As millions of people tuned in to the Academy Awards earlier this month, Jaffrey native Jeff Stone was watching, too. But for Stone, the motivation was personal.
Stone is a second assistant editor at Pixar Animation Studios in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he spent a year and a half working on “Coco,” this year’s Academy Award winner for best animated feature film. The song “Remember Me” from the film also earned an Oscar for best original song.
“Coco” is the story of Miguel, a young boy who dreams of becoming a musician like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz. The only problem is Miguel’s family has banned music, and he doesn’t know why. In his quest to discover his family’s past, he finds himself on a journey through the Land of the Dead and makes unexpected friends along the way.
During his time on “Coco,” Stone worked with animators, storyboard artists, musicians, composers and actors to prepare material for the editor’s cutting room. He describes the editorial department as the “builders” of the film.
“We take all the pieces, the shots and storyboard, dialogue, music and sound effects, and put all that together to actually tell the story in the most concise and artistic way possible,” he explained.
Stone described his excitement to have been a part of the team that created “Coco.”
“This is the first movie I’ve ever worked on that’s even been nominated for an Academy Award. To be a part of a movie that not just is nominated but also wins was something really special,” he said. “... People in my business work their whole lives to be a part of something like that and to achieve that and sort of be recognized by the rest of our industry.”
And Stone said it’s been gratifying to see the impact the film has had around the world.
“To be a part of a movie that they loved so much down in Mexico and has caught on, and people who have seen ‘Coco’ in America and around the world have really just kind of been put in touch again ... with their relatives who have passed on ...,” he said. “That, to me, is even more exciting and more powerful an experience than the award itself.”
Since coming to Pixar in 2012, Stone has also worked on “Finding Dory” and is now doing a short stint on “Toy Story 4,” set to be released next year. Though he’s also working on other projects, those films haven’t been announced yet — so mum’s the word.
But it wasn’t a quick climb for the Conant High School alumnus to get to where he is now. After graduating from Fairfield University in Connecticut in 2003 with a degree in communications and a minor in film, television and radio, Stone moved to Orange County, Calif., to pursue a career in the industry. He spent several years working as a freelancer on feature films in Los Angeles, including “Hoot” (2006) and “John Carter” (2012), before moving to the Bay Area and pursuing a position with Pixar.
Stone said he hopes to stay at Pixar for the foreseeable future. Between awards ceremonies, the film industry isn’t all glitz and glamour, however. Working for a film giant like Pixar certainly has its perks — such as a private theater that screens new movies, an on-site chef, and a gym and pool for employees — but like many jobs, Stone’s position involves a lot of staring at a computer.
The difference lies in the content, he said.
“The materials, the files that I’m pushing around are creative and clever and inspiring in a mental way that keeps us going,” he said. “The idea that what we’re doing eventually will be seen and hopefully enjoyed by a lot of people is different than most jobs get to have.”
Though Stone has been away from home for a while, he hasn’t forgotten his roots. He may not miss the long winters — “eight-month winters” as he called them — but he does miss the slower pace of life and the connection to nature. Stone enjoys returning to New Hampshire to visit family with his wife and two daughters and always tries to squeeze in a hike or an afternoon canoeing on the lake.
For industry hopefuls on this side of the country, he has some advice: Start making movies, no matter how bad they are.
“Your first one will be terrible, and your second one will be less terrible. Each one after that will be less terrible than the last, and eventually you’ll end up with something that’s good,” he said. “And that’s OK to make a terrible movie; just make as many terrible movies as you can and, say, get them out of your system.”