RAT, which won de Vries the 1998 Golden Tripod for Best
Documentary (and the Milli Award as Cinematographer of the Year,
Australian Cinematographers’ Society), was directed by Mark
Lewis, whose unique style was noted with his funny and
informative Cane Toads, which had a successful theatrical season
"New York city is the backdrop for this quirky look at
the rat population and the eccentric New Yorkers who love and
hate them," says de Vries. "Life in the underbelly of
the Big Apple from the rats’ point of view, and the people
who have to live with them." (The Mark Lewis Radio Pictures
Inc Production was made in association with Beyond Productions,
as a co-production with National Geographic Television, Channel 4
Television and Docstar.)
it…just a smear on the lens… "
Making RAT was "very challenging," says de Vries,
"because there was so little money, and we were working
inside people’s homes. I used a lot of periscope lenses,
with the camera suspended on a gib arm, so the camera was
millimeters from the floor, and the rat could follow it."
How do you get a rat to follow a camera? Simple: peanut butter.
"They love it…just a smear on the lens… "
And of course, there had to be rat-cam; "it’s a
cradle-like contraption, basically a fancy stick on a cradle. I
used a lot of micro lenses, too, to get the extreme close ups of
rats’ noses and so on."
As all this suggests, de Vries travels with a bag of little
tricks; "I have a very practical lighting kit and some magic
arms, things to hang lamps off …I think I have possibly the
biggest box of magic tricks of any cameraman."
This is not the first award de Vries has won for his work; in
1995, he won the Golden Tripod for his work on The Space Shuttle
– A Butterfly on a Rocket, directed by Scott Hicks (Shine).
He had worked with Scott Hicks in 1988, on the documentary
mini series, The Great Wall of Iron, about one of the
world’s biggest armies - The Chinese Peoples Liberation
Army. A fourteen week shoot produced by Beyond International for
the BBC, NZBC and The Discovery Channel USA, it was the winner of
the 1990 Peabody Award, and Episode 1 gained the High
Commendation from the ACS.
He had already won two
earlier Golden Tripods
He had already won two earlier Golden Tripods, one (in 1987)
for The Palestinians, centering on Yasser Arafat and made for the
ABC’s 4 Corners and the BBC; the other (in 1986) for Episode
1 of Sweat of the Sun, Tears of the Moon, an extensive
documentary series on South America - a look at aspects of life
in Latin America. An ABC and BBC co-production, directed by Geoff
Barnes and Clive Fleury it took nine months of filming in Brazil,
Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Chile & Argentina. (It also
won the Logie Award for Best documentary series.) For episode 8,
de Vries received a High Commendation.
In May 1998, while the ACS awards were being presented,
Melbourne born, Sydney based de Vries was away (again), this time
shooting not rats but sharks – and a mighty 20 meter one at
that, for a 3D tv documentary tentatively titled 3D Megladon.
(Megladon is the ancestor of the great white shark.) His wife,
Mary, collected the Milli Award, and took it home to their proud
young children, Oliver and Celia. After 10 days anchored off the
island of Guadalupe (off Mexico) shooting underwater background
plates, the production moved to the Smithsonian Institute of
Natural History for some work with shark skeletons, and finally
to Fiji for above water sequences with shark divers.
"I’m not limited
to docos, although I love them."
Although most of de Vries’ work has been in
documentaries, which he enjoys, he sees himself as "an all
round director of photography . . . I’m not limited to
docos, although I love them." In 1990, de Vries shot a
feature film, Glass, a contemporary romantic thriller. written
and directed by Christopher Kennedy, who went on to make Doing
Time for Patsy Cline.
"What I try to do with my photography," says de
Vries, "is try to give it a feature look whenever I get the
opportunity – sometimes in miniature. I don’t shoot
shots that look wishy washy – I go boldly, because it has to
work on the small screen. In RAT, I gave the rats