Why Jordan Peele’s ‘Nope’ Became the First Horror Movie Shot With IMAX Cameras

When director Jordan Peele was in discussions about his box office hit “Nope,” he knew one thing: He wanted the film to be a vast spectacle. His first step was calling on cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema to work with him on what he calls “my most ambitious film to date. I knew Hoyte was the man.”

The UFO drama/thriller stars Daniel Kaluuya as a horse wrangler, who along with his sister Keke Palmer, starts having UFO sightings. Along with Brandon Perra as Angel, the trio attempt to capture the object on film.

Hoytema was asked to think about how he would capture a UFO, and what cameras he would choose. Hoytema, a frequent collaborator with Christopher Nolan, says, “I thought IMAX was the best medium to do it on.”

Hoytema says from the start, Peele was committed to the big screen and how best audiences experience the world he created on the big screen. “For me, IMAX is the most visceral of formats.”

Peele and the team visited IMAX HQ in Playa Vista along with Hoytema to set up camera tests.

The IMAX experience isn’t solely about the larger screen experience and cameras — it was also about delivering a pristine frame to audiences. Peele shot using Kodak film and chose the 1.43:1 aspect ratio, specially created for IMAX, that enabled the vast landscape, UFO imagery and horseriding scenes to show 40% more picture.

Once Peele started testing the cameras, Bruce Markoe, head of post production at IMAX says, “That got the gears turning on how to best use the cameras in shooting the movie.”

The opening moments of the film are a visual ride, from a blood-soaked chimp inside a TV studio to Keith David on a horse as debris starts falling from the sky. Hoytema and Peele knew the sharp resolution would bring audiences into this world.

IMAX cameras weren’t just used for shooting — Peele also put an IMAX camera onscreen. Michael Wincott, who plays Holst, is a cinematographer who joins the siblings in their attempt to capture the UFO sightings on celluloid. Those scenes show the old-fashioned IMAX MK II cameras.

Wincott, Hoytema says, would shadow him learning how to use cameras, but also talked around lighting and the technical nitty-gritty of cinematography to ensure when he was using the hand-operated camera on screen, he was doing so with accuracy.

Peele and Hoytema tested their footage frequently. He says, “They did many reviews at our IMAX City Walk theater at Universal Studios during post-production, and they did reviews at our IMAX HQ. It really enabled them to refine how the movie was going to look and play and they optimized it for the format.”

Filmmaker Jordan Peele embraced shooting in IMAX to capture vast landscape shots.
Universal Pictures

“Nope” marked the first time the IMAX format had been used for the horror genre, and Markoe says Peele understood how to use it creatively. “He did a shot in the movie where the camera pushes through behind the character, as he’s looking out a window. It starts small and as the camera pushes in, it goes through the window to the distance and it opens up. He really thought about how to shoot those sequences and how to take advantage of the larger aspect ratio.

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