FOCUS PULLER - RICH TURNER
Rich is a focus puller working in Film and TV. He has worked on a range of projects from television dramas ‘Dr. Who’, ‘Wolf Hall’, ‘Endeavour’, ‘Home Fires’ and TV movie ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ and documentaries.
He has worked across all digital formats as well as 35mm film.
HOW DID YOU GET IN TO THE INDUSTRY?
Well, I didn’t do very well in my G.C.S.Es at school and only managed two to my name, so I left and had to go to college and do an intermediate GNVQ before I could do anything film related. A teacher there told me about multi-media production and after that that’s all I could think about, and getting in to film-making. I then did a Media Production course at University before I got my first job on a corporate film shoot. I met a camera operator/DP who I really hit it off with and another job introduced me to a second DP and from there they took me on their jobs with them.
One of the DPs asked me if I’d help with a few shorts that he was lighting. From there he invited me on a feature film he was shooting as his assistant and I stepped up to a focus puller from a loader. It was a baptism by fire but it cemented for me that I wanted to do films. Then a film making initiative in Bristol called iFeatures came along and they asked me to be a focus puller on the first one, then the second, then the third. Then I did the feature film ‘Archie Cookson’. From there I began working in TV Drama and haven’t looked back!
DID YOU GO TO FILM SCHOOL?
Yes, I did one year of film theory and I didn’t like it, so I went in to production instead.
WHAT SKILLS OR PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES WOULD YOU CONSIDER TO BE THE BIGGEST FACTOR AS TO WHY YOU GOT TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
I think there’s two. Technical skills and people skills. The old adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, does ring true; you need to meet the right people to get the jobs. However, the camera department is very technical and you’ve got to be good. So know your trade but be someone people like to work with. We work long hours in some tough situations so being friendly and upbeat is very important!
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A CV/EMAIL FROM STUDENTS TRYING TO BREAK IN TO THE BUSINESS?
Easy, honesty. I do get lots of CVs and if they talk about what they’ve operated on for shoots, I always say but hang on you’re going for a trainee job here. If you introduce too much it’s a turn off. We need someone that’s honest and keen to learn, not someone who’s there to just network and talk about how amazing they are, that’s really important to me.
WHAT MISTAKES DO YOU SEE STUDENTS MAKING THAT ARE COMING UP IN YOUR AREA?
It’s on-set etiquette. Obviously you don’t know the etiquette until you are on set but there is a hierarchy and you should pick that up as soon as possible. You shouldn’t speak out of turn on a film set and it’s not unlike the military in that respect. You don’t talk above your station unless you have a very good relationship with the DP or director. Generally you stay within your department and the chain of command goes up. There’s little jumps maybe from the focus puller to the DP but sometimes there isn’t. On some jobs I have a good relationship with the director and we talk about everything, but sometimes we just keep it to the technical stuff and barely talk about anything else.
WHAT IS YOUR ATTITUDE AND OUTLOOK ON THE CURRENT STATE OF THE INDUSTRY? ALSO, HOW HAVE THINGS CHANGED FROM WHEN YOU BEGAN AND HOW HAS THIS IMPACTED ON YOUR WORK?
The current state of the industry in the UK is very good and is getting better and better. There are lots of young people coming in which is great but we do have a strict union and there’s a lot of people who don’t know about it. We try to stick to our guns with rates but some young people who want to jump up early are not paying attention to rates. It’s like having a ladder and if enough people jump to the top of the ladder, the ladder falls over. When I hear young people getting jobs, I ask if they’ve talked about rates and are they doing the job properly? Sometimes you might do a deal with the production company as you’re desperate, but you really shouldn’t have done and you need to stick to your guns or it causes ripples throughout the industry.
ON SET/IN YOUR WORKING ENVIRONMENT:
CAN YOU OFFER ANY ON SET/PRACTICAL HINTS AND TIPS?
Well, there’s so much to do in the camera department! You’ll be told a million things and it’s hard but you have to be very pro-active. The worst thing is seeing new trainees standing about when the rest of us are running around. There is always something to be done and the best trainees don’t stop. Don’t be having a fag when everyone is working. If you’re not sure, then ask and have that sense of being pro-active.
WHAT “DO’S AND DON’TS” WOULD YOU SUGGEST? MAYBE WORKING WITH OTHERS OR SOMETHING YOU LIKE TO DO ON SET TO MAKE THINGS EASIER?
For me, you don’t want anyone waiting for camera. It doesn’t quite matter if anything else isn’t ready like the monitor etc. but the camera should be ready so the director can start thinking about shots either on the dolly or the tripod. Then the DP can start thinking about light too. If not, when people are waiting for camera, that doesn’t make you look very good. Having a system in place so you know what to do first is a good start. Loaders are assisting on the cables or monitors and we’re ready to go. Alarm bells go off if things aren’t being done.
WHEN YOU ARE FIRST BROUGHT ON TO A PROJECT, WHAT ARE YOUR IMMEDIATE THOUGHTS AND PROCESSES?
I have a regular team I like to put forward for each job, so I’d be thinking about them. Then what kit is required and any additional items we might need. I need to ask if we need them all the time or just for a few days, so then I can tell the rental house/hire company. I am compiling a list with the DP and we make sure we have everything. There might be some items we only need for a day or two so you’re always thinking about when is the best time to hire them too, as we don’t want to waste money.
JUST BEFORE PRODUCTION STARTS, WHAT ARE YOUR MAIN RESPONSIBILITIES?
For me, it’s the camera tests. We do camera tests to make sure everything is together and in order. We literally go into the rental house for about a week, if not longer, during which the whole team up to the focus puller are there testing the kit. We look at the camera, monitors, cables, looms, and test lenses. We test each set of lenses with a projector and a focus chart so we can see the level of focus on each individual lens. We put on each lens and check if the measurement on the side and distances marry up. So when a lens says it’s at 10ft, we are in fact 10ft away. We can do proper focus pulls on the projector so we can also see if there are any aberrations on the lens especially with anamorphics. The sides of the picture can go soft as that’s how they work. We go through the T-stops of the lens and we can see if there is a soft part of the screen at a given stop. If we then stop down and the soft part goes, we know we can only work that lens at those particular stops whatever they might be. With that info we can go to the DP and tell them our findings. We note anything we could be worried about for the shoot.
ADVICE AND MISTAKES:
WHAT WAS THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER BEEN GIVEN?
I would say it was don’t give up. It’s tough as there are so many people trying to get in to the industry and they’ll be times when you’re not getting work but you must stick with it if it’s the only thing you want to do. Everyone I know who keeps going, makes it.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU COULD GIVE?
Be proactive. Don’t give up.
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE BLUNDER?
Easy. I dropped a camera filter on a feature shoot. I was cleaning it and I made the mistake of cleaning it in the tray. It was a tiny smudge that wasn’t in vision! I had to do it and pushed the filter through. When it fell, it hit the corner of the tripod and cracked straight through. I felt terrible. It was bad for a focus puller, not as bad a dropping a lens which would get you fired on the spot, but a filter is also a very bad thing to drop. I apologised profusely to the producer. About a week later, we still hadn’t had a replacement brought back and I was told the one we had was the only one in the country and they had to ship it over from Germany! I will NEVER do that again,. It’s the sort of mistake you only make once ...