Vale – Tony Wilson ACS


By Leo Sullivan

My name is Leo Sullivan. I’ve worked with Tony Wilson as a sound recordist for many years, and more recently as his partner in Tony’s training course, called simply the Camera Class.

I first met Tony when he was looking for a sound recordist for one of the last of the Willesee doco’s in 1984. It was my first experience of observational style filmmaking. A social experiment where a bunch of people were thrown together in a farm house near Albury and we just shot everything that happened.

It was a baptism of fire for me. I don’t remember much about Tony from that shoot, I was too busy just trying to keep up. Anyone who has worked with Tony will know exactly what that means.

I must have passed the audition as I was soon working with Tony again on Graham Chase’s fly-on-the-wall doco about the Federal Election in 1985.

It was then that I began to notice his amazing skills with a camera. Tony hardly ever used a light meter – just judging exposures from experience – which enabled him to move very quickly when something happened. He rarely missed the action.

But I learned also, that it was his ability to understand people and read – and capture – their reactions that was his real skill.

One of the best examples of that for me was when we were shooting a series for SBS called “Under one Roof” which chronicled some modern Australian families. Kay Pavlou was directing, Tony was ‘on song’ – on top of his game. We had some fantastic days shooting, where it was so intense and exciting that you sometimes felt like you’d done a five-setter at Wimbledon.

The Charkos family from South Sydney are a great family and like all great families they have their problems, but they were very generous in sharing that with us, in no small measure because of Tony’s great charm and ability to help people be relaxed in front of his camera. We were both so proud of that film that we often showed excerpts for it when we began teaching at the Camera Class. After watching a segment, it was not uncommon for people to ask who was on the second camera.

Of course there was only one. Tony. When you watch the film, because of Tony’s brilliant coverage and Andrew Aristedies inspired editing, you feel like you are in the room with them.

There have been many great ‘Tony’ moments over the years, but one of my favourites was when teamed up to shoot the Murwillimbah Banana Festival in 1989. This was manner from heaven for Tony. Small town politics, culminating with a big event. The crowning of the Miss Banana Queen Quest. We’d gone to a small hobby farm on the outskirts of town to interview a former Banana Queen who was now the chaperone/coach of the young girls in this event. We met her at the gate as she was just finishing riding her horse, so Tony of course, said let’s do the interview here. When you watch the film you see her in a ‘head and shoulder’ shot, talking about the old days. Slowly the shot widens to reveal her dog trying to hump the back leg of her horse. No one remembered a thing she said after that…

Of course there was the era when Tony got heavily into woodwork.

When they were renovating the house at Bronte – to save some money – he decided to build some cabinets. He discovered that – not only did he love the work – he was also very good at it. With his usual enthusiasm he was soon making beautiful yoga work benches and selling them around the country. This is what I call his “Brown” period.

It was Tony’s love of new toys and gadgets that let to him being an early adopter of the new digital handycams. When some other technicians were dismissive of cameras, Tony picked it up with one hand and ran with it. As the new handycams took hold of the industry, all of Tony’s mates bought one and Tony, generous as ever, showed them how to use them. Everyone wanted to be Tony.

Of course he began to get less paid work so he decided he’d better be getting paid for to train others.

He asked me to join him and we set up the Camera Class about 5 years ago. Since then things have been ‘humming’ along nicely, and hundreds of people have now had the benefit of Tony’s experience, wit and wisdom. Tony was in his element in the classroom, sharing his knowledge and experience, and we always had a lot of fun.

Based on the testimonials we got back, it seemed to be working well. During that time, Tony and I of course became much closer. We worked together, played tennis regularly and became much closer friends too. Tony was like a big brother to me at first, mentoring me and encouraging me, but later of course a great friend, who I miss already.

Tony was also, a great practical joker too and I only wish he could play one more and walk in that door and say…

“I say, I suppose you’re wondering why I gathered you all here today…..”