The Cinematography Podcast Episode 125: Adam Somner
The job of the assistant director is to work in concert with the director and the DP to get everything done on a movie set. As a 1st AD, Adam Somner is trusted by the industry’s top directors to anticipate their needs, motivate the crew, figure out the schedule, and drive the entire production forward to finish each day on time. He finds the best way to keep everything moving smoothly on set is though humor, high energy and uniting everyone as a group, persuading people to do things on the schedule and timeline needed to complete the job.
Adam’s father, Basil Somner, worked for MGM Studios in England, and through him, Adam got a job as a runner/production assistant at age 17. He began working on movies in the late ’80’s, like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Superman IV, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? He worked under many assistant directors, observed how they took charge on set, and decided he was really interested in becoming an AD.
Adam has worked on eight Ridley Scott films to date, as well as several of the late Tony Scott’s films. He was first hired on a Ridley Scott film as a third assistant director on 1492: Conquest of Paradise and White Squall, then moved up to second assistant director on Gladiator, where he learned how to manage a huge crew of extras and background action from the 1st AD, Terry Needham. On Black Hawk Down, Adam was promoted to first assistant director for the second unit. Black Hawk Down was shooting in Morocco, and the second unit was responsible for most of the helicopter sequences, with lots of moving parts and extras, involving real Black Hawk helicopters and real U.S. military soldiers. After Black Hawk Down, Adam got the call to begin working with Steven Spielberg on War of the Worlds, where he quickly learned to read Spielberg’s mind and keep an eye on the details. He’s worked with Spielberg on ten films now, including Munich, Lincoln, and Ready Player One.
A 1st AD is responsible for coordinating most of the background action. Adam’s ability to work on big sets with lots of action, extras and special effects led director Paul Thomas Anderson to hire him for There Will Be Blood, and Anderson has since become a personal friend. Adam finds Anderson’s on-set approach to be very thoughtful and measured. Unlike the action-heavy films Adam has worked on, he knew it was important to keep the crew and background actors quiet and subdued on Anderson’s films with heavy dialog, such as The Master and Phantom Thread.
For The Wolf of Wall Street, Adam was thrilled to work with director Martin Scorsese. Scorsese and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto had Adam sit in during their preproduction shotlisting process, so they were all thoroughly prepared. Scorsese loves shooting scenes with complex background action, and Adam delivered. He carefully rehearsed all the extras in different stages of panic as the brokers watched the stock market crash. For the famous in-flight orgy scene, Adam wasn’t totally sure how he wanted to deal with not just one sex scene, which is hard enough, but several at once. So he decided to hire a choreographer to help rehearse and plan all the action, making sure each background player knew exactly what they were doing and taking care that everyone was comfortable with their role in front of the camera.
Adam was excited to work with Alejandro González Iñárritu on some of Birdman, and as the 1st AD on one of the may units shooting The Revenant, where Iñárritu and the DP Emmanuel Lubezki “Chivo” wanted everything shot and rehearsed during magic hour. Rehearsals were incredibly important on both Birdman and The Revenant, since Iñárritu and Chivo shot many scenes in one single shot.
Adam is currently working on Killers of the Flower Moon with director Martin Scorsese.
Find Adam Somner
Close Focus: The Ambies podcast awards, presented by the Podcast Academy, a professional podcasting organization, and more trouble for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association as NBC drops the Golden Globes telecast.
Ben’s short end: Hollywood Camera Work YouTube channel, especially a series called Hot Camera Moves, dissecting camera work on different shows.
Illya’s short end: Litepanels has come up with the Apollo Bridge, which allows you to create a wireless DMX protocol with almost any light and allows you to use apps with all of your lights. You can buy the Apollo Bridge at Hot Rod Cameras.
Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras
Sposored by Aputure: The Aputure Accent B7c RGB LED Bulbs with 8-Light Charging Case Kit fits 8 lights into a pelican case for charging. These lights look like a regular Edison lightbulb. You can buy it at Hot Rod Cameras.
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