On Monday 30th March, Screen and Film School kicked off our Virtual Masterclass sessions with a live Q&A from the legendary cinematographer Seamus McGarvey.

Seamus is known for his work on Atonement and Anna Karenina with director Joe Wright, as well as The HoursWe Need to Talk About Kevin, The Greatest Showman, Fifty Shades of Grey and The Avengers. Seamus has received two Oscar nominations and was awarded the Royal Photographic Society’s Lumiere Medal with Jack Cardiff, Freddie Francis, Roger Deakins and Ridley Scott for their contributions to the art of cinematography.

Seamus spoke with over 70 Film School students and staff live on Zoom from Los Angeles, answering questions on all aspects of his work, from his early career in music videos to his relationships with different departments on shoots, as well as that Steadicam sequence in Atonement and how he holed up in his New York apartment with Lynne Ramsay for a month in preparation for We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Screen and Film School were also excited to welcome two applicants to the masterclass. Finn and Matthias will both begin studying at Screen and Film School in September 2020, but were keen to get involved as soon as possible! Finn said, “I really enjoyed the Masterclass. I learned a lot about attributes I could apply to my films as a writer and director, and how important a strong relationship between a director and cinematographer is. Most of all I learned how important being able to visualise is when preparing for a film, and to communicate and collaborate your vision effectively. Thanks so much for letting me join the class, I really can’t wait to get started next September.” Matthias noted that he’d never realised “how non-existent the wall between ‘us’ and the ‘world of professional filmmaking’ actually is,” and added, “What an honour! Thank you for making it all possible.”

We’ve included a couple of the questions below and you can also watch the full video!

I was wondering if you could talk about your collaboration with the gaffers, especially in and out of set, how much you direct them and how much they bring to the table? – Leon, (current student)

For me, it’s the closest collaboration I have on set, my work with a gaffer. I’ve been very, very lucky to work with great gaffers who bring so much to it. When I’m [camera] operating as well, having a gaffer can fine-tune things. I’ve worked with gaffers who are so wonderfully creative that I’m beginning to speak abstractly to them about the film. Saying, “Here’s the scene, this is how I want it to look. Let’s talk about amber light in the foreground and aquamarine in the back for moonlight” and not specifying the light or how to do it. Then the gaffer can say, “I was thinking we could push a T12 through a rag in the foreground” and they can specify how to go about it and the tools they’ll need. It’s really nice when a gaffer can come on board and say, “What about this?”- that’s particularly exciting.

I’m someone who likes to storyboard and plan so I know the shots I’m going to get. What tips do you have to keep the shots as organic as possible when you are shooting? – Luke, (graduate)

That’s a good question. I love to be alive to the situation that you walk into that day and to be open to accident. It’s a great privilege we have as artists, to be in a position where you’re in a set with a camera and you go, “Actually look at that. That’s much better than we imagined”. To have the confidence to do that, to believe in yourself enough to say, “I know I was thinking about doing it this way, but what about this?”. It’s actually one of the most exciting things I feel on a film set, those changes of plan, where you just go, “Nah let’s do it this way.” You really feel vivid, like a filmmaker in charge, doing something that an audience is going to react to forever hopefully. It’s great knowing that you’re actually leaving your mark by making a decision on the fly.

Everyone at Screen and Film School would like to thank Seamus for taking the time to speak with so many of our students – and we can’t wait to see him in Brighton as soon as we can!

Don’t worry if things fall through, if you have a conscious mind and creative eye you can always find a way of expressing your ideas.

Seamus McGarvey