Director of Photography Pete Romano ASC – Part 1

In episode Eight, host Brett Stanley is speaking with Underwater Director of Photography Pete Romano ASC. Pete’s career spans over 40 years in the film industry where he’s worked on some iconic movies including The Abyss, Titanic, Waterworld, Mission Impossible, and most recently Call of the Wild. Pete also runs one of the best known underwater cinema housing and lighting companies in the world, Hydroflex. He’s been a stunt man, a hoarder of underwater film memorabilia, and he talked Al Pachino in to going for a swim.

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About Pete Romano ASC – Director of Photography

Pete Romano ASC is a former Navy Diver and member of the Pacific Fleet Underwater Combat Camera Group, stationed in San Diego and deployed out of the Philippines. In 1985, he built his first underwater housing for the Arri-35 3 film camera after recognizing the need for standardized equipment to simplify and enhance the underwater shooting process.  Soon after, camera rental houses were representing his product and Hydroflex, Inc. was born.  By 1988, Hydroflex added high power underwater lights to the inventory that were developed specifically for The Abyss. Since then Hydroflex has continued to design equipment for the evolving needs of the motion picture industry. Along the way, Hydroflex and Pete have been honored with two Motion Picture Academy Technical Achievement awards and an SOC Technical Achievement award.

As an Underwater Director of Photography, Pete has amassed numerous credits, notable among them are: The Abyss, Titanic, Saving Private Ryan, Waterworld,  Pearl Harbor, Men of Honor, Tree of Life, Edge of Tomorrow, Mission Impossible: 3, 4 & 5, Ad Astra, Gemini Man and the Call of the Wild.  Pete is a member of the American Society of Cinematographers and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Additionally, he holds awards for Excellence in Cinematography (shared) from the AICP (Association of Independent Commercial Producers) and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the SOC.

Podcast Transcript

Pete Romano

Brett Stanley: [00:00:00] welcome back to the underwater podcast. And in this episode, I’m talking to one of the most generous guys in the film industry. underwater director of photography, Pete Romano ASC Pete’s career started about 40 years ago as a member of the U S Navy’s underwater combat camera group, where he found a love for underwater photography.

That love took him to the film industry, where he worked on some iconic movies, including the abyss Titanic Waterworld mission impossible. And most recently call of the wild. Pete also runs one of the best known underwater cinema housing and lighting companies in the world. Hydro flex. He’s been a stunt man. He’s a hoarder of underwater film memorabilia.

And he talked out Pachino into going for a swim. Let’s dive in. 

Pete Romano. Welcome to the underwater podcast.

Pete Romano: [00:00:51] well. Thank you, Brett.  It was my first podcast ever.

Brett Stanley: [00:00:54] It’s an honor to have you on here.   Um, , so I just want to get an idea like, uh, you know, with the whole virus shutdown and the covert 19 sort of thing, like the industry’s pretty dead right now. Um, what are you doing? Are you hold up at home? Are you, are you still doing any work at all?

What, what’s your kind of routine at the moment?

Pete Romano: [00:01:13] Well, there’s certainly no film work happening, but that’s, that’s fine. Uh, there’s always a backlog of stuff to do here at Hyde reflection. Quite honestly, we’re doing things that we’ve always thought of but never had the time to take care of. So I’m photographing my newer posters so we can put them up.

On the website and probably on Instagram and a little history behind them. Cause one of my passions, yeah. Is collecting movie posters with underwater themes and really more for me to show the history of how we got here.

Brett Stanley: [00:01:49] so, if anyone’s ever been to hydro flex, you know, you’ve got to got a little, um, like it’s almost a museum. There have evolved camera housings and, and movie posters and memorabilia. Is that kinda how you got into the underwater stuff?

Is that what brought you in was those old movies.

Pete Romano: [00:02:07] No, the old movies didn’t bring, well maybe to a lesser degree. I remember watching, see hunt as a kid and then flipper. Those were very popular shows. Mmm. All based out of Florida. And, uh, I got to know a lot of the people who actually did that. Jordan Klein, Lamar Boren, Rico Browning, all those guys were part of that.

And we’ll get Lamar born certainly as my hero. But. I joined the Navy and the early seventies because I had a desire to learn about photography. I couldn’t go to to school. I couldn’t afford it. I was working in. The print a printing shop. And lo and behold, I found out that the Navy had a great photo school and I decided, okay, I’m going to take a run at it.

And at that time, uh, was towards the end of the Vietnam war. You could take your tests before you signed up, and if you’ve got a good enough grade, you could choose whatever Erie would like to be trained in. And of course, I chose photography. Yeah. It was a whole run for me. Mmm. I got a great immersion into that.

I mean, it certainly was under the guise of the military, so I had to, um, play that part, which was interesting as a young man. Yeah. But it, it paid off in so many ways and through events, I, yeah. I ended up getting stationed North of LA appointment goo after went through my photo schools Aye was, you know, my boredom has always been my biggest, Mmm enemy.

Brett Stanley: [00:03:40] Yeah, I think it is for a lot of

Pete Romano: [00:03:42] yeah. I was totally bored processing and printing aerials and grew up in grins, which is a ceremony where you get an award and really silly stuff. And it just so happened that a bill, it opened up. At point Magoo, uh, part of their a hundred water photo team. Yeah. Oh, I never dove before in my life.

I just looked at it as something exciting to get me out of what I was doing and I apply. And had to go through a couple of tests before they let you go to Navy dive school. Yeah. Uh, one of them is day 30, when, uh, uh, full dressed Mark five in San Diego Harbor and three over the side. Yeah. This is 200 pounds of gear.

