By Andrea Louise Thomas Photos Yanni & Supplied
Life behind the camera has always been an adventure for award-winning cinematographer Brent Crockett. Whether shooting news segments, documentaries, television series, commercials, cinema shorts or feature films, working in film and television has always proved interesting. It’s carried him all over the world.
A typical filming day runs for 12-14 hours. The pressure to get everything just right is intense because time is money. Shoots inevitably meet with the unexpected, but few industries are as exciting as working in film. Brent would know; he’s been behind the camera for over forty years.
Growing up in New Zealand provided an inspiring landscape for a budding cinematographer. Brent’s father worked in the film industry as a cameraman and often went away for shoots. When he returned home, he’d bring ‘short ends’ (unexposed film). Brent would borrow his Dad’s camera and he and his high school friends would take off to make short films with them.
Brent’s first job was as a film processor at Television New Zealand. The job came with an opportunity to advance to the camera department. He was promoted to camera assistant and his love affair with filming began.
A holiday in Adelaide changed everything. The father of the friend he came to visit mentioned that Channel Nine was looking for a cameraman. Brent applied for the job, was successful, and moved to Australia. He worked as a news cameraman and later had a chance to get more creative, working in children’s television.
Joining the Australian Cinematographers Society opened doors for Brent. He had the chance to connect with people he greatly admired such as Academy Award winning cinematographers Dean Semler (Dances with Wolves) and John Seale (The English Patient). At 25, Brent became the youngest person to have ACS accreditation. Since then, he’s won over forty awards for cinematography.
Brent moved to Melbourne to work at Channel Seven News just before the Ash Wednesday bushfires. He and his crew found themselves in a very precarious situation, but their coverage was award-winning.
Then channel Seven sent Brent to their new bureau in Los Angeles to work with Kerry O’ Brien doing news and current affairs features. They travelled all over the United States, Canada, Mexico and Central America presenting Brent with amazing opportunities, such as, filming in the Oval Office at the White House where he met President Ronald Reagan. He even had a chance to share a beer with Harrison Ford.
Back in Australia, Brent moved from Channel Seven News to SBS for the opportunity to shoot documentaries. His was the first film crew in 30 years to enter Burma and film with Aung San Suu Kyi. In Seoul he got hit with tear gas at a demonstration and in Fiji he got caught up in a military coup. Work was never dull and he got to travel to places a tourist would never normally see.
Wanting to work in drama, Brent decided to go freelance. He met cinematographer Ron Hagen (Romper Stomper) who became a teacher and mentor, helping Brent break into television drama and feature films. Through Hagen, Brent got the opportunity to film what he describes as the greatest car chase scene shot in Australia at that time for feature film, Metal Skin. This really got Brent’s work noticed.
In television, Brent went on to win cinematography awards for Murder Call, Stingers, Halifax, Bed of Roses, Paper Dolls, Bogan Pride, Winners and Losers and The Good Cop. He was fortunate to work with fantastic actors like Rebecca Gibney, Kerry Armstrong, Jack Thompson and Ben Mendelsohn.
One of the highlights of Brent’s career was as Director of Photography working on the iconic Australian comedy film, Crackerjack, for which he won an ACS Gold Award. Cast and crew got on really well, the shoot went smoothly, and every day was a laugh.
Collaboration between the director and the cinematographer is close on a film set. “The director comes in with an idea, but it’s the cinematographer who is responsible for creating the visual style and mood of the film through lighting and camera movement. I handle the technical stuff so the director can concentrate on working with the actors,” he says.
“Pre-production, research and planning before the shoot are very important. Setting up shots takes a lot of time. For every 10 hours of shooting, we produce 3-5 minutes of screen time. Running out of time and light is the biggest challenge,” he says.
The cinematographer is also responsible for managing the camera, grip and lighting departments and works closely with the art department on set dressing, wardrobe and make up. All department heads collaborate and discuss to create the desired look on film.
One of the most challenging, but life altering, experiences for Brent was filming documentary series, Kokoda. Not only did he and the crew have to hike the Kokoda trail in Papua, New Guinea, but they had to do it in mud, humidity and rain with 200 kg. of camera equipment. Kokoda gave Brent a deep respect and gratitude to the Diggers who had fought there.
When COVID-19 hit and lockdowns shut down the film industry, Brent widened his scope. He started a business in still photography called Natural Lights Pics. Coming from cinematography, his eye for composition and lighting is exceptional.
Brent loves photographing landscapes, catching light and working with people. “I like capturing the vibrancy of a subject, keeping it as natural as possible and creating images that are visually appealing,” he says. It’s a winning combination.