Cinematographer Peter Buntaine Discusses the Darkness of ‘Alone at Night’
You have seen Ashley Benson in darker projects such as the hit Freeform series Pretty Little Liars and films such as Spring Breakers and Ratter, but it’s her latest project, Alone at Night, that is truly delighting horror fans. Directed by Jimmy Giannopoulos, the official synopsis reads: “Vicky (Benson) is a young woman looking for an escape after going through a harrowing break-up. After retreating to a friend’s remote cabin in the woods to clear her head, she continues modeling sexy lingerie for her devoted followers on 18 & Over, an adults-only, live-streaming website. But when the power keeps going out, Vicky discovers something terrifying awaiting her in the dark — a masked killer wielding a crowbar who’s hellbent on bringing her night to a grisly end.”
Contributing to the eerie vibe of Alone at Night is the cinematography by Peter Buntaine, who took inspiration from 90’s B-Movie horror flicks such as Pumpkinhead and Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight. He elaborates on this and much more in the below Q & A.
Wicked Horror: The opening sequence of Alone at Night is the classic killer hunting the victim sequence, like we have seen in openings such as Scream. How did you go about keeping this opening different from ones audiences have seen before?
Peter Buntaine: I’m not sure if it is very different than some of those sequences that it is a reference to. The main focus was to keep it different than the rest of Alone at Night, which I think has a little more of a distinct look. So the rest of Alone at Night was handheld, it was on-location, and Ashley is in pretty much every shot. For this opening sequence with G we are on a set, we have steadicam, and just sort of treated it as its own little short.
Wicked Horror: Pamela Anderson has been in the news a lot lately because of her new Netflix documentary and book. What was it like working with her on the film?
Peter Buntaine: Working with Pam was one of those times where you meet your hero and they don’t disappoint. She was super professional, always on time, nailed every take. Doing these long nights in Big Bear was a lot different from the sunny beaches. She was a champ.
Wicked Horror: Can you talk about working with director Jimmy Giannopoulos. Was there anything you learned from him or admired about his directing?
Peter Buntaine: One thing I really like about Jimmy is that he is a true collaborator. He really believes in empowering each department to do their best work and bring their own ideas to the table.
Wicked Horror: There is a great shot in the film when someone comes out the front door and the killer is standing on the roof above them? Can you talk about this shot and the lighting?
Peter Buntaine: This shot was a pain and we didn’t have the resources to do it like I would have liked. Which would have been to get our beautiful neon blue moonlight to hit him with a nice rim. This is how we shot most of the night stuff. But the budget was pretty tight. We didn’t have a way to get a light in the right position (very high) for that day. So this one is basically day for night shot with no lighting. We had a nice blue filter, you wait until the sun dips behind a mountain, and it takes a little darkening work in post as well.
Wicked Horror: Was there a scene in the film that didn’t originally go according to plan so you had to get creative? Can you discuss further?
Peter Buntaine: Yes, well – the one we just discussed is one of the biggest examples of that. In general, aside from a few “bigger” set-ups like that – we kept the plans pretty loose. Prioritizing on-set creativity and improvisation anyways. You can do that when you are mostly handheld doing a low budget thing. And that way things tend to go right on the bigger moments that you plan more intensively around. But not always.
Wicked Horror: Luis Guzman appears in the film as one of the web cam patrons. Were you in person with him on any of his scenes or were they all done remotely? If remotely, what direction did you give him?
Peter Buntaine: We worked with him remotely, but we had a camera operator there in the room with him who also managed some lighting changes between his scenes. So we were on Zoom with him, but he was looking at a real camera. Over the pandemic I did a whole (interview based) documentary over Zoom this way. You just get the eye line right and aside from that, it’s not much different. I guess everyone got kind of used to interacting in that way.
Wicked Horror: As a cinematographer, what would you say is the most important part of your job?
Peter Buntaine: The most fun and easiest part is holding the camera, shooting pretty stuff. The most important part is tike and crew management, otherwise you don’t get to do the fun part.
Wicked Horror: We hear that you are personally a big fan of horror films. What draws you to them?
Peter Buntaine: I think I just like the variety of the genre. And the way people can take big stylistic swings.
Wicked Horror: Any obscure horror films you have seen lately that you want to recommend?
Peter Buntaine: The only horror I’ve been watching recently is mostly new release stuff that I think everyone is watching. I will mention the films that were major touchstones for the look of Alone at Night. These aren’t especially obscure, but they also aren’t that well known, especially if you’re younger than me. The films are Pumpkinhead and Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight. I really love both those films. Their stories have nothing to do with Alone at Night or with each other, but visually I found them to be quite inspiring. Pumpkinhead is a classic. It’s a movie that I looked at the VHS of in the store for years before I figured out a way to rent it. Demon Knight is directed by Ernest Dickerson, who’s known for being Spike Lee’s DP and also his work on The Walking Dead as director. You can see him just really push the envelope with colors in this movie I think and have a lot of fun. Maybe he let loose in a way working on something less serious or without an “Auteur” looking over his shoulder.