The 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang presented broadcast professionals with some of the harshest winter temperatures and conditions. From extreme cold, with temperatures in the negative digits, to high winds and snow storms, the winter elements were at their best. No stranger to these elements, Specialty Camera Operator Corey Koniniec, was prepared and ready when selected by NBC to record all aspects of the snowboarding and skiing competitions in PyeongChang. His use of Core SWX to power his RED cameras for the long, cold 10-hour days throughout the two-week assignment of a lifetime provided him with successful and rewarding results.
PH: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you were selected by NBC to work the Olympics.
Corey Koniniec: I'm a cinematographer and co-owner of Motion State from Seattle, Washington. The question of how I was chosen for the PyeongChang Winter Games actually goes back almost two decades to when I first become a filmmaker. When I was 16, I picked up my first Sony VX2000 and started shooting my friends snowboarding. From that point forward, I was hooked on making snowboard films with my friends and it became my passion and career for almost two decades, chasing winter around the globe.
Fast forward to 2013 when the Freefly MOVI was released to the wild. At that point in my career, I was still chasing winters, shooting the best snowboarders in the world for Burton Snowboards, when I saw the MOVI for the first time. My initial reaction was that this would be an epic tool for shooting snowboarding. During that time, I was introduced to Tabb and Hugh at Freefly and got to do some early testing and shooting with the MOVI prototype.
One day an opportunity came up and Tabb and Hugh asked me if I would like to go to Colorado to help them shoot some footage with the MOVI of Alpine skiers for NBC. The plan was for me to chase down the best Alpine guys in the world with MOVI on my snowboard and see what we could get. Needless to say, the trip went really well, and NBC used a ton of the footage for profiles and commercials for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
We shot some amazing footage and after the trip, I was approached by NBC to shoot more with them. Over the past four years, NBC has been one of my best clients and I have done jobs all over the world with them. From NFL to Nascar and spending time on the Tour de France, I built up a solid reputation as a trustworthy cinematographer who could always get the job done right and bring something new to the table. So naturally, when the hiring started for specialty cinematographers for the 2018 Games, my name came up. It was a perfect fit since I had so much experience with documenting winter sports, I personally knew a lot of the athletes.
PH: Was this your first Olympics? What other winter events have you done?
Corey Koniniec: I have shot winter sports since 1998; most of my career was in snowboarding and I have shot countless events from contests like the X Games and US Open, to backcountry Heli skiing. The 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang was my first Olympics.
The Olympics are a trip unlike any other event on earth. They are an absolute beast and very challenging creative wise. Cinematographers are restricted very heavily in terms of where they can and cannot shoot. It does in some ways hinder the creative process but also forces you to really be the best you can in the area you are allowed to be in. History is going down every day and there are no repeats, you have to nail the shot the first time, every time.
PH: There must have been some long and very cold days. How did you prepare you and the gear to work in that extreme weather?
Corey Koniniec: Long and cold days. Oh man! I have been all over the globe and shot in some of the harshest climates on Earth. I kept getting warned that Korea was going to be cold. I kept tossing it aside thinking it was just some office HR person being overly cautious.
Boy was I wrong, the cold and wind chills for the first 10 days of the games were absolutely brutal. Siberian winds and temps dropping below -10 to -20 made things very challenging. Luckily, the days were not extremely long, and you were never exposed to the elements for more than 4-5 hours at a time, which made things doable. Definitely not the worst I have shot in, but definitely one of the most surprising colds I have experienced.
With cold days like this, you mostly need to prepare your body for the elements. First priority is always your body and keeping extremities from being exposed to wind and cold. The camera gear we use is just so good and usually holds up better than my own body. Besides some basic rain covers for days when there is heavy snow and a few hand warmers in my backpack to keep the batteries toasty, there is not much you need to do. Seriously, that is what is so impressive these days, how well the cameras, lenses and of course my Core SWX batteries work in a wide array of environments! Definitely a far progression from my days of shooting 35mm and 16mm film!
PH: Did you use your own gear or was it provided? I noticed you were shooting on a RED. What model, was it the MONSTRO sensor? What kind of glass?
Corey Koniniec: My camera kit, or kits I should say, were completely mine, 100%. I do not like to rely on provided gear or rented gear as you just never know what you are going to get. I trust my gear and know it will never let me down. With that said, I had two packages that I used to attack the games. I also used two F-Stop Shin Bags to carry all my gear around.
A Cam/Sticks Camera
My main camera package was a standard cinema sticks with zoom package consisting of:
- RED Epic-W Helium
- Fujinon 25-300 Zoom lens
- Bright Tangerine Revolver Follow Focus
- Bright Tangerine Matte Box
- Preston Microforce Zoom Control
- Tiffen Filtration
- OConnor 2060 Head
- OConnor 60L Legs
- …And of course, my extremely trustworthy Core SWX Hypercore 9 Batteries
B Cam/MOVI Package
- RED Weapon Helium
- MOVI Pro Gimbal
- RT Motion Follow Focus
- Bright Tangerine Misfit Atom Mattebox
- Sigma 18-35 and 50-100 Cine Zooms
- Duclos 11-16mm
- Small HD 702 Monitor
- Ready Rig
PH: I know you were using Core SXW to power your rig. Did you have a personal preference for the Core SXW? So now the tough questions. Everyone knows that cold kills batteries. How did they hold up? How long could you shoot before you had to change out? Did you have a feeder system so you could keep changing the batteries out?
Corey Koniniec: I used Core SWX Hypercore 9 (HC9) batteries for all my power needs on my “A camera package.” Core reached out to us a few years back to test some early batteries and I just fell in love with them ever since.
The new Hypercore 9 is truly mind-blowing. I ran two HC9’s on a V Mount hot swap plate and literally, barely went through 4-6 batteries per day. This allowed me to never power down and be able to go all day without having to go back to base to recharge batteries. I can’t stress enough of how well these batteries held up in the cold. They literally seem impervious to the conditions. The Hypercore 9 batteries were one of things I was most impressed with during my trip to Korea. This was my first time using them and I can’t wait to change out our whole rental house fleet to these batteries. Oh, and best of all, they are extremely lightweight, TSA safe and pack a huge punch.
PH: What exactly is a Specialty Camera Operator? How does it differ from the other cameras?
Corey Koniniec: Good question. Specialty camera operator is something that my business partners Ryan, Sam, my wife Amber and I all came up with when we started Motion State. At the time, we were one of only a handful of people who knew how to operate the MOVI’s. We didn’t want to just be guys with cameras shooting the same old’ same old’. We wanted to be the best we could and offer our clients new and creative ways to move the camera.
What we do is such a specialty, I can think of only a handful of people on Earth who are using the MOVI with full cinema packages to chase down the best athletes on skis or snowboards. We have done some pretty nutty shots that I still haven’t seen repeated, yet. Now our operation has expanded into larger payload gimbals as well. We have a Technocrane, Cable Cam, a pursuit car, drones and more MOVI’s than ever. So truly, the heart of our business is doing something very specialized in our field of cinematography. Every day is different for us and we’re loving every minute.
PH: What was your biggest take away from the games?
Corey Koniniec: My biggest takeaway from the Olympics was I hope that everyone can get the experience to witness the games once. It's truly special getting to see young athletes who have trained their whole lives for that moment either find Olympic glory or defeat. It is true drama happening in real time! I feel honored to have been a part of it and chosen for the task at hand. Who knows, you may be seeing me in Tokyo for the Summer of 2020!