Mike: 0:00 Hi, everyone! Mike here. Today’s episode is with the lovely Seamus McGarvey. We cover why aspiring cinematographers should pick up a film camera, how he went about short filmmaking, how to stand out as a cinematographer in a world full of people with iPhones, working with Laurence Olivier, how he tried to bring the arthouse look to the Avengers, growing up with Joe Wright, working with music scenes on the greatest showmen, and more. He also has the best joke of guests that I’ve heard so far. So, listen out for his Northern Ireland quip, which made me laugh very hard. And that’s enough for me. So, here’s the episode.
Seamus: 0:32 I remember in early meetings for the Avengers with Joss Whedon, bringing up Tarkovsky, in a meeting and he kicked me under the table because the producers were just like, their jaws were dropping. They were like, Oh my God. Is it going to look like that?
Mike: 0:50 Hello, and welcome to Red Carpet Rookies. My name is Mike Battle, a screenwriter and production team member working for Studios in London. Each episode I bring you advice and stories from film and TV professionals to help educate and empower the next generation of filmmakers and crew. Thanks for joining me. Let’s get started. Today’s guest is the master of color and image cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. With beginnings in Northern Ireland, Seamus has traversed the world crafting the look of an incredible array of work from rolling stones documentaries, and emotive dramas like Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” to Blockbuster fair like, “Avengers Assemble” and “The Greatest Showmen.” Along the way, he picked up two Oscar nominations for Joe Right’s “Atonement” and “Anna Karenina,” as well as a nod from our mutual friend Julie as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. So, it’s my absolute pleasure to welcome you, Seamus. How are you doing today?
Seamus: 1:47 I’m doing great, Mike. Thank you very much for the invitation to join you for the conversation, fireside chat. Nice to meet you!
Mike: 1:55 Now, I always like to ask my guests first of all, Seamus, what did your parents do? And how did that affect your career choices when you were younger?
Seamus: 2:01 Well, my mom was a PE teacher - Physical Education Teacher. And my dad had two jobs, as is often the case, he was an insurance man for the Prudential insurance company. And he was also a journalist. He used to do reporting for I lived in a town called Armagh, which was the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, but two cathedrals. So, he had a rapport with the cardinal on the archbishop and was very interested in faith and the reporting of it. So, he was a liaison for the press between the cardinals. They are special. I grew up in the midst of the troubles with my dad being a reporter effectively. And the house that I grew up in being a hub of activity of visiting reporters, and photographers coming into the town. And in the midst of the epicenter of the troubles and sending their work back during riots or during big events that were happening at the time and in the early 70s. So that was an interesting upbringing in a beautiful town of Armagh, actually. But there were different facets to my upbringing.
Mike: 3:27 Do you think that’s part of the reason that you picked up a stills camera because your dad was documenting with words, and you decided to maybe document your local area with a camera?
Seamus: 3:36 Maybe, not so much in photojournalistic terms. In fact, my attachment to photography came as an escape from here and now. Because the time that I lived in was being depicted so vividly on the news every night. You could stand when things were happening at the time. There was a war going on. So, I used photography as a poetic interlude, rather than a reflection of the real. And as such, I use techniques like infrared... And I messed around in the darkroom, and I did anything I could do to interject with the here and now world and use the properties of photography to distort it. And that was actually something that, where I really discovered the essence of what cinematography can be. It’s the illusion of the depiction of the real when, actually, it’s about intervention and poetic translation. And I love that. I love what the lens can do. How it can tell a different story through each person’s eyes who picks up a camera. When you pick up a camera, you see the world totally differently to anyone else. Because you’re narrowing your scope effectively into things that interest you. And that’s a really lovely thing and particularly one that’s enhanced by the post, if you like, which is for me was just swirling chemicals around the darkroom and print them. But I was able to affect the images either through burning, dodging, and affectations of printings. So, all those were became key stones for me and my cinema photographic practice. Because it was about conjuring up ideas of what was in front of you. And rendering them in a different way, and then also manipulating them afterwards. So, this is obviously before the eyes and digital intermediates and all that came in. But it was the physical tangibility of the camera and the magical effect of change that could affect that really excited me the first time, an image revealed itself in the developing bath.
Mike: 6:00 Definitely. And I was looking up Armagh and funnily enough, it’s not chockablock with famous Hollywood cinematographers. So, when you were growing up around that age, did you feel somewhat different for your creative pursuits? Or whether a network of other creatives around you doing similar things?
Seamus: 6:17 Well, there were a few actually, in fact, there are a few friends of mine, we call ourselves collectively they R Mafia. Because there are people who have migrated into film. School mates of mine, like Andy Hughes and Brad Kirk, and others... Dara Carnival was the writer. I mean, there was creative fecundity there. It was in the midst of what you might not immediately see as being a creative hotspot, but there certainly was the material for it. There was the spur to think differently. And I remember when I was young at school, the word dissenters were used because art and poetry and all that were frowned upon in the midst of the hard times that we were having, they were seen as dilettante-ish activities. And in fact, a few of my not really friends, but at school would call me and my friends who were interested in that sort of thing, the Perfume Gang. That’s how weathering their gears was an artistic pursuit. But we persisted and made careers from it. I really feel very lucky to end up in a career with an art form that I love, which really inspires me. And, hopefully, I’ve always loved telling stories, not that the essence is at the center of Irish communication, I think. It is the storyteller, cinematography. And cinematographers have the responsibility to do that. And I feel very lucky to be accorded that responsibility for the occasional film that I get to make with others.
Mike: 8:09 When you started, in your early days of making films, there were a lot of short films that you got into? Was that partly you in the perfume gang?
Seamus: 8:17 Yeah! It was actually. And it was just a joy. We just wanted to make stuff. There were no resources to do so. But we just made it whether it was on Superette or whatever, I mean, video didn’t even exist properly then but not in prosumer level. So, we just made stuff on Superette. Or eventually, when I got to London, I was able to do stuff on 16 Mil. I had a number of cohorts that I just used to hang around with. And we would just make stuff. In fact, a lot of my work because I couldn’t afford film was Stills. Because Stills is where I started. But I then, moved into talent sequences with Still so it was a precursor of narrative work. But one plus one equals three, that sequence of images that builds up into a story. So, that was an interesting way of thinking about how stories can be told through the juxtaposition of pictures and stills. I mean, I’ve always seen cinema and stills photography as being analogous. And I can get lost in an exhibition as much as I can in the cinema. In fact, I get lost more in books. Because in photographic books, the sequence of images is there. You got the author’s sequence already built in and when you can flick between them, you can flick back and forth. But I love photo books for that reason. And I’ve been a collector of them all my career. And I see them as a side of cinematic-graphic because the links between pictures create associations and other ideas, third, fourth, and fifth ideas beyond the image itself, which sometimes can be very totemic in itself. But then, the sequences have always interested me.
Mike: 10:18 So, would you still recommend, I presume, young, upcoming, wanna-be camera department cinematographers to pick up that Stills camera straightaway, maybe almost as training wheels?
Seamus: 10:27 Absolutely. I mean, looking through a lens is a language. It’s learning a language of discernment, of displacement, of noise, and focus of... It’s also a focus of your angle of view, but also of your depth of field. And all those things that are inherently cinematographic. Bud Light and shade... It’s about, especially now, I mean, I take most of my photographs on an iPhone. Because I love the shorthand notebookism of it, that I just see something that is so fleeting. It’s like image a la savant. It’s like Cartier-Bresson’s notion of the decisive moment, which is mistranslated as decisive moment, that actually the fleeting disappearing image, a la savant. And that’s really exciting to me with an iPhone. You just pull it out like a gun almost and go click and it’s captured. And then suddenly, the image is gone. The image that you saw, the light that was flickering across a wall or through some trees, is evanescent and disappeared seconds after taking the photograph. If you’d sat down with a tripod and tried to capture it, it would have been a fugitive-pointless exercise. So, there’s something really lovely in the note pattern that the democracy of cameras gives us these days. You can learn from the epic and every day around you, photographically speaking and apply it to the bigger pictures. I think, it’s really interesting to note the fleet in and see it as something that’s inspiring. And I take that from every day, light, even today, when there were dramatic black clothes or gray all day. And then, suddenly, there’s a burst of front light. And suddenly, everything went slipped gray. And I took a picture. And it was just like, I must remember how to do this. But you can’t really do it, but you could do it maybe in CG terms, but it was just so inspiring to me that I was able to just suddenly take that picture.
Mike: 12:49 You mentioned the democratization there of everyone having a camera. Given that is now the case? How would one wanting to become a cinematographer stand out amongst the arguable noise because for every brilliant cinematographer who now has a camera, there’s also another million people who are snapping in a way?
Seamus: 13:06 Well, it is exactly that. I mean, I say noise. But I’m only the noise because it’s the noise of choice, not the noise of lack of inspiration. It’s just that... There’s a paradigm of possibilities of choice that you can either accept or take on, and make a smorgasbord of nonsense. Or you can be discerning with your eye. And as I said before, your eyes are different to anybody else’s. So, my urging to any artist and cinematographer, aspiring or otherwise. It’s a reminder to myself is to follow your own eyeball and trust in your own artistic judgment. However, it’s strange it might seem, and you can’t do anything other than that if it’s to be truthful or to stand apart. I mean, mimicry is the great canceler of inspiration. Because people can make things look good. We can all make things look good, photographically. Cinema can be very symphonic and bombastic at the drop of a hat. But what an audience wants to see and hear, if you’re talking cinema as a whole, is somebody’s personal reflection on something that we all recognize, but haven’t had the conversation with the filmmaker about. And that conversation happens when just as we do in conversation. When somebody says something truthfully to you and you reflect upon it and say something back, that rapport is an exciting one. And that is the conversation you have to have with the screen with the honest depiction of something through an artist’s eye and heart. From what they seeing or what they felt when they felt it. And it doesn’t need to be spectacular or photographically arresting. It just needs honesty and truth. And those are the biggest moments I’ve had in the cinema. When I feel something, I feel that the filmmaker said, “Tell me something or reflect on something not necessarily bang over the head, but just feeling something with the use of character, script, light, photography, costume, sand, and all the attributes of cinema. And coalesce that into something that feels like a personal point of view.” And when you have that... And it’s done in a gentle way that allows for your interaction with the screen, then, to me, those are the most enjoyable and beautiful films to watch.
Mike: 15:53 One of the films that I was checking out of yours that was a beautiful movie was “War Requiem,” and to track back to the super eight cameras, which we mentioned in the beginning, am I right that you were a little Super Eight camera system with Laurence Olivier.
Seamus: 16:10 I was very much a junior on that film. I’ve got to say that. So, the second unit on War Requiem was actually shot by Chris Hughes, who was also Derek’s regular, DP on the garden, on the last day of England. And I was his assistant. So, we shot it. It was effectively Laurence Olivier’s last seen in the movies. Because he and Tilda Swinton where he played a war veteran. She had a nurse. And we shot it on Superette. I’ll never forget it, actually. Because, to work with such a legend like put on a clapper board and from was... I’ll never forget that. And I worked with Tilda many times since we often remember that day that we spent with them.
Mike: 17:02 I’m a big fan of turning points. And one of the turning points, I think, I’ve noticed in your career is that short films skin which was quite provocative subject matter about skinheads and I... Do you think that’s actually quite a good way to get noticed when you are making films as a younger person? Because I’ve also noticed that happened with Ari Aster’s film “The Strange Thing about the Johnsons,” which was about an ancestral relationship but really put him on the map.
Seamus: 17:25 I mean, that was a bit of a turning point for me. I mean, I hadn’t really worked that much with 35 Mil before. But I was recommended for that film to Vincent O’Connell, the director, and with Ian Bremmer act on it. It was something that I wasn’t trying to do something photographically that was bold for the sake of it. But I think the subject matter did land itself to that. And one of my teachers, at film school have been Yacek Petrosky. And he worked with Keselowski and all these Polish cinematographers who I absolutely adore. Now at the time. I just seen short film about killing that Slavek shot, which was Keselowski part of the decalogue, the trilogy. And that, I think was number six, it was so arresting photographically because he’d used all these really bold filters and darkening filters. It’s stuck on the edges like grads and... And I heard that he smoked up optical flats with black candles, and then rubbed out little areas to see through. And so, I just slavishly copied him. Here what I said earlier, mimicry is not the way forward. But this was something that I was so impressed by. I thought, well, that would be a great way for me to show just a world closing in. We were shooting in suburbia. And I just wanted everything black around so it was all about the people, faces, and landscape around. It was fit into pitch black lithographic nothingness. It sorts of worked-ish. In retrospectively, when you look back, it seems so ham-fisted and crude. But there was something in that innocence and the photographic slopping server that I really hanker after, actually. Because now, I’m supposedly better at my job. And I don’t think I’d be brave enough to do something on a bigger film, as experimental as that. But I think those are the very things that we all should be doing. Because it’s such a young art form. It’s great when you actually pushed the boat out. And I find myself guilty at times of other acquiescence or any conservativism. Because I know that the stakes are higher and burning stuff in to the negative into the sensor. It is revocable. But it’s actually the bravery that set me off in this industry. But I’ve maybe departed from someone.
Mike: 20:32 Are there any lessons that you took from those years of doing short films or little things like skins that you carry with you now on your massive blockbuster movies?
Seamus: 20:40 It’s really about valuing every single project you work on, whatever the budget is, and treating the story with respect and artistic love and artistic thinking. And also, what I love about those films is that all those films that we made were for no money. We were with filmmakers who all went on to bigger things. So, we were working with the class of 85 and the class of 87. But they were the people making the big stuff. So, I would say that everybody treats everybody as your fellow filmmakers on your way up. Don’t ever have a go at a runner because they mess something up or try your best not to be a dickhead. Because we’re all fellow filmmakers. And film sets can be very high octane places. Tempers can flare. You have to keep your nerve. It’s really important to do that. Because when the atmosphere... It’s a very febrile atmosphere in a film set. And creativity depends upon an equilibrium or balance. And when one person is off kilter or out of balance because of their attitude, or they think they’re jacked allowed or the last. Then, they’re going to make it more difficult for other people to contribute, or make a fearful place or a place full of blame. A film set should not be an area where people are blamed for things going wrong. We centipede on overtime. We’re an organic basting. And it’s really important to remember the community that we’re in. And the fact that films are not made by one person in a socialist collaborative way.
Mike: 22:46 You mentioned being on the up there and the class of 84 and 85, etc. Someone who was definitely in the class of whatever you guys, well was Joe Wright. What did you guys talk about the old factory? Did you have big dreams? How do you look at it, now?
Seamus: 23:00 We did. I mean, we were just cineastes. Joe had been a roll call. He’d been at St. Martin’s, I think. I’d been up to polytechnic central London. We were suddenly being impaired, few 100 quid a day to make music videos. And it was the most exciting time because we were through 16 mode cameras of our shoulders. And we go off and shoot from dawn to dusk, doing music videos. And it was the most exciting time of my life. Because imagery was flagrant. And it was all the music that I loved to listen to, at the time anyway. So, we were working with the best bonds that we all loved. And there was also a spirit of experimentation. So, I learned so much in that period. I learned about all the different film stocks. I learned about different processes. I learned about well, basically, the camera melded into my shoulder. It was days of largely handheld photography. And I just became quite a good operator. Then, I learned to forget about technique, actually, ultimately, which was the greatest thing that was about looking spontaneously and finding the stuff that was also about... Because often, the major part of the shot will be about the run through of the song with an artist. So, I really learned about portraiture and about how to light a face. But also during that time, in the days that we weren’t shooting, we would all meet up. And we talked about films. We would go to the Skoll and Kings Cross. It would be an everyone. We would be in all the cinemas. We have said, have you seen in the ICA? I used to work at the ICA. So, I used to get in for free. I shouldn’t say this, as they might find out. But in the cinema tech, there was a whole collection of arthouse across the world, the world cinema, and the cinema itself. So, we got to see films in China, all those films that were coming in yellow earth. It was just the most exciting time for a young filmmaker in London at that time, having access to the cinema from across the world, from Iran, to Senegal, to Bali, to Mexico, and beyond Iran. It was really got a shock in the arm from that. And it was a total slingshot towards the career in cinematography. Because I got to appreciate different points of view, different characters of light, and the history of cinema. Who is this guy, Tarkowski? Oh! My fucking God, have you seen? I was childhood. Have you seen mirror? No. And it was to see those films, it was like a transcendence, almost, to see metaphysical cinema and having just been a fan of the more British realism, which actually. I shouldn’t even use that word realism. Because I find Ken’s film of Kes, one of the most... It’s up with Tarkovsky in terms of metaphysical cinema in an apparent realist dress. Yeah, it was just a time of great excitement about cinema.
Mike: 26:17 It’s great hearing you talk about all of those amazing movies and the little arty movies as well. And from listening to you in interviews, you sound like a real true artist in that sense. And a bit of a scholar in the way you speak. I don’t know if you notice, from listening to yourself. I wrote down some of the phrases that you used, which was just fantastic. kaleidoscope of collaboration, courts like oscillation, and a flatulent peacock has a shot.
Seamus: 26:43 That’s just my verbosity, Mike. Forgive me for that. I do like to read. My father was a great talker and loved words. So, that’s a tribute to him. And when you read that back, it just sounds like absolute wank. But...
Mike: 27:04 No, I love it. The reason I bring it up is you took like that. It was such love for artistry and the art house, really, I guess. And I wonder how that correlates to when you work on something blockbuster like the Avengers. Do you try to bring your love for arthouse into a movie like that?
Seamus: 27:20 Well, I ought to try to bring the art house into it. I remember in early meetings for the Avengers with Joss Whedon, bringing it up Tarkowski in a meeting, and he kicked me under the table. Because the producers were just like, their jaws were dropping. They were like, Oh! My God. Is it going to look like that? I think you just got to be careful sometimes. But it is terrifying. Because it’s a whole other medium when you work on a film at that scale, when you approach a set as we were in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as I drove into work, and you just pass all the juggernauts. And you think, Holy Shit, that’s the 50th juggernaut I’ve just pulled us. And this is the set that I’m going to light on. It’s done. And the lights are already up for the day. And you’re just like, Oh! No. It’s utterly terrifying. But the wonderful thing is that the center of a film set... When you pass through all those rings of hell, you eventually reach that inner sanctum. And that’s where the movies made exactly the same on, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and on Godzilla, or greatest showmen, or any of those bigger films when the clapper board goes on and that silent. It’s the same place, absolutely. And you just got to forget about what’s over your shoulder, behind all the... It’s either five people or 500. And you just got to forget about that and focus on what’s in front of your camera. That’s what I tried to hold on to us my anchor and my touchdown.
Mike: 29:03 With each guest, there’s normally one question I have to ask. And following on from that, the one I do have to ask is what was it like the creation of the now famous 360 shot because I almost wonder as well; I’d love to hear your opinion. But then also, were there lots of people involved in that. I feel like that’s something everyone knew would become an iconic moment.
Seamus: 29:21 That was actually the first shot that when I met Joss Whedon in a coffee bar in Hollywood to sit for an interview. He was interviewing me for the film. And he said, Look, here’s one of the silly shots as Joss can say that the pre-vis people have come up with. He showed it to me with his computer. And it was like that. And he said, so that’s what we’re making. So, we did actually shoot that shot. And in fact it inspired how we shot the film. Because when I looked at it, the first thing I said, Wow! It’s all so vertical on every...and there weren’t many Marvel films before that, but most big movies like that are 2:3:5, 2:3:9. I said, we should shoot this movie in a squarer format with more height. And eventually, I got absolutely vilified for it. But I believe we made the right decision because the Hulk was so tall. And Black widow was small. And the city was so vertical that it was a much more comfortable way of framing the city and having a tower above everybody, rather than the letterbox. So, I stand by that decision, actually. But that was a key moment. I think every film has the riff. And that was it. It was the Avengers. They were all together. And it had to be a 360. So, it might be a 360 track on a green screen stage because we actually shot those exteriors were all shot as an interior. So, in a railway station, the railway sightings in Albuquerque... And I had to create ambient daylight so that we had... I don’t know how many... There must be 20 or 18K’s bounced into white bounce, to create a sense of daylight. We never used all these to wear mirrors and to create the shards of life that you get in New York. Scatter gone across the set. So I was quite proud of that. Although, it was simple, but we were able to shoot. And then, the second unit were able to shoot at night. And we shot by there. So, it saved production baulked initially at doing a set like that. But it worked really well. And then, we did play it for the background in New York. We did some shooting in the real space and Park Avenue. But yeah! It was all done through the magic of CGI.
