Giving It Your Best Shot
November 19, 2010
Name: Max Polley
Where are you based?
A story on the Australian
Dodgeball team for Channel 7,
about a bunch of not-very sporty
guys looking for an excuse to go
to Vegas for a bucks party. The
excuse they came up with was
creating a National Association
in order to compete in the World
made famous by a Ben Stiller/Vince Vaughn movie.
Have you been busy?
Extremely. In between work and
a family of three kids, not much
spare time anymore. Also, I’ve
noticed a correlation between
the greater “normal” economy
and film/TV economy. The worse
the rest of the world is doing
financially, the more buoyant is
film and TV.
The last few years I’ve
spent a lot of time
on the road shooting
a travel show called
Getaway for Channel
9 – everywhere from
Venice to Vanuatu.
It’s a fun gig mostly
and very indulgent
since they love
pretty pictures, but
being away from my
young kids is difficult. Jetsetting
may seem glamorous, but it’s
disruptive to family life; I try
very hard to minimise the awayshoots.
Where have you shot?
Over the last 22 years? Most places.
Do you specialise in a particular genre?
I used to shoot a lot of
documentaries for Discovery
Channel, National Geographic,
and various other global cable
TV outlets. There
was typically a lot of
it’s more short-form
promo or lifestyle TV.
Do you prefer long form shooting or TVCs?
No preference as
long as it’s quality.
The work I did in the
early 2000s had a reasonable
budget, so everyone could get
on with their jobs without being
cranky or negative. Nowadays,
documentary budgets are
generally about half what they
used to be which, with a family
and a fat Sydney mortgage,
eliminates all but the highest end projects from my radar. The
last “massive” budget doco I did
was Atlas: Australia Revealed,
a feature length film shot on
HDCAM for Discovery HD Cinema
with Russell Crowe narrating - turned out beautifully.
What’s your idea of a luxury shoot?
Luxury is business class flights
and eight-hour days with
everyone stopping for lunch.
A hardship shoot?
Airport flight delays without a
book or a something to watch on
What was your first shooting job?
Channel Ten News in Darwin. I
remember the first time I took
out a Betacam camera. The
senior cameraman at the news
bureau asked me to go out to a
golf course and get some shots
of a golfer teeing off. I crouched
below the pro and had him stand
on a box and place the ball on top
of my wide-angle adapter and
line up his shot. It was looking
great but there must have been
because he actually took the shot
right off the top of my lens! You
can imagine how incredible the
shot was. When I got the rushes
back, the senior cameraman took
a look at the pics and didn’t know
whether to promote me or fire
me. I was pretty lucky the pro
knew how to hit a ball.
Most recent, interesting assignment?
A few weeks back I did a shoot
down in the Naracoorte Caves
in South Australia. You had to
crawl through a narrow tunnel
on your belly to access the most
spectacular chambers. It was
a profoundly tight squeeze and
very unpleasant going. I had my
Canon 5D Mark II along – the only
camera I could drag in behind
me in a Pelican case and literally
shoot in the dark with. I pumped
it up to ISO6400 and we lit
everything with LED torches and
headlamps. It looked amazing.
Current equipment you use?
Digital Betacam, Canon 5D mark
II, 900rHDCam, and 800XDCam.
Kit wish list?
I pretty much have everything
I need. A couple of HMIs in my
car would be handy, but for a
cameraman, they’re quite an
indulgence. A friend who has
nothing to do with TV recently
introduced me to a 1000 lumen
daylight LED bike light with a
six hour 300 gram battery pack
retailing at 400 bucks. The output
looks amazing for the price and
I’ll probably pick up a couple of
those sooner or later to have a
What piece of gear do you wish someone might make?
A cheap broadcast camera that
the entire freelance community
gets behind. I think the days of
the $80,000 camcorder serving
you well into the next decade
(like DigiBeta) are past. Most guys
I know are holding off waiting for
this new beast to appear. It may
or may not be Sony’s 350.
Best thing about your job?
Getting out and about, keeping
your own hours mostly, and
doing something different
almost every day.
Worst thing about your job?
The occasional lean times.
Dullest assignments and why?
Format TV. The creativity took
place a long time ago when the
format was invented so you’re
kinda just working to the recipe.
Hairiest/scariest assignments and why?
Shooting a European football
story for Trans World in the
early 90s. This was during a war
in Croatia but we didn’t think
we were going anywhere near
it. Nobody spoke particularly
good English, so it was lost
on us that the team were
headed into the war zone.
The producer and I got on
the team bus from Zagreb and
several hours later got off in
a little town called Slavonski
Brod, bordering Bosnia
Herzegovina. Machine gun
fire kept us up all night which
was freaky enough… we were
assured the sound carried from
a long way away. But the next
morning, as I dutifully wandered
outside the hotel taking in the
bullet riddled cityscape, setting
up my tripod to shoot some
general views, our local guide
came running over. He managed
to explain in broken English that
my tripod looked like a rocket
launcher and that since the town
had only recently been liberated,
perhaps I shouldn’t shoulder it
like a weapon?
For that is precisely what it
looked like from a distance! He
pointed across the street to a
river, the other side of which he
explained was enemy territory.
It seems ridiculous now, but the
boy from Darwin was incredibly
naive. I was never a war
Some of the Third World
countries we spent time in for
the Journey’s series were also
pretty hairy. Pre 9/11, I spent a
couple of weeks in Peshawar and
the tribal zone in North Eastern
Pakistan. It was like the old west,
everyone wandering around with
pistols on the belts and machine
guns. Also, it was like playing
Russian roulette every time I ate
something outside our Western
style hotel. Definitely worth
bringing along your antibiotics!
How much 16:9 do you shoot?
All my shoots are 16:9.
What country would you most like to shoot in?
I think Antarctica would be a
What’s your taste in music?
It’s a mixed bag from the 80s thru
to present day… Is Bon Jovi still
cool? No, I’m kidding.
You can’t go past a good steak.
Website: www.maxdigital.com.au and www.hdstock.com.au
-- TV Technology Asia–Pacific