George Turner on the relationship between camera operator and producer

Tell me about the relationship between the camera person and the producer/director.

Very important. Most of the producers I ever worked with I’ve always – again, it’s a story I’ve mentioned a few times, but not today – when you meet a producer at Los Angeles airport, he’s maybe been over there for two weeks, he’s done all the research, and he says, “Right, we’re off tomorrow morning, 6:30. We’re out with the LAPD police force.” Now what I used to say to them was, “You tell me in two minutes what we’re going to try and achieve.” Because I need to have some feedback what the story’s about. So if he tells me we’re going to be out at midnight and we’re going to be filming drunks, and there might be people trying to stab you, and you’re going to be in the back of a police car, I like to hear all that, so it’s not a shock to me when I turn up the following morning, I’m in the back of a police car. I always wanted to know as quickly as possible the key seven or eight things that that programme was going to do. I always, and even to this day, I just didn’t want to perceive that this was a job where you take some nice pictures, and at the end the programme’s going to be alright. I wanted to get something from it and I liked to feel that I was involved with it.

And I can think of a number of times that just understanding the subject- when we did a thing about Kevin Donnellon, the thalidomide young boy in Liverpool, when we met them, and they were in Bootle, in a little bungalow, and suddenly you’ve got this little boy and he’s scuffling round on his feet. I’d never seen a thalidomide child before. I almost instantly thought, almost everything I’m going to do is down at his level. So forget the tripod. I’m on the floor. And if you look at the programme, everything I did with him was always at his height. And some people said, “Why did you do that?” And I said, “Well, I just made that decision” because it didn’t seem right. I wasn’t as big then as I am now, but I just had to come down to his level.

So I’ve always felt that if you can get yourself understanding the story as best you can, you might not get it always right, but certainly for me, it gave me the job satisfaction, that I think I did more than just think, oh well it’s nicely framed and all of that. I understood the subject a bit better than I did when I first started it. And actually I think some ways you get more out of it because you might film great long interviews, some of which you know are never going to make the screen, for various reasons, one of which is they just aren’t good interviewees, probably like me. But also the subject moves on. So you do it as a bit of research. Then there’s something else comes out that’s better, so that goes in the bin.

But I think when I look back at some of the stories, and I think of all the things that I’ve seen, when you see it edited down to 24 minutes and 15 seconds, you think yeah, well they chose the best bits to tell that story, whether it be oil fires in Kuwait or what Saddam Hussain was doing, or whatever it is because you can’t get all of it in. You’ve got to make certain it’s the very best bits that tell the story that the producer wants to tell.

The World in Action programme about thalidomide can be seen here.

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