Cameraman John Bean, helicopter pilot Gary Ticehurst & journalist Paul Lockyer. Photo: ABC
I have no doubt we are all deeply saddened by the recent tragic loss of ACS members; Cameraman, John Bean and helicopter pilot Gary Ticehurst along with ABC veteran reporter Paul Lockyer, in a helicopter accident over Lake Eyre.
Three men doing the jobs they loved so much and sharing with us all, the beauty that is Lake Eyre in flood.
Before his death, John had blogged about a trip to Lake Eyre with the same group of colleagues to film news and documentaries last year, when the crew witnessed the rare sight of the lake filling up;
“I was completely amazed at what we found. Where was the red, the dust, the caked barren earth, the sand? Instead there was water everywhere, and green, and blue, and yes, there was red,”
He finished by saying;
“I love my job.”
On behalf of the Society I offer our deepest, deepest condolences to their respective families, friends and colleagues.
We will miss you guys and your loss will stay with us forever.
Ron Johanson ACS
A Moment With… John Bean, From the March 2004 QLD Viewfinder
John Bean is a Queensland cinematographer working full time with the ABC, photographing programs including Australian Story, Landline, The 730 Report and the upcoming The New Inventors. Boasting a list of regional and network credits spanning twenty years, John started his career by attending the Arts College at Seven Hills (later to become QCA). While the first year of his course covered a wide array of artistic disciplines, he decided to focus in film studies for his major.
After graduation, John toyed with the idea of starting his own production company but, deciding it was too risky, landed a job at RTQ 7 in Rockhampton in 1984. It was a baptism of fire for John, who was one of only two news cameramen shooting local content for a daily 20 minute broadcast. John wielded a heavy BVU 50 camera cabled to a player/ recorder on location and was trained, through necessity, to edit his own stories.
From time to time John still edits his own pieces, and finds his understanding of coverage an invaluable asset. “Being an editor means that you know exactly what shots you need. You also know how your shots are going to fit in to the story”, he comments. All cameramen learn the lesson of labouring over complicated and beautiful shots only to have them dropped because they can’t fit into the flow of a story. John also notes that self-editing is always a quicker process because you already know the content and order of rushes before cutting.
After two years in Rocky, John moved to news for DDQ10 Toowoomba, working as a “John of all trades”. This was quite a learning curve for the cameraman who, during the course of a day, would have to shoot a story, record sound, edit, then prepare for directing and vision switching the news bulletin. John recalls, “You would finish editing at five and only have an hour to prepare the rundown to direct. Sometimes graphics windows would appear over a newsreaders head.” John was offered a camera posting with the ABC in Canberra in 1989, and eagerly accepted the chance to camera operate exclusively.
In Canberra, John primarily shot politics and recalls an instance where Mal Colston, having had to take a long walk up the hill to Parliament House due to a logging blockade, was hounded by the press gallery. The agitated politician declared that John “get a real job”. The grab played that night and formed the basis for the opening of his showreel that year. John covered the Hewson v Keating 1993 national election and was shooting a rally in Brisbane where Hewson was addressing a crowd. John was onstage with the politician when suddenly an egg was hurled out of the mob. In a moment that would characterize the campaign, Hewson reached up and miraculously caught the egg without cracking it. Bean managed to capture the moment perfectly and took pride in watching the spectacle replayed over and over across all the networks. “It’s exciting when you see your footage everywhere. If only we were paid every time someone used one of our shots”, John jokes. He still sees his file footage from the early nineties on air.
But it wasn’t all politics in Canberra. John worked for other ABC programs when they came to town. This included one particular story for The 730 Report that detailed the ins and outs of the ACT’s pornography industry. The cameraman took great creative pride in photographing phallic overlay including the high- pressure water fountains and flag pole of Parliament House. John assures that there weren’t any “behind closed door” shoots for that story, but we’ll have to take his word on that one.
John then focused his production skills in Melbourne for The Arts Show, Express and Landline for six years before deciding to take a job at the ABC in Brisbane two years ago. John was excited about the prospect of living with his family back in Queensland and the move offered him more opportunity to work on a wider variety of programs.
The ABC Brisbane suffers from the same budgetary concerns that preside over any television production facility, but this has been particularly pronounced over the recent years due to national budget cutbacks. This presents a number of problems but ultimately manifests itself in a lack of time and equipment. John tries to overcome these issues with an open mind. For a recent program that required the use of a Fog 3 filter, John used stocking behind the lens. The cameraman also brings some of his own personal gear along to shoots that include a portable dolly built by Melbourne sound recordist David Hosking. The whole unit packs down to 3 feet and is able to be configured in a number of ways, including a “U” shape that allows the operator to walk closely with the camera without bumping the dolly. But John’s favourite piece of equipment is a roll of black wrap foil that has been with him for over 6 years, and is still half full.
John puts a positive spin on the lack of resources, noting that it falls under his naturalistic and minimalist view of photography. He prefers to utilize natural-looking lighting where available and tries to justify lighting sources rather than throw up a bunch of slashes everywhere. The cameraman also tries to stay away from party gels, preferring to add colour using practical lights and background pieces. On a recent shoot, John and sound recordist Marc Smith turned a couch on its side and shone a light up it for a bit of texture in an otherwise plain background.
John is able to flex his creative muscles every now and then on programs like Australian Story, where he has to shoot dramatizations and re-enactments. According to John, “it’s a delicate balance between being true to the facts and offering impressions of emotion.” John uses his existing equipment in new and usual ways for emotional effect. In this way, it’s not too different to his time in college. For instance, John will get into the set-up menus of his DNW- 709 camcorder and adjust the colorimetry and contrast settings. John notes that it’s much easier to do this with modern DSP cameras.
During his time in Melbourne, he would literally pull the side off his analogue camera and tweak the pots on the boards inside. At the end of his shoot, he would need to take the camera to the engineers for re-calibration. Needless to say the techs in Melbourne didn’t like John very much.
It’s not only the dramatic aspects of the job that excite John, but also the integrity and sincerity of the people that are the subjects of his lens. “I enjoy working with real people and real situations. It is a privilege when they let us into their homes and tell us their stories. They open up their lives to you. I really like that.”
Despite the high quality of the programs coming out of the ABC, the recent introduction of SPC (single person crew) into certain programs has had a negative effect on presentation and content, according to John. He also knows though, that the ABC and other networks have decided to wear the loss in quality and so the argument for the return to a higher benchmark is not an argument easily won. SPC requires the camera operator also be responsible for the recording of sound. In practice, this has the two- fold effect of denying the operator an assistant, increasing the time taken to shoot material and therefore lowering overall production quality. In certain regional areas of Queensland, the use of VJ’s (video journalists) is spreading. But despite these trends, John finds comfort in the value of the role that cinematographers play in visual storytelling of all types. Besides, it’s one thing for a journalist to camera operate, quite another to get one to light a shot.
“I think as long as there are programs like Landline and Australian Story I think there will always be the need for a camera operator and a sound recordist”- John Bean.