The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents February 2011 Return to Table of Contents
Green Hornet
John Seale, ASC, ACS
Page 2
Page 3
A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
“Yes, a wonderful eye but a terrible ear — he speaks the worst Italian I’ve ever heard!” jokes 1st AD Steve Andrews, a fellow Aussie who first worked with Seale back on Death Cheaters and has since teamed with him on 16 more films. Turning serious, Andrews adds, “John just has a way with people, and he has the same energy and enthusiasm today as when I first met him.”

Actress Nicole Kidman also worked with Seale in Australia early in her career, 20 years before reuniting with him on Cold Mountain. It was the early 1980s, and the film was BMX Bandits. “He called me ‘Knickers’ back then — that was my nickname,” recalls Kidman, who was 15 at the time. “BMX Bandits was my first big feature. I was completely uneducated film-wise, and John was one of my teachers in a way. He taught me how to hit a mark, how to find my light, all those things. He’d say, ‘Knickers, Knickers, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that.’

“John is easygoing, incredibly intuitive and, being Australian, brilliant with balancing light,” adds Kidman. “He works quickly and efficiently, yet the quality is never compromised.”

Australian cinematographers are often credited with having a special feel for light. In his own case, Seale ascribes much of it to his 18 months as a jackeroo. “The sheep station was on the edge of the Queensland desert, where the clean, acid-blue skies and the winter sun’s contrasty light served as great learning tools. If you’re in the Outback with a hat on, you’re black underneath the hat. There is no fill coming off the ground. To film out there is a photographic exercise in contrast and how to make it look realistic. European and English cameramen come over and say, ‘My god, how do you light out here?’

“I also found a great love of stillness and quiet in the Outback,” he continues. “Sitting on the back of a horse for days on end, with no one to talk to but the horse, was incredibly peaceful.” Ranching also taught him how to look after engines and equipment, which he feels has held him in good stead throughout his life.

Asked what he considers his best and worst professional decisions, Seale doesn’t hesitate. “My best decisions are up there on the screen. My worst? I should never have directed.” He shakes his head slowly, remembering the 1990 film, Till There Was You. “I wanted to try it, and it was a bad mistake. I even fell into a lot of the traps that people had warned me about. If you’re lucky enough to work with the directors I’ve worked with throughout my career, you have to ask yourself, ‘Could I do as well or better than that?’ And in my case, the answer
is no.

“But it served as a good lesson,” he adds with characteristic optimism. “I started to understand what directors go through after hours, all the decisions they have to make and the burdens on their minds. It made me want to smooth things on the set for them even more.”

Seale joined the American Society of Cinematographers in 1996, after being proposed for membership by Donald McAlpine, Robert Stevens and Steven Poster. In addition to winning the ASC Award for The English Patient, he earned ASC nominations for Rain Man, The Perfect Storm and Cold Mountain. He has twice been named Cinematographer of the Year by the Australian Cinematographers Society, and was inducted into the ACS Hall of Fame in 1997. He was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia by his country’s government in 2002.

After finishing post on The Tourist, Seale headed back to Australia — “paradise,” he calls it — to spend time with his family and get out on the water as much as possible. As for his next project, he isn’t sure yet, but, smiling broadly, he predicts, “It will be a good one.”

 

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