BAYONET was inspired by the political/paranoia films of the 1970s. Written and directed by Gregory Horoupian, this short thriller about a political hit in a quiet Manhattan loft was produced in New York City this past spring. It was one of the first productions to shoot with the ALEXA Studio, taking advantage of the true anamorphic capability. BAYONET premiered at the Montreal World Film Festival in August and recently at the Warsaw Film Festival. Here, Horoupian tells us about his cinematic influences and the experience of shooting this intense short film.
Even with sunlight glaring off a 15” laptop screen in a crowded Midtown café, the cinematography of THE PARALLAX VIEW didn’t flinch. It was the first week of preproduction on BAYONET in early March, and while I waited for my collaborator to arrive, I was drinking coffee and watching scenes from my favorite Alan Pakula film.
The first movies I remember seeing on prime-time TV were thrillers of the ‘70s: SCORPIO, THE CONVERSATION, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, and Pakula’s work with Gordon Willis. The hero’s struggle to reveal a conspiracy in each of these is compelling, but I’d always been interested in the inverse — a film about how effectively the truth can be buried.
So I wrote BAYONET as a glimpse at the creation of a lie, a story about a quiet apartment where a pretty serious geopolitical act takes place. As the script developed, it played in my head like my favorites of the 1970s thrillers: shot in scope and with bold shifts (whether in the cut or inside the frame) between light and shadow.
I’d directed projects shot on 16mm, 35mm, and a handful of digital formats. Although I still wasn’t sure how to create a contemporary look of the genre that inspired this story, I knew I’d found the right DP. Halfway through my coffee, he arrived.
That was the first time Lyle Vincent and I met in person. After a long search (I had watched nearly 200 cinematographer reels), I’d seen his work a few weeks earlier and called him to talk about this project. Over phone calls, he had come on board, we had talked about inspirations from Darius Khondji to Vermeer, and now we were sitting down to translate ideas into cameras and lenses.
Our goal was to stay contemporary while echoing those post-Watergate movies with their ballsy visual dialect. We were interested in the film look, but decided that we wanted to explore shooting digitally. As we brainstormed, I wasn’t sure if digital could capture the details we needed in the light and dark extremes; Lyle felt that ALEXA Studio could give us that range.
A few days later, I stepped out of a cab on the West Side and into the camera house [TCS] where he had readied some digital cameras with the help of Matthew Martin (who would later come on as DIT). We spent the morning testing different camera/lens combinations. When we put anamorphics onto ALEXA and I was looking at the monitor, I guess Lyle saw my reaction. He asked:
“This is how we’re shooting it, huh?”
ALEXA didn’t limit us either. On the second day, we had a dolly shot where in one fluid, uninterrupted move, our lead actress emerged from shadow in an unlit corridor and moved across the loft until she stood in front of the bright windows. The image details came through at both extremes: no crushed blacks, no clipped whites. This range allowed us to grab those better-than-planned moments that always pop up, and my favorite of these happened on our last day. We were setting up for the first of two shots that would establish a time passage in the story, shots that I’d storyboarded weeks ago. I was talking to the AD when I heard Lyle: “Hey, Greg. Whaddaya think of this?”
I looked at the monitor and instead of the original pair of shots, he had come up with a single, more effective one: starting on the bright windows, panning down (with brief and beautiful lens flares) across the loft to a medium shot of our lead actress, the deep shadows of the loft behind her. It looked great, we knew all the detail would be retained, and we went with it. This was one of the last shots before we wrapped and is my favorite of the finished film.
Now, whether I’m watching on my laptop or on the big screen with a festival audience, the film looks crisp and modern while echoing the cinema of four decades ago that inspired it. As I write my feature for next year (a political thriller as well), I’m visualizing even more scenes of the every day that’ll have an underlying tone of menace, to be brought to life with the same tools that delivered BAYONET.