Back in 2004, when Juan Matias Ramos Mora received an invitation to be the Steadicam Operator on The Sea Inside, he had no idea that he would be part of an Academy Award-Winning film (the film received the Oscar for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards in 2005 and several European prizes in 2004 and 2005) as well as witness the evolution of an international star in the performance of Javier Bardem. If the truth be told, the only two factors that enticed Juan to join the film were his constant pursuit of challenging work and the opportunity to work with director Alejandro Aménabar. The tipping point in the career of artistic individuals like Juan Ramos often happen when it is the most unexpected and when accolades are not a factor in the equation. Now more than a decade later, The Sea Inside is just one of the many award-winning productions which Juan has worked on but it is possibly the one which delineates that point when many began to recognize his talent on an international scale. Recent series such as “Fear The Walking Dead” and “Mozart in the Jungle” display the eye and skillful camera work which brings a larger than life look to the small screen; one which Juan has used so many times on the big screen.
It is a common analogy but, pressure turns coal into a diamond; it can also refine professional skills. While Juan was already a respected camera operator prior to his work on the Oscar-Winning The Sea Inside, the experience of working with famed cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe was both inspiring and challenging…in other words, pressure! Aguirresarobe is internationally recognized as one of the contemporary greats in cinematography. He has worked with the best camera operators and he expects the best. More than a decade ago, Juan admits that there were lessons for him to learn and Javier was a masterful teacher. Prior to The Sea Inside, the two had worked together on El milagro de P.tinto, which was the first film by Javier Fesser, a rather famous director in Spain. The fact that Javier wanted to work with Juan again speaks to his belief in the then young camera operator. Aguirresarobe comments, “As a cinematographer, I must sometimes rely on a Steadicam and Camera Operator for the crucial element of frame composition; it builds the visual narrative of the film and I must entrust it to someone who understands my vision, the director’s vision, and can deliver exactly what my critical eye demands. It’s not easy to find someone whom I can trust with this important role but Juan is one such professional. He has a keen eye for seeing things the way that I need them, even in very complex situations. When we were working together on Alejandro Amenabar’s Academy Award-Winning Film The Sea Inside, Juan was our Steadicam Operator. The complexity of the film would be a challenge for anyone and I am demanding as well. Juan delivered to perfection every time. Neither myself nor the director could have been more pleased with his incredible work on this film. I have worked with Juan on a number of films and he continuously brings this exemplary performance on all the productions he is a part of.”
The films’ director Alejandro Aménabar and Aguirresarobe work well together in part because they are both so discerning and scrutinizing. Alejandro is a director who carefully picks out every tool he wants to use to tell the story. He’s young but he’s very classic in his language. His careful study of the greatest directors in film history has given him the perspective which created his reputation. Juan Ramos credits Aménabar with inspiring both panic and a call to greatness in his early career.
One of the unexpected pleasures and respite of his involvement in The Sea Inside was that it gave Juan the opportunity to work with Javier Bardem in one of his most important performances, and the one that would catapult him into international stardom. Juan recalls, “The extent of his preparation and dedication to the performance was pretty huge, which is why this role opened up so many opportunities for him. Watching such an actor at work was truly amazing. The only resource he had to convey in the movie was his face, and thus his performance. That means you have to be extremely precise. The camera has to be respectful of the internal process the actor goes through to get to those levels of interpretation. He was so immersed in the role that nothing really could go wrong. That made everyone in the film, who were already working at really high standards, deliver their best work. This ultimately meant that Bardem and Amenábar were the only ones in charge of bringing the character from one point in the story to another one. To see that depth of commitment was truly inspiring.”
The notoriety that the film and Juan’s work received opened numerous possibilities and productions for him both in his homeland of Spain and internationally. He was quickly invited to work on Jonathan Glazer’s first feature film, Sexy Beast, for which Ben Kingsley was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. More than a decade later as he looks back on his work on The Sea Inside and contemplates the most important lesson he learned, Juan confesses, “One of the things I realized was that this really young director was surrounding himself with the best people available, and that was a life lesson for me. There’s no better experience than working with people who know more than you and are more experienced than you.”