Tag Archives: Cameron Crowe

Meet the Crew: Alex Hillkurtz – Storyboard Artist – Part 1


Tiffany Hillkurtz, Cameron, Andy Fischer and Alex Hillkurtz

Storyboard Artist Alex Hillkurtz has been working in the industry since 1993. He has worked on a wide variety of films during his career including the last four of Cameron’s films. We sat down for a two-part chat to learn more about his background and his variety of projects.

Is it true that you were born in England?  When did you come to the States?  Are you an American citizen?

I was born in England. My parents are British but we moved to Northern California when I was a baby, so I’ve grown up here. I quickly learned to speak American when teased in kindergarten about my British accent. I now have dual citizenship, so I feel like Jason Bourne when traveling with more than one passport. I’m sure having my feet planted on both sides of the Atlantic helps me to see things from different perspectives, but I can fluctuate between feeling at home on either continent, to feeling a complete outsider no matter where I call home.

How old were you when you knew you had some artistic talent?

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing. I was always that kid in the back of the class drawing space ships and dragons. I think it’s served me well.

Did either of your parents have that skill?

My mom does really nice pen and ink illustrations, and her father before her did some beautiful sketches during his time in WWII. I feel privileged to be the first generation in my family to actually make a living with art.

How did that early talent manifest itself?  What types of things were you drawn to?

I would fill reams of paper with drawings of dinosaurs, that was my early training. Maybe I should’ve spent my childhood drawing earnest and off-beat romantic characters instead. I was never a real comic book fan (though I know a lot of storyboard guys come from that tradition), but I was always a movie fan. My parents would take me to revival houses to see things before I could understand what I was seeing – Wages of Fear, Creature From the Black Lagoon2001: A Space Odyssey. And I was always drawing, just dumping my imagination on the page. Later for me came painting and watercolors.

Did you go to a trade school specifically for art, or did you go to a traditional University?

I went to Chapman University through their film program. That’s where I learned how to make movies – directing, cinematography, lighting, editing, sound, the whole thing. I came out of there with a good grasp on what it takes to make a film.

How did you get your first industry job as a storyboard artist?

I was a production assistant for a while after graduation and was shocked that no one wanted to hire me as a director! It was a pretty rough awakening after film school. I knew I could draw, so when I was working on Phantasm 3, I asked director Don Coscarelli if I could do some storyboarding, and he let me have a crack at a few sequences. I was in heaven. I got my first screen credit as a storyboard artist on that film, a big moment for me. I figure it was a win-win, because they got boards for a PA rate. From there I just started telling people that’s what I did, and some of them actually believed me.

Con Air Storyboard By Alex Hillkurtz

Was working in film something you’ve always wanted to do?

When I was real little I wanted to be a paleontologist, I wanted to dig up dinosaur bones in exotic lands. Then I saw Star Wars. I think half the people in the industry today trace their spark back to that moment in 1977. But it was the first time that a film aired “making of” programs on TV, and I could see that these magical things called movies were made by mere mortals. I got my hands on my dad’s Super-8 camera and suddenly my room was my movie studio, the back yard was an alien jungle planet. I made stop-motion comedies, spaceship battles, jungle dinosaur adventures, clay-mation spacemen on a paper mache moonscape…

Little did you know, the movie that sparked your love of film was produced by your future Father-In-Law, Gary Kurtz!  Some of your credits are under Alex Hill and others are listed as Alex Hillkurtz. Why the two different names?

My wife (ed. Tiffany Hillkurtz, an esteemed film editor and daughter of producer Gary Kurtz) and I combined our names when we got married. I’m a Hill, she’s a Kurtz. We thought it would be a cool thing to do and much better than a hyphen. The only debate was weather to go with Hillkurtz or Kurtzhill, or some scramble like Kilohertz. It’s fun to see the reactions of friends from high school or college who knew me then.

As an X-Files fan, I noticed you worked on the series back in 1999. What did you take away from that experience?

X-Files was a real eye-opener for me. Those guys worked so hard to achieve so much in so little time. In a lot of ways it felt like I was back in film school with a tight crew doing their best to achieve greatness. It was also when I met director Rob Bowman who was really open to suggestions. In our first meeting – he was filming an upcoming episode, so we would chat between takes – he treated me like a fellow filmmaker. He’d give me notes, but also wanted my take on things, and I felt comfortable enough to give it. That was also the same year I worked on Almost Famous, so suddenly I found myself working with directors who were secure enough to genuinely invite collaboration.

