An Underwater Cinematographer’s Fish Eye View of Deadpool 2
Below the tide is another world, dangerous and unknown. As people tend to spend the majority of their life on dry land, some of the most memorable scenes in movies are underwater. Jack Sparrow diving into the ocean to save Elizabeth Swan in Pirates of the Caribbean. Adaline’s car plunging into icy waters rendering her ageless in The Age of Adaline. Judy Robinson swimming below the surface of an alien planet to save her family in Lost in Space. The scenes have a big payoff, but they are extremely technical to film. The scenes call for a specialized cinematographer with both film and diving skills like Ian Seabrook.
Seabrook filmed the aquatic scenes for Deadpool 2, Tully, Batman v Superman and many others. A certified diver, Seabrook has a lot to juggle under the surface on top of breathing.
“You can’t be fiddling with your gear. You can’t be worried that your equipment is going to fail,” Seabrook said. “You almost forget about it if you’ve been doing it a while. Once you’re comfortable in the water and the camera is in your hands, you’re going to be concentrating on that. You’re not going to have a lot of time to concentrate on how much air do I have left or I’m getting a mask squeeze here.”
Operating the camera is not the only concern for an underwater cinematographer. Several jobs that are often handled by a team of people on the surface fall to Seabrook.
“A huge benefit for anyone doing this job is to know all of the other jobs,” Seabrook explained. “I was never a grip or a lamp operator or a gaffer, but I have to light and I have to grip. I have to know how to use this stuff in the water, because oftentimes I am by myself.”
One reason multiple jobs often fall to Seabrook is that communication is limited. Water hinders not only the team’s ability to breathe, but also the ability to speak. When working with a team, Seabrook can communicate via hand signals. However, the director stays above ground. Seabrook often uses a behind-the-scenes camera to keep them in the loop while the shot is set up.
“The camera is in the water and on the surface, there is a monitor so the director and whoever else, the production personnel can see the shot,” Seabrook explained. “We’ll also employ an underwater speaker. Topside people can see the image on the monitor and talk into the underwater hydrophone. All people in the water, including talent and the cameraman, can hear. They just can’t answer back. It’s kind of a director’s dream in that regard.”
Seabrook has worked with enough talent to know that acting underwater is no easy feat. Eyes begin to burn, breathing is limited, and you can’t wear an oxygen tank in costume. Ryan Reynolds may play it off like he doesn’t take anything seriously, but Seabrook said he was the consummate professional. Caution: Deadpool 2 spoilers ahead.
The most poignant and touching scenes in Deadpool 2 take place underwater when Wade falls through a dreamlike pool to reach Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Twice Deadpool reaches this near death water world, but it took several attempts to capture the incredible shot.
“For Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds easily was the best actor in the water as far as his breath hold,” Seabrook revealed. “There has never been anybody else remotely close to him. Oftentimes the shot begins and the actor comes on camera and something happens. They bump their heads, something falls over, the camera gets bumped or something gets screwed up. And then they go, ‘Ok, cut. Let’s just start over.’ He came down this one time and did something different and then he realized he had done something different and got angry at himself. He didn’t bolt to the surface, he just kept going and said, ‘Ok, let’s do it again.’ No one has ever done that.”
Reynolds performed the scene not only in character, but also in costume and full makeup. Although he wasn’t wearing the Deadpool mask, he did have several layers of makeup on for Wade’s character.
“He had a prosthetic on at the same time,” Seabrook recalled. “It was pretty funny because they had a whole host of safety divers there trying to tell him what to do and he was having none of that. He said, ‘Don’t tell me what to do. I know what I’m doing.’ I usually don’t have a heavy hand with that type of thing. When people usually go in the water, they’re dealing with their own fears. The ones that can actually act when they’re underwater is a very small margin.”
Among the list of actors that have impressed Seabrook are Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron. Seabrook worked with Theron on this year’s Tully. Theron worked through extremely uncomfortable circumstances as a result of recent dental surgery. Unable to clamp her jaw down on the mouthpiece, her regulator had to be cut in half.
“If you cut the mouthpiece in half, you’re just going to be getting all cold air in your mouth,” Seabrook explained. “I don’t even know which is worse: biting down when your teeth are sore or having all cold air blasted in your mouth.”
Being in water can be uncomfortable in any circumstance, Seabrook explained. Spend enough time in there and you’re bound to get cold. Costume designers often have to incorporate 3mm neoprene suits under the actor’s clothing. Buoyancy was also a challenge on Tully.
“There were issues with weighting,” Seabrook said. “She would either not sink or she would sink too fast. We had to use small little micro weights that get placed in pockets.”
Some projects are shot out in the open water, while others are filmed in tanks to control various elements including temperature and current. Batman v Superman took Seabrook to Bora Bora where the crew filmed in the ocean. One scene of the film was particularly challenging to light in the open ocean.
“We had a young lad sitting down to find this Kryptonite rock,” Seabrook explained. “We had to light the rock. If you’re going to light the rock, you have to have lights. You have to have a generator in the boat and lines going down. You have to anchor the boat and have the boat captain constantly aware. If he moves to far, the lights get pulled away. It can be a nightmare. Oftentimes, they’ll anchor the boat so they can anchor the light so that things aren’t moving around.”
If Seabrook’s story has inspired you to pursue a career change, you might want to give it some more thought.
“I’m in there for 19 hours sometimes,” Seabrook said. “I have chosen not to get out of the water for lunch because there is no time. It’s about dedication to your craft.”
Deadpool 2 and Tully are in theaters now.
Featured Image: Ryan Reynolds stars as Deadpool in Twentieth Century Fox’s DEADPOOL 2. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.