In the new horror movie Wish Upon, Jonathan Shannon (Ryan Phillippe) gives his 17-year-old daughter Clare (Joey King) an old music box that promises to grant its owner seven wishes. Skeptical at first, Clare becomes seduced by its dark powers when her life starts to radically improve. Everything seems perfect until she realizes that every wish she makes causes the people who are closest to her to die in violent and elaborate ways.
The movie is directed by John R. Leonetti, who also directed Annabelle. Leonetti began as a cinematographer, and in fact comes from a dynasty of Hollywood DPs. When we caught up with filmmakers at a press junket for Wish Upon, we thought it would be especially interesting to talk to the man who shot it, Michael Galbraith, to ask not only about the look of the film but also what it’s like to work for a director who is also a cameraman.
Dread Central: Since you and John were both DPs at the same time and running in the same circles, you probably knew each other… and haven’t you worked together before?
Michael Galbraith: Oh yeah. We did Detroit Rock City first, but then he came back and did three more movies in Toronto. I did three with him, and would have done the fourth had I been available but it just didn’t work out for us that time. Then, to stay in his family group, his brother Matthew who is also a very good cinematographer, came to Toronto and I had the opportunity to work with Matthew, so I was deeply imbedded into these Leonettis and it worked out pretty good, actually. Just based on that experience, you build a trust. And John and I actually see things quite similarly, as far as our approach and whatnot. We basically go in, we have good conversations, along with the production designer, about the look of the movie and the feel of it and where we want to take it. Then we just go ahead and execute that. For me it was good, because I kind of had John sitting back there at the monitor so whenever I would think, ‘Should I do this thing, is it too stupid, or is it ok?’ I’d just run it by him and say, ‘What do you think of this, brother?’ and I’d rely on his experience. He’d say ‘Yeah, go for it’ or ‘No, that’ll suck, don’t do that.’ But by the same token he gave me freedom, because we had talked about the movie, we knew the direction we wanted to take to do my thing. And if I ever had a question about anything, I had the master right beside me to get the direct answer from, based not only from a directorial standpoint but a cinematographer standpoint too, so that was very helpful, actually.
DC: With a larger budget movie like this, I’m assuming everything is planned out as much in advance as possible. But did you have any creative on-the-spot moments, and were you allowed to explore those?
MG: That’s right, we had a lot of plans and we were totally rowing all the oars in the same direction. But you know, touching upon what you’re saying is, we may go into a room or scout a location, and we have a plan in mind. John does, because he’s also thinking from a cinematographer point of view, he’s going to say, ‘Michael’s going to want that window, I’m not going to screw him and place him right over by the window that he can’t light from.’ So that works good, but the thing is, you still have to allow yourself that flexibility. We may go into a location and see it in a certain way and at a certain time of day and say ‘Ok, this is what we’re going to do,’ but then we come back to it on the day and maybe the sun is hitting that window just perfectly, so maybe it’s ‘Guys, let’s just shoot this, let’s give ourselves the flexibility to shoot it right there because that’s fantastic, why try and fix it if it’s not broken?’ So you do go in with a plan but you allow yourself some flexibility that like you were saying, if something wonderful is happening or the actors give him something he didn’t think about, maybe he’ll change directions a little bit on it which is fine because man, that’s great, it’s not our original thing but that’s fantastic, let’s embrace that.
DC: What’s the “look” of Wish Upon?
MG: Based on John’s thoughts, he wanted it to be beautiful but in a natural way. We didn’t want to craft and be super stylized because that’s been done a million times. We just wanted the moments to fall into a very natural situation and that’s what we strive for. I was asked a question about the box, whether the box was a character. Yes, absolutely, but did we approach lighting the box in a special way?, and my answer was no, we didn’t, we approached lighting the box in a very natural way based on the environment it was in. We didn’t make it super crazy colorful, we didn’t make a shaft of light on the box, we didn’t make it anything that didn’t fit naturally to the environment that we’re in. We tried to stay very real and natural. I think sometimes that’s even more scary, right? You’re not telegraphing what’s going to happen, you’re just in the real world and then bad shit is going to happen.
DC: What did you shoot on?
Michael: We use the ARRI Alexa. Most of the cinematographers that you talk to will tell you that camera has a more cinematic quality and it duplicates film cameras quite a lot. Basically we ended up shooting in 3.4K resolution, but the camera itself just has a very cinematic quality to it. It feels like film without some of the heavy film grain. I think today’s audience is so used to seeing these images now, with video games and all this stuff that is on television that you except these days, digital cameras are a lot better, but they’re also phenomenal cameras as well. We control the image a lot, at least we did on this show, control the image a lot more closely on set, each day and throughout the course of the day, because we had a digital technician with us. Between him and myself and John we would tune up the dailies and the general look of the movie. That was pretty much it, what you see is what you get… almost. There’s a little tweaking that has to go on later on once the movie is cut, and that’s what we’re in the process of doing now, putting those final little touches on, that you either don’t have time for on the day or you have two more shots to do and you can’t take the time to fuss about them. But the cameras are so good and they give us, for lack of a better word, they give us a rich negative.
DC: What would you say is the scariest thing depicted in Wish Upon?
MG: For me, it’s the struggle of human nature. You know damn well in your heart of hearts what is right and what is wrong and yet your soul can be seduced into areas that you normally might not go. It’s just the law of human nature and how you can be seduced by certain things that you normally think you could never be seduced by, and you verbalize these strong, moral principles and then all of a sudden you find yourself spiraling down into some madness, and you never thought you could go there.
Directed by John R. Leonetti (Annabelle), produced by Sherryl Clark (Cloverfield), and written by Barbara Marshall, Wish Upon stars Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Ki Hong Lee, Mitchell Slaggert, Shannon Purser, Sydney Park, Alice Lee, Kevin Hanchard, and Sherilyn Fenn. It comes to theaters on July 14, 2017.
In the latest horror thriller from the director of ANNABELLE, 17-year-old CLARE SHANNON (Joey King) is barely surviving the hell that is high school, along with her friends MEREDITH (Sydney Park) and JUNE (Shannon Purser). So when her dad (Ryan Phillippe) gifts her an old music box with an inscription that promises to grant the owner’s wishes, she thinks there is nothing to lose. Clare makes her first wish and, to her surprise, it comes true. Before long, she finally has it all: money, popularity and her dream boy. Everything seems perfect – until the people closest to her begin dying in gruesome and twisted ways. Now, with blood on her hands, Clare has to get rid of the box, before it costs her and everyone she loves the ultimate price.
Be careful what you wish for.