Cinematographer Blake Horn Breaks Down the Look of Mind Body Spirit

Since launching in 2022, Welcome Villain Films has released the horror titles Malum, Beaten to Death, and Hunt Her Kill Her. Their latest film is Mind Body Spirit. The flick breaks new ground for the genre. It’s a yoga-centered horror film.

The official synopsis reads: Mind Body Spirit, follows Anya, an aspiring yoga influencer, as she embarks on a ritual practice left behind by her estranged grandmother. What starts as a spiritual self-help guide quickly evolves into something much more sinister. As Anya becomes obsessed with the mysterious power of the practice, she unwittingly unleashes an otherworldly entity that begins to take control of her life – and her videos. Now Anya must race to unlock the truth, before her descent into madness threatens to consume her mind, body and spirit.

Blake Horn worked as the film’s director of photography. In the below exchange, he peels back the curtain on how the film was shot, getting inspiration from Paranormal Activity, and much more.

Wicked Horror: How did you become involved with Mind Body Spirit?

Blake Horn: I met one of the directors at Ithaca College and became fast friends. We shot multiple short films together and student projects. We maintained our communication after graduating and for a decade and would send each other projects we had shot and scripts. We maintained a friendship and as time went on, we both found a deep level of respect for each other of pursuing our creative passion. When Mind Body Spirit came up, I got a call a month and a half before we went into production. I met Matt, who was also an Ithaca College graduate and were fast friends immediately. We jumped into production with each other, working every night over Zoom to shot list everything out and do a script breakdown. It ended up feeling like I was working with friends, which is always the goal for filmmaking. It’s about making things you care about with people you care about.

DP Blake Horn

Wicked Horror: What did you do to prepare for your work on Mind Body Spirit?

Blake Horn: For prep, a big part was doing a very detailed script breakdown with the directors and understanding how we wanted our visual language to evolve throughout the story and what tools I needed for that. For tools, I did a bunch of testing with a Black Magic 6K Pro and the DJI RS 2 gimbal system. I did a lot of practicing in my basement with motion control, with remote control to really understood our limitations and what the possibilities were. From there I was able to crew up with some close collaborators. I brought on my gaffer and 1st AC from a previous feature I shot just two months prior. So going into the project, I was working with people I really trusted and with tools I really trusted. When we were on set, we were able to utilize the limited amount of time in a really efficient, but also flexible way. Prep is really important to any project because once you get on set the plan gets thrown out the window. For Mind Body Spirit, the plan pretty much stayed the same with our original shot list, which is very rare and honestly felt nice. It did not feel stressful on set. On any project, just prep as much as you can.

Wicked Horror: What scene was the hardest for you to shoot? Why?

Blake Horn: The hardest scene to shoot was when Anya’s possession became complete in the attic. When she stabs herself in the forehead. We were crunched for time and our prop broke. We only had one shot at it because of the blood effects. It’s also a very disturbing scene. One of the hardest parts I find between a steadicam and a gimbal, is that a gimbal works very well with fast movements, and so does a steadicam.  A gimbal has a tendency to see the operator breathing and moving around. We wanted a slow, steady push in for this, so I was pretty nervous. I have had a lot of experience working with the tools that I was using, but it is still always a challenge. It felt wonderful, even though we had all these things working against us, for it all to come together. I was so proud of the way it looked. Sarah’s performance is so good, she is so unbelievably talented. She set an example for the entire crew and was such an inspiration for us to rise to the occasion.

Wicked Horror: Can you talk about the found footage aspect of the film? Does this make it easier or harder for you?

Blake Horn: At first, I thought found footage was going to be more of a challenge. Instead, it was so creatively fulfilling. Any time you would get into a pickle of thinking about where the camera was moving or how it would land, I found myself embarking on this enormous creative rolodex of options on how to move forward. That ended up feeling so exciting. Found footage is such a unique genre because you are always thinking about in a traditional film of whose perspective is the audience looking? What is the perspective the audience is watching the film from? For found footage, it was often the camera itself, and then the motivation was who is behind the camera filming? It was such a unique and different way of thinking about how we are approaching the scenes and what we were filming. It was a total blast.