Mike: 31:56 One of the things that I would love to ask you about is I noticed there’s a theme in your career somewhat. I was desperately trying to find a theme. It’s very hard with your career, Seamus. You do every movie, but one that I did find is music. What’s your relationship to music? It seems to be a bit of a piece throughout your career here and there music videos, greatest showmen, and documentary.
Seamus: 32:19 That’s really interesting because I actively vault aware from reputation or trying to want to find something that really works photographically. I try not to return to it. But I’ve always loved music. I’ve loved contemporary music on top. So, you’re drawn to things that you love. And actually, recently, I’ve done a few musicals from Cyrano to great showman. And I love what music does. There is a synthesis between camera and the beat. Because what it does is it coalesces everybody. It’s fuses the movement of an actor, the movement of the camera, and the whole crew feeds off this umbrella of rhythm. And that lends things a symbiosis. I think, it is really special. So, things... When I’ve shot music, the editor has always said, “This cuts like butter!” Because the actor’s movement is with... Often on Cyrano, we had the same choreographer as we had on Anna Karenina, and he would choreograph even incidental gestures. So, somebody lighting a cigarette or Anna Karenina or anything really somebody walking through a door was actively choreographed. And Joe often works to pare back. I mean, he’ll cut it for the dialogue. But on Atonement for instance, the typewriter was pre-scored. And we used it the playback so all our movement the camera track on little Saoirse’s walking that was all in sync just made all the difference.
Mike: 34:18 So, like the greatest showmen, do you work very closely with the dance choreographers to craft your shots? Because you’re working on the same thing, so is he.
Seamus: 34:26 Yeah!
Mike: 34:27 You’re depending on your shot on what they’re doing. You can’t do a big tracking shot if you’ve got them flying in on a trapeze.
Seamus: 34:33 No, exactly. It’s all... I mean, I get very involved in rehearsals of their choreography. And also with as their device in the previous, for instance, like Michael Gracie was very adroit. And he worked a length for a couple of years beforehand and devising segments of that. And then, not at the last minute, but I had like four months prep. But this was... He’d been working on this stuff for a long time. And I was able to inform to a degree but essentially, a lot of the stuff was in his mind. But the choreography was still an evolution. And that’s when you can really bring because previous can be a little bit clunky. You can get the overall view of it all. But the swoop and the real slide happens live. And that’s only with either Steadicam operator reacting to stuff, or a Korean up, or use an operator reacting to stuff and the way that the light interacts with the camera, all those things are live. And that’s what unleashes the excitement of the dance on the song.
Mike: 35:55 Beautiful. Now each episode, I like to wrap it up with a Red Carpet Rookies questionnaire, which is my own ode to any actor studio. So just say, the first thing that comes into your head. Are you ready, Seamus McGarvey?
Seamus: 36:06 I am. And I did, Mike battle.
Mike: 36:07 I love it. Number one, what is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve ever been given?
Seamus: 36:13 Well, the best advice I ever got was probably nothing to do with cinematography. But it was by a filmmaker. They said to me, cinematography is 10% cinematography and 90% bladder control. And I’ve never heard truer words in my life. Because I’m constantly trying to skip the set for a pee. But I can’t get away. And when I do escape for a minute or two, there’s always a P.A outside the porta potty going, “we found him!”. That’s the best piece of advice. I don’t get to drink any coffee or water. Because you haven’t the time to pee it away.
Mike: 36:58 Of that never go to pee on set.
Seamus: 37:00 Yeah!
Mike: 37:00 Number two, do you have a favorite film?
Seamus: 37:02 I do, indeed. There’s no question. Top of my list is the” Grip - A Matter of Life and Death by Powell and Press burger, shot by my dear departed friend, Jack Cardiff. And he was a wonderful mentor to me. And I’m inspired by him every day. In a pickle, and I think what would Jack have done? He was a man who was a great artist, gentleman, and a continuing inspiration to me.
Mike: 37:34 That’s beautiful. Number three, what gives you a reason to get out of bed every day for an early call time, if any at all?
