A special effects supervisor (also referred to as a special effects coordinator or SFX Supervisor) is an individual who works on a film set creating special effect. The supervisor generally is the department head who defers to the film’s director and/or producers, and who is in charge of the entire special effects team.
What a great pleasure it was to chat with the extremely talented SFX Supervisor Daniel Acon. What talked about his career, being Italian and American, and having the honor of blowing up the orange Lamborghini in Mission Impossible III!
Matthew Toffolo: Explain the process of being a Special Effects Supervisor/Coordinator. You get hired on a film – what happens next? Do you break down the script with the director and/or producer and figure out what effects are needed on a given scene?
Daniel Acon: The production journey of a SFX supervisor usually starts by being contacted by the production company. I am given the script by the producer with whom I will discuss the production goals and guidelines for the feature. The director will then tell me the specifics for special effects of many shots and we will discuss on how to do them.
Once having gathered all the preliminary information and broken down the script I meet with the production designer and take on board all his input, now the script must be broken down in a cost budget. The budget will be presented to the producers and then we will have a final budget meeting where the costs are to be set.
Matthew: Are you also in charge of breaking down the special effects budget and hiring the crew needed for your department?
Daniel: One must firstly work a breakdown. It is essential for me to do a script breakdown as supervisor I have to submit a Special Effects breakdown and budget. The budget must reflect all costs for the movie, from the preparation to filming and the wrap. Crew, fabrication, materials, equipment rental, transport and the list goes on and on, all these costs must be calculated.
Matthew: You were born in Italy, parents were American, and you mainly do most of your work for Hollywood productions in Italy. Do you consider yourself being an American or Italian first?
Daniel: I consider myself both Italian and American, it is also a great mix for my work being a very American minded practical thinker and on the other half working with very creative and innovative Italian special effects crews.
Matthew: You’ve had the pleasure to work with some top directors: Spike Lee. Martin Scorsese. JJ Abrams. Ron Howard. Woody Allen. Ridley Scott. Wes Anderson. Francis Ford Coppola (your first film). That’s quite this list. Is there a director that stands out for you in terms of your working relationship with them?
Daniel: Every director has a specific vision for their project and gets quite involved with our department, it has been a pleasure to work with all of them. I think that the directors who
Got mostly involved in our work have been Mel Gibson, Wes Anderson and very much on my last one, Zoolander 2 with Ben Stiller.
PHOTO: Daniel Acon rigging the cross on the Passion with Mel Gison behind him:
Matthew: You’ve worked as a Special Effects Coordinator on over 25 films. What has been your favorite working experience so far?
Daniel: I was so fortunate to have worked on so many films that I have all enjoyed. The Stallone movies were amazing first Cliffhanger shot in the Dolomites for 5 months going to set in the morning on a Huey chopper and dropped off on the mountain tops and not far after Daulight where we had to rebuild half of New York including building in full scale the Hudson tunnel and having to flood it with hot water since we were shooting in winter. Said that Gangs of New York was the most rewarding and fantastic show I have done, so much work but all worth it.
Matthew: What film, besides the films you’ve worked on, have you seen the most in your life?
Daniel: I am a very big Fellini fan but I can re-watch any Scorsese or Tarantino movie for ever.
Matthew: How is your safety record on set? Any unfortunate major injuries?
Daniel: Safety is paramount on set, I can gladly say for me and all my crews that we have never experienced any unfortunate experiences. When working with explosives, steam, fire, heavy mechanics and hydraulics one must be vigilant and highly trained. There are moments when one can be rushed to get the shot but safety is first,
Matthew: I chatted with 1st Assistant Director Mathew Dunne about Mission Impossible III, a film you also worked on. He mentioned the stunt driving scenes being some of the hardest scenes he’s ever worked on. What are your experiences doing those scenes in Italy and adding your special effects to the shots?
Daniel: On Mission Impossible lll we had the delightful task of blowing up that beautiful orange Lamborghini. I must say that has become a culty classic.
PHOTO: On set shot when the Lamborghini blows up:
Matthew: Do you have a special effects mentor?
Daniel: I must say that I have had the great opportunity to work with so many amazing people but one of the greats was Joe Lombardi a real gentle man and special effects giant of the times when CGI was not invented, he signed movies like the Godfather 1 & 2 and Apocalypse Now.
Matthew: What is the future of special effects in film?
Daniel: I think that practical special effects will always be required for many situations in movies but there is a fast growing technology which allows many practical fx to be recreated in post production by the visual effects team. From explosions to squibs, there are many
visuals that now can replace to a good degree our practical fx. There will always be challenges but also innovations with new technologies, practical special effects are developing with them and are always sharing more with visual effects.
Matthew: What advice do you have for people currently in high school or university who would like to work in special effects for Hollywood productions?
Daniel: The best advice would be to have as much training as possible, in knowing what equipment, technologies and materials are out there. Trying to be always innovative and have some visual effects knowledge. Obviously, the best school is the set, many times it is good to start on small productions where you learn the ropes. The main thing in this business is to get your foot in the door and with a lot of hard work build your way up. It is a learning experience that never ends.
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.