Superhost Cinematographer Clayton Moore Breaks Down the Look of the New Shudder Film
When getting a good review turns deadly. This is the premise of Shudder’s latest film, Superhost, written and directed by Brandon Christensen (Z, Still/Born). The official Superhost description is as follows, travel vloggers Teddy (Osric Chau, Supernatural) and Claire (Sara Canning, Nancy Drew) share their experiences in and around vacation homes with their subscribers while maintaining a moderate level of internet fame. When their follower count starts to dwindle, they pivot to creating viral content around their most recent host, Rebecca (Gracie Gillam, Z Nation). With all eyes turned towards their “superhost,” Rebecca, they slowly start to realize something isn’t right and as they investigate further, they unlock a horrifying truth. The reviews for the film have been pretty positive, especially Gillam’s performance as a deranged “superhost”. Another aspect worth mentioning is the film’s cinematography by Clayton Moore (It Stains the Sands Red). Often times the most frightening scenes in horror films take place at night, but In Superhost Moore was able to make the daylight just as creepy. In the below exclusive interview, we spoke to Moore more about his work on the feature.
-What made you decide to become a cinematographer?
I had always enjoyed movies as a kid, but it never occurred to me that people could make careers out of it. As I got older, my interests moved into visual effects, but after college I realized that sitting in a dark room on a computer all day wasn’t a good fit for me. So, I got my start shooting for a local news station. I quickly fell in love with being on location and having the ability to tell stories about real people and events using the camera. Shooting news was like making a mini documentary every single day. From there I wanted to get more into commercial and narrative production. So, I got a job at a commercial production company, and shortly after went on to form my own production company as a freelance cinematographer and I haven’t looked back since. I love what I do, and the many talented people I get to work with on a daily basis. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
-Most horror films tend to get their scares from scenes in the darkness or at night. Most of Superhost takes place during the day, but is equally as creepy. How do you think you achieved this?
Luckily, I read the script very early on and had a lot of time to think about it. It was important to me to be able to control the lighting and maintain realism. My job is to support the story visually, and so instead of the typical nighttime setting (which there are a few scenes) I had to use light and shadow in a daylight environment to convey those same themes of mystery or fear. I didn’t want to get too flashy with the cinematography, the film is such a strong character piece that I didn’t want to do anything that would distract from the actors’ performances. It basically came down to using a lot of negative fill to introduce shadow whenever I could, to make daylight still feel “dark” and lower key than usual.
-As a cinematographer, what is one thing you can’t live without while on set?
My light meter (and my coffee!)
-Because Rebecca is pretty much crazy in the film, did you use any different shots or angles with her to make her seem more manic?
Rebecca’s coverage doesn’t differ from the other characters as much in the beginning, but as the film progresses and we learn more about her true intentions, we tried to tighten up her coverage a bit to really capture her eyes. Another thing you might notice is the found footage camera get a little more frantic when she’s around for obvious reasons.
-Are there certain techniques you use in horror, that you don’t use in other genres?
My techniques are typically the same across all genres, but horror can be such an open book when it comes to visual style. If and when the story allows it, I enjoy leaning into a more hyperrealist approach to my work. Every genre seems to have its own ‘rules’ visually, and it is always fun to push those rules or break them to shake things up.
-The scene when Claire and Teddy interview Rebecca, is pretty important, as we then realize how unhinged/off Rebecca really is. How long did it take to film that scene? Did that large window in the room make the lighting difficult?
We spent the better half of a day filming that scene. We made sure it was last on our schedule so we wouldn’t feel rushed. This is a big scene, and we really wanted to let the actors have enough time to explore it on set. The large windows did present a bit of a challenge when filming but we blocked the actors in a way that worked to our advantage and enhanced the narrative. Rebecca is back lit by the huge windows, while Teddy and Claire are facing the windows and feel more “exposed”. We spent a lot of time and effort to shape the light in that scene and I’m very proud of how it turned out.
-Was there anything that you did on Superhost, experimental wise, that you’ve not done before for anything else?
Probably the biggest experimental thing on Superhost was mixing the found footage camera with the narrative camera. Since they often cut seamlessly back and forth with each other we didn’t want to push the found footage ‘look’ too far into the amateur video realm, but it still had to feel different. We achieved this by not lighting as much for the found footage, and letting the actors really move the camera and see 360 degrees around them. That really set the found footage apart from the narrative footage by being more flat on the lighting, and having more untethered movement.
Achieving that technically was not as simple. The found footage camera was supposed to feel like something small, similar to a GoPro. In reality it was a heavy cinema camera. So, any time the characters are on screen and effortlessly whipping the camera around, I’m there in front of them operating and they’re guiding me with their hand movements. It took a little bit of choreography, but it was a fun challenge and I think it turned out great.
-Is there a horror movie you have recently seen where the cinematography has particularly stood out to you?
Ex Machina isn’t that recent, but it still stands out to me. The subtle, low-key lighting is so masterfully done. Cinematographer Rob Hardy demonstrates complete control of his lighting. It is a beautiful film visually and terrifying narratively.
-Is there another horror subgenre you would like to work in? Such as a teen slasher or supernatural horror?
I think shooting a period horror would be fun, something like a horror western or a futuristic horror sci-fi would be right up my alley. I’d do anything though, I just love making movies!