May 10, 2019 Interview – Adam Mason Talks Working with Alice in Chains, Paul Sloan, + More
Coming from Eastern England, Adam Mason was not like other kids his age. Lacking interest in academics, and looking for a way to starve boredom, he soon found music and movies to be a muse he could not let go of. Letting his imagination grow, Mason would be on his way to becoming a successful filmmaker, directing/producing Horror flicks such as 2006’s Broken and 2007’s The Devil’s Chair, but also finding a niche in music video directing.
Responsible for over 90 music videos through the years, he has worked with everyone from AFI to Cradle of filth. Most recently teaming up with Alice in Chains, they have put together the 10-part music video series called Black Antenna, a conceptual piece linking together the music of 2018’s Rainer Fog. An ambitious project, Mason recently sat down with Black Antenna Actor Paul Sloan to talk to us about the production, working in film, plus much more.
Cryptic Rock – Adam, you have been involved in film as a director, producer, and writer for nearly 2 decades now. First, briefly tell us, what inspired you to pursue a career in film?
Adam Mason – It was just something that happened really, more or less because I’m not very good, or very interested, in much else. I was very much wrapped up inside my own head as a kid… I’m badly dyslexic, and had a hard time at school, so movies were a way for me to escape from all that into my own imagination. I also grew up in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere in England, and I’m an only child… so much of my younger years were spent having to entertain myself. Movies, books, and music became the things that got me through a lot of, shall we say, challenging times. Actually, Alice In Chains were one of the bands that really spoke to me when I was a teenager, so it’s been utterly surreal working with them on this huge project.
Anyway, I absolutely loathed school, went to university, never attended a single lecture, got kicked out… and was basically a drunk, idle idiot for a while. Then someone suggested I go to film school, which wasn’t something I’d ever heard of… and surprisingly I got in. My parents were really supportive, even though I’m sure they never thought I’d be able to make a living out of it! Going to the London Film School really changed my life. It was the first time I’d been around other like-minded people, and it was around then that I started to believe directing was something I could be really good at.
From there I started making low budget feature films and music videos… and now, twenty years later, I’m just finishing my ninth feature, eleventh actually, as there’s two I pretend don’t exist! I also must have directed over 200 music videos.
Cryptic Rock – Wow, that is a very interesting story how everything worked out for you. Early on in your career, you wrote and directed a list of feature films including 2006’s Broken and 2007’s The Devil’s Chair. Leaning primarily toward Horror and Thriller themed films, do you enjoy working in these genres?
Adam Mason – Yeah, I’m always naturally drawn towards darker stuff. I’ve always been that way. Musically too, all the bands I love are on the dark side of the spectrum. I enjoy making these kind of films, because they tend to be more creative. I have a real passion for special FX, which for a long time as a teenager was I thought that was what I wanted to do… but I basically wasn’t talented enough at it!
Cryptic Rock – It seems you have stuck with what you are passionate about. In fact, you would eventually get involved in directing music videos and have worked with everyone from Within Temptation and Cradle of Filth, to AFI and Alice in Chains. What got you involved in the world of music videos?
Adam Mason – It kind of came to me really. A lot of Rock and Metal bands tend to have members who really love Horror movies, so as my profile grew in the genre world, bands started coming to me wanting me to do videos. I quickly realized that as well as absolutely loving making them, it was also a really good way to generate short term income. Doing movies is great, but they usually take about a year or more to do, and managing to survive financially can be tricky. The same with writing… it’s usually very lucrative, but it’s also very unpredictable and can take forever to get paid. Music videos became my bread and butter for a long time.
I also really love music, and bands… I wish really I’d been a musician. So doing this over the years has made it feel a tiny bit like being in a band! I’ve had mostly great experiences, and worked with some incredible artists. It was funny hearing you mention Within Temptation, cause I’d forgotten about that video and I had the most loathsome experience imaginable with them! But then, not everyone can be like Alice In Chains. (Smiles)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) They are all different experiences, right? Having directed some really great videos through the years, most recently you worked with Alice in Chains for a Sci-Fi themed film, called Black Antenna. Broken into 10 parts, it comes together as a 90-minute film in the end. Additionally the featured actor is Paul Sloan. How did this project come about for you two, and what inspired the direction?
