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Marion Milne is a Documentary Film Maker as well as an Emmy Nominated Director, Writer, Series Producer and award winning Producer. She graduated from Exeter with a BA in French and Drama in 1979. Read about a day in her life filming one of her most recent documentaries about Martin Luther King.
This photo was taken last summer while shooting in America on a documentary for ITV about Martin Luther King.
We were in Memphis, Tennessee, and I’m directing from the back seat, while my camera man is in the front seat wielding the camera.
The reason we are filming in this way is that our presenter, Sir Trevor McDonald, has finished shooting for the day, and we are picking up what are called Point of View shots (POVs).
We’re inside a gorgeous 1955 Cadillac (from the Martin Luther King era) because we wanted to add a period feel to the documentary. We also used lots of music from the time. While shooting, with our driver, we covered many miles in the American South in the Cadillac, taking Sir Trevor from place to place of relevance to the Civil Rights Era.
It’s standard practice in TV (and even in feature films) to shoot the POV shots separately. So you film with the presenter (or the actor) to capture them sitting inside the car, you film something called ‘up and pasts’ to see them go past in the vehicle from outside the car, and then the last thing you do are the POV shots – as if the camera is seeing what the presenter is seeing.
Sometimes we get caught out. If you shoot everything in sunshine and then the POVs later in the day when it’s getting dark, the Editor (whose job it is to cut it all together) is most unimpressed. Ditto for rain!
Day to day shoots like this one are a combination of hard work and great fun. You get access to places you might never otherwise go to, and meet people you might not otherwise meet.
On the Martin Luther King shoot we interviewed his God Daughter and some of the brave people who marched alongside him in the Civil Rights Marches.
We learnt some amazing new facts. For example Martin Luther King never planned to say “I have a dream” in his famous March on Washington in August 1963. The truth is he was slightly running out of steam in the speech when a singer called Mahalia Jackson called out ‘tell them about the dream Martin, tell them about the dream’.
We also interviewed Martin Luther King’s secretary who typed up his words for the March on Washington. ‘That’s not the speech’’she said ‘that’s not the speech we stayed up all night typing’.
Another funny incident on the shoot was when we were in New York interviewing Harry Belafonte, the legendary singer who was also part of the Civil Rights movement.
We picked a location on the Upper East Side inside a building that is normally very quiet. When we got there, to our horror, there were construction workers outside, drilling. They were basically digging up the road and needed to get the job done that day. So much noise the interview would be impossible.
I spoke to the foreman, who was African American, and explained the problem. ‘For Mr Belafonte’ he said ‘we’ll stop drilling’.
When Harry Belafonte arrived (bearing in mind he is ninety) he happily posed for photos with all the construction workers as a thank you. And true to their word, they stopped drilling as a thank you.
When we got back to the U.K. we had one more celebrity to track down. Naomi Campbell – who was also an honorary Godchild to Nelson Mandela – is a champion of Martin Luther King. When we learnt that one of the world’s most famous Super Models was keen to be interviewed for our documentary, we cleared our schedules and set up camp in the Dorchester Hotel during a brief break in Naomi’s busy day.
We learnt that Naomi was in her way to a Vogue shoot and would need at least two hours with her stylist and make-up artist before she appeared.
We waited on tenterhooks. Super Models are not really known for their punctuality and our window of opportunity was narrowing as the minutes ticked by.
Then, just when we had given up hope, the phone rang. ‘You’ve got fifteen minutes’ barked one of Naomi’s minders down the phone. In swept Naomi. In swept her entourage.
We were poised, waiting ready to roll. Naomi – looking amazing – gracefully sat down, switched off her phone and took off her sunglasses.
‘Action’ I said.
Ten minutes later we had our scoop. Naomi on MLK. ‘He was fearless’ she said. ‘He lived what he said, breathed what he said, did what he said. His name will never be erased from the history books. Martin Luther King will never be forgotten’.
And with that she was gone. Bravo Naomi. Bravo Martin Luther King.
You can find out Marion’s Top Tips about how to gain a career in her sector: here.