And they have painted black every one of them portals on the helmet. Okay. You’re in a claustrophobic moment and they are testing to see if you’re claustrophobic. And I wasn’t, I didn’t know at the time until after I took that test. But Mmm. I did that and then went through Navy dive school. And quite honestly today, I can still remember where I was, where I was facing, where the clock was, when I came up out of the water after having my first breath.

It was such a revolutionary feeling. It it. Mmm. It changed my life. It really struck me. Um, so deeply and.  So becoming a Navy diver photographer was for me, one of the most exciting and fulfilling jobs I could have ever had in the Navy.

And I worked with DVT seal team explosives ordinance. I walked out of submarines while they were underway. The little seals to man’s subs. Yeah. You couldn’t make sure it is more exciting. It was such a blaster.

Brett Stanley: [00:05:22] That’s incredible. And so the, the suit they put you in to test your claustrophobia, was that like an old school diving helmet sort of situation?

Pete Romano: [00:05:31] Oh, absolutely. 200 pounds. Who?

Canvas suit, lead boots, and a 65 pound helmet.

Brett Stanley: [00:05:37] And totally painted black.

Pete Romano: [00:05:39] Totally painted black. And I’d never dove in my life, and that’s the, threw me over the side.

Brett Stanley: [00:05:44] That’s incredible. And what was your feeling when you’re in that, in that helmet? Were you, was there any panic or any fear at all?

Pete Romano: [00:05:51] absolutely none. Uh, not even a hint. And I then realized, okay, I guess I’m not claustrophobic.

Brett Stanley: [00:05:57] Yeah.

Pete Romano: [00:05:58] So, uh, in not knowing, you know, it was just one of those things you have to put yourself through. It. But if you, if you were a panic diver in a claustrophobic situation, that there is nothing more dangerous underwater, take a white shark out of it.

I mean, it’s a panic diver will kill you.

Brett Stanley: [00:06:15] Yeah.

Pete Romano: [00:06:16] And that’s just the deal. And that’s what the Navy put us through. And I felt pretty confident, um, sometimes overconfident in my diving prowess, which I carried for many years into the movie business, doing silly things that I wouldn’t do today in overnight.

Actually tell anybody else to do it or advise them.

Brett Stanley: [00:06:34] Right? What sort of things were you doing? What sort of things do you class as as the stupid things you did back in the day?

Pete Romano: [00:06:40] Oh, I did underwater stunts, uh, with live sharks on, for your rise. Only in The Bahamas. Um, literally they were throwing live sharks at my legs. My head was above water. It was the scene where bond and Molina being dragged through the coral. And as the boat makes a turn. Bond wraps the cord around the cable, a coral head, and the line comes taut and between bond and Molina and the boat is this sort of float, a big sort of can type flow.

So the boat pulls the line taut. The line snaps per the movie. Yeah. The float now sales towards the boat that’s been pulling them, knocks the guy off of the stern. No, that guy just happened to have, or I happen to have the same hairline as he did, which

was nowhere. So, um, I was now part of. The, uh, the stunt crew on this.

And we had, I think there were two or three tiger sharks that were captured, uh, the night before, and they put them in this hold on one of the Miami Seaquarium boats, and they take them two. Location. Okay. And then somebody gets in the tank with them and you can grab a shark by the pectoral fins and literally swim them to the set.

Now, um, you can’t do that today. It was a different time and growth. I praise the Lord. They don’t do it anymore. And. Alright. I’m hoping to be absolved of my sins, but it’s what happened and we can go back through history, even back to the Cousteaus about things that were done at that time.  not being aware of really the damage that was being done.

So, you know, I don’t want to get any calls

Brett Stanley: [00:08:25] No, no, no. Exactly. And I think a lot of those kinds of stories like, like with the Cousteau’s and those sorts of people is what has driven us today to kind of have these regulations in place. Like if they didn’t do those stupid things, we wouldn’t know not to do them now.

Pete Romano: [00:08:40] Well, you’re absolutely right. and, and so, you know, my stunt career went on, but the craziest one, of course, was the sharks. And they had Al Giddings and Chuck Nicklin both on cameras. ARDI Moleski and I think it was Alex Edlund from Miami. We’re holding the two sharks. I was floating on the surface. Okay.

The head above water kicking my feet. And roll camera and then throw the sharks at Pete.

Brett Stanley: [00:09:07] Oh my God.

Pete Romano: [00:09:08] And this is, no kidding. Um, so we had an ambulance on standby. We had, I think they had a plane. We had all kinds of things, rubber boats to get me out of there. Something happened. And I’m, I’m of course not thinking there’s anything bad about this, but Mmm.

Omnipotence when you’re young is, uh, is a virtue. Uh, we did it. We did a number of takes. And the last take. The seven foot or came up between my legs forward. So his dorsal ended up in my crotch, literally. Well, I just rolled off. I’m like, it was a horse, but everybody thought I got hit. They dropped cameras, they started the boats up.

Everybody was screaming and yelling, and I’m looking around going, what’s going on?

Brett Stanley: [00:09:50] Yeah. Right.

Pete Romano: [00:09:51] Yeah. So, um, and, and for that feat, aye. It was on the cover of what. Well, we in the film business would consider on the cover of rolling stone. I was on the cover of American cinematographer.

Brett Stanley: [00:10:06] Wow.

Pete Romano: [00:10:06] You can see Al Giddings and Chuck Nicklin and then you can see the sharks being held, and then you can see my legs dangling down from below the water.

Brett Stanley: [00:10:15] incredible.

Pete Romano: [00:10:16] So it really happened folks. And if you take for your eyes only and you step frame through that sequence. Frame by frame, you can see that it’s me. Silly enough.


Brett Stanley: [00:10:29] that’s great. And so did you have any protective gear on at all, or were you just in like a pair of shorts.