Seamus: 37:41 Well, I suppose three children to support, and their mothers is my main inspiration for at least the fiscal aspect of my work. However, I would be doing this, even if I didn’t get paid. Because I love it so much. I just get such excitement from the creation and the camaraderie of filmmaking as much as the telling of the stories, and helping to tell stories within a band of fellow travelers.
Mike: 38:19 Brilliant. Number four, which job in the industry would you do if you weren’t doing yours?
Seamus: 38:23 No question, special effects! I love blowing things up. And it’s not just because I come from Northern Ireland. I absolutely love it. And I know that’s not what special effects is about. It’s much more sophisticated. But I like mechanical things. I like the ingenuity of solving problems physically on set Because there’s so much that can be done in CG. But I really am astounded by special effects departments and what they can do in their workshops to make things happen for real in front of your eyes. It’s always a wonder to me. So that the bit that I... This makes me go, Wow! Every time I see it on set.
Mike: 39:10 Number five, if you could work with one person living or dead, who would it be? It’s a big one. I know.
Seamus: 39:15 Maybe, Louis Bunuel, his films I really love, and just the surrealist imagination and the mischief and the contrary-ness is something that I really am drawn to. And his films, either him or I mean... I would love to work with Michael Powell, of course, but just even the idea of being Jack’s P.A is the most extraordinary thing because just hearing Jack stories from the sets, I just know that it was a festival of ideas and ingenuity and excitement about making a film.
Mike: 40:01 I think actually, in my last episode Peter Lamont said, he used to work with Michael Powell. And he used to turn up to set every day in his Bentley flying goggles and hat.
Seamus: 40:10 I can imagine that.
Mike: 40:12 Yeah! For old school. Number six, what is a book that everyone should read?
Seamus: 40:19 Oh, well...
Mike: 40:20 For like you have a lot...
Seamus: 40:21 There are so many but for filmmaking, this a great one. The Conversations, Michael Ondaatje. It’s about Walter March, the great editor who did Apocalypse Now on all these films. But an editor who thinks holistically about the whole film about sound, about the dynamics, about the depth...the editing procedure is about so much more than the cup. And the great writer, Michael Ondaatje had a series of conversation with him. And it’s one of the most illuminating reflections between two people in different art forms, talking about what it takes to make a story greater through the editing process, and the refinement of notions that are in your head, and bringing them together in a way that an audience can feel. So, there’s that. There’s also the photograph that changed my life, which my friend Zelda chaebol, who’s a gallerist has just brought out. So, it’s a shameless plug for her book. But she got together a series of photographers and artists. And they tried something about a photograph that meant something really profound to them. So that would be my second choice.
Mike: 41:45 Fantastic! And finally, if you won an Oscar, who would you thank?
Seamus: 41:48 Oh, that’s a dream! But if I ever won an Oscar, I would thank my art school teacher for handing me a super eight cameras back in the day when I was 14. And he said, Go out there. Shot and my mom, who basically funded my darkroom, and said, you know, son, it is not buying a horse is feed enough. And she was absolutely right! Because it was all very well buying a Zenit camera for 21 quid secondhand. But it was the funding subsequently, that allowed me to lay the foundations of learning about technique and about chemistry and the physics of photography until I had the chance to forget about it. And just look with my eyeballs heart and brain. So, those are the two. That would be first on the list, of course. I feel this too. But that day, I doubt we’ll ever come. But thanks for the question. Because I’ve just done my ghostly speech to an audience of one.
Mike: 43:02 Well, I feel very lucky to have heard it first. But on that note, we must bring our time to a close. Thank you so much to Seamus for joining us, a true artist, and image making legend. And I feel privileged to have met one of the founding members of the perfume gang. Until next time, thank you!
Mike: 43:19 Thank you for listening to another episode of Red Carpet Rookies. To help us grow and be able to interview more amazing film and TV professionals, please do subscribe and drop us a rating on the Apple podcast store on your iPhone or online if you’re an Android user. If you’re interested in regular updates, the best thing you can do is join our mailing list at redcarpetrookies.com. Alternatively, find us on Instagram at Red Carpet Rookies (@redcarpetrookies) or on Twitter at RC Rookies Pod (@rcrookiespod). I also tweet regularly about my own learnings in the business at Mike F Battle (@mikefbattle) on Twitter. So, please come and say hi. Thank you again for listening. We’ll see you next time.