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The Journey of a Film Maker

Photos by Mark Shapiro, Ace Kvale, Ant Ong, Lionel Tregret, Kenny Bernardini, Trevor Avedissian

My vocational path was forged the day i picked up a super-8 camera as a teenager back in 1976. Shooting reels of surfing on Sydney's Northern beaches, I was inspired by the adventurous lifestyles depicted in the surf and ski movies of the day. So began a journey via the Snowy Mountains of Australia to the Alpine village of Verbier, Switzerland where one winter season extended to 20 years. Based there I travelled the mountain ranges of the world shooting adventure sports films.

Across Europe and Scandinavia to the Rockies and Himalaya, my films tracked along the cutting edge of the extreme evolution in mountain sports and lifestyle. They witnessed the emergence of snowboarding, paragliding and flowriding as well as the renaissance of skiing and the start of Extreme Freeride competitions.

Back in Australia from the end of 2001 with documentary projects and the quest to produce my first feature film.


To that end my journey continues. Along the way, exploring screenplay writing, building websites, shooting documentary projects and creating a food label impedes this realisation on the one hand, but ultimately helps to achieve my goals in the long run.

My latest camera acquisition is attached to a drone which provides the exciting perspective that once would have required a helicopter, now at my fingertips.

photo: Pat Morrow
photo: Ace Kvale
photo: Mark Shapiro

I first picked up my parent's Bauer super-8 camera in 1976. Cyclone swells hitting Sydney beaches meant grommits like me sat and watched (in my case filmed) the big boys go at it, at Dead Mans & Winki at the Bower or Dee Why Point. As a kid, filming big waves and the gang surfing and skateboarding fired a passion which grew watching surf films at the Opera House and later, CMH heli-ski promos and Warren Miller films.

At High School I wagged my own classes to shoot my friends' social studies film project - 'Coytenstein', which i later used to get into North Sydney Tech College to study Film Production Techniques.

But with a growing desire to fly the coup once school was over I soon dropped out to explore the wider world. I left for the Snowy Mountains of NSW.

Over the following two years I began shooting skiing and grass skiing and bought my first super-8 camera, a Canon 1014XLS (now gathering dust in storage).

But after a season the Snowy Mountains felt like nursery slopes to my vivid imagination of what the Alps and Rockies could be. So in 1981 I left for Verbier, Switzerland.

I soon fell in with a group of talented ski bums and began to shot my first ski film. In 1984 on my return to Australia, I finished editing using the rudimentary splicer and editor which was hand wound, before screening my efforts in Perisher and Falls Creek. Here, an entrepreneur was impressed enough to offer funding to go back and shoot another.

The Verbier Connection crew - Verbier, Suisse - Photo Tony McLaughlin

L-R: Stefan Andersson, Lynne Grosse, Katie Steven, Colin Morison, Bruce Johnston, Mark Steven, Eric Hymans, Kent Dowding, Trevor Avedissian

The Super-8 workflow - 70 & 80s style

Shooting Gravity Slaves/Quiksilver - Biarritz, France - Photo Mark Shapiro

Hillbrook represents a time and place at the infancy of my artistic and imaginative world. This genesis of creative expression from my earliest introspections still inspires and motivates me today.

In 1985 I registered the name Hillbrook Motion Pictures and bought my first 16mm film camera from Gracie's hock shop in King's Cross, a Bolex H16RX5 (now gathering dust next to the Canon) and proceeded to becoming a professional independant film maker.

Shooting ski films in the 80s I was on the cutting edge of the alpine genre, pioneering paragliding and snowboarding films, which led to creating a niche film making enterprise in the Swiss resort of Verbier.

Shooting The Verbier Connection - Verbier, Suisse - Photo Johnathon Allen. Skiers L-R: Katie Steven, Eric Hymans, Colin Morison

My first commercial production was a revamp of the super-8 version of The Verbier Connection. Shooting now on 16mm my old editing equipment was now redundant and i had to buy a 16mm edit table. Initially i rented a 4-plate Steenbeck from adventure film makers Malcolm and Valery Douglas, before purchasing my own from the ABC who were converting their news depts to beta SP media.

Over the following years my quiver of cameras increased to include a Beaulieu R16 which was great because it had a battery and could shoot continuously compared to the Bolex which had to be wound up with a crank arm and would only run for 25 seconds before needing re-winding.

This often meant missing vital moments while it was rewound. One such moment was shooting Steven Lee coming down the back side of Mont Gele into Tortin, as an avalanche lit up the backlit slope, as the camera ran out of wind. This moment was the decider on buying a new camera, one with a battery....This also meant i would go through film stock a little quicker...

