Anatomy of a Scene: Adam Santelli on Netflix's 13 the Musical

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Adam Santelli is a film and music video cinematographer who's worked with artists like Snoop Dogg, Marilyn Manson, Selena Gomez, Ludacris and The Ramones. He recently worked on Netflix's upcoming film 13: The Musical and previously worked on Disney’s Descendents 3. 

In our latest Anatomy of a Scene breakdown, Adam talks more about his work on 13: The Musical and his favorite scene from the film.

PH: Which scene was your favorite to work on in 13: The Musical?  Adam Santelli: That’s a tough one. It would definitely be one of the musical numbers. If I had to pick one it would be “Little More Home Work.” We started shooting it on the second day of filming and shot the final scenes of it towards the end of principal photography. It was really moving to see these young kids start the number and then these young adults finish the number.     

PH: Describe this scene and the significance it has to the rest of the film. 

Adam Santelli: This is the moment when Evan realizes what the true meaning of friendship means, what it means to come together as a community and that there is still more to come.  PH: What tools, plugins, or instruments did you use in your production of this scene? Adam Santelli: The musical number flows over a number of locations and was shot over several non-consecutive days over the run of the film, so shot matching was a big concern. We worked really hard to work to match the time of day. But as we all know this sometimes doesn't work especially with all the weather issues we were having. For lighting, my gaffer, David Breeze, and key grip, Adam McDonald, and I decided to control the sun rather than work with it. To do this we used an array of 30x20 1/4 grids on telehandlers and an LRX lighting truck (6 remote 18K parts mounted on a 120’ arm). For camera platforms for the main exterior performance, we used a camera car with a 20’ telescoping crane on the back.    The camera I used was the Alexa LF (Large Format) with Zeiss Supreme Lenses.  I'm a huge fan of the Alexa LF - I think it holds the highlights better and has more depth in the mids. The LF is a little harder to pull on, especially when shooting a musical but I had a fantastic focus puller, Dean Stinchcombe, out of Toronto.  We shot 2:1 aspect ratio or if you are a Vittorio Storaro Univisium. The happy compromise between film and HD. Back in my music video days, we would always shoot 2:1 so it is an aspect ratio I really enjoy shooting especially when it comes to choreography. Netflix has been a huge proponent of 2:1. I just wish everyone would call it Univisium in honor of the Storaro and the work he did to make 2:1 a relevant format.

PH: What was the dialogue like between you and the director regarding this scene?

Adam Santelli: Tamra is one of those inspirational directors that makes every scene feel like this is why I wanted to get into this business. She has strong opinions on the way she sees each scene but wants to hear your ideas—not just from me, she wants all the creatives in the room riffing together on ideas together. We started talking about the film way before pre production started. She would hold Zoom meetings with the production designer, the wardrobe stylists, and myself and it was a place to talk about ideas in very broad strokes. Then when pre production started, we refined those conversations into actual tangible ideas, then into shots. Then I had the freedom of how we would achieve the shots. It was a fantastic way to work. 

PH: Can you talk about how you set up this scene? What was the pre-production involved? How did it come about? Was there another direction you initially wanted it to go? 

Adam Santelli: Setting up the “Little More Homework” musical number was monstrous. At the beginning of the shot, the kids are walking down the center of the street singing, and at the end, Evan is singing in the church, which he had to use in place of a synagogue. So logistics were tough. Day two of our schedule was the shot of the kids walking down the street and singing. It was one of the few places I couldn’t control the sun, so we had to time the schedule of the sun. It was a distant location so the cast and crew had to stay in hotels. The sun cleared the first corner of the building at 7:30 AM and was unusable by 11:15 AM, so we really had to move. We had 60 kids that had to get through hair and make-up before call time. We rigged the camera to the telescoping crane which sat on the back of the camera car the day before and rehearsed the move till all the issues were worked out. The shot ended up on the poster, which was nice after all the work that went into it. 

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