Brad Starks | Second Assistant Director

How did you end up on the set of Aloha Surf Hotel?

I’ve known Stefan ever since I first moved to the island of Maui. I would bump into him at different island film industry events and had followed his work, and I’ve always been a big fan. I would regularly run into him during social situations, and we would chat about what things were coming up. Since our first encounters, I have had my fingers crossed to work alongside him on something great.

Branscombe Richmond is someone I’ve worked with extensively, and he told me that Stefan was looking for a second assistant director. I was able to sit in on one of the preliminary meetings and threw my hat in the ring for the job – two weeks later, I got the job.

Brad Starks with Stefan Schaefer, Augie T, & Branscombe Richmond

How long have you been a photographer?

I have been interested in photography since I was 11 years old. When I got my first camera; I took pictures of all my friends and family nonstop. Lucky for me, I was a high school jock, so most of my friends were fit athletes, so I was able to use them as models before I had access to models. Then I got my professional start: as a Freshman in college in Chicago, I went into Elite Modeling Agency and Marie Anderson, the Vice President, interviewed me and reviewed my book. To my surprise, she gave me about 16 laser comp cards of models that I could shoot. I organized shooting 4 of them at a beach; I remember being in shock.

What made you become a photographer?

One of the things I am grateful is that my father and mother were always super supportive of my creative endeavours; it helped and made a difference. 

My father played football for the New York Jets, and at the time it was assumed that I would follow in his footsteps. However, once I got hooked on being a photographer, I knew I wanted to get into fashion advertising as a career… Once I saw all of the magazine campaigns and all the incredible locations, they captured my imagination (over giving myself a concussion trying to score touchdowns). 

Do you have any advice for those starting out?

When the recession hit New York, I took a break for about one year until an opportunity arose in Hawai’i. From there, I was able to meet and establish a network and quickly transition into the world of Film/TV/Video content creation. My big start in film and TV came when I worked on the MTV show, Are You The One. It was from working that I was able to establish a nationwide network. I would get emails: they would say they were given my name from someone I worked with on the MTV shoot. 

Networking is number one in this business… I don’t think it’s a skill many people cultivate. As a freelancer in this business, it’s paramount to your survival and advancement.

I enjoy working with new talent and helping them with advancing their careers. The idea of having a muse for any creative person is not only necessary but also feeds your creativity. If you have an understanding with someone that you can work with, it can be a very freeing experience. It is very much like being able to pick up a musical instrument, and a friend plays another, both of you riff on an idea together and create amazing music. Some of the best pieces that got me to the next level were images I made with friends rough ideas we put into motion and finalized.

Whose work has influenced you most?

In the realm of photography, my biggest influences would be Bruce Weber, Richard Avedon, Albert Watson, Arthur Elgort, Steven Meisel, Peter Lindbergh, and my two great friends – Ernest Collins and Pepe Botella. 

All these photographers can change their style depending on what it is they’re trying to capture. I like the idea of adapting when on location and learned by looking at images they had created during their careers. I have tried my best to pick up those skills, as well while developing mine.

In the world of film: Christopher Nolan, Michael Mann, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Denis Villeneuve, Steve McQueen and Todd Phillips.

Beyond the subject matter of their films, the ideas they explore, how they artfully tell stories – it just blows my mind. 

I’m a huge comedy fan, but I’d love to sink my teeth into thrillers as well as sci-fi. I am looking forward to seeing the new Dune.

Are you a detail-oriented person?

I think those in the creative field are very detail-oriented, but the key to success is to have people who are even more detail-oriented than you. 

Knowing what you aren’t good at is very important in the film industry. 

Being able to delegate things to get done is key!

Filmmaking is just like the art of conducting; a good crew is like an orchestra. Without a great crew all working together towards common goals on a film project, there is absolutely no way to see it completed and for it to be successful. 

One of the things I learned very early from my father, is that everyone has a job and has to work as one unit to accomplish the ultimate goal. It’s very rare that you get the opportunity to work on a film crew with a family atmosphere but Aloha Surf Hotel had that for sure! Every single person knew each other or was connected from working with each other on countless other projects; it was like going to a family reunion where everybody gets along and laughs very hard while working very hard every day.

Among your works, which are your favorites?

I have several that make me very proud. If I had to pick: 

1) I would say having my first big commercial image made for billboards in Times Square.

2) I would also say it was exciting to have a picture of ME on a digital billboard in Times Square! 

I had just gotten back from Europe and was struggling in New York. I started shooting using an old Polaroid. The images I made got recognized and gave me access to the most accomplished models of my career. I was able to help several friends become supermodels using the pictures I made. It got them in front of exclusive fashion brands. Perhaps one of the biggest successes was shooting a friend of mine from Chicago, Shakara Ledard, and helping her become a Victoria’s Secret cover girl.

What type of cameras do you shoot with?

Most cameras that I use to do all of my fashion and portraiture work are Canon with Canon lenses. 

I am also a fan of the new Sigma art lenses. 

I shoot digital content with Lumix GH4 and GH5 cameras. I do a lot of one-man-band gigs, and I enjoy using three cameras at once. I have great advisers on gear buying, and I continue to add to the gear that I own as opposed to renting it. 

One of the exciting pieces of equipment that we got to work with on “Aloha Surf Hotel” was the new line of Black Magic Cinema cameras. I’m hoping to see more of those in the future.

I produced 12 national TV commercials on the East Coast last November. We used Arriflex Minis with Cooke lenses. The camera combinations are incredible and are being used widely on television shows and films for streaming services like Netflix and HBO. I would love to get my hands on those for a short film project I have in mind.

What makes the good picture stand out from the average?

The picture has to make you experience a deep-rooted emotion that you had forgotten and taken you by surprise. It’s like hearing an old song you haven’t heard in a while, and you get chills. 

It’s hard to put your finger on it sometimes, but you can feel it physically when you see it. 

Being able to create images like that, it’s a partnership between the photographer and their subject. 

What inspires you?

There’s so much: music, movies, art, meeting people, history, new experiences, and learning. 

Travel can be inspiring! I’ve been lucky to have lived in Europe. That experience helped shape me as a creative for sure.

What’s your next gig?

I am currently on a great project with HBO. It is my first COVID-19 safe bubble to be involved with; I am learning every single day. 

COVID-19 safety on film sets is going to be a big deal moving forward. It is exciting to be involved in a project this big and see how an unlimited budget can execute it safely and correctly.

There are a few more things on the horizon for 2021, but it is nothing I can talk about right now. Ask me at the end of March; I have written a few short subject films but would like to organize them first.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I don’t think I would have gotten into film and television had I not moved to Hawai’i. Working on Aloha Surf Hotel made quite an impression on me. 

Going in and watching a movie in the theatre is quite a different thing from being one of the team members responsible for creating it. The level of teamwork it takes and the long days make you appreciate what it is that ends up on the screen. 

Your perspective change is 100% after several experiences of working on projects. I look at some films now and think to myself. How do they manage to shoot under those conditions while on location? How many PAs did it take to help make that scene come off? How many times did they go over budget while trying to finish out this film?”

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