You're an established member of the ACS, please tell us when you became interested in working in our industry?
I fell in love with capturing images long ago, it started with a 35mm SLR, the Pentax ME Super which I carried with me most days, I took pictures of my friends, nature, light, shadows and unconsciously documented my adolescent adventures. I was entranced by the look of the prints I would get back from the lab, seeing the grain, the subtle twists of the colours of different film stock and the slight filter of a different reality captured on film. I then began to experiment more and more, cross processing slide film, using filters, playing with plastic lenses, different cameras, lighting and long exposures. I loved the unexpected results and really liked relinquishing a bit of control to collaborate with the medium. This love of capturing images later helped me decide on studying filmmaking and photography where I could continue to experiment and explore images of all kinds.
What makes you different from other cinematographers?
I guess I jump between two different roles as cinematographer and video artist. When I am on the camera I am working with a team, lighting the scene, composing shots and looking how best to tell a story through images. When I am making experimental videos I use a variety of different tech both old and new to create interesting and unique visuals. This can range from DIY motion capture, circuit bent AV hardware, VHS passes, video feedback, night-vision security cameras, video mixers and even generative 3D particle systems. I like to mix and match technology and techniques to see what I can come up with visually. Music videos are a great medium to experiment with different looks or creative ideas but I also share these video in exhibition or live music performance.
What was your first job?
My other great passion in life is food so it was obvious that my first job was working in kitchens as a dishy and then later on the pots and pans. Working in kitchens around Adelaide allowed me to taste and learn different cuisines and cooking techniques, whilst also paying the rent while I studied at film school. My last kitchen job was at Cafe Troppo and the managers were kind enough to allow me to quit and return a few times as I took the big step into trying to make a living in the early days of my film career.
How do you approach working on or shooting a new project?
As a human we see the world and put it through our personal filters based upon our own life experiences. As a cinematographer our job is to capture a story or concept through our eye and show others what we see. I believe it is my job as a cinematographer to do my best to understand the subject/concept so I can accurately represent it. So for a doco that means get to the heart of the story and for a music video that means create visuals that appropriately represent the song.
What keeps you motivated to shoot more?
One of the great things about the visual industry is that I am constantly learning and refining new skills. Whether it is new camera gadget, lighting technique or new computer program there is always something to learn. I find I am never bored and always excited to work on the next project whatever that may be. I also make sure to throw ‘creative spanners’ into every project- a little hurdle or challenge I must figure out and conquer by the end of a project. This keeps my work fresh and ever evolving while ensuring I never get stagnant or stuck in my ways. The pic on is Photogrammetry for killer -Plastiq music video.
What specific skills do you need to do your job in this more technical age?
I think a big part of working well in this profession is teamwork and collaboration. I feel we all need to work together with all departments and technicians so we can keep all the gears of the filmmaking machine moving smoothly to achieve the desired vision. This requires active listening, allowing room for myself to evolve and learn lessons every day.
What’s your favourite film or TV show?
I don’t have a favourite but I do love sci-fi so Godzilla vs SpaceGodzilla (1994), Alien (1979) and Bladerunner (1982) are definitely up there.
What piece of equipment or thing could you not do without on-set?
For me it would be a tie between a c-stand and a Sharpie texta. C-stands are an amazing invention with 100’s of applications and are so useful to hold a light in a specific spot or to create some sort of dodgy shitty rig to hold a camera in an obtuse spot. And a sharpie because I never got my pen license and they write on just about anything.
What has been your most challenging project so far?
Last year I was privileged to be DOP and Animation Director for the feature rock documentary The Angels: Kickin’ Down the Door
Here's a frame from the shoot of John Brewster from the the band, they have been performing for over 50 years and so it was an enormous story to tell with terabytes of archive material and interviews with rock music legends all over Australia and the world. I was lucky to work with some amazing cinematographers and technicians to capture the interviews in COVID times but the work didn’t stop there for me. As we moved into post-production I was responsible for creating animations for the parts of the story we didn’t have vision for. I was blessed to be given so much creative freedom from Director Maddie Parry and Producer Peter Hanlon to bring my ambitious animation ideas to life. The final cut had motion-captured puppets, AI animations, watercolours, 2D hand drawn animations, rotoscope and a title sequence with a real neon sign.
Cam Op Jules Wurm, Liam & Maddie Parry interviewing the Brewster Brothers. Photo - Oscar Lewis.
What’s your proudest moment so far?
One recent memory was going into the edit suite at Red Fox Films late last year to watch a draft cut of The Angels doco. I had to pinch myself when I saw the Universal logo sequence at the start of a project I shot, big imposter syndrome moment.
Have you met any colourful characters along the way?
By having a camera in my hands I have met so many interesting and incredible people over the years, this privilege has allowed me to be invited into spaces many people never see. Through working on my documentary Video Nasty: The Making of Ribspreader
with co-director Matt Bate of Closer Productions I was reunited with Australia punk-rock legend and splatter punk film director Dick Dale (director of Ribspreader). Dick is an amazing underground filmmaker, his determination, acceptance and never-give-up attitude is inspiring and can be seen in both his film and my doco about it.
Liam & Dick Dale on location for Ribspreader. Photo - Hugh Freytag
What have you been currently working on and what’s your next project?
I am worked on finishing a VR experience - ESCHATECH VR for ASPERA conference which was in June. This project was started in the Assemblage Artist in Residence at Flinders University and is a simulation of the last 100 second of humanity. This cli-fi highlights the destruction humans have caused this planet through rampant capitalism, colonisation and unattainable infinite growth at the cost of biodiversity, indigenous culture and a liveable planet.
Do you see your future in camera, directing or perhaps editing??
I do love working in camera department, the problem solving, lighting real world situations and working within a team, however I find much of my recent work is crossing over into digital space or a hybrid between the two. Recently I shot a music video killer - Plastiq
in virtual space using Leap Motion IR hand trackers to live track my hand so I could operate real-time handheld camera in digital space. Creating in virtual space has allowed me to achieve many shots and lighting setups that would not be possible within reality.
I have also been experimenting with photogrammetry and motion capture and have been lucky to be a part of the research and development team at The Void at Flinders University with Cam Mackness and Jason Bevan. Here we are really working at the edge of technology, pushing the limits of Integrated Virtual Production by experimenting and refining workflow.
Tell us something about yourself that not many people would know. For example do you have any hidden talents?
I am an avid SCUBA diver, I love being underwater and exploring wrecks, hanging out with marine life and inspecting hyper-colour coral. For me it was a great activity to get away from screens and just breathe slowly and explore the natural wonders of our oceans. Diving once a week has certainly kept me sane on some of my larger jobs. Although I have kept work and play seperate in this respect I am making steps toward doing more underwater cinematography.
Do you have any advice for other young people getting started in this job?
Just make stuff!! Find or make friends from all sort of creative industries (music, fashion, lighting, artists) and create/collaborate with them. This will help you define your own style, hone your technical skills and you’ll have a fun, exciting life by creating with others. I feel it is important to be a human first, if you have a full and exciting life you will be open to different experiences and that will help you see things differently and tell stories better. Picture is of the Angels animation/motion capture puppets from the doco.
Thanks Liam, great insights to your career and great advice about being a good person, it really can help your career.