DADDY-O'S DRIVE-IN DIRT
SCI FI ARCHIVES
A continuing series profiling one member of the Best Brains organization.
Shooting the Wild Life on the Satellite of Love
Jeff Stonehouse has been swimming with whales, and running with lions. Even more frightening, he's worked for Comedy Central. But Stonehouse, 41, admits that there are few assignments as dangerous as the one he also enjoys the most: Director of Photography for Best Brains.
"It's far more dangerous than shooting wildlife," says Stonehouse with a laugh. "There are more explosions and things to dodge."
Stonehouse should know. In his career, he's used his talents shooting wildlife documentaries for PBS' Nova series (he graduated from the University of Minnesota with a dual degree in Zoology and Cinematography), and for NBC, recording the gymnastics competition at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, not to mention numerous commercials, promotional work and six music videos for the band The Fugees.
But shooting MST3K is his favorite gig. "It's hard to describe how much I enjoy the show," he says. "I've always enjoyed working with them."
Stonehouse first encountered the Best Brains crew six years ago, when he got a freelance gig to do a spot about MST3K for Entertainment Tonight. "I met Jim and we kinda hit it off, and I continued to do odd jobs for them." Stonehouse was behind the camera for Comedy Central's documentary on the series, This Is MST3K, and also shot several of the promotional spots Best Brains did for Comedy Central.
"There came a point when they told me they were thinking about doing a feature film," he recalls. "I said I'd love to do it." It was also about that time, during season six, that the show's previous Director of Photography moved on and Jeff was asked to take over there as well.
As time went by, Stonehouse acknowledges that he "tried to make some of the visuals a bit less static. In the beginning, we only had one camera angle and we'd zoom in and zoom out. By the time we got to The Sci-fi Channel, we decided to upgrade the production values. We added something called a 'jib' that allows us to do dolly-type moves."
Still, Stonehouse insists that he is always aware of the dangers of overdoing it. "We're not 'Industrial Light and Magic,' and we try to keep that in mind," he explains. "I like to keep what I call a 'tactile' feel to the show. Most of our effects are done in camera, not generated later in editing. And we followed through on that when we finally shot the movie. Instead of generating a starfield in a computer, as most movies would do it these days, we had a huge piece of black material with little cutout stars on it."
The movie really gave Stonehouse a chance to stretch. "We had to make the visuals more sophisticated for a theatrical audience, which for us meant that we could actually use different shots in one scene. It was a lot of fun."
Stonehouse, who is married and has two daughters, says he looks forward to continuing with his favorite gig for a long time to come.
"It's like hanging out with your best friends," he insists. "Like going to a giant treehouse for adults."