The Lords of Salem – Exclusive Interview with Cinematographer Brandon Trost

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The Lords of Salem - Exclusive Interview with Cinematographer Brandon TrostAt age 31, Cinematographer Brandon Trost is still considered a youngster in a racket that consists mostly of older men with flowing gray hair and/or unkempt artistic temperaments.

With over 70 titles on IMDB, the young cinematographer has paid more than his share of dues, working on gonzo film sets with gonzo talent (Crank: High Voltage, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance). On each film, or at least once he climbed out of the indie trenches with the Crank sequel, Trost has added his own distinctive look to each film he has touched, regardless of the quality of source material. With the upcoming Townies and This Is the End, Trost is quickly becoming the go-to guy in Hollywood for cream of the crop talent in multiple genres, forging lasting friendships with directors and actors alike. One of the more fruitful relationships he’s forged is with writer/director Rob Zombie, a dream collaboration for the teenaged Trost who grew up coveting White Zombie albums.

With The Lords of Salem, Trost has captured indelible images of haunting beauty, while recalling ‘60s/’70s claustrophobic, trippy classics like The Tenant, Rosemary’s Baby and Ken Russell’s The Devils. Dread Central caught up with Trost from his Los Angeles home.

Dread Central: Lords of Salem is your second collaboration with Zombie correct?

Brandon Trost: Second feature collaboration actually. I’ve shot a few videos for his band, and we’ve done a handful of commercials together.

Dread Central: What initially brought you guys together?

Brandon Trost: Halloween 2. I don’t remember exactly how we got in the same room together to meet for the movie. I think a line producer reached out to my agents to bring me in for a meeting. I met with Rob and we got along immediately. He called me up the next day and offered me the job, which was awesome. It was crazy. For me, at that point, Halloween 2 was the second studio movie I’d shot. For me to go from shooting nothing but a bunch of indie movies to jump into studio jobs and have the opportunity to work with someone like Rob Zombie was crazy to me. When I was 14, I literally asked for Astro Creep 2000 for my birthday. Now we’re collaborators and friends. I love what we’ve been able to do.

Dread Central: Does Rob know the shots he wants going in? How collaborative is it?

Brandon Trost: Normally when we jump into a scene, Rob will kick everybody out so it’s just he and I. We’ll discuss the scene, and we always have an idea of how we’re going to approach it, but we never really know exactly until we’re there in the moment. He’s really intuitive and in the moment. He knows what he wants because he feels it when it’s right. Sometimes it takes a moment to fish around and find out what that is, but once he finds it, it clicks. That was something that took me a minute to figure out when we first started working together. But once you get in tune with what his tastes are and what he likes, you use that as a jumping-off point, and then sometimes tweak it or skew it a hair further.

Dread Central: Tell us about the shoot.

Brandon Trost: This movie was smaller. It was only a million and a half dollars, which is different from Halloween 2, which I think was around 15 or 18. This was not a studio movie. Because of that, we had lots of small locations. It was all shot in LA, even though it takes place in Salem. We did go to Salem to shoot three days of exteriors, to kind of prove that we were there. We shot at this one location in LA, where a lot of indie horror movies are shot. I think Saw was shot there, and a bunch of other shit that I can’t remember. It’s like the go-to cheap studio. Because of that, it’s really recognizable. I’ve shot there a million times, so it’s like how do you make this thing look different, so it doesn’t look like every other movie that is shot in this place. We had a really great production designer Jen Spence. She made so much out of nothing. The shoot was 23 days total, I think. It was really fast and really fun. It was also a challenge, because we were going for such a composed, pristine aesthetic. I was really happy with what we got. It’s one of my favorite looking movies that I’ve ever shot. Visually for me, it’s just one of those films that was serendipitous. It just felt right, the whole time, from beginning to end.

Dread Central: On the eve of the film’s release, do you get nervous about the critical or box office response? Or is a job a job, and you walk away at wrap?

Brandon Trost: It’s kind of all three. At the end of every job, you hate to leave, but also exhausted and happy that the job is done. Every job is like running a marathon. You’re basically sprinting your way through something and you just want to stop for a second to catch your breathe. You long for that, especially on a small shoot when you’re working really fast. At the same time you love the whole process. You love the job and everyone involved. At the end of every job, it’s like you’re finishing a four year term of high school. Chances are you might not ever see everybody again, there a party, and then you’re done. Box office-wise? You never know man. There’s some stuff that I’m super excited about and think is gonna be a hit, and it’s a huge turd flop. But that doesn’t change the quality of the work. I was really proud of MacGruber for example. That’s a movie I’m still really proud of and I know a lot of people love. We were all really bummed out when it didn’t do super well. We all love it so much that we’re still talking about trying to get a sequel made. We’ll see if it happens. It’s not a sure thing, but I’m getting off topic. I’m never nervous. I’m hopeful. But a lot of reviews have been negative for movies I’ve done. But usually there is a response to the way they’ve looked, which is ultimately my job. Every film that I do is a piece of me when it comes down to it. Even if it doesn’t turn out the way I want or hope, I still love it. These movies end up being a photo album of your life.

Dread Central: It seems like you’ve worked on some pretty gonzo sets, from Crank: High Voltage to simply working with Nicolas Cage in Ghost Rider 2. Have you muttered “I’m gettin’ too old for this shit” yet?

Brandon Trost: Not yet. Fortunately I’m still considered a young D.P., which I’ve been hearing for the last twelve years now. It seems crazy that I could still be called that after all these years, but it’s true. Most D.P.s are much older than me, typically speaking. I’ve always loved it, and got into it right out of film school. This is all I’ve wanted to do and I’ve always worked toward it. But in terms of the crazy sets and the movies I’ve chosen to do? In a weird way I almost feel like they chose me. I would work on anything that I could, prepare as hard as I could, and finally I got a studio job and it happened to be Crank 2, which was just nuts. It couldn’t have been a more fortunate scenario then I happened to go to film school with the directors. It’s really luck of the draw when it comes down to it too. I feel like I got handed a lot of really lucky opportunities.

