Elements of Cinema: Fright factor


Peeping through the gaps between our fingers as they cover our eyes, we wait. Our
terror mounting with Each. Shrieking. Violin. Chord. Somewhere in our logical
minds we know just what’s about to happen, but when it does we inevitably gasp,
yelp or worse – leap into the air like an eight-year-old, spilling our popcorn all over
the floor. The scare squad, which worked on the film Indigenous, explain how they
make scenes like this one to get our hearts racing and keep us coming back for

Max Roberts on writing

This was a guerilla style shoot, so we location scouted in Panama first, saw what
was available to us, and built the script around that. We spent as much time as
possible making realistic, relatable characters. Then figuring out how to kill them
was the easy part. Hopefully the audience is with you and feels something for them
by the time they die. I think you can write a scene with as many adjectives as you
want, but it’s how you shoot it that determines if it’s scary.

Alastair Orr on directing

When you work on a horror there is a lot more at play. Your scheduling revolves
around makeup and SFX plates on top of lighting setups etc. In addition, an
audience participates in a horror film. You are taking them on a ride and you
constantly need to consider visceral elements that are going to thrust them into the
This is a film about a mythical, South American monster, but that’s not what’s going
to make the film engaging. This scene is at the end of the film and the main
character is about to be eaten. This is the easy part – putting the character in
jeopardy – but it’s the scenes before which are going to make this one work.

Alastair Orr on editing

I had to find the right balance of showing the monster and leaving some things to
the imagination. The audience gets desensitised and I wanted to keep the impact of
seeing it going strong. I mainly focused on character reactions of screaming and
being terrified, that works better than always cutting to the monster. When editing
in the horror genre, tension is important. If you really dwell on the slower scenes
you allow the audience to feel the urgency towards the end at the faster scenes.
The pace is only fast because you’ve felt the slow.

Brendan Barnes on cinematography

When shooting horror, I try to remind myself that the real terror lies in what the
audience doesn’t see. Indigenous was shot on an Arri Alexa 16:9. The dynamic
range and colour reproduction is fantastic and the camera continued to roll
flawlessly through high temperatures and humidity in the tropical jungles of
Panama. A lot of the film was shot exterior night and the Alexa is known for
performing well under low light. This scene was shot handheld with a 45-degree
shutter angle. The effect is dramatic and adds an aggressive quality to the image
which really heightens the panic.

Giona Ostinelli on music

The music plays an important role in this scene as it enhances the level of intensity.
I wanted to evoke the sense of extreme disgust and fear that the main character is
experiencing and the way I did that was by using frantic strings, roaring brass and
bombastic percussions. I created several custom synth elements: a pulsating sound
depicting his terror and his heart racing, a bending synth which blended together
with the strings to give the audience a strong feeling of nausea, and a chorus effect
which was heavily treated with flanger, producing a hallucinatory feeling.

Aleatoric orchestral effects and synth elements are often used in contemporary
horror flick scores. I like to create my own distinctive sounds for each new project.

Written by Carly Barnes


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