Nightmare near Elm Street launches movie career for Masuk alum

Mike Magilnick frames a shot for "She Came From The Woods", capturing the expressions on the faces of actors Adam Wepler and Ehad Berisha who found "something unpleasant."

“She Came from the Woods”, a horror/comedy, summer slasher movie, had its U.S. premier and press screening at the Regal in Union Square in Manhattan Wednesday night and is coming to theaters this Friday.

The cinematographer who brought the director’s vision to life is Mike Magilnick, a Monroe native and member of Masuk High School’s Class of 2008.

Magilnick encourages movie buffs to watch the trailer of “She Came from the Woods”, a film written by brothers Erik and Carson Bloomquist, directed by Erik Bloomquist, and starring Cara Buono, Clare Foley and Spencer List.

“If that’s not your kind of movie, then go see it because it’s a vote for the little guy,” he said in an interview with The Sun Thursday. “We’re not that 100 million dollar blockbuster. We’re a group of people who put ourselves on the line for 12 days to make something we want to share with the world — and going to see it supports us and our dreams of making more movies.”

Magilnick grew up in Monroe with his supportive parents, Robin and Barry Magilnick, and sister, Sarah, who is a school counselor at Staples High School in Westport.

His wife, Megan, is a Masuk graduate of the Class of 2010. Her maiden name is Megan McCauley. She is an English teacher at New Canaan High School. The couple has two cats, Perry, 12, and Scout, 6.

Magilnick said he has always loved movies and TV shows, but gravitated toward the silver screen.

“The scope was always bigger, the stakes higher, the feelings and emotions are just bigger,” he said. “I’ll go to put on a movie before a TV show nine times out of 10.”

“I grew up watching a ton that I probably shouldn’t have been watching at my age,” he said. “Half the movies I put on and watch with my wife I say, ‘I loved this growing up.’ She’ll inevitably say, ‘I’m sorry, how old were you when you watched this?!'”

Magilnick finds it hard to pick a favorite, but said he has fond memories of movies like “Star Wars”, “Indiana Jones”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “The Matrix”.

“Asking what someone’s favorite movie is is such an unfair question because there are just so, so many, and it can be so dependent on my state-of-mind when I’m looking to watch something,” he said. “So I’ll give a safe copout answer and say it’s the Wachowskis 2008 ‘Speed Racer’, because it was my first date with my now wife and we watch it every year on our dating anniversary. And I do still find it very entertaining.”

Fear of the dark

Director Erik Bloomquist and cinematographer Mike Magilnick discuss a frame before rolling. Photo by David Apuzzo

A fear of the dark inspired Magilnick’s active imagination at an early age.

“I have loved the ‘Nightmare’ series for as long as I could remember,” he said. “Growing up just one street over from Elm Street in Monroe and not quite understanding exactly Freddy’s reach outside of specifically Elm street, should he desire to torment me, it started to bother me, as it would any logically driven and cautious 10-year-old concerned for their unprotected mind and safety while sleeping.”

To put his young mind at ease, Magilnick’s parents showed him a behind the scenes video of actor Robert Englund being done up in special effects makeup to transform him into Freddy Kruger, the boogeyman in the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” movie series.

“Seeing a bit of how the sausage is made really helped to understand that, not only is it not as scary, but I finally had the revelation that people do this as careers — and how impactful in everyday life those careers can be,” Magilnick recalled. “Those people can influence and leave a mark on our culture and share stories that can far outlast our own existence.”

Pursuing a career

Magilnick was a camera operator at Charter Communications in Newtown for a few years, doing different jobs around the studio and remote trailer.

“Then when I got to high school and found the video classes there I started to get pulled towards editing,” he said. “I felt like I could do so much more, more quickly, in editing.”

“Once I got onto a real set and saw the craft of cinematography really in action and how the images were made and lit, it was over for post production,” he continued. “Done, gone, a thought of the far past. I had to be on set, and I had to be working towards crafting the image directly at the source.”

After graduating from Masuk, Magilnick went to the New England School of Communications in Bangor, Maine, where he earned a degree in communications with a concentration in video production.

“The school was an exceptional technical school offering several well rounded programs and its video production program was known for its broadcast focus,” he said. “However, myself and several others in my class were more focused on digital filmmaking. So I would kind of pick and choose what information was relevant and needed and worked with some of the teachers on a couple projects outside of the classroom to refine the skills I wanted.”

Magilnick soon found he had a talent for working on sets.

“I very quickly became someone being sought after by my classmates to do the lighting for their assignments or to just be on set with them to be a voice of confidence,” he said. “I wound up leaving school a few times — with permission of course — to work on movies for anywhere from a week to a month at a time, depending on what I was doing.”

Striving for the perfect shot

Cinematographer Mike Magilnick and production sound mixer Glenn Goettler work together during the filming of “She Came From the Woods.” Photo by David Apuzzo

Magilnick is credited with working on 42 films with involvement in 11 upcoming productions, according to his IMDB page.

“My favorite aspect of being a cinematographer is how influential you are in what the final project looks like,” he said. “The collaboration process is an amazing source of inspiration when you’re developing the look of a project with a director and you’re talking about all the possibilities, and then you get to take all that information and decide what you’re actually going to do to bring it to life.”

“It’s so creatively stimulating and then there’s an adrenaline rush every day when you’re actually on set doing it,” he said. “Every time a light comes on or a lens is put on the camera and you see a new frame or a new part to how the frame is coming together, things come alive and something now exists in this world that hadn’t before, for better or worse.”

Though he has had no shortage of projects since 2011, Magilnick said he never feels like he “made it” in the movie business.

“In the end, I’m always critical of my work and I don’t know if I would recognize a big break if I had one,” he said. “Even this movie, I watched it last night at our U.S. premiere and found a couple things I wish I had done slightly differently or a shot I wish I had gotten. Something, there’s always something.”

Nevertheless, Magilnick is riding high after the premier of “She Came from the Woods”.

“I’m excited about this current step in my career,” he said. “Having a movie being released in theaters has always been a fantasy. And with the way the industry has been changing over the past 10 years or so, unless you’ve got some super loaded cast of all mega stars, or you’re a 100 million dollar budget blockbuster, it’s just that, a fantasy.”

“The market is so saturated with content, so why should anything I’m making be worthy of hitting a big screen deal?” he said. “That’s what makes this special and notable for me. I’m extremely grateful to the Bloomquist brothers for taking me along on this adventure and that we have two more projects on the way. We have a fantasy romance musical, and a small town political thriller in post production right now that we are hopeful will also be released later this year.”

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