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“The Blackening” Cinematographer Todd A. Dos Reis on Lensing a Horror-Comedy Romp

Jack Giroux, THE CREDITS

June 27, 2023

It’s almost hard to believe The Blackening is cinematographer Todd A. Dos Reis’ first feature film. He’s been in the business for decades, having shot a variety of television shows, including Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Bosch: Legacy, and Entourage. Before becoming a cinematographer for a long list of hit shows and music videos, he even worked on two Jean-Claude Van Damme classics, Hard Target and Double Impact, as an assistant cameraman.

The cinematographer’s career is full and varied, and it shows with the complete control of camera and tone in director Tim Story’s The Blackening. The horror-comedy brings a group of college friends together for a reunion in a cabin in the woods, where they’re terrorized by masked killers and a board game called The Blackening. The less said about the plot, the better—The Blackening is a film whose surprises you really want to enjoy without warning.

Recently, we could’ve spent days talking to Todd A. Dos Reis about his career but focused on his exceptional nighttime photography in The Blackening.

You made a contained space very cinematic with the game room, where the characters play the titular game. The colors really pop, especially green. How’d you want to create a mood in the house?

We had a very strange house in Brentwood that worked for most of it. It worked for everything except for the hallway and the basement scenes. I’m glad you picked up on the green because I really wanted to make that pop. There was a little more outside that didn’t make it into the final cut, but I like having green work for so many different things. I not only use it in this movie, but I use a lot of my television series for different reasons. But for this, it felt right just to have a weird element to be there. Whoever owned this house had some 30-year-old lighting fixture out in the backyard that they use for who knows what, hunting raccoons or something. I wanted to use it to play off of the cool colors. I use a lot of cool colors on the outside and on the inside of the house.

It always helps stretch the budget a little, right?

Since we had very little money, I had to use what they had there at the house. There was track lighting all around. When we needed another look, I basically just gelled what they already had up there and augmented it with a few of our movie lights. But in that game room, they spend a lot of time playing the game, and we had to make sure we created a look that wasn’t so bright and comedy-esque.

You and director Tim Story handle that tone well. It’s right up next to the line of horror parody, but it still falls within the horror-comedy genre. How’d you maintain that?

Tim and I talked about that. What we did is basically split up the duties. I knew he was a master at comedy, so he handled the comedy of it, and I wanted no part of the comedy as far as lighting goes. I lit it as a straight horror movie. I didn’t do anything you would see in a normal comedy, like a brighter light. I tried to keep it moody and shadowy and rich.

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