From a young age, Ian Seabrook knew he wanted to be an underwater photographer. He made his first dive in 1988; a decade later, he filmed underwater for the first time on a Bud Lite commercial.
His work now spans three decades of television and studio productions, and this year, several big-budget films and TV shows feature his photography. They include “Deadpool 2,” which is being released May 18; episodes of Netflix’s “Lost in Space” revamp; TNT’s “Snowpiercer”; and the recently released “Tully,” from screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman.
On “Tully,” Seabrook had his work cut out for him. The story follows an exhausted mom of three, played by Charlize Theron. Reitman had never directed underwater scenes but was eager to learn the techniques that Seabrook has perfected over the years. Prior to shooting those sequences, which feature Theron and co-star Mackenzie Davis underwater in a car, Reitman met with Seabrook, cinematographer Eric Steelberg and assistant director-executive producer Jason Blumenfeld to ask questions and gain insights.
“[Reitman] wanted to discuss every aspect of the process,” says Seabrook. “We set up a rehearsal day so he could come to the side of the tank. … [We had] a monitor set up, and he could see the feed from the underwater camera.”
Seabrook had already worked with Theron on underwater scenes in 2000’s “Reindeer Games,” so he was well aware of her high comfort level and ability in the water — a critical factor in such photography. “If you put talent in the water and they’re not comfortable, [they’re] not capable of performing or completing the work,” he explains. “If only close-ups are possible, then the rest of the sequence would need to be augmented with stunt personnel or with a reshoot at a time when the performer is more capable.”
This, of course, means more time and money than a production may have, and that puts a lot of pressure on Seabrook. When he’s underwater with the actors, he’s the one in charge, with the responsibility to get the shots he needs. “When you put people in the water, sometimes you’re only going to get one take out of them,” he says. “You’re composing; you’re lighting; you’re gripping; you’re somewhat directing simply because you’re the closest one to the talent.”
The “Tully” tank set was in a stage adjacent to the main shooting stage at Ironwood Studios in Vancouver, and Theron did all of her own stunts, including the over-the-shoulder shots in the car, which, according to Seabrook, can be quite uncomfortable.
“She was a real trouper,” he says, referring to the stress of water-tank work. “Putting someone in an overhead environment underwater where they can’t get out, I’ve even had stunt people freak out.”
While Seabrook couldn’t reveal anything about his underwater work in “Deadpool 2,” he did disclose one tidbit for fans breathless to know something about the film, which debuts in two weeks: Star Ryan Reynolds was able to hold his breath the longest of anybody he’s worked with.