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Law, camera, action!

Ian Bates
Procam Founder and Managing Director Ian Bates

Lawyer-turned-cameraman Ian Bates is proud to say he’s continued serving the Queensland legal profession – long after he left it.

The former Crown prosecutor made the switch more than 30 years ago but has kept his hand in the law all these years, producing training videos and programs, and capturing a multitude of legal seminars and conferences.

Since 1990 Ian’s video production business, Procam, has filmed legal videos in its Brisbane studio, including GST for Lawyers in 1999, which was duplicated more than 50,000 times and sent to every law firm in Australia.

“I still really enjoy the law lectures and find I learn something out of everything I go to,” Ian said. “Although I was a criminal law specialist, I really had the benefit over all those years of learning so much about so many different areas.”

But law-related content isn’t the self-taught videographer’s only area of expertise. Ian’s other passion is natural history filming – his footage from far-flung corners of the globe has appeared on Discovery Channel, National Geographic and at the American Museum of Natural History.

Ian recently spoke to QLS Proctor about his multifaceted career.

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Film on the side

After graduating in Arts Law, Ian was admitted to the Bar in 1975 and the following day commenced work as a Crown prosecutor at the Commonwealth Deputy Crown Solicitor’s Office.

His work over the next 16 years consisted of cases involving major fraud, organised crime including drugs and money laundering, and prosecuting “some 43 Taiwanese fishing boats who were raiding the Great Barrier Reef for clam meat”. One of these cases took Ian to the High Court in Melbourne as junior counsel for the first time.

“What I really enjoyed more than anything was the foreign fishing boats and that chapter of my life,” he said. “I got to spend so much time away in really interesting locations – lots of trips to Thursday Island, Weipa, Cairns and Mackay.”

clams
An editorial cartoon by Alan Moir which appeared in The Courier-Mail

But Ian never lost sight of his interest in television, first sparked when, as a high school student, he and his fellow choir members visited the Channel Nine Brisbane studios as an eisteddfod prize.

While still practising law, Ian purchased a video recording system and soon produced his first short film, You and your Will, for Dr John de Groot, a newly sole practitioner at the time – and now a Queensland Law Society Past President. In 1982 Ian wrote the script outline for Courting Success, a Crown witness training film, in which he also played an acting role alongside his brother, a fellow barrister.

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Ian then spent some time living and working in Western Australia, a move prompted by the Costigan Royal Commission. He was appointed as lawyer in charge of the National Crime Authority (NCA) Perth, and subsequently moved to the state Crown to prosecute the cases arising from the NCA.

“That was serious, heavy stuff of which I can’t talk about still,” Ian said. “Suffice to say, at the end of that period I spent at the Crown Law, we were very glad to go home to Queensland!

“It wasn’t a particularly safe job … we were dealing with fairly violent criminals that had a very violent past, so that was the nature of it.”

Law on the side

Upon his return to Queensland in 1988, Ian purchased chambers at the Inns of Court. He also made the decision to set up a new videography business to produce legal training videos, Procam, with the help of a general manager.

Although Ian was keeping very busy as a Crown prosecutor, he found that Procam really took off and he decided to go fulltime in 1990, making his final court appearance in May 1991.

Procam soon made its first two programs for Queensland Law Society, The role of the duty lawyer and The law claims story, which Ian says “highlighted how easily a lawyer can get into strife by doing stupid things, and how important it was that they did the right thing from day one”.

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His team subsequently produced many more legal programs, including the Understanding the law series, covering topics on family law, divorce, mediation and criminal law – all sold at low cost to members of the public.

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From left: Fujifilm Australia’s Simon Murphy with Procam’s Renee Bailey and Ian Bates

“We installed the first robotic cameras at a law society in Australia (QLS),” Ian said. “Our experience with robotic cameras led to us doing the G20 conference of world leaders at the Queensland Art Gallery in 2014.”

Rental manager and longserving staff member Renee Bailey also has extensive experience in live streaming for many legal organisations. Supplying gear to freelancers, filmmakers and networks is also a big part of what Ian’s business does – the ABC’s Penguin Island and Meet the Penguins, for example, were shot on Procam’s equipment.

Aside from legal video production, Procam has over the years also captured a wide range of content outside of the law, including music and cultural events, corporate videos, the construction of the Gateway Bridge, the last state election, this year’s ANZAC Day parade and the Golden Guitars in Tamworth.  

Further afield

Ian’s work has also taken him on 11 filming expeditions; to the Arctic, Kamchatka, South Georgia, Falklands and Antarctica.

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“I have observed climate change first hand,” he said. “I’ve got footage of South Georgia and glaciers from 18 years ago, and they’ve retreated so much – the speed of change has been remarkable over the last 20 years.”

His most recent expedition was in 2020 to Scott’s Hut and the Dry Valleys as part of a half circumnavigation of Antarctica from New Zealand to Montevideo. He has documented Antarctica extensively and gathered a vast array of material on landforms and wildlife, including elephant seals, albatross, petrels and penguins.  

“We sold a lot of footage to various groups and natural history films (see Antarctica Dreaming),” Ian said. “The king penguins are just magnificent. They sing to each other, they’re very inquisitive and they’ll come up and peck your boots and say hello.”

King penguins in Antarctica, Ian Bates Procam Studio

Ian also documented reefs in New Guinea for 16 years, an interest that was kick-started back when he was prosecuting foreign fishing boats. He and his legal team had called underwater filmmakers Ron and Valerie Taylor as witnesses and were shown film of the Great Barrier Reef before it was destroyed.

So, when he later had the opportunity to be involved in trying to save the reef and document it, via a joint venture with cinematographer David Hannon, he jumped at the chance. They made a program called Corals on the Reef and sold the footage to many documentaries internationally.

“We have a lot of footage of marine animals and reefs that no longer exist,” he said. “We (also) supplied a whole lot of footage for (the 2003 animated film) Finding Nemo – our footage of the clownfish in and amongst the reef was the basis of the animation when they actually made the movie.”

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Legal background ‘of huge value’

When Ian looks back on all the legal videos Procam has filmed, he points out the many mental health programs as some of the most significant, providing long-term benefit to the legal profession and young lawyers in particular.

“A lot of young lawyers find it very tough in the first five years, particularly meeting targets, and they find that the stress is way too much,” Ian said. “I know QLS runs support programs for young lawyers and I really commend that.

“I think young lawyers need every encouragement and every form of support that they can get, because the practice of law today is extremely difficult, particularly the pressure that people put them under in law firms in meeting targets – and all the other pressures of practice.”

It’s plain to see that, as a legal practitioner, Ian fostered diverse interests outside of law. He strongly recommends others do the same in order to alleviate some of the stresses of legal practice.

“You’ve got to have something that you’re really passionate about outside the law, because it’s tough,” he said. “And you’ve got to be prepared to grab the opportunities when they come – if it’s not in the mainstream law, be assured your legal background is going to be of huge value whatever you do, whether it be in the corporate world, the finance world, or something else.

“Because of the fact that you can be proficient at tax and understanding a whole lot of areas of law, it doesn’t matter what you end up doing – the corporate area or whatever. The law is a wonderful stepping stone to be in business.

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“The reason we’ve survived in business for 33 years is not because I was the best creative director or the best cameraman – it’s because of the fact that I understood finance and had a legal background, and I was able to structure the business so that we were set up to go forward.”

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