George Turner comments on changing technology

I wondered how the changes in technology have affected your role. Has it made it easier?

I think it’s a journey that’s taken place over very nearly fifty years. So when I embarked, and talking about cameras that weighed over 42 lbs. and were powered by 12 volt car batteries and things like that, and you know, now you can have a mobile phone that can do better then what we were able to do 50 years ago, yes. But the Model T Ford car bears no resemblance to the Mini that you buy today. So that’s progress. I think I’m very privileged in that I’ve actually seen that transition because I think we briefly talked about the days when there was the huge trust between directors and producers and you know to have gone through all of that and learned how to do that, so that when you know you’ve only got one change to get it you can say to the director it’s alright, it’s fine.

Today, it’s fantastic all the modern equipment you’ve got around. And I love using most of it. Some of it I don’t quite understand but that’s because I don’t use it enough. Gone are the days now where you would have tripods that would have just a slider on and you would just move the camera like that so you would get this effect, and you’ve now got stills cameras where you can get this minimum depth of focus so you get the background out of focus. Well before we used to have to go half a mile across the park with a very long telephoto lens to get the same effect, but now you can do it in my living room.

So it’s allowed cameramen and directors and all those behind the scenes, colourists, to mess around and change and things like that. It’s a much bigger problem to solve today how you’re going to do it. Yeah, it’s great, and I feel privileged to have gone from that very heavy equipment to something now that just does it better.

But presumably some of the direct effects of that change is that the size of the crew has reduced?

Yes. I mean I think that the size of the crew has changed and I think it would have happened anyway because it does, that’s part of the evolution, if you look back now, we could do things- Things are filmed slightly differently today than how we did them, you know, with the radio mics, when we first got radio mics one of the things that we would first often do was, if I was doing something, he’d get into a corner. Because the cameras were fairly big, people tend to play up to the cameras, and they get more playing up now because the cameras tend to be in their faces. They’re not actors or actresses and they become a bit conscious of it, and they sometimes do some very silly things, which they probably will regret. I always felt that one was of the things we tried to do, was to capture things as naturally as possible. So if you get back over there, and like I was saying, you look with one eye through the lens but with the other eye you’re looking at something else. Well I’d be looking and think, well that looks interesting, right. So that’s the slight difference with that.

And just the equipment we’ve got around now. We’ve got cameras now where you can actually see the images. The cameras when we first used them we didn’t have reflect lenses and Dave, bless him, when we wanted to go in for a shot he’d say to me, “Have you got the focus on that television?” And I’d say, “Yes.” “Are you sure?” “Yes.”

Well I’d had to get used to sort of judging, because you couldn’t go out with a tape measure, and to say, oh, that’s 9’ 6” away. And I’d set the lens on 9’ 6”. And you got used to always kind of thinking, oh, that’s 9’ 3”. And we used to laugh about it. We’d sometimes be in a restaurant and Dave would say to me, “How far’s that door away?” And I’d say, “12 foot.” Right, so you had to do it quickly. So I couldn’t think, is it 11 foot? No, is it 14? You’d have to make a decision, so you’d always be testing yourself to do it.

And even cameras when they started to become reflex, and the way the optics would work, in theory, a lot of the time you could check the focus, but there’s nothing worse than if you zoom in and it goes out of focus. Well I got used to learning where, when you put your hand on the focus ring, you know, if you grabbed it there and you knew it was on infinity, and you did that much it was 20 foot away, and if you did that it was 12 foot away, and that was 10 foot away. So you’d be thinking, well that person’s 10 foot away, so get it to there. So then when you’d zoom in, if you wanted to change the shot, most of the times, not always- You don’t need to do that now, you can put it on auto-focus. It’ll do it all the time for you if you want to. So it’s changed.

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