When Kappa House, the elitist sorority of Wallace University, is forced to open its doors to more than just the privileged, the student bodies start piling up in the FOX horror-comedy Scream Queens. The new series arrives courtesy of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, the creators of American Horror Story and Glee. The show stars Emma Roberts, Skyler Samuels, Abigail Breslin, Lea Michele, and Jamie Lee Curtis, among others.
Part black comedy, part slasher film, Scream Queens, as cinematographer Michael Goi, ASC puts it, takes its cues from a mix of disparate influences, such as the 1988 feature film Heathers and the films of Italian horror icon Mario Bava. Bold color is a Bava trademark.
“I wanted it to be eye candy,” Goi teases. Goi shot a few episodes of Glee and the first season of American Horror Story for Murphy, and the two have settled into quite the collaboration with the cinematographer shooting all of AHS since, the pilot for The New Normal, and now the first two episodes of Scream Queens.
A commonality among all those projects: Panavision. “Panavision is one of the key creative partnerships that I like to have as I go into every project,” Goi says. “They're supportive of the filmmaker's creative vision.”
Panavision New Orleans has worked closely with Goi during production of seasons three and four of AHS, which led right into Scream Queens. “I felt there was never anything that I couldn't get resolved or ask for out of the resources from Panavision New Orleans.”
For Scream Queens, Panavision provided Goi with a Panavised Sony F55. The camera allowed him to stretch his colorization to Bava-like levels. “I had used the Sony F55 to shoot the pilot for The New Normal, and I like the simplicity of the camera,” he remarks. “I can shoot with it in a lot of the same ways as I can shoot with film cameras. I like the contrast range, the resolution and the color space. I could go with some very extreme colors in my gels and the camera reproduced that well.”
Panavision is one of the key creative partnerships that I like to have as I go into every project
With more of a classic filmmaking approach, Goi prefers to build the show's aesthetic into his lighting through gels and filtration on the camera rather than spend too much time tweaking during post production, of which there is not a lot of time to do on a TV series. And he is a bit of a traditionalist in preferring stalwart tungsten lighting fixtures. “I like the way faces look with a classic Fresnel lens on a Baby or a 2K,” he explains. “I have always been fond of prominent shadows—shadows can tell you a lot about a location or a character.”
Where some filmmakers chose digital cameras like they would film stocks, Goi does this with lenses. Panavision New Orleans provided him with an optical buffet of Primo Zoom, Primo Compact Zoom, Primo V, and Primo 70 glass, as well as a side serving of Angenieux Optimo Zooms.
“Lenses for me are like paintbrushes—each one does a certain thing really well with the image,” he explains. “Each lens has its own psychological characteristic that I can use on the show and employ them for specific purposes.”
The cinematographer gravitates toward the wider end of the focal spectrum. “I like looking at the world, and especially the sets that production designer Mark Worthington built,” Goi notes. “They are so detailed and impressive. I feel like I want to see as much of it in one shot. I will put on a 10mm and ultra-wide lenses to see as much as possible.
“I like to get the camera close to people,” he continues. “There was a shot where Emma Roberts was charging down the middle of the Kappa House hallway trying to catch up to Skyler Samuels, and I used a much wider lens on Emma because I liked the energy and the thrust of that, but didn't use as wide a lens on Skyler so that there would be a different feel to how each were traveling down the hallway.”
With a cast of sirens, Goi does get in for close-ups, particularly with the Primo 70s. “I like the way faces look in close-ups on the Primo 70s,” he adds. “It's hard to describe, but I feel like the people were much closer to me. They have very good resolution without being overly strident in their sharpness and have really great color reproduction.”
Goi turned shooting duties over to cinematographer Joaquin Sedillo, ASC (Glee, Veronica Mars) to finish out the season when production on the next installment of American Horror Story: Hotel ramped up. “Scream Queens has become a mix of what Ryan, Brad and I did visually, as well as things Joaquin wanted to do to expand on what we started,” Goi says.
For both of the cinematographers, Panavision remains part of their DNA. “I can always rely on Panavision and their equipment and crew,” Goi says. “It's about partnerships—partnerships that have been built up over time that lead to the kind of rapport required to get the job done.”