The first thing John Seale did when he got back to his Sydney
waterfront home in January 2000, after shooting Wolfgang
Petersen's The Perfect Storm, was build a new crab trap for the
blue swimmers that abound off his property, and to start making
two ocean kayaks, just for fun. With his boat bobbing on the
mooring, it's evident that Seale (a marine sort of name) is at
home on the water.
The next thing he did was to join director Anthony Minghella
on a promotional tour for The Talented Mr Ripley, which Seale had
shot immediately prior to The Perfect Storm.
"makes it look
Considering that Seale won the Academy Award for his work on
The English Patient, it is no surprise that Minghella chose him
again for The Talented Mr Ripley. But there is more to it, as he
explains; "John and I are very different - which is a very
good thing. He brings to bear experience and pragmatism to my
airy fairy nonsense. It's a kind of grounding; I can dream a
little bit and he will find a way of fixing it. Like, 'Do you
mean they're in the foreground or the background' [laughs] It's
great: if we were the same, there'd be some kind of cancelling out. And maybe that works for him as well - and he knows how much
I respect his work and his contribution. He make my work better -
and I hope I'm feeding him by asking him to give the best to me
and to empower him to do the best work. And he's doing wonderful
Meanwhile, Seale makes it look effortless; he even claims it
is! "While aiming for a naturalness, a lot of the period
looks comes from what's in front of the camera…what's been
put there by a lot of talented people. Dragged out of sheds and
dusted and so on. It's quite funny part of working in Italy, they
literally drag all this stuff out of sheds - like Lambrettas.
There was no period filtration used on the lenses or anything
like that. It's a team working towards that end result. So it'
relatively easy for me as a cinematographer to make a period
film. And of course Italy hasn't changed in the past 50
There's endless talk in pre-production of course; "and
especially about the dramatic moment between Ripley and
Greenleaf, and how you could change gear there, lighting wise,
and match Ripley's darker emotional journey," says Seale.
"You could make it that clicheed - but we opted not to.
Italy wouldn't have changed and the weather wouldn't have changed
just because somebody's sad, so we opted to keep it as it was, in
that lovely Italian Riviera in summer. I'm very wary of cliché .
. . to change the look of the film to suit the mood of the
performance. It was a very poplar thing 20 years ago . . .
somebody's sad so it's raining, sort of thing. And it worked -
for a while. I think it's worth sidestepping that and heading
"Collaboration is the
only way to go"
Referring to his work with Minghella, Seale responds well to
the way Minghella involves him in the process.
"Collaboration is the only way to go: pre-production
planning is the key. But lots of preparation also allows you to
be flexible where necessary. It's very satisfying to work
collaboratively. I'm very conscious of the pressures of shoot;
it's one thing to indulge in ambition for the day's shoot, but
it's important to get it done. And still make a very good film.
And I'm aware of these pressures from my early days in low budget
Australian filmmaking. "
In its look, the film is borrowing from memory, says
Minghella. It's not the real Italy of the 50s. "It borrows
from photographs, from Italian movies - it's a collage of our
imagined Italy. You can't physically make the bus journey that
Ripley makes; it's shot all over the place, on a map made by
production designer Roy Walker, by John, and by me, going round
choosing different places for just one shot because I want that
moment to be powerful because A or B, and this shot more
vulnerable because of something else. Each shot is designed to
focus what the film wants to be at that time. For instance, the
killing on the boat, which for me was all about a moment of
honeymoon turning desperately sour, a moment where Ripley saw a
whole future for himself and for Dickie which is completely
annihilated by Dickie's reaction. So we waited and waited - not
for foreboding in the air, but quite the reverse. We wanted the
most romantic light, so the whole thing took place as in a love
story, because it felt to me as though it was a love story."
means I can be at home while still at work"
For Seale and Minghella, the next movie they will make
together will be Cold Mountain, a story set at the end of the
American Civil War, it's a kind of version of The Odessey. But
for now, Seale is still working on The Perfect Storm - via
satellite. The film is in post production in Los Angeles and
Seale confers on a weekly basis. "I love technology,"
he says. "It means I can be at home while still at