Interview with Cinematographer Adam Stone (Midnight Special, Take Shelter)

In his brief career, Adam Stone  has already established himself as one of the top DPs in the industry today. It was an honor to sit down with him to talk about his craft and the exciting films he has coming out in 2016. This weekend his film “Midnight Special” is being released to rave reviews.


adamstone3Matthew Toffolo: You have worked with director Jeff Nichols on many films. Where did you first meet? Why does your working relationship work so well? 

Adam Stone: Jeff and I worked on a total of 5 films (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, Mud, Midnight Special, and Loving). We met in film school at the UNC School of the Arts in the late nineties. I shot 2nd unit for a few of David Green’s early films (George Washington and All The Real Girls) and I guess Jeff liked what he saw. He asked me to come out to Arkansas to shoot Shotgun Stories in the summer of 2005. The project had absolutely no money but we convinced a core group of friends and family to crew-up and Joe Dunton Camera essentially gave us a Moviecam and some anamorphic lenses for free. We were fortunate to have talented people that believed in us. Without them the film would have never seen the light of day.

PHOTO: Cinematography for the film “Midnight Special”

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While working on Shotgun Stories, Jeff and I found we had quite a bit in common. Aesthetically we liked to shoot in the South against a backdrop of kudzu, rusted out cars and interesting characters. We also shared a love of widescreen cinema with simple, yet stately, camera work. We combined those ingredients into a form of southern cinema people seem to enjoy. We have definitely come along way since the days of Shotgun Stories. It has been a great evolution with a true friend and mentor.

MT: “Midnight Special” is set to hit the theatres this week. What can we expect to see?

AS: Midnight Special is a unique movie that’s kind of hard to categorize. It’s a genre bending mash-up of a road movie and sci-fi flick that pays homage to Perfect World, Starman, and Close Encounters. The movie starts without much explanation or backstory, all we know a man is on the run with his son. As the movie progresses we learn the boy has special powers and is dying. His father must keep him alive while the government and a religious sect are in pursuit. Despite all of the characters, themes, VFX events, and unanswered plot points the film is very simple. At the core, it’s a story about a father’s love for his son and how he will do anything to save his boy.

MT: Another film with Jeff, “Loving”, is also set to hit theaters in 2016. It’s set in the 1950s. When DPing period pieces, what type of research do you do? Was there another film(s) that was the inspiration to the cinematic design of the film?

AS: To be honest, Loving is the first period piece I’ve had the pleasure to shoot. Jeff’s script was based on a true story about a Supreme Court case so there was plenty of material to unearth. One of the greatest treasure troves was the work of Grey Villet. He was a super talented photographer that documented the story of Richard and Mildred Loving for Time Magazine in 1965. The pictures he took influenced the script, production design, costumes, and the cinematography.

I really fell in love with the objectiveness of Villet’s work. He always employed a wide lens so he really had to campout and wait for candid shots. Jeff and I adopted this technique and let a number of scenes play out in wide observational shots. We also recreated several of Villet’s photos in the movie. It was really cool to see his black and white work come to life in vibrant moving color. To be honest, Jeff and I had to get acclimated to dailies since we had been referencing Villet’s work for so long.

PHOTO: On set for the upcoming film “Loving”:

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MT: Do you have a favorite experience in your work as a Director of Photography? What film are you most proud of?

AS: Most of the projects I shoot, whether features or commercials, don’t ‘really’ contribute to the greater good of society.  They might be artful or compelling but they do not teach or enlighten. That’s why I’m proud to have worked on Loving.  Loving sheds light on an important part of history while telling a meaningful story.

I’m also proud how Loving looks. The camerawork is very simple and the lighting is very organic. My main goal was to let the cinematography be an afterthought.  I wanted the audience to pay full attention to the story, characters, and locations – not the camera.

MT: You have Dp’d a few documentary films. What is the general difference between the working on a documentary in comparison to regular narrative film?

AS: I have always had a deep fascination and love of documentary films. The cinematography of Ron Fricke and the still photography of Dan Eldon compelled me to get behind a camera in film school. At that point in life, I wanted nothing more than to travel the world and shoot amazing people and locations at golden hour (to be honest I still have that desire and wanderlust).

