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Exclusive: Adam Mason talks Alice In Chains: Black Antenna

Adam Mason is a name we've been familiar with for quite a while around here. The UK-born filmmaker has long been known for tough, low-budget thrillers that take its characters to the brink of madness; titles include PIG, LUSTER, THE DEVIL's CHAIR, to name a few. Mason's style is very DIY, often working as his own producer, camera operator, and editor, although he's also been successful as a screenwriter; he and partner Simon Boyes provided the scripts for Blumhouse's NOT SAFE FOR WORK (which was helmed by the legendary Joe Johnston) and a film starring the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Al Pacino, MISCONDUCT.

But now Mason is unveiling perhaps his most ambitious project to date: BLACK ANTENNA, a feature length film based on the Alice in Chains album Ranier Fog. The film is actually being released in installments on Alice in Chains' YouTube channel, with Part 5 - "Drone" - having just debuted.

BLACK ANTENNA tells the story of Alpha (played by “Green Book” actor Paul Sloan) and his 21 year old daughter, Beta (Viktoriya Dov), who drive their beat-up truck across California in silence, speaking only telepathically. Together they rob and steal from the men the girl seduces, taking cellphones, laptops, whatever they can find. Alpha is trying to build something - an antenna - desperately trying to find a way to get a message to their people back home. Meanwhile there are unspeakably dark forces who have discovered their existence, and are now hell-bent on tracking them down and eradicating them before more of their kind can come and join them.

I spoke to Mason about getting involved with BLACK ANTENNA, working alongside star and co-writer Paul Sloan, his unorthodox shooting style and what the project means to him.

How did you become involved with the project?

The band approached me to direct a video for every song on Rainier Fog, and it kind of snowballed from there. When all is said and done, I will have directed 12 videos for Alice In Chains! Not many people can make that claim!

It’s been surreal - they are one of my favorite bands, and I’m honored beyond belief. Dirt and Jar Of Flies are albums that continue to blow my mind to this day. And they’re one of the few bands out there that are still at the top of their game. The new album is so good. I’ve probably heard it more than anyone on earth, from editing all these fucking videos.

How did you come up with the concept/story for Black Antenna?

It was a combination of a few things. First up was that I’ve been wanting to make a balls to the wall, fucked up movie with Paul Sloan for years now. We have a bunch of projects together, and we’ve almost done a feature loads of times, but it’s always fallen apart at the last moment for various different reasons. Mostly because it’s really fucking hard to raise $5 million for an independent movie.

Basically I’d been thinking about just doing something for the hell of it, a low budget or no budget feature… and the same day I met with the band, I had this idea of two homeless aliens, trying desperately to get home. It just all came together really, really quickly, and now here we are, balls deep in the thing.

It’s a cool time right now, music videos are coming back with a vengeance, and bands are having to think of new, innovative and inventive ways to get people’s attention. And I think Alice In Chains are at a level now where they can take a chance on someone like me, and try for something really fucking cool like Black Antenna.

How much input, if any, did Alice in Chains have? Did they dig the end result?

They were very involved at the concept/script level. But they have been super cool about it, really trusting and respectful of me, the project and my process. It’s been a complete joy, albeit probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Discuss how different your shooting process was on this project as opposed to previous films.

Well, about ten years ago I started to transition into shooting all my own stuff. So basically now I do all the lighting and camera side of things myself. I build my own camera rigs, and have this elaborate stedicam set up… so basically when I’m on set, I’m running around at a million miles an hour, with this huge rig on, tweaking lights and trying to direct at the same time.

It’s pure insanity, but I love it, and the actors love it, because there's not a million people sitting around like there normally is on a movie, which I absolutely hate, cause it creates the least inspiring atmosphere imaginable. So the past few years I’ve been working really hard on getting good enough with the technical stuff so that I don’t have to rely on a bunch of fucking jobsworths who half-ass their way through my movie.

Now, most of the time its just me and the camera, and a couple of assistants… and I’m right in there with the scene with the actors. Most directors sit behind a fucking monitor sipping on lattes which I just think is total bullshit. I’m there in the mud and dirt with my actors, making it happen alongside them. It’s a lot harder work, but I absolutely love it. It’s literally like a drug to me.

I’ve just done two much bigger movies for Blumhouse, which was surreal cause there I was with a huge crew again. It really took some getting used to, and I hated not being able to operate the camera or tweak the lights myself, even though the DP I was working with was absolutely phenomenal.

There would be video village with these big screens and a million people sitting there, and I’d be with the actors a mile away, with my little hand held monitors. I’m not in this because I want to feel important, or post pictures of me with a helicopter on Instagram. I just love creating stuff, and I’ll do it if you give me ten bucks or a hundred million.

Moving forward from here I don’t know what I’ll do… but for now, the Black Antenna way is how I like and want to do things. It puts me in the middle of the hurricane, gives me total control over literally everything and I can light things and shoot things exactly how I want them.

Another cool thing has been the amount of days we’ve been shooting for. By the time we’ve finished, we’ll have been shooting Black Antenna for 60 days! That’s some David Fincher shit basically, no one gets even 30 days on a low budget feature these days, let alone 60! And that’s because I don’t need 60 people sitting around eating craft services. It’s me, and a select few people that I love and trust believing in something one hundred percent and just absolutely going for it.

Have you been a longtime Alice in Chains fan?

That would be an understatement. Rotten Apple and Nutshell I consider to be two of the greatest songs ever written. It’s basically like working with The Beatles for me. Jerry’s John Lennon, just a next level songwriter. There’s no one better at what they do. They’re titans. I don’t really get star struck, but meeting them I most definitely was. Even though that was over a year ago now, I still feel that same way. It’s hard to believe that when this is all over, I’ll have directed twelve videos for them.

Can you describe your collaboration with Paul Sloan, both off and on set?

Here’s the thing about Paul Sloan… most of the people I know, if I call them and say, "will you drive out to Joshua Tree and help me shoot a scene with a fake wolf and some dead insects?" I get brushed off with, "ah, shit, I’ve got dinner plans that night." Most people don’t want to work when it's basically for nothing, and who can blame them? At this point, on Black Antenna, Paul has had to spend money being in it.

Not many people would do that for me. But Paul’s always there. He’s never once said no to me, never once let me down. He’s loyal beyond belief. And on top of that, Paul’s the most fantastic writer. I had a load of wild ideas, disparate for Black Antenna, and then he went away and slavishly wrote what is literally one of the best scripts I’ve ever read in my life. And he did it for nothing, when writing is something he gets paid a lot of money to do. Black Antenna’s as much Paul’s movie as it is mine and it wouldn’t exist without him.

Episode 5 of BLACK ANTENNA is above; you can catch up with all previous installments RIGHT HERE.

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