Three Thousand Years, Mad Max Cinematographer John Seale Talks Career

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Ten years ago, John Seale considered retiring when fellow Australian George Miller persuaded photographers to shoot Mad Max: Fury Road. Now, their partnership continues with the fantasy romance “Three Thousand Years of Desire.”

During production, Searle decided that the duo, starring Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton, would end his career as a “fascinating” film, opting against a relationship with Rice Le reunited to star in the filmmaker’s upcoming “Fury Road” prequel, “Fury Road.” Currently in production.

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” recalls Seale. “George said, ‘Well, I’m not going to ask you to do that. ‘ I thought to myself, ‘Ah, great, now I don’t have to go through this. Then he said, “I’m going to invite you.” The word “invite” changed the whole thing and made it more difficult. ”

Seale has been a staple of studio filmmaking since the 1980s. He was nominated for an Oscar for his first Hollywood feature film, The Witness, and later for The English Patient. Now, nearing the end of 50 years as a cinematographer, Searle finds his new life “liberated”, traveling with his family to places like Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands. But his work still found its way back to him.

“One of the greatest compliments you can get is when your granddaughter whispers on the phone, ‘Dad, guess what we’re watching at school!’ Dead Poets Society,” Searle said, referring to his relationship with Peter Weir Cooperation.

in with typeSearle details his working relationship with Miller, reflects on his illustrious career, and explains why he didn’t retire to film “Three Thousand Years of Desire.”

When did you decide to make Three Thousand Years your last feature film?

I was out of work for a long time, on purpose, until someone asked me if I could take over on Fury Road. I’ve worked with George on “Lorenzo’s Oil” before. I really liked his visuals and him as a person, so I decided it didn’t take much time to do it. I knew that Fury Road, which was heavily pre-produced, was going to be a damn iconic movie. I really want to do a good hangout.

Mad Max: Fury Road

©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

But then you made another movie!

Well, I am tall. Fury Road is a blockbuster movie. I always miss those little movies with two or three actors and a handful of people. I told George, “If I’m not too old, give me a ring and we’ll have lunch together.” He said it’s only been two years, but seven years later I’m making a movie. It didn’t take much to convince me to do so. He is a lovely person.

I read about “Three Thousand Years” shot with a Fujinon Premista 19-45mm lens – it’s a new technology.

We are honored to receive such an introduction. We actually designed a lens around it. I found the quality to be really lovely, it didn’t remove the incredible crispness like a digital negative, but it somehow softened to the point that it almost looked like a really good old-fashioned film shot. I love it. They took it back very graciously, finished their press conference, and then they gave it back to us for the final six weeks of filming. We could use it all the time – honestly, it’s probably rusted.

Which lens was designed with the lens in mind?

It’s a big wide shot of the castle, the princess is lifted to the next balcony, and the shot continues, with the sprite eventually appearing in the skylight. This is a long shot and it really has to combine crane movement with zoom.

The film has some very serpentine tracking shots. How were those conceived?

George has a very comprehensive list of storyboards that he pays a lot of attention to. Jumping out of that line is very rare. Our challenge was to find a device that would hold the footage while still going through very small doorways with the Steadicam. These shots were always made in the past – easy to draw because pencils are cheap. Making it into a movie can sometimes turn into a technical nightmare. But George was very happy with it.

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Tilda Swinton, George Miller and Idris Elba on the set of “Three Thousand Years of Desire”

© MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

You are both Australians who came to Hollywood in the 80s. Are you allied for this?

This is a recurring topic. A lot of people ask me how Australians are doing in this industry. Nothing is too difficult for us. If the director wants something nearly impossible, it’s the challenge. Another answer I’m relying on is that maybe it’s something they put in the beer, I told Michael Keaton when I was doing “The Paper.” Either the first answer or the second answer, maybe a combination.

I read that George Miller recommended “Furiosa” to you, but you rejected him.

He’s cute, but I’m still going to pass it on. We have some beautiful grandchildren. I want to spend time with them. I don’t have a lot of time with my kids because I’ve been abroad; I regret it in a way. I’m almost 80! Time to move in and let the lads in. Let them have a beer and go make a movie.

Looking back on your career, I have a story to ask. I heard you spent more on James L. Brooks’ “Spanish” than anything else. Really?

This is absolutely true. I think I bought three bottles of champagne from Kodak. For every 100,000 or a million feet of film, we get a bottle of champagne — something like that. Jim has a way of shooting, and that’s his way. He does 30, 40, 50 takes on a regular basis and we keep rolling after that. A lot of footage is just wasted stuff, but it gets through the camera. If you do, you’ll really chew the film. But it’s definitely a fascinating movie.

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Tea Leoni, Paz Vega and Adam Sandler in “Spanish”

©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

When asked which movie was your favorite, you said you liked to say “next.” Since you’re not going to do another function, I’d like to ask the question again.

Well, this is horrible! Listen, I don’t think I ever really liked it. It’s a great way to say, “Hopefully the next one will be my favorite.” Now I can pull it back. They’re all different, and I’m glad they are — medical movies, lawyer movies, and futuristic movies. I was asked to do all the subjects. They are all my favorites.

“Three Thousand Years of Yearning” hits theaters Friday.

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