Production-wise documentary work and features are not too different. Both utilize similar equipment, call sheets, tons of planning, long hours, and figuring out a creative way to shoot the story. The biggest difference between the two is the time it takes to complete a documentary. Many docs enlist several shooters because of the length and sporadic nature of the schedule.

MT: What type of film would you love to work on that you haven’t worked on yet?

AS: That’s a great question. I’d love to work on a film where the camera is constantly on the move and has the ability to effortlessly traverse every spatial plane. That approach totally goes against how I usually shoot a film where the camera is moored, grounded, and is always someone’s point of view. Seldom do I move a camera for the sake of moving a camera – I guess that’s why I have a fascination with moving it.

I believe my lust for camera movement is directly attributable to the amount of the Red Bull Channel I consume. I really love to veg-out and watch how they fly the camera. Fortunately, I might shoot a film this summer that begs for some fun full-throttle camera movement and I’d love to incorporate more techno crane and steadicam into the equation.

MT: What does a DP look for in a director?

AS: Before I take on a project I have to be intrigued by the script and most importantly believe in the director. The director is the captain of the ship and must have a clear vision and game plan to lead the film from its inception to the very end. Besides being a strong leader the director should be compassionate, open-minded, and have a sense of humor. If all these qualities align, I’m more than enthusiastic about taking on the project and working with the director.

MT: Do you have a Director of Photography mentor?

AS: I had a dear friend that was my cinematography teacher and mentor in film school. His name was Robert Collins and he really taught me to be a compassionate filmmaker. One of the biggest lessons I learned from him was to surround myself with good people on set. He always said the friends you make in film are more important than anything you shoot. I totally agree with his sage advice. Unfortunately, Robert passed away several years ago and he is deeply missed.

MT: What do you look for when hiring your main team? Gaffer. Key Grip. Camera Operator. Etc…

AS: I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work over and over with same core group of individuals.  The crew I work with are my best friends and co-creators. On occasion, when I hire a new member he/she must share the same attributes as the rest of the crew. He/she should be kind, artistic, hard working, honest, and most importantly soulful. It can also be noted, I rather hire someone that is green and enthusiastic over someone more experienced and jaded.

PHOTO: Adam and the camera department from the film “Midnight Special”

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MT: Where do you see the future of camera/lighting technology in film?

AS: Though I’m a proponent of celluloid I love where digital filmmaking is headed. Digital filmmaking has come a long way over the past decade. Camera sensors have gotten better and the lenses look more filmmatic and less clinical. I really admire films such as Revenant that use digital cinema in a smart way. Lubezki made a beautiful movie harnessing the best attributes of digital. He used great equipment (Alexa 65 and Panavision Master Primes), shot in amazing light that accentuates a digital sensor, and flew lightweight digital cameras. That coupled with jaw dropping landscapes, a simple story, and seamless VFX work made for a movie that really resonated with me. I truly love when movies use technology to advance a story instead of letting technology overtake the story.

Lighting has also come a long way in the past 10 years. LED, plasma lights, and iPad enabled dimmer boards have evolved and become onset staples. The ability to control all of the lights on set, whether on a stage or location, from a tablet is amazing. With just a few finger swipes you can audition lights (even dim and recalibrate the color temperature). This is a great timesaver when lighting a big exterior night scene.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

AS: I really don’t watch the films I shoot once they are released – since I see them so many times in post. I guess the two films I’ve seen the most is Some Like It Hot and Baraka. I have a weird ‘thing’ for old screwball comedies and I have always been obsessed with Baraka. I guess if I was stuck on a deserted island those would be my go to films.

PHOTO: Adam Stone at work: 

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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 Fesival 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.

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Interview with Special Effects Supervisor Daniel Acon (Zoolander 2, Gangs of New York, Passion of the Christ)

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:

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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: daniel_acon_blow_up.jpg

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015 MacBeth – Interview with reviewer Gilbert Seah

Read Gilbert’s movie review of MacBeth: http://festivalreviews.org/2015/12/09/movie-review-macbeth-2015/

I recently chatted this Gilbert about his reactions to the Shakespeare 2015 version of MacBeth. 

What is your personal history with this epic Shakespeare play? When did you first read it? Have you seen it performed on stage?

I always loved English Literature in school.  I studied in Singapore, a former British colony and had to study Shakespeare plays in school.  But my school did not pick MacBeth, so I never read the play.  Neither have I seen it on stage.  But I have seen many film versions;

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Have you watched most film adaptations of MacBeth? 

I would have to say I have seen 6 different film adaptations including one in Russian that lasted 3 hours.

You reference the 1971 Roman Polanski directed MacBeth in your review. Is that the ultimate cinematic portrayal of MacBeth?

There is no ultimate portrayal of MacBeth.  Each actor brings in his own interpretation and colour to the role.  My favourite portrayal is the 1983 TV version with Nicol Williamson.  It was a one-man play/adaptation.

Michael Fassbender is an amazing actor with an impressive acting resume in his brief career. Seems like he’s just getting started and has a couple Oscar wins in his future. How would you rate his performance in comparison to Jon Finch’s (1971)? 

It is difficult to say who is better.  For one, it has been more than 20 years since I saw the 1971 Roman Polanski version.  But Polanski is a great director in top form at the time, and I loved his interpretation of the play

Marion Cotillard as Lady MacBeth seems like perfect casting. I’d pay the $15 to just to see her portrayal. Did she disappoint? 

Sh was very good.  But I wish she displayed more evil.

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How is this 2015 version of MacBeth different from the others?

  The film is more abstract and more out of the open.  It looks more like a film than a play, compared to other film adaptations.

Any other actors you like to see play MacBeth and Lady MacBeth on screen? 

Like to see Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper or Leonardo DiCaprio do Shakespeare.

Jennifer Lawrence and older stars like Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett – I would love to see play Lady MacBeth.

What Can Happen Will Happen – INTERSTELLAR – The text message review

My Dad: Thanks for the movie experience Matt. I liked the movie. Want to see it again and figure out if their math is right. They seemed to take some creative liberties but I was too into the story. Now I want to watch it again and just pay attention to the Engineering (dad is also an Engineer)

Matthew Toffolo: Glad you liked pops. People will definitely be into this if they last the almost 3 hour length because it’s about the meaning of life mixed in with a father/daughter love story. Tugs at everyone’s heartstrings.

Matthew to friend WB: Did you see Interstellar? (WB sees everything)

WB: Not yet. I m not sure if I want to. I loved Memento and The Prestige and I like The Dark Knight a lot but his other movies not so much.

Matthew: Yeah I think you’ll hate Interstellar. My dad really seemed to love it.

WB: What did you think?

Matthew: Christopher Nolan swings for the fences every time he’s up to the plate. BTW – Loved how everything in the future in Interstellar is bare and basic with all technology and gadgets removed from society. But baseball still is around and kicking (even on Saturn). Baseball will never DIE! Even Nolan understands that.

Like Nolan’s other films, he’s trying to find meaning in life and why we are here. The new religion. But sometimes he’s trying to tell us so much, we as an audience can lose all meaning. Like making a nice meal but giving your guest way too many things to chose from. Sometimes you need to keep it simple and it becomes more profound.

But I say keep going Mr. Nolan because you’ll eventually find your masterpiece.

WB: I don’t know….

Matthew: Performance note. Matt Damon appears out of nowhere at the half way point of the film and almost steals the film away from Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Chastain.

Matthew to friend AM: You like Interstellar?

AM: Loved it. Nolan is king. You?

Matthew: I don’t know. I just performed a 10 minute Coles Note summary of the film to my wife (who will never see it) and I liked what he was trying to say. Other dimensions and stuff. I guess the ending says keep on living and exploring no matter what. Right?

AM: Yes! We need to keep evolving as a society and no matter we need to keep exploring and experimenting.

Matthew: Not sure how long a shelf life this film has. Will it still be effective in 10 years?

AM: Batman Begins is. Memento is. This film will be too.

Matthew: Perhaps.

AM: Definitely. Murphy’s Law: What can happen….will happen!!! That’s the movie in a nutshell.

Read more Chistopher Nolan reviews: http://www.wildsound.ca/christophernolan.html

Read more Matthew McConaughey reviews: http://www.wildsound.ca/matthewmcconaughey.html

Read more Anne Hathaway reviews: http://www.wildsound.ca/annehathaway.html