Landmark New Zealand television drama Hillary photographed with Sony PMW-F55 – by Nick Buchner
Faced with capturing the essence of venerated Kiwi climber and adventurer Sir Edmund Hillary, the New Zealand cinematographer David Paul NZCS (The Tribe, Tangiwai) knew he would be asking a lot of his camera. For the six-part, prestige drama he needed a camera to capture feature-quality images, but he would need to carry that same camera up high snowy mountain slopes where the progress would be no more than three steps up, two steps back.
After one such climb, Paul found himself straddling a pitch-black crevasse as the climbers popped over the top of a sheer face, recreating the moment when Hillary and his climbing partner, Tenzing Norgay, conquered the chimney now known as the Hillary Step. Crossing this final hurdle put Hillary and Norgay within a few steps of being the first men ever to reach the top of Mount Everest.
Paul shot Hillary with the Sony PMW-F55 CineAlta 4K digital camera for nine weeks in Auckland, two weeks in Mount Cook, and two weeks in Nepal. The challenge for Paul was
to visually retell Hillary’s life up to the Everest climb, his Antarctic and New Zealand adventures, and his turmoil after the death of his wife in Nepal.
With six hours of flagship television to shoot, the schedule left no room for superfluous gear or second chances.“I loved the pressure of shooting a six- part series about Sir Ed,” says Paul,“It’s a chance we’ll never get again.”
“Everyone is pushing the boundaries.”
After learning his craft as a film cameraman Paul began to shoot numerous documentaries before migrating to award-winning television drama and feature projects. He was awarded New Zealand Society of Cinematographers accreditation in 2013.
Paul and his assistant camera, Sam Mathews, repacked the camera baggage several times, eventually stripping the Nepal main camera kit down to just five cases.“We simply couldn’t have managed this with any other type of camera,” he says.
For Paul, things like usability and image quality are all part of a bigger industry context that heralds more flexible, faster and cost effective shooting styles. “Budgets are tough, you need to work faster but you can’t drop your standards, every job has to look better and better. Everyone is pushing the boundaries.”
‘Hillary’ premiered on New Zealand’s TV One in 2016.