Related Story: Lords of Salem News Archive

Dread Central: Crank: High Voltage seems like the ultimate playground, in terms of experimentation.

Brandon Trost: It’s an experience that I feel that I’ll never get again, and honestly feel like most people don’t get. That movie was just nuts, and the energy and the craziness that you see on-screen is how that movie was made. There were the two directors, Mark and Brian, and myself with cameras, right there in the middle of the action. There was no Video Village, no playback, and we shot it skater video style. We’d make the crew hide around the corner so we could shoot 360. We were getting 100 shots a day on that movie.

Dread Central: Did you discover film on your own, or your family played a big part?

Brandon Trost: I’ve been on film sets for as long as I can remember. My whole family is in it. My Dad does effects and my Grandpa is a First A.D. Great Grandpa was a stunt guy. We’re all a super LA, filmmaking family. I’ve never really known anything else. I’ve never had a paying job outside of the film industry. As a kid, I thought I’d be an effects guy. I was being groomed to take over my Dad’s effects company. I was learning how to do blood hits, explosions and all that kinda shit when I was a kid. It was actually my Dad who talked me out of it. He said, “Look, effects is kind of a dying industry, with the advance of computer graphics.” My Dad still does well, but also struggles. He pegged me and said “Your disposition, and the way that you discuss and talk about movies, you remind me of all the best D.P.s I’ve ever worked with.” I started getting into it, and went into film school right out of high school.

Dread Central: You seem to form pretty tight bonds, be it with Zombie, Seth Rogen or the Lonely Island guys. What’s the secret to keeping your cool on set and walking away friends?

Brandon Trost: I think ultimately I’m a pretty easy guy to get along with, and I think that might have been the key to any sort of success I’ve had {laughs}. When I first started shooting I think they were hiring me because I could get along with people, versus the actual talent that I had at the time. I think I just go with the flow. I love what I do, and I love the whole industry and the whole process, but when it comes down to it, it’s just a movie. I think ego gets in the way a lot. I think that ego is bullshit and gets in the way of the reason that I wanted to do this in the first place. I just don’t bring it to work. If a director doesn’t like something, shit, I’ll change it! It’s not like I think “This is the most perfect frame I’ve ever had. You’re absolutely wrong!” I don’t storm off and throw something in the air, which I’ve heard stories of people doing. I don’t do that shit. I make friends too. Some of my best friends are directors I’ve worked with. Basically, I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some awesome people.

Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem (review) stars Barbara Crampton as Virginia Cable, a camera operator for a local kid’s show at Salem Public Access TV called “Lobster Joe’s Fishy Fun Show”; Brandon Cruz as Ted Delta, a local Salem drug counselor; Michael Shamus Wiles as Jarrett Perkins, owner of Salem’s Engine House Pizza; Michael Berryman as Virgil Magnus, 50% of a well-known witch hunting duo called “The Brothers”; Sid Haig as Dean Magnus, the other half of “The Brothers”; Christopher Knight as Keith Williams, aka Lobster Joe, the host of “Lobster Joe’s Fishy Fun Show”, a staple of local Salem television; Patricia Quinn as Megan, the town’s palm reader; Judy Geeson as Lacy Doyle, owner and landlady of Heidi Hawthorne’s apartment; Ken Foree as Herman Jackson, one third of The Big H Radio Team; Richard Lynch as the film’s protagonist, Reverend John Hawthorne; Lisa Marie, who plays Priscilla Reed, a woman who gives her all to support “the cause of the coven“; Billy Drago as Judge Samuel Mather, a key player in the history of the Lords; Dee Wallace as Sonny, a self-help guru; Bruce Davison as Francis Matthias, author of the book Satan’s Last Stand – The Truth About The Salem Witch Trials; Maria Conchita Alonso as Francis’ wife, Alice Matthias; Torsten Voges as Count Gorgann, lead singer of the Norwegian death metal band Leviathan the Fleeing Serpent; Jeff Daniel Phillips as Herman “Whitey” Salvador, one third of The Big H Team; Meg Foster as Margaret Morgan, the leader of a secret coven of witches in Salem; Ernest Thomas, as Chip “Freakshow” McDonald, the station manager at Salem’s #1 rock station; and Sheri Moon Zombie as Heidi, the final third of The Big H Team.

The film opens nationwide on April 19th including New York; Los Angeles; Boston; San Francisco; Chicago; Philadelphia; Washington, DC; Miami; Dallas; Houston; Detroit; and more. The flick is rated R for “disturbing violent and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug use.

Heidi, a blonde rock chick, DJs at a local radio station and, together with the two Hermans (Whitey and Munster), forms part of the “Big H Radio Team”. A mysterious wooden box containing a vinyl record arrives for Heidi, “a gift from the Lords”. She assumes it’s a rock band on a mission to spread their word. As Heidi and Whitey play the Lords’ record, it starts to play backwards, and Heidi experiences a flashback to a past trauma.

Later Whitey plays the Lords’ record, dubbing them the Lords of Salem, and to his surprise, the record plays normally and is a massive hit with listeners.

The arrival of another wooden box from the Lords presents the Big H Team with free tickets, posters and records to host a gig in Salem. Soon Heidi and her cohorts find that the gig is far from the rock spectacle they’re expecting: The original Lords of Salem are returning, and they’re out for BLOOD.

The Lords of Salem

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