Remembering Bob Turner
By Brian McKernan, Former Editor of Videography
The moving image is the most powerful form of communication ever devised, and when it came to explaining to television and video professionals how nonlinear video editing technologies worked, Bob Turner had few equals. Bob died of lung cancer in Scituate MA on July 15 at the age of 54.
I had the good fortune to meet Bob Turner in the late 1980's through his next-door neighbor, David P. Allen, a former broadcaster and RCA executive. David was also a contributing editor to Videography magazine, which I edited from October 1987 to May 1999. When I realized how much Bob knew about the then-new field of digital nonlinear video editing I quickly signed him up to write for the magazine as well.
Bob had started his career in television at UMASS. and R.I.T. some years before at just about the same time that a handful of pioneering computer and television engineers on both Coasts began exploring how to make video editing as easy as the cutting and pasting of film had been for decades. In fact, they wanted to make it even easier. To do this they freely borrowed technologies from the brave new world of personal computers, including disk drives (to make video 'nonlinear' and free editors from shuttling tapes), digital signal processing (to allow for degradation-free re-recording of video), and a graphical user interface.
But designing these video-computers was only half the challenge. These engineers needed hands-on editors who could work with these new machines, coax them into doing what they were designed to do, and then clearly explain what was needed to improve this awkward new technology. It wasn't easy, but Bob Turner was one of a rare breed of people who had edited film, understood computers, and worked in television. Not only that, he was an extremely gifted and capable writer. (He also was the original designer and director of the Emelin Theatre, in Mamaroneck NY, which continues to be a major regional live and film theatre.)
Bob went on to work at the Film/Video Center at U Mass/Boston and subsequently directed the Audio-Visual Centers at the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology. It was in Rochester that he also began his long-standing commitment to the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE). In the 1980's he moved to the cutting edge of his profession as the Chief Editor for Devlin Productions, in New York, where his editing was recognized in many award-winning videos, including John Lennon's MTV Award nominated Steppin' Out. Bob also studied archaeological field photography at Harvard University's Peabody Museum and accompanied his archaeologist wife Peg Turner, Professor of Art History at the Massachusetts College of Art, to her research site at Teotihuacan, Mexico. His remarkable photographs graced her doctoral dissertation and subsequent publications.
In 1984 with the birth of his daughter Amanda Erin, Bob moved back to the Boston area and became an editor at Century III Teleproductions. He then began his own editing and consulting company, Bob Turner Post Production Services. It was a few years after that that I met Bob and he became a contributing editor, leading writer, and equipment reviewer for Videography.
Bob not only had an encyclopedic knowledge of video editing technology, he had a first-name relationship with the executives at every company dabbling in the then-new field of digital nonlinear video editing. He also had a singular ability to explain the technology clearly to readers. His hands-on reviews of video edit systems and his series of Videography articles titled 'Changing Your Mind Without Losing It' were immensely popular with video professionals in all fields: broadcast television, postproduction facilities, film studios, and Web designers. And each year at the NAB conference in Las Vegas Bob was always the first to ask the most pertinent and penetrating questions at the Avid Technology press conference and every other event.
Bob Turner articles were photocopied and traded, reprinted, and quoted widely by the industry just when the Internet came into its own. His '1,001 Questions to Ask Before Purchasing a Nonlinear Edit System' was published twice by the SMPTE and translated into 12 languages. A Russian edition of Videography came into being when glasnost replaced the old USSR, and their favorite writer to reprint was Bob Turner. He did more than his part to help East and West see each other more clearly.
Editing Bob's articles was always enjoyable. He wrote more than we could fit, but the challenge of condensing all of his brilliance into 4,000 words was always fun. Bob was also a good friend, and his cheerful attitude toward life was always an inspiration. His advice was widely sought and his annual post-NAB lectures were extremely popular events at Boston and New York SMPTE meetings for many years.
Bob left Videography shortly after I did in 1999. He joined Video Systems magazine, where he wrote a regular column and also inaugurated his acclaimed Internet newsletter, Bob Turner's The Cut.
I don't think we can underestimate for a minute the impact that Bob's careful research, analysis, hands-on experience, and ability to communicate in print had on the evolution of video editing. He made a revolution in these tools understandable to the very people they were intended for. Bob's expertise will be greatly missed by video professionals at all levels.
Brian McKernan is the Vice President of Public Relations at Marcomm Group, in Great Neck NY, and the author of the book Digital Cinema: The Revolution in Cinematography, Postproduction, and Distribution (McGraw Hill, 2005).