Art Adams has worked as a director of photography for over two decades, focusing on commercials, branded content, visual effects and much more. He also served as a technology consultant for companies including Sony, Canon, Element Labs, Sound Devices and more. He is a longtime contributor for publications such as ProVideo Coalition and DVInfo, in addition to authoring articles for American Cinematographer, Australian Cinematographer, Camera Operator Magazine, Film and Digital Times, and HD Video Pro. As a trainer for the ARRI Academy, he instructed classes on ARRI camera systems including the ALEXA LF. Adams joined ARRI in December 2018 as Cinema Lens Specialist based out of the Burbank, CA office.
ProductionHUB: What is it about the filmmaking industry that got you interested in it?
Art Adams: At the age of 12 I decided I wanted to be a camera operator. One of my favorite shows, a British series called “The Prisoner,” employed a style I’d not seen in U.S. television at the time. The show employed complex compositions, sophisticated camera movement, wildly different editing rhythms, focus racks, snap zooms… I saw so many creative photographic techniques that they made my young head spin. I really had no idea what I was seeing, but I knew I liked it. I decided I wanted to frame those shots, and I took up Super 8 filmmaking to learn how to do so.
When I look back at that series, I’m amazed at what I picked up on at such a young age. By modern standards, it’s a bit dated, but it’s also unique. The compositions were incredibly powerful and clearly designed by someone who knew how all these shots were going to fit together as a whole before the camera rolled. I didn’t see that in U.S. television shows, which were shot in a very formulaic manner.
Over time I learned that the compositional power on U.S. productions rested with the director of photography. No longer content with simply operating, I learned how to light so I could continue to compose frames. Now I’m in love with both aspects of the job.
ProductionHUB: What was your favorite project?
Art Adams: That’s a tough question. There are so many projects that were challenging in different ways. My favorites were always the ones that made my brain hurt. I spent a fair amount of time working on visual effects projects and greatly enjoyed the problem solving that goes into making a VFX shot. I also worked hard to keep my VFX elements as easy to work with as possible, as I was taught to always think of the next person who would handle my footage. I sweated over the best way to light faces on any given project. One of my last jobs before joining ARRI was shooting with a prototype VR camera array that had never been used before—which meant no one really knew how to use it. I helped figure that out.
The common thread to all these projects has been great crews. I’ve worked with some amazing craftspeople who are also genuinely nice to be around. Cinematography is a team sport, and I’ve had the support of some great teams. I’ve been very lucky.
ProductionHUB: Do you have any advice for young filmmakers?
Art Adams: As early as you can, figure out what you want to do and start working toward that goal. Start at the bottom. Don’t assume you can skip any steps. Work for and with people who have been doing what you want to do and pay attention. Learn from their successes, and especially learn from their mistakes.
One of my mentors gave me these words of advice: “Show up early, punch in on time. Do your job. Keep your mouth shut.” Those are direct and harsh words, but when you’re starting out in this business you can’t go wrong by following them. Keep your eyes open, follow the chain of command, know when to act and when to wait patiently. It’s especially important to appear calm at all times. Producers hate seeing panic on the set, especially around the camera.
This same mentor also told me, “Learn from my mistakes, so you can make more original mistakes.”
Above all, be nice to the people who support you in your job. They often see problems coming long before you will, and if you treat them with respect they will cover your back and keep you out of trouble. The most important words you will ever say on set are, “Thank you.”
ProductionHUB: What is your role at ARRI?
Art Adams: I’m a Cinema Lens Specialist, or in my own words, a Lens Evangelist. My role is to get our lenses into the hands of filmmakers. It’s technically a sales position, but I’m not much of a salesman. I’m an educator more than anything else. I don’t think of myself as a natural filmmaker. I’ve always been better at appreciating the work than doing it, so I’ve had to work especially hard at learning how to use my tools to capture the images that thrill me. Once I’ve done that work, it’s easy for me to communicate these concepts to others.
I work hard to ferret out the unique features of our lenses, quantify their characteristics, and make sure filmmakers know what we offer and how our lenses might help them out on their next project. My goal is to open your eyes to the cool things you can do with our lenses while passing on my knowledge and experience along the way.
ARRI’s mission statement is very clear: we don’t just make tools, we support filmmakers by making the best tools possible. That’s why, after 26 years as a freelance DP and 31 years working in the camera department, I decided that this was a great move for me. I didn’t want to end up as a classical educator: I want to be a practical educator. There’s nowhere better to do this than at the company that’s made the cameras and lenses I’ve tried to use most often during my career, and whose stated purpose for existing is to help filmmakers make better films.
ProductionHUB: What excites you about working at ARRI?
Art Adams: Like my crews, the people here are wonderful. They’re smart, passionate, and driven. They like challenges. They don’t cut corners. If a product isn’t right, we don’t release it until it is. We don’t settle for the easy road, but instead, pursue the difficult road and do it better than anyone else. That’s the way I’ve pursued my career as a DP, and I don’t see myself working for a company that settles for anything less.