos by Matt Nettheim, SMPSP, courtesy of IFC Midnight.

Samuel (Noah
Wiseman) and his
mother, Amelia
(Essie Davis),
unleash a sinister
presence from
a mysterious
pop-up book
in the film
The Babadook.



American Cinematographer - December 2014

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - December 2014

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American Cinematographer - December 2014 - Cover1
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American Cinematographer - December 2014 - 1
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