News, Tales from the road, Videos

I never thought I’d go to Iraq; it just isn’t who I am. I guess I knew it was always a possibility, given the nature of my job: then – in 2007 – I was the China-based camera operator for Channel 4 News, UK, and that took me all over China and into neighbouring countries like Kazakhstan; even as far afield as South Africa. I was covering news stories, and Iraq was definitely news, so Iraq was always possible.
So … one day you find yourself saying ‘Yes’ to your boss on the phone, agreeing to travel into a war zone, to be embedded with US troops. The next thing you know, you’re writing your will and working out your blood type so that it can be added to your ID. This blog is about one particular incident that happened in Mosul, Iraq, but first I’d like to take a moment to talk about arriving in that war-torn country.


For a start (and who knew that, then?) passenger planes were still flying into Baghdad in 2007, but, with the help of mostly South African pilots and crew, they were. Approaching ‘Baghdad International’ at that time was quite different to coming in to Sydney or London: the descent had to be steep and rapid to – hopefully – avoid being shot at. One minute you were at cruising altitude, the next you were on the ground. Having landed, incident-free, the next thing was to get to the ‘green zone’, a relatively safe area in Baghdad that housed most of the international embassies, the UN and the command base for the war effort. We – my journalist colleague and I – were met by a private security firm at the airport and transferred to an old Toyota sedan that sat really low to the ground due to its body armour retrofit. We were given long sleeve shirts to put over our own body armour, to make sure no-one else could see we were wearing it; body armour could have shown that we were important enough to attack or kidnap. A convoy of local vehicles then accompanied us into the green zone. I’m not going to lie, this was one very scary and rather surreal introduction to Iraq. What was possibly more bizarre was arriving in the green zone and being greeted by a Hungry Jacks and a Cinnabon for the troops. We were in Iraq in 2007 primarily to cover the Americans’ surge – President George W Bush’s attempt to throw a lot of resources into Iraq to try and get the situation under control.


We spent a few days in Baghdad, then got on an army transport plane to Iraq’s second city, Mosul. For the first few days we accompanied the US troops on patrol. The constant threat of IEDs – improvised explosive devices – seemed to be the main worry. Any suspicious item on the ground in front of a Humvee would be investigated and, on occasion, detonated. Sometimes you would be confined to a vehicle while a bomb disposal robot went in and did its job. Our principal location in Mosul was at a combat outpost, the name of which escapes me now. Basically, these were temporary troop locations, places where it an American platoon – probably 20 or so soldiers – would live for a couple of weeks in the middle of the action before returning to a larger base to refresh and regroup while another group went forward. Mosul is a complicated place and at the time (and I can only speak to the time I was there), the Sunni and Shia Muslims were fighting each other, causing bloodshed on both sides.


One night it was the platoon’s job to venture out and protect a group of truck drivers and construction workers who were placing a wall between the two warring sides in one part of the city. The workers were being attacked as they put up giant concrete barriers. My ‘journo’ and I went too. We were in the middle of what was, practically, an empty field, with nothing but a flatbed truck that had offloaded its cargo. The platoon commander was chatting to the leader of the truck drivers (through an interpreter), trying to ensure that they were getting the support they needed. I was shooting the conversation using infrared, the only feasible way to extract any vision in the pitch dark without having to use a light and drawing very unwanted attention to ourselves (you’ve probably seen this type of footage; it nearly always shows up as a ghostly green image). My journalist asked for permission for me to turn on my light to capture things more easily and the platoon commander’s response was ‘Yes, no problem’. We were safe; or so he thought. I didn’t switch my light on. I don’t know why not, but I’m certainly glad I didn’t! Some 30 seconds later, there was a giant ‘BOOM!’ – an explosion about 10 metres away from us in the direction I was pointing the camera, then the unmistakeable sounds of machine gun fire. It was right above our heads. I remember the tracers as being green, and only a metre or two above our heads. The bad guys knew we were there, they just weren’t sure exactly where. Everyone dropped to the ground, then the three or four soldiers close to us started to fire back in the direction of where the tracers were coming from. Of course, because the Americans also had tracer bullets, the bad guys then had a much better idea of where we were, so the tracers got closer. The platoon commander then yelled, ‘Journos, with me!’. We stood up and took off, blind, across the field behind the captain, so he could get us out of the empty field and into the back of an armoured personnel carrier, and safety. Although it was probably only 50 metres, it felt an awful lot longer, particularly in the dark – you never knew what you might be running over, and you certainly couldn’t slow down to be safe. The gunfire continued, increasingly, behind us, and we quickly got into the back of the APC, while the captain went back to continue the fight. My journalist, by this time, was all fired up, almost apoplectic that we had to hide in the back of the APC. He yelled: ‘We shouldn’t fxxxxxg be in here, we should be out there filming this!’ I offered him my camera. He declined. Within a few minutes, with gunfire continuing, we heard the sound of a Black Hawk helicopter, then three very large bangs – rockets being fired – then, suddenly, all of the gunfire stopped. The bad guys had been ‘switched off’ and it was again safe to get out of the truck. We were transferred into a Humvee, to be returned to the Combat outpost where we found out that the captain had run straight through razor wire and opened his leg up to the bone in his attempt – thankfully, for us, successful – to get us to safety. After a couple of stitches to hold everything together, he went straight back out to help his men. Gutsy stuff. My journalist was keen to know if I had been ‘rolling’ during the whole gunfight, but I honestly couldn’t tell him. I couldn’t remember if I’d pressed the red button or not. Thankfully I had, I was rolling when the initial mortar hit and throughout the whole fight. Instincts obviously kicked in, but a greater force was self preservation, and with all of the adrenalin I had no real recollection of what I had been doing during those few important minutes. The fighting was over, but our work wasn’t. As a news team, we had to edit video and audio together for the program the following night. This meant, of course, that we needed, in a way, to relive that experience as we watched it again and again, so that we could edit it down to a bite-sized chunk suitable for a 7pm audience in the UK. It’s very hard to explain how the events of that night may have affected me. It still comes back to me from time to time. I know others have been through much worse, but experiences like that affect everyone differently, and I guess I will carry it with me forever. It was enough that it should have stopped me ever going back and putting myself in that position again.  It didn’t. I was back there again the following year, but that’s another story. I’m just glad I didn’t switch my light on!  