Pete Romano: [00:10:34] I had my denim shoes, I have pair of Adidas sneakers that I figured my feet were going to be the first thing to get bit. So I looked and liberally took. Thin sheets of aluminum and put them under the tongue of my, of my sneakers. So I figured if you, it’s my fault, I got the sole on the bottom and now I got aluminum on top.

Um, and never needed those. But yeah, that was, that was it. That’s all she wrote. So I wouldn’t do it today and I wouldn’t, uh, I wouldn’t want anybody else to do it.

Brett Stanley: [00:11:04] No, I don’t think any production would let you do it. Really, would they?

Pete Romano: [00:11:08] Not now. No.

Brett Stanley: [00:11:10] So  how did you go from that? From doing stunts underwater to be behind the camera

Pete Romano: [00:11:15] Well on fewer eyes only. I was a camera assistant and I, I knew Panavision cameras and for that top side sequences that out getting sad to do. I was kind of the only guy who knew the Panavision cameras. So I had a great foundation as a camera assistant. But after, for your eyes, only. Uh, back, we went, moved back to San Francisco.

Um, I started doing freelance work. Oh, okay. 16 millimeter TV stuff. Um, hand decided that I wanted to seek my fortune in Los Angeles.

Brett Stanley: [00:11:47] Wait, where are you before this?

Pete Romano: [00:11:49] Uh, well I started in San Diego when I got out of the Navy. Then I moved to San Francisco to work with Al Giddings. So that’s how I got to San Francisco. After for your eyes only.

I hung up in the San Francisco area and was just scraping up work, and a good friend of mine had an aunt who had a great friend in the Hollywood Hills . We went and stayed at that house trying to seek our fortune in LA, and it was a beautiful house on the bird streets, just above sunset, overlooking the entire Valley.

Uh, we had a lime tree and a pool, and. It was an incentive to sit down and have a gin and tonic every afternoon, but, um, aye. I didn’t get day’s work in the film business. I worked at a machine shop who did camera kind of stuff. Okay. Ultimately, I had a go back to San Francisco and I made a call. To a friend who I met once on a, uh, on a television show.

Yeah. Yeah. An unusual name. His name is Selwyn Eddie and I was able to find his phone number. He was living in Nevada at the time.  And I called him and said, Hey, Solon, remember me? Um, I’m kind of looking for work. What’s going on at ILM, which is industrial light magic Lucas film. And it goes, well. Um, it just so happens we’re starting up on Poltergeist, E T.

Um, and there was another one, I forget which one it was. And we have a cameraman who’s looking for an assistant who has a machining background. Well, I couldn’t have found a better spot, And the fellow’s name is bill Neil. he, uh, he is still a very, very good friend today. As a matter of fact, I just saw him two weeks ago.

Um, and his wife and my wife are good friends. I haven’t worked with bill four. Jeez, it’s gotta be 30 years. Right. But we have remained in touch and he’s a good soul.

Brett Stanley: [00:13:39] Right? Yeah. And so having a machining background, why was that? Was there stuff that they wanted to build for the cameras?

Pete Romano: [00:13:46] Yes. You know, being part of a visual effects crew, certainly way back then when it was all physical and we had film cameras, a lot of it’s 65 millimeter film cameras. We had to make little widgets and gadgets and change this and do that. So I was, I was frequenting the machine shop quite a bit and was able to, I mean, it was.

A great group of guys and gals. Mmm. Who there was a great lot of, there was a lot of comradery up there at that time. Yeah. Cause they had just finished the empire strikes back and then we were getting into return of the Jedi and all of that. So it was quite an exciting time for me, and I just absorbed like a sponge.

so I have a pretty heavy. Visual effects background, which has helped me so much in doing my visual effects work in the film business. Yeah. Underwater. I know what I can get away with. I know how to trick the camera. It’s, it’s just, it added to a foundation that, Mmm. That still pays off today.

Brett Stanley: [00:14:49] Oh, I bet. I mean, the, those techniques and everything must have set you up for a lot of what the digital world is doing today.

Pete Romano: [00:14:55] correct. And it’s, it’s really fun to play with the frame and sort of cheat the shot because sometimes we’re looking at an underwater infinity background. You can’t really see anything and you can do so many, you can. Move that camera to make it look like your actor is moving. So they can almost be in placement.

Camera does the move, and you can’t tell that that it isn’t the actor actually making the move. So all kinds of things. So that’s just one minor example of what you can do.

Brett Stanley: [00:15:26] Yeah. And I think just from, from speaking to you add hydro flex and when we’ve done your, your  underwater camera courses, learning that, you know, you don’t have to have a massive. Tank to be able to shoot these kinds of shots. You can move, keep the camera still and move the actor to create a much bigger look than you’re actually shooting in.


Pete Romano: [00:15:46] Absolutely. Absolutely.

Brett Stanley: [00:15:48] so from, from those golden age of 80 and star Wars, and then I think he went onto like Ghostbusters and,

Pete Romano: [00:15:55] Oh, it was a circuitous route. I, when we finally ended up on return of the Jedi, I was on the Vista cruiser stage, which is a VistaVision camera to do stop motion, and we were doing stop motion of death star. But. That was the death of me because it was so boring. It was, it was tough and it was exciting in one sense, but when you click click, that’s how you shot.

So it’s, it didn’t lend itself for an exciting career. Just so happened, I was in contact with one of our pioneers and underwater Jordan Klein, who is still alive today, and Jordan was. Just starting on, never say never again was the remake. And I hooked up with Jordan. I said goodbye to my good friends at ILM and yes, I walked out in the middle of return of the Jedi and I moved.

I moved to, uh, went to Nassau and we started on, never say, never again. So in the, towards the end of that jaws 3d probably one of the worst movies ever made,

Brett Stanley: [00:17:04] Yeah.