William & Penny - By Alex Hillkurtz

Speaking of that. That was your first project with Cameron. How did Almost Famous come to your attention?

I had worked with Art Director Clayton Hartley on a couple things, so he brought me on to do set illustrations. It was there that I met Clay Griffith and they introduced me to Cameron and thought there might be a few sequences that storyboards would be useful for. Or maybe they just liked that I was always playing a lot of Peter Gabriel in the office.

Stillwater on Stage - By Alex Hillkurtz

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Filed under News
Jul 2, 2012

One on One with Matt Damon


YouTube Preview Image

Sky Movies HD released this video interview where Matt and Cameron interview each other. Topics includes Matt’s seeing Say Anything… in college, Good Will Hunting and We Bought A Zoo.

Filed under News
Mar 14, 2012

We Bought A Zoo – Blu-ray Details


We Bought A Zoo will be released on April 3rd in both a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo back and a standard DVD release in North America. We really think you will enjoy the extras, especially the hour plus documentary that covers the entire shoot of the film. Here’s all the details:

  • We Shot A Zoo – A full length documentary on the making of the film
  • Commentary with Cameron, actor JB Smoove and editor Mark Livolsi
  • Deleted Scenes/Extended Scenes
    • “Elevator Empathy”
    • “A Gift From Ronnie”
    • “Life is Elemental”
    • “Thank You, Rhonda”
    • “Rosie Names Her Peacocks”
    • “Quick Learner”
    • “Just Can’t Get a Handle On It”
    • “So Much Bloodshed”
    • “Buster is Loose”
    • “Utterly Free / Nobody Died”
    • “I Make My Own Hours”
    • “The Stuff is Alive”
    • “We’re Living The Story”
    • “Disaffected Youth”
    • “It’s Their Zoo, Too”
    • “Goodnight, Big Mac”
    • “Such a Cliché”
    • “Sorry About the Rain”
    • “Benjamin’s Big Speech”
    • “Opening Day”
  • Gag Reel
  • The Real Mee – An interview with the real Benjamin Mee
  • Their Happy Is Too Loud – Scoring the film with jónsi
  • Trailer


Filed under News
Feb 15, 2012

Ritchie Blackmore – A Deeper Shade of Purple


At the California Jam, April 6th 1974. Photograph by Robert Ellis.

Cameron’s debut piece of journalism for the L.A. Times was this interview with Deep Purple guitar god Ritchie Blackmore for the June 23, 1974 edition. Among the topics covered: his honesty with interviews, Black Sabbath and classical music. For more Blackmore/Purple magic check out the following:


Filed under News
Feb 6, 2012

Cameron On The Union


YouTube Preview Image

Cameron chats about The Union in this video interview. Topics include the origin of the documentary, the magic of capturing Elton John and Leon Russell in the studio and much more. The Union will debut Thursday, February 2nd at 9pm (EST/PST) exclusively on HBO.

Filed under News
Jan 30, 2012

Meet The Crew: Ana Maria Quintana – Script Supervisor Part 2


With Spielberg on the set of Munich in France

We conclude our two part interview with We Bought A Zoo Script Supervisor Ana Maria Quintana. In case you missed it, check out Part 1 here.

I bet continuity must have been a nightmare on Almost Famous, right?

It was a bit hard but I was prepared for it. As long as I had my breakdown down in my head and my notes ready, I was okay. I had to make sure I was ready to go everyday with the right information. I made sure to read the scenes the night before, went over all the notes from before and after and in between so that I was prepared. The rest of the crew was in the same wavelength so we were all out there being part of this wonderful movie with Cameron.

What was your biggest challenge working on Vanilla Sky?

Ah, now that is another story. That one was hard. Only because I was always wondering on the set, at home, working on the notes in my sleep: “Which one is it??? Is this the dream or is this reality?” “No, this is real.” “No, this is not.” It really was a film that was always working on you from inside, very deep, at least I thought so. But again, what a joy to work with Cameron and his love of words and music. And to work with Tom Cruise again. Those two are wonderful together – their friendship and wanting to make something good was intoxicating.

The challenge for me was to make sure that I was getting Cameron’s notes correctly, and that I could help in any way. Otherwise, it was a different experience marked with hard work, intensity, joy, and lots of music.

