Jaffrey native talks working for Pixar and his love of film

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    Jeff Stone, left, a Jaffrey native who now works as an assistant editor at Pixar , speaks to an audience after a screening of "Lightyear" at the Park Theatre Saturday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/27/2022 2:27:08 PM

When the credits roll on the new Pixar film “Lightyear” at the Jaffrey Park Theatre, a local name pops up.

Jeff Stone, raised in Jaffrey and a Conant High School graduate, is listed as the movie’s first assistant editor. After a showing of the film on Saturday, Stone spoke to residents of his hometown who were in the audience for the film’s opening weekend about his path to becoming an editor for Pixar Animation Studios.

Stone said he cut his teeth on filmmaking in college at Fairfield University, working on a few shows on campus. But he found his real love was working with the film after the shooting was done.

“I felt the most comfortable in the editing bay, in front of the computer, playing around with parts, and putting the puzzle pieces together,” Stone said.

Now, Stone works as an assistant editor for some big name projects, in a mix of live action and animation, including “John Carter,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” and has worked on “Coco,” “Finding Dory,” and “Toy Story 4”.

Stone moved to California in the mid-2000s, and said he knew that he wanted to work in the film industry. The first thing he did, he said, was seek out people in the industry, and ask them their advice.

“The best advice I got, is ‘You can’t call yourself a filmmaker, until you make a film. Just go out and make something,’” Stone said.

That remains Stone’s best advice for those who want to be in the film business – especially for young people: Just go out and make something.

“It could be terrible. In fact, it will be terrible. Be prepared for whatever first, second, fourth, whatever number of things, to be terrible. But in that terribleness, you’re learning. You’re gaining experience,” Stone said. “You’re just going to continually make better and better things. You’ll hone your craft.”

Stone said his first exposure to filmmaking were stop-motion projects his brother made with plastic Army men, and making things with his friends as children.

“Get your friends involved. The best thing about filmmaking is that it’s a team activity, and you can’t do it alone. The best part is getting other people involved, and getting their opinions on what you do.”

Even the things that don’t turn out well are learning experiences, Stone said. Examine the things you don’t like, or that look or sound strange, and ask, ‘Why?’ Which, he said, leads to his other best piece of advice – once you have made something, show it to other people.

“If they don’t like it, ask them why they don’t like it. Then, you can learn from what you’ve done. Don’t let them dissuade you from the story you want to tell. But they can help you to tell that story in a way that conveys your message,” Stone said.

Because, that learning process, turns into the professional process. The films that Stone has worked on, including those with serious critical acclaim, all went through serious periods of revision and rework – something Stone said is the natural process, particularly in the animated films he has been a part of.

His most recent release is “Lightyear,” the origin story of Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans), the space ranger that inspired the popular toy featured in the “Toy Story” franchise.

Stone described his job as being a “sous chef” for the editor of the film, helping to manage a small team of people that pull all the pieces of the film – the shots, sound effects, and music – into a cohesive piece.

It’s often a cyclical and repetitive process to strike the right balance, Stone said.

“We make this movie eight times before this version you see,” said Stone of “Lightyear.” “They start off pretty bad – you think it’s going to be a great movie on paper, and them you watch it and it’s terrible.”

Some aspects carry through the whole project, Stone said – some scenes are intact from the first rough draft to when the film hits the big screen. But scenes can also be tossed entirely. Generally, he said, each version is just made up of incremental changes.

So, when something doesn’t work, it’s back to the drawing board – sometimes literally, with animation. But each iteration comes closer to the final product.

In some ways, Stone said, this process is more difficult in animation, because of the medium’s limitless potential. With live action, re-shoots are expensive and difficult to coordinate. In animation, a scene can be re-drawn multiple times before undergoing the final animation process.

Stone hasn’t always worked on solely animation – he’s also worked on live action and combination projects, such as “John Carter” and “Where the Wild Things Are.”

In “Where the Wild Things Are,” Stone said the Wild Things were played by actors in suits, with some animated elements, such as mouth movements. But for “John Carter,” some aspects were entirely animated, Stone explained.

“The hardest part with live action is when you box yourself into a corner, with what a character is telling you needs to happen or a scene is telling you needs to happen, if you need to change that, with animation, you can just redraw it,” Stone said. “With live action, you would have to go out and reshoot that, so you have a lot more limitations. In animation, you have all of the possibilities in the world. As an editor, that’s good and bad.”

And sometimes, Stone said, those changes are necessary, when an idea that works on paper doesn’t translate well in reality. For example, he said, in a “Toy Story” television special, there was a scene where multiple characters were having a conversation while in a backpack. But in reality, the size of the toys wouldn’t be feasible in a child’s backpack.

“They had to find ways around that. And that’s part of what the editorial team and layout department go back and forth and figure out,” Stone said.

Stone said that before the movie is finished, he has watched it “at least 100 times” – which he said is one of his least favorite parts of the job – but he said that the end product is worth it.

“I love to be part of the storytelling process. I love to be in the room when the story is being shaped, and give my thoughts and ideas, and opinions,” Stone said. “The reason I got into filmmaking is because I love the storytelling process, and I love going to see movies for how they make you feel, and stretch your imagination and your emotions. Being able to be there to help do that for other people is the thing I like the most about it.”


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