Magazine article Metro Magazine

The Man Who Saw Too Much

Magazine article Metro Magazine

The Man Who Saw Too Much

Article excerpt

Australia has a great international reputation for its news camera men and documentary film-makers, with names such as Frank Hurley, Damien Parer, and Neil Davis. While these renowned film-makers are no longer able to share their valued knowledge with today's generation of film-makers there is still David Brill--the man, they say, who's seen too much.

OVER THE PAST FORTY YEARS David Brill has covered wars and disasters all over the world, from the fall of Saigon to the collapse of Communism in Moscow and Berlin. He has filmed conflicts and natural disasters in Asia, Africa, North and South America. His biographer sums it up:

His pursuit of the real story has taken him to weft over 100 countries and he has met people as diverse as the president of the United States, Madonna and Idi Amin.

Like so many distinguished Australians, David was born in Tasmania. He began his career as a stills photographer, shooting everything from horse races to record covers for The Easybeats. His heroes were fellow Taswegians Damien Parer and Neil Davis, two of Australia's greatest war cine cameramen.

In the mid sixties, David became a trainee cinematographer at the ABC news department in Hobart. In those days, cine cameramen generally shot on wind-up cameras, like the Bell and Howell 'Filmo'. These cameras had no synchronized sound and only ran 100ft of 16mm film (about two and a half minutes). As David remembers, 'film was very expensive in those days. With the Filmo you had to edit the story in the camera and compose the story as you shot it'. As a result of this process he quickly learnt the three rules of shooting film: wide shot, mid shot, close up. He says, 'we used to count in seconds the amount of film that was rolling through the gate to be economical. It's a far cry from today's digital video tape, which runs for hours'.

It was at this time that David became good friends with Neil Davis, who was living in Cambodia and covering the war in South East Asia. Davis also shot on a 16mm 'Filmo' camera and in order to get battle sound effects he would strap a portable cassette recorder to his belt and press record.

The 1950s saw the emergence of the modern form of TV news and documentary, yet portable film cameras were cumbersome and synchronized sound was difficult. As a result, camera manufacturers were pressured to develop a 16mm film camera with synchronized sound. One of the first film companies to develop the 16mm synch sound camera was the French company Eclair. The camera was distinct, with 400ft film magazines placed horizontally on its back, which fitted smoothly on the operator's shoulder. By using the Eclair in synch with a tape recorder, a two-person crew could run around, shooting smooth handheld sequences and recording crystal clear sound.

In 1960, anthropological film-maker Jean Rouche took his Eclair and sound recordist into the concrete jungles of Paris and shot the controversial Chronique d'une Ete (1961). it was the first time a lightweight synchronized film unit had been used in France, and the French New Wave was in awe. This style of filming became known as Cinema verite, because the camera was consciously used as a catalyst for dramatic action. Suddenly the film-maker was free to film events and shoot a sequence continuously and with synchronized sound, so that the 'actuality of the moment' could be captured. In America a similar movement emerged called 'Direct Cinema', led by film-makers Richard Leacock and Don Pennebaker who made The Chair (1963).

The new breed of 16mm cine cameras (like the Eclair) were portable, unobtrusive and observational, and this became an important factor in the development of documentary and TV news reportage.

In Tasmania, David Brill was reading all about the new Eclair camera and its impact on documentary and TV news. He wanted to be a part of this new wave of film-making so he went straight out and bought his own Eclair camera and Nagra tape recorder. …

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