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Asian Eye: Profile - Simon Nicholls

Name: Simon Nicholls.

Age: 44.

Hometown? Adelaide, South Australia.

Where are you based now? Singapore.

Occupation? Broadcast Cameraman/Director of Photography.

Current assignments?
Currently engaged in a project with Firewalker Productions, a Singapore-based TV production company producing a six-part documentary series Savage Sports.

Recently shot in South India and beautiful North Mongolia. Now getting ready to travel to the UK, then Southern Indonesia to capture more unique, traditional sporting activities.

Have you been busy?
The past few years have been pretty flat out. Since teaming up with another DoP, Brad Dillon, I’ve been involved in shooting a 13-part series Sun Tzu: War on Business, a programme that took me to Beijing, Singapore, and Melbourne. Also Mega Structures: Universal Studios, Sentosa in Singapore for National Geographic. Then there were three episodes of Culinary Asia for Discovery Channel – a terrific gig with great access to some of the finest chefs, rare and traditional foods in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.

Also, three episodes of Asian Monarchies for CNAi and BBC; two stories for 60 Minutes Australia, travelling to West Timor, following the trail of people smuggling and refugees’ efforts to get to Australia; two documentaries for Asian Food Channel; some sporting events and corporate jobs; one series of Contender Asia, and a series of Contender US, plus one series of The Amazing Race: Asia.

Shooting where?
The majority of my work is based around South East Asia, which puts me on the road a fair bit. I’m half way through my third passport, with 118 pages of immigration stamps and visas.

What types of productions have you mostly shot?
Fourteen years of work with Seven Network Australia took me through a lot of sport and studio based programs plus about 30 percent single camera fieldwork. These days I’m right where I want to be with documentary productions. The variety and challenge of being knee deep in mud, inundated with rain and insects one day and filming in the halls of government and royalty the next, keeps me keenly interested in this field of work.

You have a background in broadcast. Any help to you these days?
Absolutely! Working 14 years for Seven gave me a very strong grounding in all aspects of production and was a fantastic opportunity to hone my operating skills and gave me experience in camera, audio, lighting, set construction, props crew, design department, editing, etc. Years of shooting sport is something that really sharpens your skills.

What’s your idea of a luxury shoot?
Shooting five star hotels in wonderful and exotic locations! A good, skilled crew with the right attitude and a switched on producer with good planning makes life a lot less stressful on location.

A hardship shoot?
Sometimes the locations are very tough to deal with, the weather, logistical, or cultural constraints. Our crew was once ejected from a Mumbai street at gunpoint. In an area that didn’t seem to have seen much progress in centuries, the shoot was going along well and the locals were enjoying it, until the local leaders got wind of our presence and considered us a bad influence. Some shoving and a lot of raised voices ensued from the street boss, so we decided to take a break in a café, make some sense of the situation and calm these fellas down. Ten minutes later, the café owner started shouting racial and religious insults at us and told us to get out. The lively discussion continued briefly until a burly looking thug brought a pistol out of his coat and the executive decision was made – get the hell out of there.

One of the toughest shoots is The Amazing Race. A real lung buster and long days running around town and country like mad men while keeping the pictures as stable and coherent as possible.

What was your first-ever shooting job?
My baptism of fire was helping on a studio camera on the live to air midday show. Occasionally I would get the chance to jump on the Cam 2 live wide shot.

Most recent, interesting assignments?
Just back from a really nice shoot in Northern Mongolia – terrific shoot in a beautiful location, a great crew. The stories were Mongolian wrestling, horse and yak racing, and yak polo.

Recently completed a job on palm oil in Kalimantan, Jakarta, and Riau in Indonesia. I was commissioned to shoot a doco, but it turned out to be a thinly veiled corporate job to make the industry look good.

A heart-breaking job, to see the wholesale destruction of precious forest and the influence over local folk. Late last year I shot two episodes of Asian Monarchies, back to back, in Bhutan and Nepal. Both countries offer staggering scenery and wonderful, very different, cultural color.

Current equipment you use?
Primarily, the Sony PDW 700 XDCAM or with a tighter budget, the Sony EX 3. Both cameras have a range of lenses, and a matte box and filters. I generally travel with a lighting kit, Digi Dolly and accessories.

Other gear you have access to?
We have the Sony XDCAM 700, Sony EX3 camera, Sony Digi Betacam, and the Sony HDCAM F900, Fujinon SD and HD wide angle and tele lenses, Digital SLR cameras for time lapse sequences and a Sony HD, POV Cam, matte boxes, filter kits, comprehensive lighting kits, a Jib, limpet cam mount, and plenty of camera accessories.

Do you have a kit “wish list”?
Fujinon HA42x13.5 lens, night vision image intensifier, highspeed camera. Time-lapse motor rig. Wireless video monitor, one foot Litepanels.

What piece of gear do you wish someone might make?
Wireless power to the lights. Best thing about your job? The opportunity to see the world, with unique access.

Worst thing about your job?
Being on the road a lot and away from loved ones. Dealing with customs, and sometimes officials on the ground is becoming harder these days too. And dealing with companies that are less than reliable when it comes to payment.

Dullest assignments and why?
Shooting speeches and conventions. Corporate shoots are very dull and frustrating, with some clients insisting on being directors.

Hairiest/scariest assignments and why?
Leaning over the side of skyscrapers, helicopters, shooting in the road in the midst of Bangkok, Delhi, or Jakarta traffic. Climbing up dodgy scaffolding and rickety water towers with kit to get the high angle and shooting out of moving vehicles of all descriptions.

How much 16:9 do you shoot?
Everything is in 16:9. Occasionally I’m asked to shoot 4:3 safe in a couple of countries like the China market.

What country would you most like to shoot in?
I’d like to shoot more in South America. The cultural color, the light and energy of the place has a lot to offer.

What’s your taste in music?
A fair range of music; blues, jazz, indie rock, live orchestral music is amazing, even a little bit of country. My iPod seems to have termed most of my music as “alternative”.

Favorite group?
Nick Cave, the Black Keys, Lemon Jelly.

Favourite food?
Mediterranean food. But I can’t live without chili! And I love Thai and Korean food.

Contact details:
Simon Nicholls