John Seale - Writer

Cinematographer. Nationality: Australian. Born: John Clement Seale, Warwick, Queensland, Australia, 29 May 1943. Education: Graduated from High School, Sydney. Family: Married Louise lee Mutton, 23 September 1967; one son, Derin Anthony; one daughter, Brianna Lee. Career: Camera assistant in the film department, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1962–1968; freelance technician and camera operator on various films, series and commissions, 1968–1976; director of photography for various film companies, 1976; director of photography for Mirsch Agency, L.A. from 1976. Awards: Australian Film Institute Award, Best Achievement in Cinematography, for Careful, He Might Hear You , 1983; Australian Cinematographers Society Cinematographer Awards for Goodbye Paradise , 1983 and Witness , 1985; Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, Best Cinematography, for The English Patient , 1996; Chicago Film Critics Association Award, Best Cinematography, European Film Award, Best Cinematography, Golden Satellite Award, Outstanding Cinematography, British Academy Awards, American Society of Cinematographers Award, Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases, Academy Award for Best Cinematography, for The English Patient , 1997; Honorary Doctorate, Griffith University, 1997. Address: P. O. Box 1422, Mona Vale, New South Wales, NSW 1660, Australia.

Films as Cinematographer:


Deathcheaters (Smith)


Fatty Finn (Murphy)


The Survivor (Hemmings); Doctors & Nurses (Murphy)


Fighting Back (Caulfield); Ginger Meggs (Dawson)


Goodbye Paradise (Schultz); Careful, He Might Hear You (Schultz); BMX Bandits (Trenchard-Smith)


Silver City (Haskin)


Top Kid (Schultz); Witness (Weir); The Empty Beach (Thomson)


The Mosquito Coast (Weir); The Hitcher (Harmon); Children of a Lesser God (Haines)


Stakeout (Badham)


Rain Man (Levinson); Gorillas in the Mist (Apted)


Dead Poets Society (Weir)


The Doctor (Haines)


Lorenzo's Oil (Miller)


The Firm (Pollack)


The Paper (Howard)


Beyond Rangoon (Boorman) (also camera operator); The American President (Reiner)


The English Patient (Minghella); Ghosts of Mississippi ( Ghosts From the Past ) (Reiner)


City of Angels (Silberling)


At First Sight (Winkler); The Talented Mr. Ripley (Minghella)


The Perfect Storm (Petersen)


Cold Mountain

Other Films:


Alvin Purple (Burstall) (camera operator)


Picnic at Hanging Rock (Weir) (camera operator)


Mad Dog Morgan (Mora) (camera operator); Caddie (Crombie) (camera operator)


The Last Wave (Weir) (camera operator); Break of Day (Weir) (camera operator)


The Irishman (Crombie) (camera operator); Weekend of Shadows (Jeffrey) (camera operator)


Born to Run (Chaffey—for TV) (camera operator)


Gallipoli (Weir) (camera operator)


The Year of Living Dangerously (Weir) (photographer: second unit)


Till There Was You (director)


Visions of Light ( Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography ) (Glassman, McCarthy, Samuels)


Underworld (Christian) (first assistant camera: "c" camera)


On SEALE: books—

McFarlane, Bryan, Australian Cinema 1970–1985 , London, 1987.

McFarlane, Bryan, and Geoff Mayer, New Australian Cinema: Sources and Parallels in American and British Film , Cambridge, England, 1992.

On SEALE: articles—

"John Seale, ACS, Lends Firm Hand to Law Thriller," in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), 1 July 1993.

Colbert, Mary, "Beyond Effects/DOP John Seale," in Cinema Papers (North Melbourne, Australia), 1 April 1997.

Calhoun, John, "Celestial Navigation," in Lighting Dimensions (South Laguna, California), 1 May 1998.

* * *

Straight-talking Australian cinematographer John Seale has worked on many of the most influential Hollywood movies of the 1980s and 1990s, and is noted for his collaborations with director Peter Weir, whom he met while working with cinematographer Russell Boyd on Picnic at Hanging Rock. The greatest moment of his career so far came in 1997 when he won the Best Cinematography Oscar for The English Patient , but he has received awards and nominations for his work from film institutions around the world, including Oscar nominations for Rain Man and Witness. Seale is praised in particular for his realistic use of light, and his most impressive work tends to be in the photographing of large-scale landscapes and brightly lit outdoor locations.

After learning his craft as a camera operator during the 1970s Seale began working as a cinematographer in a cinematic tradition that seemed intent on exploring Australia's landscape and past. Goodbye Paradise , Carl Schultz's clever parody of the private eye movie genre, which comments on the migratory habits of Australia's senior citizens, is also notable for its images of Queensland, while Careful, He Might Hear You sets the individual's struggle for self-definition against an Australian past of struggle and adversity. In both these very different films, the landscape encroaches on the narrative, and it is perhaps because of these early projects that Seale's best work, such as The English Patient , and Gorillas in the Mist , tends to be on films that explore the relationship between people and their surroundings.

Seale moved to Hollywood with Weir to make the thriller Witness , and has been a regular collaborator with the director on films as diverse as The Mosquito Coast and Dead Poets Society. Although Seale remains committed to the development of Australian cinema, his output since the late 1980s has largely originated, even if it has not always been filmed, in America. Dead Poets Society in particular is vividly American in its attachment to Romantic individualism, and its fascination with the verdant grounds of the New England school in which the film is set. Other films, like Rain Man , and The Firm (both Tom Cruise vehicles) are resolutely Hollywood in their look and story lines.

Like many Australian filmmakers who work outside the Australian film industry, Seale seems happy to travel widely to film on location, and work in other countries. Many of his most successful films have been filmed in remote locations, such as the rain forests of South America ( The Mosquito Coast ), Burma ( Beyond Rangoon ), or Africa ( Gorillas in the Mist ). Capturing landscapes successfully on film is among the most difficult tasks for the cinematographer, yet Seale manages to convey the vastness of these settings without overwhelming the smaller scale human action on which the film narratives depend. His most recent successful collaborations with British filmmaker Anthony Minghella, The English Patient and The Talented Mr Ripley , both exploit Seale's talent for filming real places in a convincing and realistic way. In the case of The Talented Mr Ripley , Seale preferred to film the tale of Tom Ripley's dark subconscious in glorious sunshine, the beauty of Italy contrasting jaggedly with the horror of the human story played out there.

Seale has so far made only one foray into directing, making his own first feature as director, Till There Was You in Australia. The film fits in with the themes of movies he has worked on as cinematographer; namely, the urge to define personal identity in a landscape and tradition that seems overwhelming and mysterious. Although he has travelled widely, Seale prefers to be at home, recently exploiting film's increasing digitization to do the post-production work on The Perfect Storm by satellite from his home in Sydney.

—Chris Routledge

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

Other articles you might like: