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"I had spent five months in research. It was very rough. I cried for six months non stop, actually"  -actor Lothaire Bluteau, on walking off a movie after clashing with the director
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

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Australian cinematographer John Seale shot The Talented Mr Ripley on various (gorgeous) Italian locations. He takes a low key, pragmatic approach, avoiding cliché - preferring the light of nature, he tells ANDREW L. URBAN.

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 effortless"

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 work."

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 years…"

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 towards reality."

"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."

"technology … 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 work…"

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John Seale






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