Cinematographer Nick Junkersfeld Discusses His Work on the New Wrong Turn
When Wrong Turn first premiered in the summer of 2003, it wasn’t an immediate hit, but as time went on it became somewhat of a cult classic and ended up spawning five more installments. With such a large fan base watching these niche horror films, it only made sense for a reboot to happen, 18 years after the original was made. While the newest film shares the same name, it’s a lot different from all the other films, even though original writer Alan B. McElroy pinned it. The official synopsis for the reboot reads: Despite warnings to stick to the Appalachian Trail, hikers stray off course and cross into land inhabited by a hidden community of mountain dwellers who use deadly means to protect their way of life. Suddenly under siege, the friends seem headed to the point of no return — unless one man can reach them in time. We wanted to learn more about how the Wrong Turn reboot was made, so we spoke exclusively to the film’s cinematographer, Nick Junkersfeld. Below he goes in depth about how some of the famous death scenes were created and much more.
-We won’t say which character because we don’t want to give too much away, but one character meets his death by being crushed. This scene in particular is pretty intense, can you talk about how this was shot? How many times did you all have to do this scene?
That scene was certainly the most technically-complex of the entire film. It involved VFX, stunt performers and stunts by the actors themselves. The action portion of the scene is immediately followed by a dramatic scene with the ensemble cast, so to piece it all together into one cohesive experience was really challenging! Making sure we had the right visual assets for the VFX team to perfectly integrate the CGI elements into the physical environment was particularly tricky, and we spent a fair amount of time discussing and planning it. Shooting everything for that scene encompassed two days, which is actually not much and we had to squeeze a lot of shooting into that narrow timeframe. The massive, heavy object (no spoilers haha!) that is threatening to kill our main characters is almost exclusively CGI. I think it all came together seamlessly, and really enjoy watching that scene.
-Are you friends with any of the cinematographers from the other Wrong Turn films? Or any of the other crew members in general from the other movies? If so, did they give you any advice before starting on the film?
I don’t know any crew from the previous films, though it would be fun to talk with them to share our experiences. Because Constantine Films was so clearly and deliberately deviating from the previous films in a really big way, I felt that a “clean slate” mentality was the path forward to plan and shoot this reimagining of Wrong Turn.
-Are there certain techniques you used in Wrong Turn to make it a little more terrifying and ominous?
Mike P. Nelson and I determined early on in pre-production that we wanted to keep the perspective of the film almost-exclusively tied to the main character’s experience, and how they interpreted the world around them. That meant using longer lenses for much of the coverage to show the viewer less of what’s happening around the characters, and to keep the emphasis on how they are reacting to it. We also used different shutter-speeds to elevate tension and action in some scenes, as well as varying approaches to the handheld camera work to suit the tone of any given moment.
-What was your stance on hand held cameras vs steady cams for this movie?
Most of the movie was shot handheld both because it suited the many challenging locations we’d be shooting in, and because it fit the “backwoods horror” tone of the film really well. As mentioned above, there’s a spectrum for shooting handheld that can vary anywhere from serene to downright unsettling and we played with that a lot. Full credit to the camera operators on the film for being fluid, creative and adaptable to such subtle but important choices from scene to scene.
We did use steadicam several times throughout the film. It’s a fantastic tool and we applied it both to scenes that simply needed a dolly-like movement (but logistically an actual dolly-track setup didn’t make sense), and also for scenes where the flexibility and variability of steadicam made it the only logical choice. There are moments in the film where the atmosphere is quite tense, but the energy of the scene is restrained in a hold-your-breath kind of way. These moments often benefited from a steadicam approach.
-Did you use a different camera for scenes that were outdoors at night as opposed to daylight inside?
We only used one camera platform for the entire film, the Arri Alexa Mini. I hadn’t used an Arri camera before shooting this film, however I found it to be a very versatile tool for the project. We did shoot two different lens formats for the film; spherical and anamorphic lenses. We made this choice to provide a subtle visual distinction between the outside world, and the world of The Foundation.
-What was your favorite part of collaborating with Wrong Turn director Mike P. Nelson?
Mike and I have a history of working together and just about any form of collaboration I can think of with him is a good time! We share a lot of enthusiasm and making Wrong Turn together was like adding jet fuel to that process. If I had to single out a part of working with Mike besides the act of shooting the film, it would be planning the scenes and making our shot lists for the film. There tends to be a lot of jumping around, acting out scene-blocking or describing camera angles… a good time to say the least, and all in the name of elevating the film.
-In a Premium Beat interview director of photographer Anastas Michos said that aspiring filmmakers looking to go into horror, should devour as much horror as possible, to fully understand the genre. Do you agree with this recommendation?
I don’t disagree with that all. My experience has taught me there are so many different processes for creativity out there, and I certainly appreciate the rationale of absorbing as much horror as possible to understand what has come before. Personally, I need to first convince myself of a creative choice, and not worry about someone else’s would-be perspective, or even what has been done before. I let the script tell me what it is, and along with the director, we challenge ourselves and each other to find what it needs in order to be the most affecting motion picture possible.
-Did the pandemic affect this shoot at all? Or was it shot before?
Fortunately, principal photography was not affected by the pandemic because we shot the film in late-2019. However, the post-production process was directly affected, and it changed the way nearly every stage of post-production was handled.
Do you have any recommendations for filmmakers looking to get into the horror world?
I would recommend meeting your own standards before concerning yourself with someone else’s. What compels you and terrifies you in the horror genre will likely have a similar effect on others, so make creative choices that satisfy you as an audience member first and foremost. Strive to get the most from the shared process of conceptualizing between yourself and your collaborators, and learn to efficiently communicate those decisions to the other members of a film crew.
-Would you like to work more in the horror realm? If so, what other types of horror films would you like to work on?
I absolutely would like to continue in the horror genre and beyond. I find the genre to be absolutely vast, and can even act as a container for other genre’s work within it. Considering the massive amount of limited-series and genre mash-ups happening in entertainment right now, I think the horror genre will only grow and transform into new ways for us to examine ourselves and our fears. My personal sweet-spot within horror as a fan is the supernatural-horror genre. I would love to work on a project that ventures into the unknown, beyond human understanding. That’s the type of horror that keeps me up at night!