After forging a successful partnership on Ready or Not, director of photography Brett Jutkiewicz reunited with Radio Silence — the production collective of co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and producer Chad Villella — on Scream (2022). He then followed the team from rural Woodsboro to the mean streets of New York City to shoot Scream VI.
“I remember watching the original Scream as a teenager and realizing that it was something new and different and special. I hadn’t seen anything like that, and I followed the franchise from there,” he tells me. “Getting the call to actually be a part of it was thrilling. It was a surprise. Matt and Tyler had told me that they had something new but couldn’t talk about it. They were so excited to finally tell me what it was.”
Although he recognized the pressure of working on an iconic franchise with a passionate fanbase, Jutkiewicz and Radio Silence agreed on their approach to Scream. “We wanted to honor what has come before but also try to do something that is our own. There was a little bit of balance there trying to do something that felt like it fit in the world but also had its own distinct style.”
Scream (2022) was the first film in the franchise to be shot digitally, rather than on film, but Jutkiewicz established a sense of visual continuity by utilizing anamorphic lenses like the previous films. On Scream VI, however, he opted to embrace the new setting by switching to spherical lenses.
“Anamorphic lenses are known for their distinct characteristics,” he explains. “They have a bit of a texture to them that’s different from spherical lenses, which I find are a bit more true to how the eye sees. There’s an immediacy to them. I liked the idea for this film to subtly strip away a level of that artifice and find something that would ground the audience in the perspective of the characters. It’s a little grittier, a little more natural feeling.”
As a native New Yorker, it was important for Jutkiewicz to make Montreal — where Scream VI was filmed — come off as close to the Big Apple as possible. “Trying to make it feel like danger could come from anywhere and representing the darkness and grit of New York City at night was a big thing for me.”
The opening sequence is pivotal to a Scream movie, and Scream VI was no different. “I thought the new twist on the idea was really interesting. It was all about setting up this tension in the restaurant and trying to find ways to play a little bit with the expectation there. We created this creeping build with slow dolly moves to create an environment that felt at once comfortable and sinister. It should feel familiar and real but something is slightly off.”
He continues, “When we move outside, it’s creating areas of darkness and shadow where things can be lurking. It’s playing with expectations again. As the sequence progresses, the camerawork gets more energetic. We wanted to really heighten the moment when Ghostface enters and we have this brutal scene. It was a lot about getting very close to Ghostface with the handheld camera and moving with him, finding ways to increase the intensity of the moment and embrace that energy.”
On the subject of intensity, the scene in which several characters attempt to escape from Ghostface by traversing across a ladder several stories above the ground is perhaps one of the most intense moments in the franchise. To pull off such an undertaking, the crew shot part of it on location at a real building and the rest on a sound stage.
“It was a big sequence and a lot of complicated matching of lighting between the stage and the location to make sure everything felt seamless. When we’re seeing the wide shots where you feel the building or the shots from overhead, that’s the real location. It’s stunt actors on a ladder five stories off the ground; that’s really happening,” he clarifies.
“We talked about trying to avoid impossible angles on the stage, meaning that if we had to shoot this entire sequence on location, how would we do that? We do have some shots leading the characters in close up across the ladder, which probably wouldn’t have been possible on an actual location, but that was kind of the starting point. It was also a general guideline for the whole film to feel grounded in this reality and anchored to these spaces.”
Despite several previous encounters, Gale Weathers receives a call from Ghostface for the first time in Scream VI. “When Gale is on the phone, it’s these creeping Steadicam shots and longer lens shots, then building up to the more frenetic, handheld chase sequence. It’s about using the camerawork to slowly ratchet up the suspense and the excitement.”
Since Gale’s apartment location overlooked the cityscape, filming had to take place at night. “It was a real challenge. We were shooting all night, because we wanted to see out the windows, and Courteney [Cox] was fantastic. She did her own stunts and was amazing to work with.”
Jutkiewicz cites the subway scene as his favorite in the film, but it was also one of the most challenging. “The subway was probably the sequence we talked about most in prep. Just a huge undertaking with all the extras and the logistics. Ultimately, our production designer, Michele Laliberte, and her team built the entire platform from scratch on our stage. The special effects team was able to tow it in and out of our station, which was fantastic.”
There was talk of potentially using green screen or LED panels to create a sense of movement aboard the train, but a more practical solution ultimately proved to be the most effective. “We had about 70 feet of light on each side, multiple rows of lights, that our board operator then programmed to chase in different speeds and colors. We wound up putting a thin black fabric between the windows of the car and the lighting rig, which helped take the edge off the lights.”
The lights that flicker inside the subway car required similarly creative teamwork that included Jutkiewicz cuing an operator via walkie talkie while the camera rolled. “It was amazing to have that level of control. It took some testing to get it working right, but I have to say: being from New York, it felt like I was on a moving subway car. I can’t imagine doing it any other way now.”
Scream VI‘s finale takes place in Ghostface’s macabre shrine to the killers that came before. “The shrine was a fun space to shoot in.” Jutkiewicz notes, “We talked about how, in this case, it’s okay to push the bounds of reality a little bit in terms of the lighting to make it feel special and unique and interesting. The killers probably wouldn’t have spent this much time spotlighting the robes from the rafters, but we felt like it was okay to go a little heightened with the stylistic choices there.”
Jutkiewicz praises his fellow crew members several times throughout our conversation, noting that Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett’s creative collaboration together sets the tone for the production. “They create an environment where everybody feels like they’re welcome and their ideas are welcome. I think it makes the film better when everybody is invested and feels like they’re putting their mark on it.”
Now that Scream VI is out, Jutkiewicz is preparing to head to Vancouver in the spring to shoot Bad Genius, Julius Onah’s remake of the 2017 Thai thriller. After that, he’ll return to Stranger Things to shoot the fifth and final season in the fall. He was brought on board the hit series halfway through production on the fourth season to take over cinematography duties for Caleb Heymann, who had to bow out due to scheduling conflicts.
“Stranger Things was an amazing experience,” he raves. “I would describe it as jumping on a moving train, because I came in in the middle of a big production, but everybody was very welcoming. The Duffer Brothers are great at creating a familial environment. But it was a challenge. There were some really big sets and some really complicated logistical challenges. We had multiple camera units shooting at once. It was quite complex, but it was fun to be a part of it. I love the series.”
Jutkiewicz hopes to return for the seemingly inevitable Scream 7, which he’d like to see move to another new location. For now, though, he wants you to see Scream VI in theaters. As he puts it, “It’s scary and dark and intense, but it never takes itself too seriously. You don’t leave the theater feeling depressed. I think it’s worth seeing it on the big screen and having that collective experience that we kind of lost for a couple years.”