How ‘The Midnight Club’ Cinematographer Made Netflix’s YA Series Creepy

How ‘The Midnight Club’ Cinematographer Made Netflix’s YA Series Creepy

In the eyes of cinematographer James Kniest, psychology is the hidden element that makes a show like “The Midnight Club” spooky, along with other more obvious ingredients like a haunted workhouse, spiritual and religious symbols, the occult, and of course, the classic scare.

“To be scary, a lot doesn’t show everything and lets things get dark with areas that you maybe don’t know might or might not be there,” cinematographer James Kniest told TheWrap in a recent interview.

“I also think lighting plays a huge role in that. And then sometimes like quick camera moves revealing something or even orchestrating some lock where you might see something barely moving in the background or maybe even very close in the foreground. Hint things but not show them all so people’s minds do a lot of the work for you and a lot of the heavy lifting because we all have our own take on what’s scary so if you give just a couple of hints that people I would interpret it your way [they] they can scare themselves. It’s just leaving it to your own imagination.”

Netflix’s latest terrifying series from showrunner Mike Flanagan, adapted from Christopher Pike’s 1994 novel, is targeting a young adult audience in its ten-episode first season. Kniest shot episodes 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7, setting the tone early on with a classic detour.

“You think something bad happened, and I think it works, and it was kind of funny, and that’s why it’s not necessarily scary and it’s also what your mind does with it,” he said of the show’s opening scene. “It’s like, ‘Oh, there’s something red going down the drain.’ We automatically think it’s blood. But then we backtrack to reveal, ‘No, I got it, it’s hair dye.’”

The main character Ilonka (Iman Benson) has a lot ahead of her, college at Stanford and a love of literature, and she dyes her hair red to celebrate her high school graduation, but thyroid cancer cancels all her plans and sends her to Brightcliffe. Manor for hospice care on the coast of his hometown of Sacramento.

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“Brightcliffe Manor has a very cavernous interior, so even [when] it’s daytime, it’s still a bit mysterious in a way. A lot of the day’s stuff, for the most part, happens in the A-story, which isn’t necessarily the time the audience is trying to freak out,” Kniest said. “It’s more about the relationships that the characters have and some of the plots and plots of what’s going on during the day.”

every resident from Brightcliffe awaits her hospice days with a terminal illness, bonding in her dreary surroundings. On her first night there, Ilonka follows her roommate Anya (Ruth Codd) to a secret basement meeting between all the patients, who gather every night at The Midnight Club to tell stories and try to scare each other. (since they face an early death). harden your shock factor).

“Each episode has at least two different stories, some of the episodes, there are side stories within a side story,” Kniest said. “So there’s a lot of room for our interpretation and creativity to make things look and feel different, have different textures and tones. So there’s a lot of variety, which I think is also important for that audience because they like to have a variety of stimuli.”

Story A involves the current residents interacting at Brightcliffe, and Story B involves short tales told at The Midnight Club’s late-night gathering. Each episode ends with a scary story shared by one of the club members (also known as the Brightcliffe residents), with characters played by the same actors who represent the A-line ensemble.

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“They meet every night at midnight in front of the fire in the library to try to help each other with their storytelling and to come up with the most creative stories and they really try to understand each other and those are the B-stories,” Kniest. said. “And those B-stories are motivated by what these young people might have seen or what their references are in terms of movies throughout the ’80s and ’90s and books and art and those kinds of things that would inform their storytelling in general.”

Within the main story, a historical timeline is presented against the background of Brightcliff as Ilonka explores the grounds.

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The Brightcliffe set also allowed Kniest to work with production designer Laurin Kelsey to insert windows into certain parts of the structure for light sources. The many hallways and corridors also provided unique challenges for choreography and staging.

“The interior of Brightcliffe: It’s a lot of hallways, which I think when it all came together, it was pretty amazing,” he said. “So we had to come up with a way of, ‘How are we going to light this for stories A and B and then through different periods? All of that was filmed on stage. We didn’t have an actual hospice, we built a little facade on top of a cliff, and the rest is all CG, so the interior was built on stage from scratch.”



Flanagan placed 21 jump scares in the first episode alone, which broke a Guinness World Record.

“Jump scares are a traditional genre device to elicit a reaction from the audience. I know Mike Flanagan is famous for saying he doesn’t care. He thinks they can potentially be a little cheap,” Kniest said. “But I know a lot of fans of the genre like that. It’s like a roller coaster. They know what’s going to happen, they know the drop is coming, but they still want it and they enjoy it. So I think it’s something to be expected a little bit. So in doing that, a lot of it is choreography and scenery, setting up the movement of the camera in concert with the movement of the actors. And then it all happens in editing so you can cut where you want.”

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Kniest also acknowledges the difference between all of Flanagan’s works, particularly in terms of the age group of “The Midnight Club’s” audience.

“It’s definitely tamed from what would be the traditional horror genre with really graphic or disturbing imagery. A lot of the stuff is more psychological on the show and it’s more about what the young people are going through and then the stories that they tell,” he said. “I know people have been a bit surprised by the target audience for this show. And some of the material has not been perhaps as deep or as cerebral as some of [Flanagan’s] other work, but I think he was a huge fan of the Christopher Pike books and a lot of people were, so it’s great to see it all come to life in so much variety, trying to boil it all down to something that’s a season of Netflix.” .

“The Midnight Club” is now streaming on Netflix.

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