Education, News

“How do I break into the film and television industry?” – It’s a question that I get asked a lot; maybe twice a week through LinkedIn, at least. Young people are desperate to work in the industry but just don’t know where to start.

‘Fake it ’til you make it’ is one way, I guess, to break in. However, I thought it might be useful to ask a few of my friends, with different skill sets, just how they got their start. Their answers are below – in no particular order.


Angie Black – Independent filmmaker, director.

I was involved with school drama and pursuing a career in performance, until a script I wrote for a college elective in media was selected for production. That was the turning point away from performance and into directing. I wrote and directed another short film, and on the basis of those two short films, (shot and edited on VHS), I was selected to attend the highly prestigious Swinburne Film School (now VCA, Uni Melb). Those three years at film school were the foundation of my filmmaking practice. We studied theory and the craft of filmmaking and I learnt how to deal with no sleep, egos and criticism. It was gruelling and wonderful and the beginning of building a network of film peers who I still call on today.

So many career highlights but 3 things I’m super proud of are;

In 2000 I got a massive break and was awarded a ‘Film Victoria’s Independent Filmmaker Fund’ (like winning the lottery) in which I directed the award winning comedy Bowl Me Over (2000). From the success of Bowl Me Over, I was picked up as a television commercials director and directed ads, both locally and abroad for The Directors Group from 2000-2005.

And most recently, I have just about completed my debut feature, The FIVE Provocations (2017), an independently produced feature film, premiering in 2017.

David Parkinson – Gaffer

My love of lighting started at school doing stage plays under a wonderful art teacher Ken Kemp. My Maths teacher Ewart Ackroyd was a keen watcher of silent films and through him “The Cabinet of Dr Calligari”showed me lighting with shadows. Then as a musician I set up the lights for my band learning how colour could create mood. Going to Crawford Productions in the capacity of a trainee at 19 I was lucky enough to go on location with 2 Gaffers called Garry Plunkett and Stewart Sorby (who strangely enough knew Ken Kemp) It was there I honed my craft working on drama in the infancy of Australian TV. None of the following were big budget by todays standards and that’s why I’m proud of them –  Doco’s “Extraordinary Tale of William Buckley”. Australian TV “Blue Murders”, “All The Rivers Run”. British TV ” Boys from The Bush”. Film “Muriels Wedding”, “Children of The Revolution”, “Infini”. Worldwide TV “Survivor” as it got me 2 Emmy nominations.

Angie Higgins – Editor

Ok…my start into this crazy industry was after I finished VCE in 1988. I was all set to go to Uni to study journalism, when I was called by my uncle Bill Murphy, (also an editor), to ask if I’d be interested in a trainee position as assistant editor at Crawfords. I deferred uni for a year to give it a go, and ended up loving it! So never went to uni. Everything was under the one roof at Crawfords so I learnt so much more than just editing. The best training ground I could have asked for. Molly, Killing Time and Offspring are my most fave jobs for varying reasons.’

