Sundance 2019: Cinematographer Tarin Anderson of “Corporate Animals”

The setting for the dark comedy “Corporate Animals,” a film directed by Patrick Brice and starring Demi Moore and Ed Helms, is in New Mexico, where a self-centered CEO of an edible-cutlery company leads her long-suffering staff on a corporate team-building exercise. It’s also where disaster strikes: Trapped underground, the mismatched posse must pull together to survive when they find themselves trapped in the confines of a dark and creepy cave.

Tarin Anderson, an alumna of the American Film Institute’s Cinematography discipline, was the cinematographer on the film. She sat down in the Zeiss Lounge to discuss the difficulties of shooting this deliciously dark feature.

“I’ve shot a lot of horror films,” says Anderson on capturing the right mood for her latest feature, premiering this week in the Midnight section. “I think horror and dark comedy are my favorite genres—and this one is very, very dark, with an interesting tone.”

Demi Moore appears in Corporate Animals by Patrick Brice, an official selection of the Midnight program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Anderson shot on two Alexa Mini cameras and a batch of Zeiss Ultra Primes, working on set, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “The Alexa Mini is a camera that I trust to get all the information I need,” she says. “It’s just a workhorse on set. We used everything from a 12mm all the way up to a 135mm, popping out wide for establishing shots and framing closer to reveal a different character’s feelings.”

Production was fast and challenging for such a contained movie. “It was complicated,” Anderson admits. “The original 20 days went down to 18 in the end. So we had some very long days. We tested many lenses before production began, but really loved the look of the Zeiss primes. We also needed a smaller package to shoot comfortably in tight spaces, especially on-location in the real cave for three days. So we knew we’d need to strip down the camera.”

The cave was a built set for most of the filming, about 16 feet high by 25 feet wide. Anderson used the dolly and Steadicam sparingly, going mostly handheld. “We used soft boxes and a bunch of sky panels to control the light,” she says. “It felt a bit like ‘12 Angry Men’ stuck in a unique situation, [with] people sitting together trapped underground while processing what the hell is going on. So, it was about capturing those moments, feeling what they are each feeling. We were always running two cameras throughout the shoot.”

Anderson used LEDs during filming. “The heat was great with no tungsten lights,” she remarks. “We changed intensity and color temperature very easily, plus the output of LEDs is ridiculous.”

With many horror films under her belt, Anderson says that she gets a kick out of testing blood when prepping. “I love testing blood because it changes color so much,” she explains. “Blood goes brown very fast. So finding your right red is actually quite tricky sometimes. I feel that testing is huge. You don’t always have time, but when you can, you must!”

She also had a DIT on set. “I like to set a look and let it ride,” she explains. “We wanted the movie to feel dark, but it was also important to maintain light on the actors’ faces, especially as this is comedy, and so we had to do a delicate balance of retaining information as well as going dark.”

Meanwhile, Anderson has another horror thriller coming out soon. Currently in post, “We Summon the Darkness” is from helmer Marc Meyers, recognized for films including, “My Friend Dahmer.” She has also shot “V/H/S/2″ and the anamorphic zombie road trip movie, “Eat, Brains, Love.”

“It’s interesting,” she says, wrapping the interview in the Zeiss Lounge. “We had night exteriors and interiors with very narrow DOF on anamorphic. So not wanting to be too wide with the aperture was necessary so as not to get aberrations and all kinds of weird things happening in the image…”