A View from behind the Camera – Paul Cananzi, Cameraman
Updated: Aug 13, 2019
I grew up in Broadmeadows and in my teen years we moved to Gladstone Park. The socio-economic area was a bit of a struggling economy – a lot of factory workers. My dad played a big part in opening up his own business, believing that you can better yourself and create opportunities for yourself no matter where you live.
Growing up, we didn’t have much money so my family made do with what we had. My two brothers and I would even try make our own go-carts with whatever planks of wood we could find. To come from those humble beginnings to then work for a television station/network Australia wide, was definitely a massive opportunity for a kid like me.
I was studying to be a Fitter & Turner Mechanical engineer when I had to record a video as one of my school projects. Because I enjoyed it so much I thought I would rather do videos than study engineering, so I changed courses to do a film and television course at Footscray Secondary College.
Getting yourself out there
I decided if I was going to make it in this business of television I wanted to come across as a professional and be taken seriously. I got myself a car phone and a pager, had business cards made up and sent them out to all kinds of different shows and producers. I would have sent my business card to over 100 people and from that I had only three people responding with their apologies, but I never gave up trying to get work.
A glimpse of hope…
One day I bumped into one of my previous school teachers who was a fill-in-teacher at the time I was attending school. She was now working at a photo developing shop and told me she knew this cameraman Tony who would get his photos developed at her store. She got permission from him and gave me his details. As soon as she did, I was to call him every Wednesday at 10.30am to see if he had any work. I called him religiously for about three months.
First job as an assistant cameraman
One morning I received a phone call from Phil Lambert, Chief Cameraman from ‘Hey Hey it’s Saturday’.
He wanted to know if I was free to do three days of work as an assistant cameraman. I tried hard to conceal my excitement by grabbing a newspaper and flicking through it, telling him I was just checking my diary. I must have impressed him because he had commented on how busy I sounded.
When I told him I was free, he went on to tell me the job was at the ARIA awards. I couldn’t believe it. I thought to myself ‘hopefully it’s not too big of a job’. It turned out to be a great first gig! I was in awe of all the people that were attending and tried to stay cool, like I hung out with these people all the time. I was very fortunate to have been given this first opportunity.
What was the beginning of your career path?
Because the ARIA job was for three days and it had started on the Wednesday morning, I didn’t get the chance to call Tony on the Wednesday – it was the first time in three months that I hadn’t called him. So, on the Thursday he called me up and said ‘mate you didn’t call me yesterday.’
He told me had been waiting for my call. Every Wednesday he would chuckle and tell his friends that without fail I would be calling him at 10.30am. Because of my dedication, he said he wanted me to start working with him as his assistant from the Monday. He was doing a lot of corporate work so that’s what we were doing together.
I was very fortunate to have worked quite closely with Tony – he was a great mentor and teacher.
Life at Channel 7
One day Tony had asked me what it is I wanted to do and I told him I wanted to be a Cameraman at Channel 7. Although he said he liked working with me, he didn’t think it was fair to keep me assisting him so he gave me the opportunity to grow. Since he had previously worked for Channel 7 he made a call to someone he was still in contact with.
One Thursday afternoon I received a phone call from Tony’s contact who told me he had an opening and wanted me to start on Monday. That was it – in 1991 that was my foot in the door at Channel 7. Working closely with Tony, gave me the opportunity on how best to work. When I started working at Channel 7, I could pre-empt what the camera guys were trying to do so I was doing what they wanted me to do even before they would ask me.
By the time I was 21 years old, I got graded as a Cameraman for the Seven Network. At that time I was the youngest graded Cameraman at Channel 7.
What was your first job that went to air?
One of the first things I shot that went to air was some over lay where I was working with David Johnstone, a news presenter. We needed to get the story back in time to go to air but we needed exterior shots of the building of the Ararat Prison. I was there with the camera and I can’t remember where Rowen the cameraman I was assisting had gone to and so David turned around to me and asked me to get a few shots. I said ‘I can but I’m not sure I’m allowed to’. He said ‘mate, just get a couple of shots and we’ll be done’.
Later that night they were on air and David was so thankful about me getting the shots. Rowen wasn’t even aware that the shots they aired were mine as neither David or I told him what I had done.
Did you ever film something you were against / not so proud of?
There were so many times I didn’t want to be a part of something, but it was part of history, part of humanity. Disasters are an example because they are the hardest thing to film; the floods, a Black Saturday, bushfires, Ash Wednesday, Port Arthur massacre; they were all stories that had a big impact on us, especially terrorism these days, but still required filming. These are stories no one wants to hear about but we do need to be informed and need to know about these sorts of things.
One thing I always say and teach students, is that there are stories you want to do and there are people you don’t want to be with, but that is not the job. The job is to be professional and bring everyone the story.
What was the hardest job you had to film?
The hardest job that I probably did was one of the last jobs I did before I left Channel 7 in 2008 – in fact it was the job that was the deciding factor for me to leave.