Zoo D.P. Rodrigo Prieto with Ana Maria

Was working on We Bought A Zoo as much fun as it looked?

You know, people always think that working on a film is fun, so I have to correct them by saying we are working. It is our job. It is hard work. We have to get up very early and sometimes have to work very late, even through the night. What makes a film fun for me is the project and usually when I think about it after the shooting, but not during. During the shooting I am so consumed with making sure things are right that I don’t really think about fun.

Having said that, what makes working on Cameron’s films great is that he makes you feel that you are a part of the whole project and not just doing a job. He respects and acknowledges everyone’s job on a film set. Cameron’s sets are very different,. You are all part of the process and he is incredibly accessible to everyone at all times. His care for the final product is so personal that you can’t help but be seduced. Everyday that I have worked on one of his films I have enjoyed. Hard or not, I have never once been unhappy about getting up to go to work on his set.

After four films together, tell us about your working relationship with Cameron.

I feel so proud to be able to say I have done four films with him. I am incredibly grateful for having had the opportunity to sit by his side. Warren Beatty and John Schlesinger always made me feel very proud of my job and always went out of their way to include me during the filming of their projects. Cameron has been the same for me – so giving, so open, so respectful of my craft. I admire him tremendously. He makes my job just that much more enjoyable.

Tell us something that a Script Supervisor does that people might not be aware of

We observe, we take notes, we report, we are always on, we seldom leave a set,. We sometimes play psychiatrist, mom, sister, confidante, or girlfriend. And we are the only one in our department.

Do you think that directing a feature film is still in your future?

Who knows? They say it’s never too late to start something new…who knows…it is a New Year after all, but I better hurry since the world is coming to an end…!

Special thanks to Ana Maria Quintana for her generosity and time with this interview!

Filed under News
Jan 18, 2012

Meet The Crew: Ana Maria Quintana – Script Supervisor Part 1


Cameron and Ana Maria on the set of Zoo

We are pleased to introduce you to Ana Maria Quintana, Script Supervisor on Cameron’s last four films (Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky, Elizabethtown and We Bought A Zoo). She was born and raised in Chile before moving to New York when she was fourteen years old. The family eventually headed west and Ana Maria studied film at L.A. City College. She has worked on more than 50 movies in a career that now spans more than four decades. We chat with Ana Maria in two parts about her duties as Script Supervisor, some of the many directors and films she has worked on and much more. Here’s Part 1!

Tell us what a Script Supervisorʼs main duties are.

First of all and most importantly: to have total knowledge of the script. You are responsible for breaking it down in every department. Props, wardrobe, make-up, hair, set dressing, time of day, time of the year.

We time a script so that we know how long the script is and how long each scene is. This will be helpful throughout the shooting. We keep a tally to compare so that the Director and the Editor can use this to make sure that they are not running too long. If a film is meant to be 2 hours you don’t want to shoot a 4-hour film.

Once we start production, we are involved in all the rehearsals, set-ups and shooting of the film. We keep detailed notes on the shooting day, scene numbers, take numbers, camera information, lenses and filters. We describe each scene and make notes on each take.

All of our notes are given to the Editor to use for his or her assembly, and the Director will later refer to them during his or her cut. The notes will tell them the good takes from the bad, the incomplete from the complete, what each take had that was particularly good or bad, and any other notes that might help distinguish the shooting scene during the editing process.

During filming, we are responsible for all continuity of the scenes being shot. Since most films are shot out of order, it is up to the Script Supervisor to preserve the continuity at all times, in every department and for every aspect of the film. Everything from make-up, props, wardrobe, hair, time of day, and pace from one scene to another, etc. is under the scrutiny of the Script Supervisor. We must have a full understanding of all camera angles, direction, and progression. This is to make sure that camera angles and the action cuts together. We must also make sure that nothing is left out from the script, that all the shots the Director wanted and needed are completed. We cue actors during rehearsals and make all changes on the script. During the shooting, we make sure that the actors match their actions with their words, cigarettes, cups, etc. Any movement with their hands or body must match in all the angles at all times. We also prepare a production report for the Producers that shows the scenes shot, the scenes that need to be shot, the screen time shot everyday, page count and set-up count. Above all, we must always be present for the Director to make sure the script is available to them, and to make any notes that he or she might give you at a moment’s notice.

