Adam Krajczynski. Remember that name as I am sure you will see it again; his talents as a cinematographer cannot go unrecognized. Shooting the little-seen (but that will hopefully be changing soon) film A Reckoning on an unbelievably tiny budget, Krajczynski’s vision is right there on the screen – beautiful, eerie, stunning and haunting.
Dread Central recently had the opportunity to interview the well-spoken and charming DOP while he was working in Spain. And he had plenty to say about cinematography and the, at times, hilarious making of A Reckoning (review here).
DC: Hello, Adam, and thank you for taking time out of your schedule to speak with Dread Central about your stunning work in Andrew Barker’s film A Reckoning.
How about a little information about yourself first? Where are you from? Where did you attend school?
AK: Where to start…I am of Polish ethnic origin and a Nottingham lad born and bred. I went to Trinity School and Nottingham Trent University, and I pay the bills as a Multimedia Developer.
DC: How did you become a cinematographer? Just any nuggets of information you think our readers would find interesting.
AK: At the moment I am purely a Multimedia Developer that specializes in digital motion-storytelling and communication. Hopefully after I have shot ten films and people confuse my surname with Janusz Kaminski’s – I can officially call myself a cinematographer!
DC: How did you come to be involved in A Reckoning?
AK: From the outset it was obvious that the project would be a Herculean undertaking, and Arnold Schwarzenegger said it best: “The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it – as long as you believe 100 percent.”
When Andrew asked me to join him in his quest to make A Reckoning, I knew he needed someone to rely on to get things done, and I believed 100 percent that I was that guy – so I said yes, and the rest is history.
DC: Once you read the script, did you already have an idea of how the film should look?
AK: We all knew the script was always just pieces of paper with text on it. The actual story was told with a visual vocabulary the roots of which maybe came from the works of painters like Jan Matejko and Konrad Krzyzanowski along with my own ideas which I developed whilst experimenting with short-form projects in my spare time. When you have a craftsman’s philosophy, and mix it with a ultra-talented crew, a progressive minded captain like Andrew Barker, and a tremendously gifted performer like Leslie Simpson – you have the means to capture lightning in a bottle!
I was very interested in developing a visual impression of all of the characters. We used our limitations to our advantage to do this because it is also about what you do not show and what you do not light. It becomes organic, something greater than the sum of its parts. When you see Leslie’s vision of the character – the impression of the physicality and what he is building behind his eyes, this is what you aim to capture with the tools at your disposal.
I would often joke that Les could command the screen without even being in the room and many-a-truths are told in jest!
DC: I know that given the shooting schedule and the budget, this film was a huge collaborative effort for everyone and several people have referred to you as Barker’s ‘right-hand man’. Aside from shooting and editing the picture, what else did you do on-set?
AK: The great thing about the ‘A Reckoning’ set was the tremendous camaraderie and solidarity that permeated throughout the production. We had the deck stacked against us from the outset, but on-set you couldn’t tell. We all undertook different jobs and tasks; there was no room and no time for any pretentious nonsense. Multitasking is part of the process, and working to such a tight schedule in those conditions means you’re forced to work quickly, for real, and not to make a fuss. Whereas sometimes you can find yourself working alongside people that make an Olympic sport out of time wasting and mouth-breathing – we were there to get the job done!
We also encouraged everyone to try their hand at different roles. We felt it vitally important that if people were willing to give up their time, skills and effort to help make this film, that they should be involved in every aspect of the process, and not left standing around feeling like a fifth wheel. There were only a few of us, but our quality outshone our quantity, maintaining respect for the crew was a big priority for myself and for Andrew.
The uncredited roles I am particularly proud of are my cameos. I share two very intimate scenes with The Lone Man…no one knows where, not even Andrew or Leslie…
DC: Did the director give you any instructions for how he wanted the film to look, or was the film’s overall look inspired by something else entirely?
