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Cinematographer Adam Stone on The Bikeriders

The director of photography discusses the choice of anamorphic lenses and 35mm film for his latest collaboration with director Jeff Nichols.

Writer-director Jeff Nichols and cinematographer Adam Stone, the critically acclaimed duo behind such celebrated films as Loving, Midnight Special and Mud, reunite to immerse viewers in another unique setting with their latest film, The Bikeriders. This time, the drama unfolds from the seats of vintage Harley Davidsons amidst the upflung dust of 1960s Americana, and Stone ensures every remnant is felt through the screen.  

Photographed with Millennium XL2 cameras and G Series anamorphic lenses provided by Panavision Woodland Hills, the motorcycle-club drama adds a certain grit to Nichols and Stone’s impressive collection of collaborations. Here, the cinematographer explains how their continued commitment to shooting on film uniquely benefits The Bikeriders and helped them achieve the authenticity they sought.

On-set photo from the making of The Bikeriders

Panavision: How would you describe the look of The Bikeriders?

Adam Stone: The look is simple, organic and a bit rough-hewn. It’s meant to pay homage to a tactile, bygone era when the motorcycle subculture took root in America. Think cigarettes, musty bars, flat beer, blue oil-laden exhaust plumes, chrome and old leather jackets. We strove to make the imagery as authentic as possible, so we opted to shoot on film, and the production was entirely location based.

Were there any particular visual references you looked at for inspiration?

Stone: The movie is based on Danny Lyon’s photobook, The Bikeriders, so a lot of inspiration was pulled from his visuals. I was also captivated with the work of Jim Miteff. His work, though similar to Danny Lyon’s, was a bit more subversive and raw. And, yes, I revisited Easyrider and The Wild One.

Frame grab from The Bikeriders, cinematography by Adam Stone

What led to your decision to shoot with G Series lenses and Millennium XL2 cameras?

Stone: Jeff Nichols and I shoot all our projects on film, and I use Panavision cameras and lenses for all my film projects. Panavision has the best lenses and service in the business.

We’ve used XL2s on every collaboration since Mud. The XL2 is a total workhorse. It’s compact and has never let production down. And the G Series have been my go-to lenses for over a decade. They are the most gorgeous lenses on the planet. The combination of G Series and film is ethereal. The fall-off, bokeh and imperfect analog feel has always been appealing to me.

How did your experience shooting The Bikeriders differ from other projects you’ve photographed in your career?

Stone: This project was particularly challenging because we had to shoot actors on bikes, without helmets, in a safe and interpersonal way that’s engaging to the audience. We trialed many methodologies: e-bike, pursuit car and hard-mounted on a Slingshot. We finally had a eureka moment when we rigged a trike so we could shoot handheld 3 feet from the actors. Shooting in this configuration felt as if you, the audience, were actually on the bike. It was super-visceral and engaging.

On-set photo from the making of The Bikeriders

What inspired your decision to become a cinematographer?

Stone: My grandfather was a photographer/pilot for the Air Force and owned a Kodak shop in Texas. As a child I was mesmerized with his pictures of cloud formations and wartime imagery. That's when I was bitten by the proverbial 'camera bug.' I dabbled in photography for many years, but it wasn't until I saw Baraka in 70mm that I knew I wanted to pursue film and cinematography. It was truly a revelatory moment.

Inspiration is everywhere. A beautiful sunset, an esoteric film, a song, a painting, a sublime recipe, even a social-media post can cultivate creativity and inventiveness. It's easy to stay inspired with so many talented artists who inhabit this planet.

Frame grab from The Bikeriders, cinematography by Adam Stone

Photos by Bryan Schutmaat, Kyle Kaplan and Adam Stone.

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