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From war zone to film industry

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Camerman Ingo Hoffman (L) and actor Preap Sovath share a happy moment on the set. Photograph: Abbie Wong/Phnom Penh Post

Camerman Ingo Hoffman (L) and actor Preap Sovath share a happy moment on the set. Photograph: Abbie Wong/Phnom Penh Post

An attack near the Afghan-Pakistan border prompted Ingo Hoffman to pursue a career in Cambodia’s film industry.

Today, Hoffman is Cambodia’s only Steadicam operator. Finding himself on sets and locations all over the country doing work that requires the special hand-held camera, which can isolate itself from the operator’s movements.

The high-tech camera functions like a tripod, except that the device is carried by Hoffman for a variety of clients on a variety of projects.

In Europe, a good Steadicam operator can earn between $800 and $1200 a day, according to film director Peter Ristau. The camera itself costs between $4,000 and $6,000.

Hoffman, who learned his camera skills in the German army’s special forces, was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan in 2001. He woke up in a hospital in Germany.

“Doctors told me it was a miracle I was alive. Nine people died in the attack.”

Hoffman, who moved to Cambodia last year, is working on the set of Have You Ever Loved Me?, a film directed by Malaysia’s Brando Lee.

“To be a Steadicam operator requires specific skills, and not everyone can do it. Hoffman is very good,” Lee says.

The film is the first Khmer-Malaysian production to use Steadicam technology.

Hoffman had been a lieutenant in the East German army. After Germany’s reunification, he embarked on a 10-year career as soldier in security forces in war zones including Chechnya, Somalia and Iraq before his team was ambushed in Afghanistan.

It took 17 operations before he could walk again.

An unexpected event in Kosovo in 1992 sparked Hoffman’s new life as a cameraman.

“I had a small camera of my own, and in between patrols I used it for fun,” he says. “Then a Reuters reporter saw my video and decided to buy it.”

Reuters then invited him to be trained as a cameraman.

After a few years as a cameraman in Europe, Hoffman moved to Thailand in 2004 and became a Buddhist. Last year, he moved to Cambodia and started his own company, Steadicam Operations Cambodia.

He aims to educate film producers in Cambodia about the advantages and uses of the Steadicam.

To contact the reporter on this story: Javier D Yepes at jyepes@gmail.com

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