AK: I was very much left to my own devices, I work best that way and it took a lot of pressure off Andrew. I was always thinking about the Modernist theory of Unism, and along the way, I memorized pretty much the entire two weeks and was splicing it all together in my mind as filming progressed. We were shooting with a type of organicity, getting exactly what we needed and moving on. This methodology allowed us to develop and evolve as we progressed helping us to get around technical set-backs and the ever prevalent ‘Sod’s Law’…not to mention freeing up precious time for experimentation or the filming of extra scenes.
We eschewed what would be considered typical formula on how to structure and encouraged everyone to share ideas. Each day came with fresh inspiration and excitement. It was a great way to work!
Photo Credit: Neal Morgan
DC: Your work has been compared to that of Anton Corbijn, the Dutch photographer, music video and film director, and you have said you are an admirer of Werner Herzog. Did any of their influences sneak into the making of A Reckoning?
AK: I am incredibly flattered by the Anton Corbijn association, I am actually a little speechless…
It is very odd as well, as I know next to nothing of Corbijn’s work apart from the fact that he spearheaded the Joy Division/Ian Curtis film ‘Control’ in my hometown, and some of it just around the corner from where I live!
Werner Herzog is a polyhistor that likes to get things done, and done well. His philosophy imbued the set of ‘A Reckoning’ with Leslie Simpson as our Klaus Kinski – the only difference being that both myself and Andrew are very willing and very eager to work with Leslie again, as opposed to Werner who planned on exploding Kinski’s house with dynamite due to the extreme personal strain of their legendary collaborations over the years.
DC: What look were you trying to achieve with the film and its setting, which was quite creepy, in its way and the emotional roller coaster Leslie Simpson’s character was on?
AK: The film is presented as a nothing hell-scape, where corridors lead nowhere and the tyranny of memory haunts sleep and dreams. The trick was to try and make less of it all, to shift and control pacing subtly and not pile on layers of sentiment or run contrary to the nature of the story. I wanted to give it a sordid, ‘off-the-floor’ look, to allow the viewers to get to know The Lone Man and his home visually, without us stuffing expository dialogue into his mouth. It was important that the reality of the film was interpretative, relativistic; where viewers can feel that underneath the skin of that empty world, monsters lie in wait…who or what these ‘monsters’ are, are up to the viewers to determine.
DC: Much has been made of the cinematography in A Reckoning. How does that feel, to be so highly praised?
AK: It’s brilliant that people are reacting to our work in such a positive and supportive way. We all challenged ourselves – by time, the environment, by each other. It was a Baptism of Fire, Rain and Snow. We worked very hard and at great self-sacrifice to get this film made.
Although, I am under no delusion. I’m still learning…that is always the name of the game. To gain experience, hone understanding and skill sets, to improve and evolve.
DC: How would you describe the film to those (far too many) people who have not seen it yet?
AK: It is very likely that I have seen this film more than anyone else in the world, and with every viewing my interpretation changes. Currently, I like the idea that it is a tragic love story where The Lone Man is beloved by an Angel of Death as he is the last Soul on a ravaged Planet. She constantly weeps for him as he gazes into a swirling abyss with undercurrents of pain, misery and solitary existence. She cannot bring herself to be close to him – as it would mean his demise, the end of humanity and the loss of the only Soul she has ever come to love. So, with regret, she lets him live only to suffer watching him slowly die as a prisoner of his own existence and her mercy.
“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
DC: What did you think when you saw the abandoned RAF base which, in the film, becomes a second character? Was there much, if any, sort of work done on the sets you used to make them look worse than they already did (this is a production design question, but I thought I would ask anyway)?
AK: The location was ravaged by time and neglect. It was a very vibrant environment that was being misused by the lowest of souls and desperately cried out for an influx of positivity. It haunted us, guided us and sheltered us. The essence of the place looms within every frame we shot, and whilst some parts of the location were cosmetically enhanced, forces beyond our control and understanding are what forged its design.