Wicked Horror: Was it your idea to do the full camera spin around the room when we see Verasha in the chair?

Blake Horn: That was a collaboration between the directors and I. When I was doing my initial tests with the camera, one of the options I pitched was that we had the ability to do a 360 shot, where we spin all the way around. Right away, the two of them had tons of ideas of where we could use that, but specifically to tell our story. When we were shot listing, it was so apparent that the 360 shot should live there. And this main idea that every time we do a different pass, we reveal more and more of Verasha getting closer and closer. Ultimately, it was very fun to film, but nerve-racking because the way the camera was set up and the motion control, I would virtually have to control the camera with my iPhone. I think that is a testament to how powerful our tools we have access to are now. I am really proud of that scene.

Wicked Horror: Mind Body Spirit is being compared to Paranormal Activity from the way it was shot. Did you have this film in mind during production?

Blake Horn: I think Paranormal Activity is a very strong film, not even just a strong found footage film, but a strong film in general. I think it was one of our big inspirations, as well as the process of how it was made with the idea of it being a truly independent film. It obviously eventually got the backing of Blumhouse, but the ethos of making something that is different and is in tune with your own vision, was what we gleamed from. I think it is so fun to grab inspiration from films that you want it to look like, but also from films that aren’t necessarily the genre you are working on, like Mr. Robot using negative space. I think finding inspiration in a ton of art forms, whether it’s painting and music, has so much agency of transitioning into film.

Wicked Horror: Can you talk about the scene where we very subtly see the shadows move on the floor. How did you decide how much to give the audience?

Blake Horn: I think the subtlety of horror and subtlety of that image is so fun because it looks like an optical illusion. At first, it almost looks like a mistake that isn’t supposed to be there. What is so fun about horror is you can create those illusions. You can say film is a complete illusion too. This shot was Alex and Matt’s idea. When they pitched it to me, I thought how am I going to do this.. Working with my gaffer, as well as getting lucky with that the floor can give of a sheen. It if would have been carpet, we would have been screwed. Because of the luck of our location and really utilizing our location, we were able to tweek the relationship with the angle of the lighting, as well as the angle of the camera and it all came together. Our vfx supervisor was such a rock star through the whole process and got us out of a lot of pickles. I’m really happy with how that moment turned out. When we premiered the film in a full theater in LA, it was fun to hear the crowd’s reaction for that moment because you never know if something is going to get missed or not work. It is always so gratifying when things do work or things you hope do work, illicit a response.

Wicked Horror: How did you approach the jump scares in the film? How do they become the most effective?

Blake Horn: I will give the credit to Matt and Alex because it wasn’t about a specific moment that causes a jump scare, but it’s the moments leading up to it and how the tension is elegantly crafted. One of their major aspects of how they wanted this to look and the framing of the film was drilling home the idea of leaving empty door frames and empty passages in the film that nothing happens in. As a filmgoer you are used to something happening in the background. Their vision and direction was, in the beginning we are going to leave these elements totally open and just to create tension. So then you have the viewer tensed up and waiting for something to happen and eventually when that jump scare does happen, it’s that release. But that release doesn’t come out of nowhere, you have to engage your audience and pull them into the world, so that when you do have a jump scare, they are scared.

Wicked Horror: There are a few commercials placed in the film. Can you talk about the thought process behind these?

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Blake Horn: I actually ended up not shooting the commercials because they were shot after we wrapped production. Matt and Alex shot them together. When we had conversations of how we wanted them to look, we really thought about making it not look like an at home yoga video. We wanted it still to look like Youtube videos, but our inspiration came from Youtube ads. I don’t want to say which exact ads, but we have all seen those ads trying to convince people to subscribe to a channel. It’s so much fun to see what they were able to do with those commercials because when I watch Mind Body Spirit it’s so much fun to watch images that you didn’t craft. Oftentimes, when I watch my own work, I think about how things were shot or what didn’t go right. When I get to watch something that had an additional operator shoot or an additional unit shoot, I get to watch it with fresh eyes. I think those commercials are so some of my favorite parts of the film because I think it’s hilarious. It pulls you into this world of the deep, dark web you are witnessing with Anya. I think those are some of my favorite aspects of the film, even though I didn’t shoot them.

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