A talk with John Seale- Manaki Brother Film Festival 2016

Sometimes it is arduous to believe that some people exists, flesh and blood. Not only they do exists but it is also possible to meet them. This is exactly the case of John Seale, one of the most important international living Cinematographer and Camera Operator: Mad Max: Fury Road , the Tourist, Cold Mountain, Harry Potter, Dreamcatcher, The Perfect Storm, The English Patient and Dead Poet Society are only some of the movies he signed the photography of.


Born and grew in Australia he started his television career as camera operator around his testifies, in the first half of the 60s. As all his peers he had to deal with the reservations and the aversions of the society towards the show business and his professionals. The audiovisual industry wasn’t, indeed, benefiting from a good reputation. There weren’t institution aimed to form new generations of film professionals and, as a consequence, the only possible path, the only school, was the work on the field.

Being a Camera Operator wasn’t a profession.

Several are the “avenues to be explored” that he mentioned in a couple of hours.

The relationship between Director of Photography, Camera Operator and Director is, for example, a really dear topic to Seale. He counter two different models: the Australian and the American.

The first one, in fact, entails a direct communication between the cameraman and the director. Together they discuss on frame composition and camera movements. As a consequence the camera operator is, somehow, architect of the movie itself, fundamental and decision-making actor of the creative process.

The American system, on the other side, is more hierarchical and it doesn’t involve a direct interaction between these two roles. The director interfaces and makes decisions mainly with the cinematographer. The role of the cinema operator here is more operative. He is conceived as a executor. Sensitivity and creativity are not peculiarities required from him, the skills he need are more related to technical abilities.

“The Camera Operator is the best job that could be don in the world”, this is what John Seale declared. This professional is, indeed, one of the most directly involved person in the film making process, one of the “authors”. Not only, he is also the very first one to see, as a small bright rectangle in the bottom of the viewer, the movie.

These are the reasons why, being called a Revolutionary, Seale always tried to introduce on his sets the “Australian model”.

That is why, even after a fifty years long career, he doesn’t waive to the privilege of taking care in person of the camera.

The dedication that Seale’s words show leads to the second consideration: how is it possible to face the thirtieth movie with the same enthusiasm, same emotions and passion as the first one?

Not being recognizable form a single frame is the answer he gave himself. Never be caged.

Settle always new goals, create stimulis that otherwise won’t come from outside, always accept new challenges, work with different kind of stories and never trust a recurring lightning formula are some of the cornerstone he based his career on.

As a conclusion the last reflection concerns the role played by film photography in the narration.

Lighting and camera are an extremely powerful, and often abused, instruments.

Is it rightful for a dramatically weak movie to be aesthetically beautiful?

Seale was questioning himself a lot on this point coming to his own conclusion:The film photography should submit to the narrative wills and mechanism. It never has to overpower or to cover lacks in acting, directing or screen-playing.

The aesthetic is, simply, that marvellous element that, fluidly, merges all the others.

It paints the movie giving it soul and personality.

That is why people like John Seale are so surprising:                                                                                  Humble not for unawareness or pretended humility but for respect and a spontaneous, deep love for his form of art.