Oscar-winning cinematographer Dean Semler’s association with Mel Gibsonstretches back to the early Mad Max films in Australia, even thoughhe’d never worked with him as a director until a fateful call back in2004.”He asked me what I knew about digital cinematography,” recalls Semler.”Frankly, I had to admit to only a glancing knowledge. It was stillprimarily a vehicle for commercials and music videos and I don’t doeither.”The two men arranged to go to Panavision’s headquarters, where theywere given a briefing on the Genesis camera. They looked at tests,probed and, at least, tentatively thought it was a viable choice forthe actor-director’s new project.Providence lent a hand when Apocalypto production was delayed andSemler was approached to do the comedy Click. He immediately suggestedusing the Genesis and took the filmmakers to Panavision to seal thedeal. While he characterizes Click as a film involving limited risk, itallowed him the opportunity to get comfortable with the equipment.Additionally, with both Panavision and EFILM—the post house thathandled the DI—in town, problems and glitches could be resolvedquickly.Semler literally finished Click and got on a plane right away to beginApocalypto in the Yucatan. Despite almost no time to prep the film, hesays the adventure of working in a new medium and the director’s clearvision made the transition quite smooth.”I’ve done about 40 features,” says Semler, who is a member both of theAmerican Society of Cinematographers and the AustralianCinematographers Society. “But this felt like starting fresh and that’svery exciting. In one respect you’re not doing anything differentlyand, in another respect, everything is different.”With the exception of some high-speed work (the Genesis maxes out at 50fps), the digital camera was employed throughout. The things thatimpressed him most were its ability to register in extremely low lightsituations, the possibility of shooting uninterrupted for up to 50minutes, and its mobility.Semler says the biggest adjustment for him was not looking through thelens. Instead he supervised from a “digi-tent” while viewing images ona 24-inch hi-def monitor—a process that Gibson dubbed “immediatelies”rather than dailies. “It was a project where your adrenaline was alwayspumping,” says Semler. 1997: Won, Australian Cinematographers Society,Hall of Fame Award. 1992: Nominated, BAFTA Film Award for BestCinematography, Dances with Wolves. 1991: Won, Oscar, BestCinematography, Dances with Wolves; Won, ASC Award, OutstandingAchievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Release, Dances withWolves; Nominated, British Society of Cinematographers, BestCinematography Award, Dances with Wolves. 1989: Won, Australian FilmInstitute, Best Achievement in Cinematography, Dead Calm. 1988:Nominated, Australian Film Institute, Best Achievement inCinematography, The Lighthorsemen. 1985: Nominated, Australian FilmInstitute, Best Achievement in Cinematography, The Coco-Cola Kid. 1984:Won, Australian Film Institute, Best Achievement in Cinematography, MyFirst Wife; Won, Australian Cinematographers Society, Cinematographerof the Year Award, Razorback. 1983: Nominated, Australian FilmInstitute, Best Achievement in Cinematography, Undercover. 1982:Nominated, Australian Film Institute, Best Achievement inCinematography, Mad Max 2.
Written by Len Klady