DC: You were also the editor of the film and director Andy Barker’s “right-hand geezer” (according to Les Simpson). How difficult was it to juggle all of the jobs you had while working in the worst winter England had seen in decades? And on a microbudget?
AK: I think John W. Gardner said it best: “We are [were] continually faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.”
DC: I read that there was and had to be a lot of laughter on the set, given the weather conditions as well as the subject matter of the film. Leslie Simpson described you as one of the chief comedians (he should talk). How did everyone manage to maintain a comedic air during this guerrilla shoot?
AK: Comedy was an engine that powered the production, keeping in high spirits is good for creativity. Most of the crew met for the first time on the first day of shooting, and since we did not have the luxury of going out and getting thoroughly ‘Charlie Sheen’d’ (which is always a great way to break the ice ) – arsing about and having a joke is a great way to bring people together.
By the end of the two-week shoot we had all developed ‘Involuntary Schwarzenegger Syndrome’…which meant speaking in an exaggerated Arnie accent at random, inappropriate intervals. There was lots of corpsing and piss-taking – it is the best way to work. You can’t be moping about like an arty-farty wanker and taking everything seriously…at the end of the day it is important to revere the work and be irreverent in how you do it. Good times!
DC: What sort of cameras did you use for the film and were there any problems with them caused by the frigid weather? I know on low budget films, anything that can go wrong usually does. And how many days of snow did you actually have to work in?
AK: We used Canon XL-H1 HDV cameras, which myself and Daniel Tee (the second camera operator) heavily augmented. We put them through hell, and along the way there were a few hiccups and undesired technical set-backs, but these types of issues occur on productions of all shapes, sizes and budgets; they are just not spoken about that often as it is par for the course. However, you have to look at the bigger picture – the XL-H1 camera as a combined full-unit is superb value for money. Since we wrapped, there has been a technological explosion that has allowed low-budget productions to exploit affordable devices which produce a raw image that can rival a 35mm film, but we didn’t have the luxury of access to such hi-spec kit at that time without the need to rob a bank…so we called in a bunch of favours, did the absolute best with what we could get our hands on – and I would say it all turned out looking okay. It is like Jean Cocteau said, “Film will only become an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper”.
We had quite a few days of snow once it started. Since then the UK has had worse storms, but the weather we endured was quite relentless, hence the reason why I thought it a great idea to have Les run naked through it all when it was at its worst. The craziest part is that he actually did it…the unfortunate thing is that we had to suffer looking at his bony arse. The horror, the horror.
DC: How was it working with Leslie Simpson, who can be quite the comedian, and Axelle Carolyn?
AK: We had a lot of beautiful women helping out on the shoot, although I hardly ever saw them as I was stuck staring at Les’ aforementioned arse most of the time; and the face of that grizzly bastard Andrew whose ‘filmmaker beard’ can put both George Lucas and Peter Jackson’s combined to shame, and only be rivaled by Alan Moore’s, or maybe Brian Blessed’s…
Axelle joined us in the last leg of the shoot and immediately made an impression. We’re all big fans of her husband, Neil Marshall, the writer/director of ‘Dog Soldiers’ and ‘The Descent’, so it was quite exciting to have her on board. When I think or read about Axelle now, the word ‘cult’ comes to mind. As a writer, published author and horror aficionado, she has a tremendous online following and deservedly so. Axelle is a very special soul with natural charisma whose talent evokes the memory of onscreen sirens from the Silent Era of film like Theda Bara and Pola Negri.
As for Leslie, I love that guy – without his talent and support, we’d have no damn film and I would not have made a lifelong friend. But I never see him anymore – he’s too busy partying with Charlie Sheen, but I do know he likes to work under the pseudonym, ‘Sir Eddie Cook’…he’s out there and god knows, we’ll be working together again!
DC: The film was originally titled Straw Man – why the change? I think the original title can be interpreted in so many ways: from the T.S. Eliot poem The Hollow Men to the literal straw people Les’ character creates to Les’ character of The Lone Man himself. What say you?
