Like his frequent collaborator Clint Eastwood and his most recent partner, Danish director Susanne Bier (“Things We Lost in The Fire”), Tom Stern is all about making technique invisible.
“I don’t believe in style,” he says. “I want the film to be driven naturally, by character and story. For me, it’s important to get inside the head of an actor — also the director. Anticipate their moves, and light for that.”
Those moves involved close-ups so intimate it’s as if the camera were getting under the actors’ skin.
“Some styles of lighting require actors to hit their marks precisely,” says Stern. “Other times, you can be freer. I used the lighting as a dramatic punctuation, while still making Halle (Berry) and Benicio (Del Toro) look appropriate.”
Anyone who thinks working for a post-Dogma director like Bier is any easier than shooting for Eastwood should consider that Bier wanted to be able to shoot 360 degrees — in a glass house, which they found in Vancouver. “We spent about two weeks rigging the place,” Stern says. “And we wore a lot of black.”
Stern, a native of Palo Alto, Calif., who spends at least half his time in France (his wife is French), has global tastes, which led him to become a member of the Acad’s foreign-language committee.
“The internationalism of cinema appeals to me,” he says. “I try to keep my eyes and ears open to things that are happening all over the world.”
Awards pedigree: Satellite Award for “Flags of Our Fathers.”
Inspiration: The late Conrad Hall, with whom Stern worked on “American Beauty,” “Road to Perdition” and “Class Action.”
Visual aids: Fine-arts books, “which usually give us some kind of tertiary reference, but it’s only tertiary.”
Favorite tool: “A compass.” Why? “Because it tells you where the sun’s going to come up.”