Pete Romano: [00:17:06] Okay. They were shooting in what was known then as Arie vision 3d or airy three D.

It might’ve been air revision and it was standalone. Who was their 3d developer, designer. Basically a single lens that split the frame and they needed an underwater housing. For that camera. And I left Jordan in Nassau, flew to  where his office and machine shop and everything was, and I built the underwater housing for that area.

3d lens around a 35 three camera. I’ll work that through and got through that production. And then splash came up and I was Jordan’s assistant and. I did some second operating. We have Ron Howard down there with us. Um, Don Peterman was the cameraman and I got to meet Keith peanut, and this was a long, long, long time ago.

And then of course, Brad Peterman assisted for many years with us and I, we just saw him on a show in Pittsburgh. Okay. Two months ago. So it’s, yeah, very small world.

.  Brett Stanley: [00:18:08] So how did you learn to create an underwater housing? Was that something that you picked up being doing the machining stuff, or was it something you kind of just threw together? I mean, being, being known for it now as you run hydro flex, it’s kind of, it’s interesting to hear how you started building housings in the first place.

Pete Romano: [00:18:26] okay. Well, when I was working for Al Giddings before ILM.  he had a very small machine shop and I was doing some sort of repair work and some design work. And then a camera came up called the cinema products gizmo at a coaxial mag straight back. It was perfect for an underwater housing.

So between Al and myself, we developed  cinema products, gizmo, underwater housing that he used to shoot. basically a TV show called mysteries of the sea, which we fondly  miseries of the sea.

Brett Stanley: [00:19:03] Right?

Pete Romano: [00:19:04] And again, I did more stunt work and that crazy movie, uh, that, which was silly. but those camera housings were what really made that film.

After I left and started at ILM, I was able to use their machine shop at night. And on weekends, and I would, I built my first solo housing at the Island machine shop up in San Rafael, California. Yeah. So that, that was the kickoff. Um, and then when I left ILM and went to Jordan Klein, there was a little shakeup at Lucas film and Richard Edlund.

Who was the head of it and won the Academy award for empire. He moved down to Los Angeles and started boss film corporation. Yeah. And. I hooked up with Richard, I believe I was the first to get hired was August of 1983 I drove right from Florida, right into LA. Cut a place on Lynbrook Avenue across from what used to be flax right there.

UCLA couldn’t find a better spot. And we started building equipment for Ghostbusters  okay. So I just did, you know the, the Campbell work, the machining, the design, all of that. And replayed to really help me make my Mark.

Brett Stanley: [00:20:20] Yeah. And it must’ve been. The sort of thing back then where it was like  were there many people doing that or was there, was it kind of just you making a name because you were the one who knew how to do it?

Pete Romano: [00:20:31] Well, you know, it’s, it’s always been the wild West to a certain extent. But certainly in the earlier days when you see people like Lamar Boren who would build their own stuff, and I have examples of these handmade, a homemade underwater housing is made out of plexiglass, and it looks like door handles.

People have taken off the kitchen cabinets. And so I think if you have the desire, you just, you know, you had to figure it out and get there. And I remember. At ILM. I went out and shot a commercial for a swimming pool, a cleaner, and I had to go rent a housing. A Bolex hand crank are you wound up the spring and it had no reflex finder.

It had a SciFinder and I did great until it came to the closeup, but it didn’t work. Mmm. And I had to reshoot that. The little port that one shot. And that was when I decided I’m done with this joke. I’m making my own stuff, and I had to have reflux fueling. So that’s sort of what’s the springboard for the original gizmo.

But then when I got into the 35, three housings, yeah. Um, which would have been 83, 84. Mmm. Reflux fueling was absolutely mandatory. No side finders, none of that stuff. I really needed to see the frame.

Brett Stanley: [00:21:48] Yeah. Cause otherwise you’re, you’re, you’ve got no idea what you’re shooting, especially with the closeups. Right. Because you’re basically looking through a little square on the side of the

Pete Romano: [00:21:55] Exactly. And sometimes I’m shooting in a teacup, and that frame is so precise that if I move anywhere in one wrong direction, um, the shot’s dead. So, um, you really have to watch what’s going on and be able to control that. That’s part of how I made my successful entry into this business.

Brett Stanley: [00:22:15] Was being reliable and being able to get the shot.

Pete Romano: [00:22:17] Yes. Because before that it was a crap shoot. It was a 50 50 you get somebody who says, Hey, I can dive. And they’d never even seen the housing and they tried to get in there basically trying to save themselves and survive versus trying to get the shot. Mmm. And you know, in what we do, the, your equipment is secondary.

It’s natural. It’s, it’s just. It just happens. You don’t even think about it. You’re thinking about the camera, you’re thinking about your shot, and you’re thinking about where your talent is. Uh, all those things are sort of just spinning in your head. And the last thing I want to think about is my regulator or my tank.

Brett Stanley: [00:22:51] Yeah, exactly.

Pete Romano: [00:22:52] It is well focused. You have to be. Um, and it’s quite exciting. It’s a lot of fun. It is the hot seat. Hot seat of hot seats.

Brett Stanley: [00:23:01] Yeah. And so, what took you from, from there to working on something like, like the abyss for example.

Pete Romano: [00:23:07] Well, you know, I, um. I just kept plugging away, doing all kinds of anything I could do. I literally was my own assistant. I loaded my own mags. I threw the housing in the water, and I jumped in behind it so I could go shoot. So I just kept knocking it out and I ended up becoming the director of photography for another horrible movie called jaws.

The revenge. It was an incredible experience for me. Um, it, it certainly gave me a lot more confidence, which at that time I didn’t have a lot of. And I remember doing some of those shots and I had Jack McKinney as my second operator at Jack McKinney. If anyone knows the history of underwater, certainly a documentary pioneer and a great guy.

Oh, you did so many things. Okay. I remember being in The Bahamas, they’re trying to do the shots and I was so afraid of swimming the camera cause I might not make it work. Might be wrong. I might miss my Mark. I was okay. Not paralyzed, but I was certainly constrained with an angst. Um, I mean today, today, if I, I never hold the camera still, Alyssa, I’m actually told to, and I’d take it pretty cavalier approach to it now because, you know, it’s somewhat second nature in its own right.

But, uh, but jaws. Gave me some credit that was on the big screen, a big, big screen, and I was the only guy so that, that was good.  I remember, you know John Bruno, who used to work at ILM and then worked at boss film, visual effects supervisor and a director. Okay. He hooked up with Jim Cameron and that’s how I kind of got involved with the abyss.

I approached John and Jim because I wanted to be heading up there. Underwater, uh, visual effects, second unit. And that’s really my only intention was too, and this was Jim, uh, at his desk and very calm and totally different than what he is on set. I can tell you that firsthand. Mmm. So in this. This interview conversation with Jim and John.

Jim asks, so what are you doing, uh, these days? What’s going on? Well, I’ve got a couple of housings I’m renting, and I just started building, uh, a couple of lights. I had some little six 50 pars little toys, and, and Jim goes, um, so what do you think about bidding on the underwater lighting package for the abyss?

Oh, wow. Oh, well, I’m sure. What do you want? Oh, I’ll give it a shot. I’m being, I wasn’t, I wasn’t going to say no, and he said, um, looking at needing a 10 K underwater.

Brett Stanley: [00:25:50] Wow.

Pete Romano: [00:25:51] I said to him,  I mean, if you just look at the physical size of a 10 K. Uh, if you try to use the same reflectors and the Ferndale and all of that stuff and try to keep it watertight, I said, you’re looking at something that’s going to take 100 pounds of lead to get down.

She can’t do that now. This was also at a time when HMI were kind of new. I used the HMI for the first time ever on jaws. The revenge in Nassau, Pat Murray, Mike gaffer. What’s the one that brought HMI technology to my attention. So I remember how punchy they were, and I saying, Jim, these HMEs are amazing. I don’t want to see HMI.

I want that 10 K.

Brett Stanley: [00:26:28] Wow. Okay.

Pete Romano: [00:26:30] so I realized I had hit a wall and I said, okay, we’ll make it work. So I went back to the original hydro flex space, which is on Mmm, Redwood Avenue in Venice. And I borrowed a stage. It was next door, and I set up a silk 20 by 20 I had a 10 K of five K  and I had a 1.2 HMR and I called Jim and John Bruno over to look at a lighting test before we proceeded to do the H to do the lighting.

And I kind of set. Set him up a little bit because we had the 10 K on and I had my spectrum analog major, and we turn on the 10 K okay, Kay tungsten, and here we are. And I’ve got my, I forget what slide I had in the meter at the time, but the needle came up to a five six and we were about, I don’t know, 40 feet away from the light to the screen.

And Jim goes, see, this is what I want. This is what I need. No. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I had, uh, Richard Mueller, who my former partner, who really was an electronics wizard. Um, he had, we had the 1.2 K already heated up because, you know, it takes a couple of minutes for three to pick a peak. we did the 10 K gyms bubbling.

I love it. This is what I want. And I said, okay, Richard, uh, shut off the 10 K and flip around the 1.2 HMI and Jim, I thought it was going to kill me. I’m not kidding. Um, and when that light spun around and I put my meter in it, the meter didn’t hit 5.6. It pigged to the opposite side. It was. Buried. It was past everything, and Jim just looked at me and that was it.

That’s how come we did those lights. We were the first people to put HMS under water, and they’re very prominent on a flatbed as you can see it going around and they put them all over it. Deep core. So that was quite an introduction to underwater lighting, manufacturing, and good, big, big part of that. Um, you know, we, we were using other machine shops, Vince paces machine shop North, he and his dad, Louis with Richard.

Mmm  machine and design, all of those things. so it was quite an enterprise and you know, we had to build so much stuff for the abyss of housing for the 65 Panavision, the Vista vision butterfly, paramount version, plus the 35 three. So quite an exciting time for us.

Brett Stanley: [00:29:03] Yeah. I mean, I’ve recently watched the behind the scenes video for the abyss, and it kind of lays out the scale of that film. Did you know how big. That production was going to be or how intense it was going to be when you signed up.

Pete Romano: [00:29:18] Um, big, yes. Intense. No. Mmm. It was big. And I remember doing some Ricky’s going out for a, looking at the place, and I, I have some still somewhere I got to pull out of everybody. Gym and Giddings and lists dilly and the whole  crew,  but a lot of the, the heads of department looking around Gaffney, South Carolina before we actually started shooting.

I think. Only somebody with Jim’s vision and drive  I have done something like that and he’s still doing it with, uh, avatar, the sir. so he is a visionary. He’s a hard driving guy. Mmm. And you have to respect them for that. Good. It can be very tough at times. I do hear he’s mellowed a little bit,

Brett Stanley: [00:30:01] yeah. It must have been quite   insane, I think , cause when you were looking around, I think it was like South Carolina where you’re looking for a tank to do this in and you ended up at a, like a decommissioned nuclear power plant.

Pete Romano: [00:30:13] Well, you know, it wasn’t even commissioned. It was never completed. was half built and it was like the workers drop their hammers and walked away, and the fellow who purchased it, Earl Owen SPE. Oh, from that area. Definitely a Wheeler dealer guy. I think he made more money on selling the steel and the bolts and everything that were left behind.

Then he did on renting the facilities to the movie business.

Brett Stanley: [00:30:38] Right?

Pete Romano: [00:30:39] Unbelievable.

Brett Stanley: [00:30:40] Yeah. Um, I mean, watching that video of all the behind the scenes of how they took this, you know, concrete bowl basically, and then turned it into a tank, but that just the engineering to get back to work was insane.

Pete Romano: [00:30:52] It really was. It was. It was. It was an adventurous moment for everybody cause everybody was sort of winging it. But they, they, they pulled it off my unit because they couldn’t tent the tank I was in, we were in the tank. It was too large. We had to work at night. So for four months, we were the vampire divers.

Uh, uh, towards the end that we started in September, ended up just before Christmas, and we had this huge hot tub that was part of our little hydro house down there. And we would jump in that and then jump in the water again. And I remember breaking for. For lunch, which was 10 30 or 11 take your wetsuits off, dry off, and then go get something to eat.

You’d come back, and this is no kidding. Your wetsuits were frozen

Brett Stanley: [00:31:43] Oh really?

Pete Romano: [00:31:43] literally through the wetsuits in the hot tub. You jumped in the hot tub and that’s how you got dressed.

Brett Stanley: [00:31:49] Wow.

Pete Romano: [00:31:50] Okay. So it was crazy.

Brett Stanley: [00:31:52] That’s insane. And speaking of what you, they couldn’t tent that, that be tank, but I remember seeing in the video that the a tank, which is like, I can’t remember how big it is, but it’s huge to tent that they ended up putting those little black styrofoam balls across the entire surface of the water.

Pete Romano: [00:32:09] They were polypropylene and I believe the tank was 200 foot in diameter and 56 foot deep at the bottom. it is crazy and it was a great, I mean, Jim was able to pull that off in that, in that body of water. I don’t know another body of water. You could do it unless you go open water and the risks. Okay.

With the uncertainties of open water would have never let that happen.

Brett Stanley: [00:32:33] yeah. Um, and so, so going from the abyss was, did that kind of kick off a another like step in your career? Did it push you sort of bit into bigger and better things.

Pete Romano: [00:32:43] Um, I think I had a lot of confidence with my ability to execute underwater shots from that day in, day out, and You know, we, we, we sort of push the lights more. And Richard and I were able to start getting those out a lot on movies and people were really embracing them, um, got noticed by the Academy and they gave us a technical achievement award for those lights.

So it, it all played in. And then I just started looking for any and every underwater project that could ever happen and wanted to dearly. I’m a little more cavalier about it now, but I was very, very hungry back then.

Brett Stanley: [00:33:24] Right. And did that kind of push you two to kind of reach out to people and, and kind of try and bid on as much things as you could or were

Pete Romano: [00:33:33] Yep, absolutely. Um, and, and I always kept developing new equipment or improving what I’ve had and being the end user. I made it work. I did things that I felt were needed to make this happen. And of course, video assist was okay. Primary. Now, I don’t know for a fact, but I, Mike, I have been the first person to do a video assist off of a film camera to the surface with a 35, three.

I wouldn’t put any money behind that, but I kind of think so. Um. And it was all, all these things about the balance and, and, and how to really get that camera housing. I mean, when you think about it, it’s an object that’s in space and you have to get it from one point to the other. Forget about your air, forget about everything else.

What are you putting on that frame? That’s all that really mattered to me and I, I fought for that frame. I still fight for that frame every day. I get in the water and I, I love it. It is addictive.

Brett Stanley: [00:34:34] Yeah. Then by that you mean you’re, you’re fighting for the image you’re capturing, is that right? Yeah. how much control do you have over that? I mean, you’ve got the director on the surface who’s, you know, basically telling you the shots they want. How much kind of creative control do you have over that frame?

Pete Romano: [00:34:52] Well, in terms of interacting with your director and your cameraman, a diplomacy would be in capital letters and. They’re going to give you their requests or their ideas and you know, you have to talk them through it. Yeah, no problem. I can do that. Or I don’t know if I can do that. Let me give it a shot.

Okay. Readjust. Or you can’t do that and you can’t say that, but you have to somehow work your way around it to get there. Um, and so you really want to make it part of the collaboration. You don’t want to be the 800 pound gorilla. You want to be the person to make this happen and get everybody out of the water.

Walk away with some Wakefield is about some great coverage.

Brett Stanley: [00:35:33] Yeah. Have you had directors that haven’t shot underwater before and you’ve kind of struggled to make them understand the things you can and can’t do.

Pete Romano: [00:35:41] Well, yes. . More than not directors, typically if, unless I’ve worked on before, I have not done under water. So those people are, most of them are really open. So what you can and can’t do and you can offer up things to them with, I can try this or try that. Or, um, you know, as you get a feel for what they want, do you want to clean in and a clean out, uh, how do you, you know, what do you see here?

Can I can help with the camera to move that? So it does become a collaboration and. And it has to be a collaboration in order for it to be successful. Mmm. And there are instances where you have to talk the talent sometimes really big talent. Yeah. But you have to watch out that you, yeah. I kind of go through the a D you don’t want to go direct.

There’s that chain of command you still have to deal with, unless you are very intimately, um, friendly with, let’s say, an actor you’ve worked with many times you can just deal with it. But. Is it, it’s diplomacy is so important in this, and your ability to mold yourself to the, to this established crew that’s probably been shooting for months and you come in as the new guy.

Wow. Um, so you’re there to serve, you’re there to help. Mmm. And offer up and do your job

Brett Stanley: [00:36:55] and so speaking of working with celebrities and you know, sort of list actors, how has that been working with actors who maybe have not done any underwater stuff before, or they’re being pushed to do something that is way out of their comfort zone?

Pete Romano: [00:37:12] Well, you know, it’s, um, as the pendulum swings, you go from one end to the other. Um, I’ve had actors, so it was on a TV show, and I can’t remember his name. His stunt guy couldn’t do it, period. And the guy did it himself. He was good. It was amazing. So it goes to that end two all the way to the other side where they can do to put their head under water.

Uh, and that is pretty much the case with Wynnona rider. And I think from what she said, she had a near death drowning experience. Yeah. And I remember on Mmm, alien resurrection, if you look at that film, you might see three seconds of her underwater, if that.

Brett Stanley: [00:37:57] right.

Pete Romano: [00:37:58] Um, and then we did it on mystery deeds with Adam Sandler.

I think I got a few more frames of that. Yeah, yeah. It, it really, it’s so variable. It’s always different. Um, I, I remember on insomnia up in Vancouver, and, uh, it was Wally Pfister and of course, mr dapper Chris Nolan, probably the most together director we have out there. And I’ve done a number of shows with, uh, with Chris and have funny stories.

He’s, uh, he’s. Take no prisoners, but he’s got a great sense of humor, of being a Brit. Um, and he knows when you’re working for him and trying your best, and you can’t ask for more than that. He’s an incredible guy. Mmm. So we’re up in Vancouver, and that’s the log scene that, uh, Robin Williams is chasing. I think Al Pachino or vice versa, I’m not sure which it is.

Um, along the logs as they’re going down the river and. The Al Pachino character falls through the logs under water. No. We have this big set floating logs in this, a special effects guys, right? Banging them around and yeah, we’ve got a stunt guy there and we’re doing some great shots in these pounding, banging, heavy duty real logs that if we got in the middle of them, we would have been crushed.

Um, so we’ve got great stuff. So no, we need this one shot. And I forget which producer was it comes up to me and he goes. We can’t get Al Pachino to go on a water. You need to go talk to them. This is no kidding. This is for real. I got to go talk to Scarface now.

Brett Stanley: [00:39:32] yeah.

Pete Romano: [00:39:33] and so they throw me in his trailer. This is no kidding.

And now I’m sitting at this little table and me now. So I said, Al, Hey, pleasure to meet you. You know, this is all great. This is going to be very easy. Hi, I’ve had effects. Uh, and the grips build a set of steps so you can stand in the water and it’ll be at your neck. You take two steps down. I’ll be there with the camera.

We’ll get your closeup. Just got to open your eyes for second. I’ll get it. I’ll be there for you. That’s it. this is in the tank, in the same tank that we just did the log thing, and I think it was a wave tank or a university who, I can’t remember. So forgive me there. Um, so Al goes, Oh, I can’t open my eyes underwater.

Oh, I can’t now. Come to find out. Al Pacino is a city app. He’s, he’s afraid to go in the woods for ticks. At least he was back then. At least that’s what I heard. So now I’m going to put them in water and he doesn’t want to do it. So uncle Alex, it’s going to be so quick, so painless. Just open your eyes too.

He goes, Oh, my house are going to burn. I go, it’s clear water. You could drink it. It’s all fine. You might feel it a little bit. Oh, I don’t want to feel it. Nope. So we got them on the steps. I’m underwater waiting. ALPA Chino walks down, I get the shot. Eyes never opened.

Brett Stanley: [00:40:51] Right?

Pete Romano: [00:40:52] I just never opened period.

So, but it’s there. So, uh, and it was a quick pop, but that was a very funny story for me to talk to. Every time I see him now, I go, Oh my God, I was sitting right next to him.

Brett Stanley: [00:41:08] Yeah. Have you worked with him since?

Pete Romano: [00:41:10] Uh, no, I haven’t, unfortunately.

Brett Stanley: [00:41:13] Yeah. Are there people that you have worked with a few times, um, underwater?

Pete Romano: [00:41:18] Yes, Russell Crowe, the governor take no prisoners guy, but I love him dearly. He’s, he’s a good man. I

Brett Stanley: [00:41:26] Is that, is that your nickname for him or is that like an

Pete Romano: [00:41:28] Oh, I call it, I call him the governor. I think anybody in the, in the British censor Ozzy’s set up with Ridley Scott, who directed gladiator and many, many other things. And a lot of shows that, that, um, that Russell was in.

We used to call it Ridley the governor because he was the governor for sure. Uh, and. Truly what an amazing director and collaborator he was, and his brother, who’s no longer with us. But, uh, but Russell, uh, I remember doing man of steel rep in Vancouver and Russell did pretty good. He’s, you know, he’s a gutsy guy.

Uh, he wants to get it done, but he doesn’t want to do it twice.  you don’t get it. You pay it. Um, you pay dearly. I had to pay once and I never did it again. Uh,

then I ended up working with him on Noah, up in, uh, was it along the Island right after they had a big hurricane, I believe. So, uh, but we did well, and then Russell took over the set.

You said the, it’s just me and Pete. Nobody else. Everybody, everybody else go. No kidding. Because, Darren Aronofsky incredible director and Natty Liberty, a good friend and an incredible camera. And who I just worked with on the prom two months ago. Um, they were there. See, I think Darren. Likes to take a number of takes.

Okay. And Russell, it’s not that kind of guy. Russell is the consummate professional, and he gets it and he wants to move on. He doesn’t want to do it again. So if you want to get his IRA up, that’s what you do right there. So that’s when we got there. He said, it’s me and you. That’s it. I went, okay, let’s go.

So, um, so it was funny, but yeah, he’s, he’s a kick. I’ve done a number of shows with Kevin Costner and what a, what a gentlemen. What a nice guy. Oh my God. Yeah. He’s a mean. Aside from Waterworld to black and white and, uh, what was it, um, the bus sequence, dragon fly, I think it was, or something like


Brett Stanley: [00:43:29] Now I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about Waterworld because it is one of the most underrated and polarizing films. I think. Of that kind of genre where I’m not sure it was received very well, but I think it’s got a little bit of a, a cult status. Now, how was that to shoot.