Paul Sloan – Once Adam and the band worked out the format, it seemed like a unique way to incorporate a lot of genres and themes that Adam and I kick around all the time… Addiction, paranoia, loneliness, secret societies, isolation, distrust of authority, Lovecraft. Add some killer Alice In Chains music, it all seemed like a perfect fit.
Adam Mason – It was just a mad idea I had with the band. I can’t really remember specifically how it came about… I think they were looking to do a video for every track on Rainier Fog, and met with me to discuss how that might work. Coincidentally that same day I’d had the idea of doing this really fucked up indie movie with Paul Sloan starring as an alien hiding in a homeless guys body, trying to get back home. Somehow those two events combined, and Black Antenna was born!
Cryptic Rock – Very fascinating. To this point, 6 episodes have been released and the storyline grabs your attention. That said, what was it like working with Alice in Chains (AIC) unifying the music with the visual?
Paul Sloan – Their enthusiasm (Alice In Chains) and trust in Adam’s premise was inspiring to all. We wanted to keep going and pushing. Creatively, we wanted to out-do each episode, and be worthy of the music.
Adam Mason – It’s been a total blast so far! The band has been unbelievably supportive of what I’ve been trying to do. It’s probably been the best experience of my creative career. I make it sound like I’m a one man band, but there’s a long list of people who have made this happen and supported me and the project against all the odds. My wife and producer, Elizabeth. Paul has been a rock and I couldn’t have done it without him. Victoriya Dov, our lead actress, has given it her all. Darri Ingolfsson and Lily Robinson, our remarkable evil alien illuminati. Nick Vallelonga, Mike Hatton and Asko Akopyan, who have pulled innumerable rabbits out of hats for Elizabeth and I. Jason Collins, our genius SFX guru. Also, the guys at Velvet Hammer who manage AIC have helped out a million times. And of course, the band themselves, without whom Black Antenna would not exist!
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like everyone really put a lot into it. This project has a lot going on, from the acting staff to the production and special effects. For a music video series, have you ever undertaken a project of this magnitude?
Paul Sloan – Nothing with ideas this big or a premise this intriguing.
Adam Mason – I mean, budget wise, the last two movies I’ve done for Blumhouse had 20 times the budget of Black Antenna, but in terms of magnitude, I’d say Black Antenna is the most ambitious project I’ve ever done. For example – those two movies for Blumhouse I just directed, I’m Just Fucking With You and They Come Knocking… they were both shot in 16 days, with a large crew.
With Black Antenna, by the time we have finished, we’ll probably have shot around 60 days. That’s just unheard of for a low budget indie. But it’s meant I’ve gotten exactly what I wanted. We’ve done some crazy, crazy shit… for that shot of the alien staggering away from the burning ship… we brought this massive fucking tent, the size of a large truck, took it out to the middle of nowhere in Joshua Tree, filled it with cardboard and covered it in gasoline. It went up like a fucking rocket! That’s the kind of stuff you would just never be able to do on a bigger project. I really love how they’ve just let me go with it. The movie version is going to be really, really beautiful. It’s a totally different vibe to the music videos. Bleak and sad and intimately epic. I can’t wait to get that finished!
Cryptic Rock – It will be exciting to see! Seeing that you have done feature films, how would you compare it to working within music videos?
Paul Sloan – There’s a speed and a freedom to the music videos. Because it’s being released in segments we are getting to see finished vignettes and get feedback relatively quick compared to waiting on a feature to be edited and released. I love the music video format anyway. Working with Adam got me chance to do everything from film noir to a full on Mad Max homage.
