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Through the Lens… Adam Stone on Loving

There’s a special bond that exists between Director Jeff Nichols and cinematographer Adam Stone. Loving sees the duo working together again after their acclaimed collaboration on Mud, Midnight Special, and Take Shelter.

Virginia, 1958. It’s still illegal for interracial couples to get married, but that doesn’t stop Richard Loving from proposing to his pregnant girlfriend, Mildred. The couple drove to Washington D.C. to get married and returned to their home in Virginia. The couple are soon arrested and Richard is thrown in jail for violating 1924’s Racial Integrity Act. The Lovings took their case to the Supreme Court and in 1967 the court ruled that interracial marriages were protected under the Constitution.

Loving is not filled with racial tension or fierce drama. Instead, its tone is nuanced, focusing on the couple’s love for each other and exploring the quietly resolute dynamics of their relationship, while remaining powerful in the most subtle of ways.

In our latest Through The Lens series, cinematographer Adam Stone talks about three scenes from the film:

Will You Marry Me?

This was a simple scene. We wanted the camera as close as possible to the two actors but without really being there. We didn’t want a Steadicam person, we don’t do handheld. What we did what we had a dolly with a jib arm and an operated hot-head. We used that a lot in Loving. We only ever used a Steadicam once for our stair scene. The dolly with the jib arm allowed us to get on action with the actors and allow for stately shots.

We let them go at it. As Joel walks towards Ruth, he pushes the camera back, and we did the same on Ruth’s side, with that whole push and pull. The camera was in line with them, and the thing is, you really don’t notice that push and pull. It was an elegant way to execute that scene. We didn’t want any extra camera movement, we just wanted that.

It was shot a mile down the road from where the farmhouse was, and it was actually in the same neighborhood that they grew up in, he proposed in.

It only took a quarter of a day to shoot as we had other back-to-back scenes to shoot. Once we were set up, it took about four hours. The main thing about it was just not moving the camera so much so as not to draw attention to it.

Life Magazine Shoot

With Grey Villet, we only had Michael Shannon for one shoot day, so we had multiple scenes with him. We started exterior, and it happened to be raining. Grey comes up and talks to Richard Loving about his car. The first time we did that, it was pouring with rain. There are six shots in that whole scene, and all of them were static. Then it stopped raining after we finished shooting, so we shot it again.

That was the first part of the day. After that, we move into the house, Grey meets the family and tells them about Time-Life, how he was hired. That was entertaining, and then it moves to a moment where he has a moment with Mildred.

We had a strip of tungsten lights for that and placed them behind both of the actors. That’s how we lit it.
We did a wide shot before we broke off into single shots of each actor. Then Grey takes that photo of Mildred at the sink. That leads all the way into where Richard and Mildred are watching TV. Grey is on the floor, the Lovings are on the couch. It’s the first time that Richard lets his guard down and is laughing. You don’t really see him do that until that point. He’s having a good time. Off in the corner, very inconspicuously is Grey with his camera.

It’s a short scene, and he snaps this one photo that is an exact match of what the real Grey took.
The cool thing about Grey is he would always tell his wife that he wanted his photography to be as real as real gets. He’s very much like a fisherman until he gets that one or two photos. We took that mantra with the entire film that Grey posed at the beginning, and we wanted the film to be as real as possible, and that’s why we shot on film. We also tried to go to as many real-life locations too.

We got the dailies, we’d watch them. It traveled through post, Jeff’s eyes were on it, our editor’s eyes were on it, but it wasn’t until later that I was at Efilm, doing dailies that I saw it on the big screen for the first time. It looked weird. The film for whatever reason wasn’t sitting on the gate properly, it was nanometers off. It just wasn’t sitting right, it was a little bit uncrisp, so we did a bit of sharpening in some areas. That’s the thing about film, you never know what you’re getting. Sometimes it’s a great present, sometimes it’s not. Even though that whole day was intrinsically flawed, it was actually one of my favorite days.

Being around Michael Shannon is always super fun. He’s a great person to talk to.

After Donald Gets Hit by the Car:

Richard is coming home from a masonry job. It’s late in the evening. We were shooting in downtown Richmond. There was a section of four blocks that were picture ready. We wanted to set a moody scene for him driving up so that it’s a foreshadowing of what he’s about to enter and see in the upstairs bedroom. We’ve done this before on Mud and in Midnight Special where we have three or four cameras set up right on the cusp of evening. A tungsten lightbulb on a porch would start to glow beautifully while you still have steel blue skies, so you can still make out the architecture in the background.

We had a camera on him outside, that got him getting out of the car and walking in. One camera was positioned in the kitchen looking out at the door that he was entering. Another camera was in the living room. The way it’s all edited together is that he drives in. He walks in from the A camera to the B camera, and into the living room to the C camera where he sees something is going on as the family isn’t downstairs. He runs upstairs back to the B camera and it cuts to upstairs where Donald was in bed.

The cool thing about that scene was we shot that on the cusp of darkness. We usually have four attempts before it gets really dark and it doesn’t work. But the end product is really beautiful.

Photos courtesy of Adam Stone: