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Panavision 50th Anniversary: John Seale interview

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John Seale, ACS, ASC
Interviewed by Sam Molineaux
With more than 25 years in the business, Australian cinematographer John Seale—a self-professed “diehard Panavision man”—has more than a few tales to tell about the company whose equipment he’s used “since the dark ages.” Here the four-time Oscar nominee (Witness, Rain Man, Cold Mountain and The English Patient, for which he won the statuette) tells it in his own words:
“One of the main things they brought out in the early cameras was the filter slot behind the lens. When I left operating and became a shooter, that was a godsend because you could put your color correction in the back and you could put whatever you wanted in the front. Other cameras didn’t do that and when you put everything on you couldn’t see through them at all. That was a 1,000-percent advantage.
“I love the old Platinum, it’s a beautiful production camera. It starts quickly, it hits its speed quickly, it’s a good size…I always carry a couple of Platinums. I’m also a zoom user, so I’m always plugging big heavy lenses in front of these things and the Platinum takes the weight, it’s robust. The simple fact that Panavision makes the camera bodies modular to the degree that you can put a magazine on the back is another amazing design feature. You can balance those cameras so well with the magazine on the back.
“The smaller cameras are beautiful; Steadicam guys like the weight of the hand-helds. You can’t have anything too light. That little Millennium XL…I always carry at least one.
“Some of the glass and the lenses they use are phenomenal. That 11:1 is a superb zoom. I use them on every movie. Every movie I pick up one or two 11:1s or 4:1s. And I use their two lightweight zooms.
“Panavision always asks cameramen what it is they can do to improve things. They listen. It puts them 10 years ahead of everyone else. They not only listen to you, somebody’s building what you asked for half an hour after you’ve given them the idea.
“Sometimes we have accidents, and their back-up is amazing. They get stuff to you no matter where you are in the world. And they look after us and call and check how things are going. I’ve got the highest regard for all the Panavision offices. I never feel lost or in the cold.
“I had always been feeling guilty about all the cameras I’ve smashed and burnt, and at one of their Friday lunches I said, you must have a list of cameramen on the wall and when they smash one a big cross goes against their name. And they said, ‘We don’t mind at all.’ Then they started to regale me with [stories of] how many cameras had been smashed on one shoot and I didn’t feel so bad.”

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