Adam Mason – Well, one’s usually like a marathon and the other’s like a sprint. Music videos tend to almost always come out pretty good I find, and that’s largely because they are so condensed… and not many people are involved. They end up being quite pure. As soon as you do a movie, there’s a hundred people involved and some of them are awesome and some of them aren’t. Often huge issues arise out of that, just human nature, personality type shit. I’m a control freak and I like to control all aspects of what I do… which is why I write, direct, produce, light, do the camera, edit… etc. I just get off on having my stamp all over whatever I’m making. I don’t want to make something by committee. I want it to come direct from me. On a feature film, it tends to be more of a battle to maintain that stamp and control. Although that said, I’ve more or less always been able to pull it off.
Cryptic Rock – Right, and sometimes complete artistic control is good, because it sticks to the creator’s vision purely. Speaking of features, Adam, you were also recently a part of the Hulu series Into The Dark, directing the film you mentioned, I’m Just Fucking With You. What was it like working on that?
Adam Mason – It was absolutely awesome. I did that one, then another one called They Come Knocking, back to back… so it’s just been the most insane six months of my life. I’ve been doing three feature films all at once! I should be careful what I wish for! It was great working with Blumhouse and Hulu. They’re the first movies I’ve done with a studio, and I was a little concerned if I’m being honest that my vision might get quashed, but they couldn’t have been more supportive. Its funny, because all these years of slumming it on much smaller budget stuff actually prepared me very nicely. Generally I find that whatever the budget, it’s always absolute fucking chaos!
Luckily, I thrive in situations like that. I absolutely love having to think on my feet. I think one of my greatest strengths is that I’m confident enough in myself to trust my instincts and get a feel of something. I used to over-prepare like crazy, but now I just go with it. It’s really like magic… you basically put these different elements together, like the script, the cast, the crew, the composer etc… and it becomes it’s own thing.
Choosing those elements is 99% of the job for me. The rest of it, like shots and so on… that’s really like driving a car at this stage, you do it almost subconsciously… but getting that witches brew right… that’s where the art is for me. If I get that right, the movie’s just about impossible to fuck up. But if I choose one wrong person, it becomes a battle. That’s why the people I work with are like family to me now. I have to trust them with my life, because that’s what film is to me… I give every ounce of what I have to my projects and I expect everyone else involved to do the same.
Cryptic Rock – It certainly is important for people to have trust in one another when working on such passionate projects. What projects do both of you have coming up in the future?
Paul Sloan – I’m working with Adam again later this year on a supernatural Crime Thriller called Two Thieves. It is set in South America and something we conceived together about five years ago.
Adam Mason – I’m just finishing Black Antenna and They Come Knocking at the moment, both of which have been beyond full on. I’m actually hoping to take a bit of time off after both of those are done. It’s been the most crazy period of my life to date, especially balancing that with three little kids!
Like Paul said, I am hoping Two Thieves happens and I have a long list of other projects circling. I basically have to have like ten things going, because most things I think are happening fuck up and disappear into the ether! I’ve been offered some really exciting stuff recently, and there’s some really cool projects in the offing… but I want to take a moment to really consider what to do next!
Cryptic Rock – Hopefully Two Thieves comes together for both of you! Last question. Beyond music, Cryptic Rock also covers movies, particularly the Horror and Sci-Fi genres. Seeing you are a fan of these genres, do you have any favorites and why?
Adam Mason – I’m the hugest fan, yes! My favorite movies tend to be Horror or Sci-Fi. The Shining (1980), The Exorcist (1973), Jacob’s Ladder (1990), The Wicker Man (1973), Blade Runner (1982), Alien (1979). Not so much stuff recently has floated my boat to be honest, although I loved Hereditary (2018). I also loved The Witch (2015), but all of the genre movies that inspired me were classics from growing up.
Paul Sloan – Some of my more recent favorites include Hereditary and The Witch. Also, Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Sunshine (2007), Interstellar (2014), and District 9 (2009), Ex Machina (2014), Under The Skin (2013), as well as Arrival (2016). Those are all really worthy of repeat viewings, and the kind of stuff that stays with you.
For more on Adam Mason: adamajmason.com