Julian Jones – Hair and Make-up artist

In 1992 I applied to all the networks looking for an internship in hair and make up. I was working part time in a salon learning to style and cut and for Clinique, Estee Lauder, Shiseido and Yves Saint Laurent for a four year prior. Barbra Cousins was head of Channel 7 Hair and Make Up and invited me in to meet her and some of the team and I was asked to bring in some brushes to do a trial on some talent to see how competent my artistry was. I worked a couple of hours chatting and making up some news presenters in the afternoon. Lucky for me I was given the opportunity to start work about one week later. Barb was and is absolutely meticulous about not only her and our craft but the fundamentals of working on set. I worked 6 days a week from morning until midnight some evenings (with ten hour breaks) on Fast Forward, Full Frontal, Blue Heelers, Newlyweds, Jimoen, Australia’s Funniest Commercials, Big Girls Blouse, Tonight Live, dating game Man O Man, Football, Tennis, Sportsworld and News. We had to be versatile and professional, with a positive attitude in both leading and following our leaders. Many have inspired me and I can only I hope I continue to inspire.

Jack Prenc – Motion Designer

I’m a freelance motion designer based in Melbourne, Australia. From the young age of 11 my fascination with animating and digital media began by animating stick figure characters on Microsoft Power Point. My friends and I would draw frame by frame, clicking through each individual slide just to get characters to animate. Throughout high school I experimented with many programs and various forms of art and design. This led me to move from the small country town Foster, to the big city to continue my study and build a career.

Not 100% sure in what I wanted to learn, I decided to enrolled in an Interactive Diploma of Digital Media where I started to focus on avenues of 3D art in games and film. Upon completion of my certificate I enrolled in an Advanced Diploma of Screen and Media and then further into a Bachelor of Design (Digital Media Design). These studies provided me with the opportunity to experiment in many different fields from 3D, motion graphics, editing and design. Learning these diverse skillsets gave me a deeper outlook into the creative industry and various roads one can take.

In my third year of study I was eager to work. Through the Swinburne University’s Career Hub, I landed a freelance projects working for Whytehouse Entertainment editing sizzle reels for TV concepts. The team at Whytehouse were great mentors and I had a great experience learning and working with them. While freelancing for this company I also used my personal time to pitch on projects through and All the jobs were very low budget and the competition was tough due to hundreds of offshore freelancers. I was pitching on up to 10 jobs a day with little in return. Taking each opportunity, I worked on any project where I could make some money and learn as much as possible as I focused my skills towards motion design. While I wasn’t working I was consuming every tutorial or master class I could.

As my third year of work in freelancing approached, I started making contacts at studios and broadcast networks that got me into the industry. I now freelance at a number of TV channels and production studios creating graphics for branded content, TV shows and graphic packages for large events around Australia. 

Motion design is a great career with endless possibilities to create and learn. It’s a role where film, art and design all collide into one, which I think is a very good set of ingredients for a really rewarding career choice.

Peter Graham – Sound recordist Film/TV

My path into the Film and TV industry started as a junior technician at Radio 3AW.

I then moved to 3KZ in the Audio Production Department, my next move was to a Recording Studio engineering commercials and jingles. From the experience I gained from this employment I started my own audio company doing both audio post production and location recording, which I am still doing today. I have worked on: Frontline (series 1 2 and 3 for working dog)Secret Life of Us (series 1 2 and 3) and The Castle (Movie for working dog) among many other projects

Matt Jasper – Director of Photography

Ok, so its back to me.

I wanted to be a cameraman when I was 10. It was around the time of the Ash Wednesday bushfires in Victoria and my class made a video about the story. From then on I was hooked. While I was at high school I shot weddings and deb balls for local video producers. When I left high school I started to work as a camera assistant and sound recordist for more experienced guys. It was a good chance to learn what to do, and – just as important -what not to do. Over the years I worked on enough jobs that I was given opportunities to start shooting for broadcast.

One big break I had was the chance to go and shoot in China for the ABC in 2003. I went over for 3 months and came back 12 years later. In that time I got to cover wars, typhoons, the Olympics and I visited over 40 countries. It was an incredible experience.

In 2014 I came back home to Melbourne and since then I have been freelancing, doing whatever I can to get my name out there again. I have spent many days shooting feature stories for The Project, or television commercials for the Melbourne Vixens or the NBL. I have been able to travel far and wide with corporate clients and also shot a doco last year for Al Jazeera. The biggest job that I have had though was shooting the feature film – The Five Provocations – for Director Angie Black,  due for release this year.

Last year I started The Jasper Picture Company because I love telling stories. I will continue to freelance as a DoP but running a production company allows me to use all of my other skills as well and help companies tell stories of their own.

I hope this blog helped some of you as you approach that moment where you have to decide what you are going to do with your lives. If any of you ever have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me at