Be present, be alert, be focused, and be prepared. That is my motto.

On The Set of Blade Runner with Ridley Scott, Rutger Hauer & William Sanderson

You have a long, distinguished career working with such Directors as Ridley Scott (Blade Runner), Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park, Minority ReportThe Adventures of Tin Tin) and James Cameron (Avatar). Tell me something you took away from working with these particular Directors.

Wow! First of all, I walk into work and walk away saying to myself: WOW WOW WOW!!!! To this day, I still cannot believe that I am standing on the set with these or any other Director. It is a privilege and an honor to have worked with all of the Directors I have during my career.

From Ridley, I learned so much from the very beginning, especially the care and incredible knowledge of design, pace, and creativity that he took to make that film. I did not know we were making Blade Runner, I just knew I was working on a film that was just beautiful to watch everyday. I was surprised and in total awe at the images that were being created… it was wonderful.

Then of course came Steven Spielberg. I started with him on Hook. I had just had my son, so going back to work was different this time around. I needed to work more than ever and I was hired. I couldn’t believe it. I never thought in a million years that I would work on a big production like that one. There I was, on the biggest set in MGM, back when it was stilled called MGM. It was the care that Steven took with every scene that was so marvelous to watch and be a part of. It was very hard work, a lot of detail and Steven had the whole film in his head. I had to somehow get in there. Thank goodness I got to do more films with him and after 18 years, I am just finally beginning to understand about 10%…can you believe that?

Steven is a very intense filmmaker; he works very fast and does not repeat himself. You must be prepared, prepared, prepared at all times for anything and everything, that is how he works. Because of his love and immense professionalism in his films, I have felt at all times that I must try and strive to keep up. I have learned so much about editing and staging of scenes from Steven. Just when I think I’ve got a handle on it, he surprises all of us. A friend of mine long ago said something about John Huston. He said that if you cut Huston’s veins, they would bleed celluloid. I think that of Steven Spielberg.

I did not do the whole film Avatar; I was only hired to do a couple of weeks of the live action part in Los Angeles. I accepted gladly since I wanted to see what this was all about. I was given a great surprise and a wonderful experience. James Cameron is just amazing -  his knowledge, his care for every little part of the frame, his passion. It was great to be able to sit and watch him work. I loved it, especially in this new world of motion capture and 3D. It is a whole new way of making films. It was good for me to come out and learn and to adapt my work to the new wave of filmmaking.

I hope and think that overall, what I have taken from these Directors and all the others that I have worked with is an amazing love, care, passion, professionalism, and love for making films.

How did you meet Cameron and get involved with Almost Famous? Did this happen due to your existing relationship with Steven Spielberg?

Yes it did. The Producer for Almost Famous was Ian Bryce, who also produced Saving Private Ryan. When Cameron was looking for a Script Supervisor, Ian put my name on the list. I went to the interview not really knowing what would happen, but I do remember seeing him for the first time and I just liked him. Cameron is just a warm, sincere, charming and overall great person. We talked for a bit and if I remember correctly, I ended up telling him some very personal things. I think that I had the right rhythm for him. Of course, you know, with Cameron everything has to do with rhythm and images. When it’s right, it’s right. Otherwise it just does not work. I was surprised, since I am Latin and my energy is more like Charo, “cuchi-cuchi!” and all. Cameron is much more refined, but thank goodness it clicked.

Working on Almost Famous saved my life. I was in a rut in my personal life and being part of that film was just the best thing that happened to me. The story, the music, the cast, the crew, everything was full of life, laughter, joy, love and of course music… all brought together by Cameron. Loved every minute of it.

Back tomorrow with Part 2!

Filed under News
Jan 17, 2012

Top Albums of 1973


Todd Rundgren - Something Anything

Here’s Cameron’s list of his Top 10 Albums of 1973 as featured on the Untitled (Almost Famous) DVD and Blu-ray in no particular order.

The Allman Brothers Band Brothers and Sisters


David Bowie Aladdin Sane


Jackson Browne Late for the Sky


Bruce Springsteen Greetings from Asbury Park


The Who Odds and Sods
Elton John Honky Chateau

Led Zeppelin Houses of the Holy

Joni Mitchell For The Roses

The Rolling Stones Goats Head Soup

Filed under News
Jan 12, 2012

Cameron's Twitter Feed