AK: Originally, Andrew’s story outline made me imagine a tragic tale of love wrapped within an erotic thriller on the cusp of a complicated and frightening sexual apocalypse about two living ghosts, in true-love, that haunt opposite ends of a dead city. This was a long time before there was any script or title. From that you can tell how Andrew’s story conjured images in my mind like something Gustav Klimt would paint. With ‘The Woman’ character channeling Alfons Mucha’s ‘Primavera’. But I digress…
Putting it quite simply, the title changed to ‘A Reckoning’ because that is what the process of creation had become, and exactly what The Lone Man goes through. The title, the film ‘Straw Man’ to us, became a fallacy, something that was being misrepresented by small-mindedness and horrific mismanagement whilst we worked very hard, under the illusion of its eventual release. So, we circumvented that negativity with a name change, to avoid being tainted by association…and since then the film’s name is ‘A Reckoning’, and forever shall be. The philosophy became that if something had a negative connotation, began stifling progress or giving us shit – we removed it, with [digital] knives if necessary.
DC: Aside from Herzog, what films and/or directors inspire you? And as this is a horror website, are there any horror movies you are particularly fond of?
AK: I enjoy so many different films and the works of so many different filmmakers for so many different reasons that I can never just decide on listing a few. The creatives that truly grab my attention, regardless of their output, are always the ones that go that one step further, or live life with an aggressive passion for creativity or create with an ingenuity that beguiles, influences and resonates beyond the demands of a mass audience or culture. Creatives that wave a two-fingered salute at the coziness of mediocrity and works of no ambition. It can be anyone and everyone from Melvin Van Peebles to Roger Corman! Which is the reason I really enjoy working with Andrew, Leslie, Dan and Michael Spiby (our Key Grip and overwhelming font of knowledge and inspiration) – they all have that pedal to the floor work ethic of the best of my favourites.
As for a horror film I am fond of, whenever I can, I always let people know about the film ‘Pontypool’…I highly recommend it.
DC: What are some films, horror or otherwise, which you would definitely recommend just based on the cinematography alone?
AK: Easy question! Check out ‘Carnival of Souls’ and ‘White Zombie’ if you haven’t already!
DC: Are you a reader of horror literature? If so, who are among your favourite authors?
AK: Without getting into politics, I get many doses of real-life, close-to-home horror just looking out of my window or reading the goddamn newspaper. The craziness of even the most talented horror author will never compare to the brutal nonsense that goes on just outside my front door. The worst parts are that it is real and getting worse. All the while we are smoke-screened with double-think, being told that it is ‘normal’ and to ‘ignore’ it. There is a lot of scary stuff going on in this brave new world…
DC: What projects do you have coming up? And would you work with Andy and Les again?
AK: I am developing what can be best described as an evolving concept with a musical genius by the name of Shekhar Raj Dhain and my very close friend, budding musician and on-screen avatar John Paul Clarke. Together, we are creating a trans-media, multi-platform universe going by the codename Shapeshifter. It is still very much in its infancy, but it allows us to experiment with visual form and function on an ultra-lo-fi scale based on a thematic over-arching story. It is a fantastic chance to explore new territory or play with ideas in a constant attempt to develop and sharpen our creative sensibilities in any way we see fit to express ourselves.
As for working with Leslie and Andrew again, I’ll be sending Leslie to outer space, to find another race…and Andrew and I, we’re gonna take your brains to another dimension! So, pay close attention!
DC: What is one thing no one knows about Adam Krajczynski that you think they should (everyone gets this question from me)?
AK: I’ll give you two things: Despite being a cunning linguist, I like to use quotes in my interview answers. Also, I can detect changes in atmospheric pressure…
Our thanks to Adam for taking the time to speak with us. To keep up-to-date on all his latest projects, be sure to follow Adam Krajczynski on Twitter.
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