Pete Romano: [00:43:47] Well, I think that was probably one of the biggest productions I’ve ever been involved with. It was all shot in Hawaii. It was, well, not all of it at the end. We actually did some stage work and did some underwater work at the tank on the Huntington beach. The old NASA. Uh, pretty, but Hawaii was great.

It was, uh, it was a huge crew, I think with all of the stumps and the props and all of the departments who go there, and that was well over 500 people

Brett Stanley: [00:44:18] yeah. And how was it technically? Cause I know that it was probably. A lot of it was shot above water than more than underwater. so they, did they have you in every day or were you kind of just coming in every now and again?

Pete Romano: [00:44:30] I was going back and forth with my crew to Hawaii to take care of the parts that they had scheduled for the other water. Usually it was with, um. Stuff we had to do with Kevin directly, so his time was pretty limited. We had to be available to make that happen with him, but Kevin’s a great guy. He’s a can do kind of guy, and he didn’t all, he did quite well actually.

Brett Stanley: [00:44:54] Oh, right. So he was doing his own stunts and,

Pete Romano: [00:44:56] yes, he was doing most of his stuff, so he did have a stuck man who was there who actually. Good embolized believe it or

Brett Stanley: [00:45:04] Oh, really?

Pete Romano: [00:45:05] Yes, we were doing the scene. I was under them. She stayed up and I had to hold my breath because I didn’t want my bubbles in the shop, but it was two students coming together for that, that kiss, the famous kiss that they make, and the unfortunate part is that the guy who was doubling Kevin.

Was holding his breath, which is fine, but he and the Gail were ascending


Brett Stanley: [00:45:33] So that air was expanding in their lungs and an embolizing.

Pete Romano: [00:45:36] Yes.

the shot got blown. It was done, and I came up to the surface. I was probably thought it was 50 feet to get this shot, and I came up and looking at Nicole, what’s going on? I was actually almost a little upset because they blew my shot and I just happened to turn around and look, and my crew was on a boat who was a big sort of catamaran, and in the letters that must have been two foot tall.

It was the party book. And it was the party. Well, I turn and look over to the right, and here’s the stunt guy doing the funky chicken on the swim step.

He took a hit and he resembled,  yes. And they sort, it was a big panic and they got him in a helicopter and flew and blow to a recompression chamber. He was fine, but he had spent a little time in the, in the chamber. Um, but that was probably one of the most exciting parts of it. But, you know, there were a lot of other little pieces and parts going down into the, the vessel itself.

there was one where we had to show Kevin. Being pulled or he was supposed to be swimming and he had this supernatural swim ability to go so fast. It just, it was something that we had to kind of make work, at least give him some pieces of it. and we worked out with the stunts and they had a sort of a trip cable, that once they pressed it . It was immediate and 400 the same ramp up with cables to pull.

Well, I, I was the first one in the front from the point of pull. I was number one,  I’m tied in from the back. Then on my chest, there’s another hookup, a couple of carabiners, and then there’s about a 15 or 20 foot cable that goes to a hand hold, which is where Kevin has to hang on,

Brett Stanley: [00:47:28] Right.

Pete Romano: [00:47:29] and They release the latch and we both get yanked through the water faster than you want to imagine.

And I’m trying to control the camera.

Brett Stanley: [00:47:38] Yeah. Right. And you’re going backwards.

Pete Romano: [00:47:40] and I’m going back and the first thing is I take the first hit from my body being picked up, and then when I started speeding away, of course it took out the Slack and Kevin’s cable and I took another hit

when he. Legged into it. And will you split up pools? I will for 20 or 30 feet, I think.

Something like that. so it all works, but I thought about it. We really did. An unsafe situation. It was unsafe and the reason is who the fuck guys were feeling? I was going to fail. He was good, but one little detail lack to be dealt with and my underwater housing, but at that time was 35 free. That’s a 75

Brett Stanley: [00:48:22] yeah.

Pete Romano: [00:48:22] I was, I was handholding that there was no safety on that.

Underwater housing. If I looked at underwater housing, go. It was going to collide with number one,

Brett Stanley: [00:48:32] Yeah. It’s Australia

to Kevin.

Pete Romano: [00:48:35] I don’t think he could do that today. People are much more aware what’s going on.

Brett Stanley: [00:48:39] Yeah. That’s incredible.

  Thanks Meda. It’s been amazing to hear these stories and I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface yet of what you have to tell. Would you be interested in coming back and telling some more stories?   

Yeah. If you don’t mind sharing, I’m sure people are gonna listen cause I think it’s, it’s as part of this industry and of those movies that  kind of gets lost a little bit I think. But hearing about the , technical side of, of shooting these scenes, that we kind of tend to take for granted I think is really important to be able to hear from the person who, who created a lot of this stuff

Pete Romano: [00:49:16] Well, I, I think it’s great. It’s, it’s, it’s fun to sort of reminisce and think about some of the silly, great, stupid things you’ve done. Mmm. And just learn from those experiences. Keep going. Well, I thank you. This

was fun.

Brett Stanley: [00:49:30] Well, thanks Pete, and uh, hopefully we’ll speak to you soon.

Pete Romano: [00:49:33] Thank you, Brett. You take care.

Brett Stanley: [00:49:35] Well, that was my first episode with Pete Romano ASC and what a great guy. I struggled to keep this episode under an hour. so I’m going to get him to come back next episode and we’re going to talk again. About what he’s been doing recently and more stories from. The hydrophilic side of things, the building of the housings and just more of the technical side of stuff. So join me next episode. When I talk more with Pete Romano ASC.   

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