I covered an accident with a new journalist about this young kid who had been wearing all the right padded gear to ride his new bike on a BMX track. He went off a jump and the handle bar got lodged into his groin – the handle bars did not have the caps on the end of the handle bars. It penetrated into his groin, going in one way of the handle bar and pouring out the other way. His friend panicked and ran to call his parents. By the time his parents came back, the kid had drained out and bled to death.
It was so upsetting. I was reminded as a parent, that I had three young kids of my own and I was barely seeing them. I realised life was more important than being part of the news. This poor little kid did nothing wrong; he just went for a ride with his safety gear on yet sadly he didn’t make it home.
Did you ever take work home with you?
Yes I did. I saw so many freak accidents that not even the average person would understand them.
Where I have seen it and understood why it happened, I became more aware to the point I was babying my kids and not giving them opportunities to trial things, because I had done a story where that had resulted in a disaster or tragedy. I didn’t want to bring this type of work home with me anymore – I didn’t want my kids feeling the brunt of what I had experienced and seen.
How do you decompress?
For me, it was about having a supporting family around me that I could go home to; they were my reality so I was fortunate that just by being with them, they helped me decompress from my job.
Favourite job working for Channel 7?
My favourite job was being part of the crew covering the story in Athens when Tony Mokbel was being arrested.
It wasn’t often that I got to work on something quite secretive that involved a tip off from the Federal Police. I was in the middle of an interview when my boss called and told me he wanted me to cover a huge news story overseas but couldn’t tell me where.
I told him I didn’t want to go to a war zone, but he assured me it was nothing like that. He went on to tell me that I would love the location, and that I needed to bring a full set of gear and head to the Qantas Terminal as soon as possible.
When I got to the airport the Federal Police were also there; I was even more intrigued when I saw them. This job was so secretive that I was not informed of where we were going until I was at the departure terminal; that’s when I was told we were going to Athens – ‘word is Tony Mokbel is there’. When I found out, I was not allowed to tell anyone where I was going, not even my wife – if anyone knew that’s where we were and he got word, he could have fled.
When we got to Athens, we were told to be in Athens but not be in Athens – we basically had to stay low and not act like we were television crew. After a few days, Tony Mokbel was arrested and when we broke his story, there was also a news break of a massive train wreck in Melbourne that killed six people; but the arrest of Tony Mokbel consumed the entire news bulletin.
When he was arrested, I was filming the police station he was held in, but I didn’t know it was illegal to do that, so I was taken inside the station getting questioned about what I was doing. Somehow I won over the police chief when having cigarettes in his office and before I knew it, he told me if I wanted to take some pictures of Tony Mokbel I could; he even let me interview him.
It was the biggest buzz, or one of, that I had experienced in my time working for the Seven Network.
What was the most challenging part of your job at Channel 7
The fact I would go to work in the morning and my deadline is 6pm that same night – I would have to edit my own story after filming the story and send it back to air on the news that night. That’s how it used to be but now it’s instant news.
What was the most exhausting job you had to work on?
One time I did a job in Amsterdam for six days with having only 13 hours’ sleep. We would be shooting the story during the day in Amsterdam, and then we were working through the night to broadcast to Australia during their day. It was ridiculous.
Was there a time that your job was dangerous?
Yeah absolutely. I can go to a location and my worst fear is that I go to cover the story but I end up becoming a story. Covering news about fires and going to a location where I was not familiar with, and the fire being unpredictable was always a risk. Sometimes being caught in a dead-end street with the fire behind me, I found it difficult to comprehend what it was I was really trying to achieve by being there.
There were jobs when I would be walking through a flood carrying 15kgs of equipment above my head just to get the best shot. Even being at a hostage situation, I would go to the scene to get the shot not knowing what was going to happen.
Sometimes the emphasis about covering the story far outweighs the safety aspect, but it’s not something I would think about when I’m caught up in the moment of doing my job.
What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
Being a part of history. Something that may seem trivial today I realise it’s all history in the making.
What are you doing now?
I am the Company Director of Paul Cananzi Pictures Pty. Ltd. I am a freelance crew facilitator, director of photography and lighting cameraman.
The media and pictures industry is evolving with internet, Facebook, Instagram – all social media, but the video component of those is always strong. It’s about evolving in a way of telling a good story so I’m trying to stay ahead of the game; come to the table with fresh ideas for clients who want to capture a different audience at any given time.
Who has been an inspiration in your life?
Inspiration for me, has come from all the different people and places I’ve filmed over the years. Inspiration is the little boys and girls I film each year fighting their own battle with life threatening diseases; the person who has lost their loved one in a freak accident but manages to continue in their honour.
These people give me the inspiration to want to achieve and be the best version of myself.
Do you have a tip for someone wanting to be a cameraman?
I always tell the students how I started, how I persevered. So my tip would be to keep persevering, create a personal interaction; just don’t send a Facebook message asking for work. Be dedicated, be willing to learn, be open to the opportunities.
Click here to view Paul’s work