David Seekins' job as a Hollywood cameraman comes with rewards -- travel, shooting cool action scenes and hobnobbing with celebrities.
But the job also requires long hours and intense attention to detail, with no room for error. If something needs to be reshot, it can cost a production company hundreds of thousands of dollars.
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"The level of focus can be challenging. It's easy to get distracted. You have a margin of inches. If you're just a couple inches off, it can ruin the whole shot," said Seekins, 39, a Hoffman Estates native, while taking a break from filming the third season of the TNT drama "Perception."
His two "Perception" camera crew members also have suburban roots: Camera operator Mike Froelich is from Arlington Heights, and second assistant camerawoman Shannon DeWolfe is from Gurnee.
"It seems kind of glamorous, but we work 13 to 15 hours a day on average. And all of our 'toys' are really expensive and really heavy. So when you're hauling gear up and down mountains ... and crazy locations ... the logistics of getting all the gear there can be tough," Seekins said.
His title varies by project (first assistant cameraman, camera operator, second assistant cameraman, or cinematographer), but Seekins' job is essentially to film, frame and focus what you see on TV and at the movies.
The Fremd High School alumnus has been on camera crews for dozens of well-known movies and TV shows, including "Mission: Impossible III," "Pearl Harbor" and "Mob City."
"Movie cameras don't autofocus. In the movie business, it doesn't happen that way. Focus is a selective thing, artistically so," he said.
Always into movies as a kid -- even helping his grandma film home movies on 8 mm -- Seekins studied cinematography at Columbia College Chicago where he said "everything clicked." He landed an internship at Panavision in California, which led to an internship on the 1997 movie "Mousehunt."
So, basically, he went from filming low-budget student films to working with acclaimed cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, who this year was nominated for an Academy Award for "Nebraska."
"For a student to come right onto a movie like this was amazing," Seekins said. "I fell in love with the technical part of the business. I just soaked up information from everybody."
One of his favorite experiences of his career came a year later, when he filmed "Patch Adams" with comedian/actor Robin Williams.
"The set became an environment where (Williams) was working out his jokes for Comic Relief that year. There was a lot of laughter on the set," he said. "I had more fun working on that set than any other. Robin was just an amazing person to be around. We're always under so much pressure to perform on time and under budget. To have a little bit of levity broke it up a little bit."
Filming "Mission: Impossible III" was another career highlight.
"We got to do all the really amazing visual effects and car chase things, and the reason you get into movies," he said. "Every shot you do, you think, 'How can I make this better?' It's like catching lightning in a bottle sometimes."
As the movie business slowly shifts away from Los Angeles, Seekins expects he'll be working on more TV shows and commercials than movies in the coming years. In between projects, he spends time with his wife (his high school sweetheart at Fremd, Bridgitte McDaniel) and their 2-year-old son.
"I'm having a good time doing what I do," he said.
-- Jamie Sotonoff
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make a good column feature, email them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org