The Beaulieu R16 was soon upgraded to the Quartz controlled Beaulieu 2016 which guaranteed holding sync when shooting 'double system' with an external audio recorder (either a Nagra or Pro Walkman)

The next purchase was a CP16 which i bought from Channel 10 when they replaced all their ENG news cameras with Betacam SP. This was a single system camera which meant sound was incorporated onto the film with a sound stripe but it was too bulky and cumbersome to use in the mountains and in the end after a period of storage at my parents house it was sold at one of their garage sales for $50... doh!

Shooting was always only part of the process. Once i got my footage back from the lab, then began the fun putting it together. How good was this. An edit suite in my chalet in Verbier! This Steenbeck was loaned to us during the editing of Super Max and remained there throughout the winter and summer of 86/97.

Editing Super Max - Verbier, Suisse - Photos Robert Reichenfeld

Sound is the necessary evil on a location shoot and as an independant operator I needed to acquire some kit myself if i was to be able to provide audio services.

This professional Sony Walkman was crystal sync controlled and worked well for recording sync sound or wild track audio when weight and portability counted, as it did when running gun in the mountains. A Sennheiser 416 was the industry standard at the time, which i still use today. Sadly the fate of the Walkman was to gather dust alongside the Canon and Bolex as it conceded to the DAT recorder (digital audio tape). This was my first step towards the digital medium and goodbye analogue audio.

In 1991 I invested in a serious camera, the Arri SR2 High Speed, the best documentary camera available shooting up to 150fps. Shooting the 1992 winter Olympics in Albertville, France, was the first big opportunity to put the camera (and me) through its paces shooting "eyeballs" at the bobsled and long jump, working with a very sharp Zeiss 10-100mm lens pulling focus with Kenny, Billy and the boys from Jalbert Productions.

As I was now living year round in Switzerland I had to setup my own edit suite in Verbier and purchased a 6-plate Steenbeck which was a fantastic work horse. With two audio tracks it was starship central! To house this monster of a deck i partnered up with Mark Shapiro in renting what became known as the Atelier.

For ten years and more the Atelier became production central for film shoots and photo shoots in Verbier, patroned by some of the biggest names in the alpine world scene, like Glen Plake, Tom Day, John Eaves, Scott Schmidt, and many other others.

By the turn of the century, while i was shooting the emerging cross-over board sport of Flowriding in Munich, Germany for Swatch, I was invited to Portland, Oregon, USA, as creative director and segment producer for a new youth culture show called Core Culture to air on the USA Network.

Shooting Swatch Flowrider Wave Tour - Long beach, California - Photo Mark Shapiro

By now film was on the way out and tape cameras were opening up the market to the grunge world of film making so my first tape camera was the Canon EX1 high 8 camera. Can't say i enjoyed using this camera much. Very contrasty and electronic viewfinders didnt cut it after the clarity and precision of such a powerhouse workhorse that is the Arri SR2...

The Canon was soon replaced with a higher performing Mini DV from Sony, the PD150, a workhorse of quality and function in an ergonomic package which improved greatly on the Hi-8 format and effectively put the EX-1 on the shelf with its other predecessors.

The PD150 was also accepted as a broadcast camera,

even if at the lowest end of the scale. It handled the

bright contrasty conditions of the alpine environment

much better than the hi-8. But technology and

consumerism as it is, this camera went the same way as

the others as it was superceded by the Sony Z1 HDV. This

camera is practically the same as the PD150  except it

delivers the next level up in resolution and quality. But with full HD around the corner it wasnt long before it too would be made redundant by the ever evolving technology.

Meanwhile, usurping the role of conventional cameras, the power of miniaturisation and digital format has seen the functionality of still cameras, DSLR, include HD video production. And my Canon 550D was soon made redundant by my current camera the Canon 5Dmark3. And after using one in Egypt to record audio, i bought a H4N Zoom for digital audio recording.

My current setup consists of the Canon 5DMk3 with a standard 24-105mm lens, using a Rode Pro mic, a Zacuto Z Viewfinder with a Zacuto Marauder rig for hand held work. And

thats where it will stay until redundancy or before i crack and upgrade).

Shooting Dominique Perret - Dents du Midi, Switzerland - photo by Mark Shapiro

I cracked, and have now added one of these to my arsenal, fantastic quality and versatility. This is a current focus vis a vis camera work, a new challenge and technology.

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