/News 30.05.24

Behind The Lens With Melbourne’s Own John Brawley

Cinematographer John Brawley’s IMDb’s credits read like a long laundry list, spanning multiple cities, time-periods, and genres. His recent credits include Apple TV+’s critically acclaimed, The Morning Show, starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell, and the highly praised Elle Fanning corset dramedy The Great for Hulu/MRC. His work as a cinematographer and now director, has taken him to far flung corners of the earth, however, John Brawley still calls Melbourne home.

John’s interest in imagery started at a young age, which motivated him to study photography at college. There he quickly discovered cinematography as a new medium, which set his career path in motion. “Photography is a very singular pursuit – it’s you and a subject – I love the fact that as a cinematographer, I get to work with lots of people. It’s a truly collaborative medium,” John explains. Similar to concert music, there are so few artforms that require so many moving parts, John thinks. “Having a group of people working on a project creatively where the end result is truly the sum of everybody’s contribution, is pretty cool. Also, all of the skills that I had in photography translated easily.”

John Brawley behind the camera shooting Hiding. Photo John Brawley Flickr

John got his big break at home in Melbourne when prominent Australian producers John Edwards and Imogen Banks hired him as the DOP for the first season of the VicScreen-supported drama, Offspring. “I’ve worked with a lot of producers and John and Imogen are different in that they’re really ready and want to take risks on new HODs [Heads of Department], and not just writers and directors. I was very lucky to get that series, it really set me up and introduced me to television, when I’d been leaning towards a career in cinema.”

Offspring emerged during the rise of television, coinciding with Netflix’s global dominance as a streaming service and dovetailing off networks like HBO who had already proven that television could be as cinematic as any Oscar-winning film. “The visual language [of television] was becoming more complex and it was a really good time to start working in TV. The tempo and pace also really suited me.”

Catapulting from Offspring (currently streaming on Hulu), John took the helm as DOP on the remake of an iconic coming-of-age Australian drama set in the 1970s, Puberty Blues. Using a unique mix of cutting-edge technology and period lenses to achieve the 70’s era look, the result was a widely watched, award-winning and nuanced drama. “Puberty Blues was a big show for me. Having that show go to air and really affecting people, seeing all of the social media about it. [Puberty Blues aired in 2012, coinciding with the global rise of Instagram]. Clearly, a lot of parents were enjoying it, and their kids were awkwardly trying to watch it and not to be in the same room as their parents. It was a really great show to work on, and people really did love it.”

John Brawley and Asher Keddie on the set of Offspring. Photo John Brawley Flickr

AMERICA CALLING

Having spent the last eight years in America, John says the States were always calling and it was only a matter of time before he set up camp in Los Angeles and tried his luck in the capital of show business. “I was always waiting to go, but it’s very hard to just show up in LA and start getting work. Because, just like Australia, it’s all based on relationships.”

Fortunately, John had worked on a US production that shot in Melbourne with VicScreen’s support called Hunters. The Showrunner of which, Natalie Chaidez, was producing a cartel drama shot primarily in Texas, called Queen of the South. “Natalie Chaidez really stuck her neck out for me; she hired me [as Director of Photography on Season 2]. She gave me a great opportunity to come over and work on that show, a US show for a US studio. And I was really lucky to arrive in the US at a time where television production was exploding.”

One job led to another, John says. And before he knew it, he’d landed gigs of premium productions with A-list celebrities like The Great, The Morning Show and The Thing about Pam. “Most of the work I’ve gotten is really just reputational based, even though it seems like the US industry is so much bigger, and of course it is, but it’s still kind of intimate.” The major difference, John reflects, is the scale. But the methodology as a DOP is more or less the same. With bigger budgets and larger-scale productions, the expectations do increase, he admits. But John believes he’s hired to do more than create visually beautiful shots and great looking images. “I’ve always seen my role as a cinematographer to create an environment for the actors where they can explore, take risks, do what they need to do and feel supported. And I think that has always served me well, whether it’s with first time actors or the most well-known of actors.”

Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult in The Great. Photo by John Brawley

Working with a host of talented directors has similarly been a highlight of John’s work as a DOP, encapsulating his love of collaboration in the production process. Recently, on a long-awaited trip home to visit family in Melbourne, John was called to work as DOP on Peter Farrelly’s latest comedy, Ricky Stanicky. With a bunch of Hollywood heavyweights like Zac Efron, William H. Macy and John Cena leading the cast, John was compelled to join the action. “The shoot was like a weird unicorn because it went so unbelievably well and was so well organized. Melbourne was a great host, and it was so nice to just catch up with crew and friends that I hadn’t seen for a long time.”

John Brawley on the set of Ricky Stanicky. Photo by Ben King

As a true Melburnian, John now travels with a “pretty serious coffee setup.” On his current show, Shrinking, starring Harrison Ford and Jason Segal, John has the junior crew members churning out at least 50 Melbourne-style coffees a day. “I’ve educated them on how to drink and appreciate coffee.” Having lived in Miami, New Orleans, Chicago, Dallas, London, Vancouver, Toronto, amongst other cities, John admits there’s no place like home. With more and more directing on the horizon John is hoping to continue to expand his career.

For now, though, home is where the work is, and there’s no shortage of work for this talented Aussie with a camera. His upcoming TV series, Bad Monkey, starring Vince Vaughn and Natalie Martinez, for Apple TV+ is coming soon.

Find world-renowned Victorian talent and experienced crew like John Brawley on VicScreen’s Industry Directory.