In the fiercely competitive film industry, it takes a lot more than some camera know-how for a cinematographer to stand out. Many people are skilled in the technical process but lack the artistic vision required to create compelling cinema. Others possess vivid imaginations but are unable to meet (or unwilling to yield to) the expectations of the director. A person with all of these traits is a rare gem, an invaluable asset with the potential to outshine all those around them in the highly saturated industry. Colin Akoon is just such a man.
An award-winning director of photography, or DP, Akoon is responsible for a countless array of critically-acclaimed film and commercial productions. He has been fascinated with storytelling his entire life, and at a young age discovered the power cinema can have on an audience.
“I remember being six years old, watching a horror movie at a neighbor’s house, one I probably shouldn’t have been watching at that age… I still recall the fear that paralyzed me… That night I slept in my parents’ bed. I made them put the radio on to distract me from the bumps in the night,” Akoon recalled. “Good cinema gets a hold of every part of you and doesn’t let go.”
In 2014 he was critical to the wild success of the award-winning “Canadian Tire Ice Truck” ad campaign. The campaign’s name is quite literal, as Akoon explained. To promote their new cold-weather battery, Canadian Tire contracted Ice Culture to build a fully operational truck out of ice. Ice Culture is internationally-known for making everything – from ornate sculptures, to exotic lounges around the world, from Thailand to Dubai – out of ice. But this project was their most ambitious undertaking of all.
“They were having a truck built out of ice, one that would actually start and drive,” Akoon said. “It was important that we tell the story of Ice Culture – a small family-owned business – and also get a sense of the small town where they’re situated… We really wanted to get across the idea that this incredible record-breaking feat was accomplished by hard-working, everyday Canadians.”
In addition to being used in commercials for Canadian Tire, a documentary-style behind-the-scenes film was made to detail the exhaustive process of creating a working truck out of ice. Akoon was the DP on the making-of film, which played a large part in the campaign’s overwhelming popularity — particularly among the judges at a number of high-profile awards ceremonies.
“The resulting video really shows the detail of the hard work that went into the making of this ice truck,” Akoon said proudly. “The ‘Ice Truck’ campaign went off to be nominated and win more than a dozen awards… and our making-of documentary was a big contributor to the overall success of the campaign.”
It was a brilliant stroke of marketing genius to complement the campaign with a making-of documentary. A fascinating glimpse into the creation of the eye-catching ice truck, Akoon’s work captured the attention of consumers and advertising critics alike. The campaign’s laundry list of accolades include the Best In Show Award and two Gold Medals (for “Best Brand Building Campaign” and “Most Innovative Idea or Concept”) at the 2014 PROMO! Awards, third prize at the 2014 world-renowned New York Festivals International Advertising Awards, and the honor of being on the shortlist of contenders for the 2014 Cannes Lions Award, often considered the most sought-after and prestigious award in the advertising industry.
As a cinematographer, Akoon has his fingers in a lot of pies and doesn’t restrict himself to any one type of project. His exceptional work in advertising is widely-recognized, but his creativity and visual mastery shine their brightest in his work on narrative film and television productions. One such example is director Mateo Guez’s 2014 film “Together Alone,” for which Akoon was the DP. The emotionally-charged film looks at the love and lust within a group of three star-crossed young lovers. However, “Together Alone” is much more than the story of an ill-fated love triangle.
“Mateo assembled a very small team to make “Together Alone” a feature film about two young men and one young woman as they struggle through friendship, sexual relations, and self-identity,” Akoon said. “Mateo desired to make a film that did not strictly adhere to any one script or blueprint, but rather would evolve through improvisation and experimentation. As a result, the filmmaking was a very intimately creative experience.”
Of the countless projects he has been involved in, Akoon describes Lorne Hiltser’s “The Incident(s) at Paradise Bay” as among his personal favorites. Gripping and heart-wrenching, “The Incident(s) at Paradise Bay” is based on the real-world Tranquility Bay reform school in Jamaica, which became the focus of global outrage in 2007 after allegations that the facility’s strict disciplinary methods were actually child abuse.
“The moral question of whether the procedures… were just or merely abusive was an interesting one, but mostly Lorne and I were fascinated with the poetic style by which the short script was written,” Akoon said, describing what drew him to the project. “There was an eerie dreamlike quality to the script that Lorne and I knew we wanted to explore visually.”
Akoon captured that eerily surreal sensation flawlessly. Every shot of every scene was painstakingly planned and calculated to maximize that dreamlike quality of the film. His use of zoom shots as a nostalgic beginning and ending of the film contrasts seamlessly with the close, tight shots used to introduce Marcus, the film’s protagonist.
“The sequence that shows Marcus in the ‘solution room’ cage was a very important one. This was our real introduction to the character and to the harsh treatment of the academy’s disciplinary attrition,” Akoon said. “We wanted the audience to feel they were Marcus in that cage. Depth of field for this sequence was kept to a minimum, visually suggesting the claustrophobic feeling of being caged.”
Throughout “The Incident(s) at Paradise Bay,” “Together Alone,” and all of Akoon’s countless other films, his talent and experience are unmissable. Akoon has a natural gift for capturing the exact aesthetic a project demands, a deliberate manner of planning and setting up each shot, and is unsurpassed in his aptitude for collaboration, constantly working closely with each project’s director to conceive and achieve a shared vision. In an industry with so much competition, nobody can hold a candle up to Colin Akoon.