Few people can say that they’ve filmed with James Cameron. One Laguna Beach man has — behind the camera.
John Bonnin, a freelance cameraman, recalled one of his favorite moments working in Baja with the legendary director on the movie “Titanic.”
“I did the filming with a different piece of equipment, called the akela crane, which was the world’s largest camera crane,” Bonnin said. “It was incredible, because of the scope of the set. The ship itself and the number of extras and the intensity of James Cameron and the sheer magnitude of everything was just massive. The shoot was just massive. They built that whole studio in Baja for that movie.”
Bonnin, 47, has been involved in the productions of films such as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, the “Spider-Man” movies, and the “Transformers” sequel. He has filmed action sequences for several movies, including the upcoming Tim Burton film “Alice in Wonderland.”
Bonnin specializes in operating a libra head, a three-axis stabilized camera platform that can be mounted on nearly anything, such as boats, crane arms, motorcycles, ATVs and flying camera rigs. With a remote control, he can control the camera to film action scenes without getting in the way of the actors.
“It gives you really a lot of room to be inventive and come up with shots that you wouldn’t normally do,” Bonnin said. “It allows the stunts and action moves to actually proliferate because a cameraman or a person doesn’t have to be in harm’s way as much as he used to.”
For the most recent film he worked on, “Alice in Wonderland,” Bonnin shot the actors performing indoors with a green screen in the background. He said that computer animators would digitally fill in the background during post-production.
However, during the film shoot, Bonnin had no clue what the final scenes would look like.
“As we shot it, we didn’t see any of that background,” Bonnin said. “We saw the actors. We saw the crazy costumes and the makeup, but we didn’t see any of the computer-generated characters. So I’m looking forward to seeing it just to see the visual aspect of it. It’ll be interesting to say the least.”
Bonnin said he enjoyed working with Burton, especially because the very first video he bought was “The Nightmare before Christmas.” However, he has especially liked working with Johnny Depp on several films, including the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy.
Depp plays the Mad Hatter in “Alice.”
“He’s really very congenial, very polite, very friendly, very easy to work with,” Bonnin said. “You know, all those things that you want in a character. Something not found in people that famous that often.”
Bonnin has traveled everywhere to capture shots for motion pictures.
He flew to the Caribbean for “Pirates.” He took a plane trip to New York to film rooftop clips for the “Spider-Man” movies.
The cameraman even filmed some of the events at the 1998 Winter Olympic games in Nagano.
He and his family stayed in the Olympic Village. Bonnin is married to Winter Bonnin, a ranger at Crystal Cove State Park.
“I was there for about seven weeks and met almost all the athletes and went to a number of events,” John Bonnin said. “It was just a great experience to be in Japan and work in Japan and just be part of that whole culture.”
The only parts John Bonnin doesn’t like about his job are when he has to spend lots of time away from home. However, he likes to bring his family with him whenever they have time.
“My wife knew my chances for me to be away were more than other jobs, more than a normal 9 to 5 job,” Bonnin said. “But it also gave us an opportunity to travel. And to travel with the kids. We took them both to New Zealand for ‘The Last Samurai,’ which was great. Although it was a long plane ride both ways.”