A Filming Adventure in the Peoples Republic of China

By Fisher, Bob | American Cinematographer, April 1980 | Go to article overview

A Filming Adventure in the Peoples Republic of China


Fisher, Bob, American Cinematographer


A news cameraman offers some helpful hints which should prove valuable to others planning to film in this fascinating land

There are some days you never forget.

It was that kind of a day for Phil Sturholm when, after a week of on-again, off-again talk about a possible 10-day trip to the People's Republic of China, the head of news photography and assistant news director for KING-TV, in Seattle, Wash., was told to pack his bags, get his vaccinations and catch a plane for Hong Kong in four hours.

While he was hustling to get everything done, a call came from Sheila Keyes, coordinator of the annual television news photography competition sponsored by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA). "I asked her if they started the judging yet," Sturholm recalls.

She told him KING-TV had already been selected at the NPPA's Television News Photography Station of the Year. "I hadn't even considered the possibility of winning," Sturholm admits. "We didn't have any big news stories. Our entry consisted of ordinary stories of the type we cover every day."

Sturholm didn't have time to contemplate or celebrate. He was on the way to China to cover the arrival of the first cargo-carrying ship from the United States in 30 years. The station planned for him to do a series of stories about the ship which sailed from Seattle, the delegation from the shipping company and about the people of China. There were also plans for a 30-minute special.

This isn't the kind of expenditure every station is willing to make. It cost about $8,000 to cover the story. In addition, KING-TV had to commit Sturholm and news coanchor Jean Enersen to the project for nearly two weeks, not counting postproduction. It also had to clear 30 minutes of prime evening time for the special.

The roots of the trip go back to Chinese Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping's visit to Seattle in February 1979. "We didn't need a consultant to tell us the public was interested and curious," Sturholm comments. "I think every other newspaper and television news reporter in Seattle was slipping notes to the Chinese delegation requesting permission to visit."

Sturholm's first hint something serious was happening came only a week before he was actually on his way. News Director Rabun Matthews called Sturholm at home to ask for his passport number. "He told me he was compiling a list of who had current passports just in case a trip to China might be arranged," Sturholm says.

The next day the news photographer was told a China trip was a possibility. An attorney for Lyke Shipping Company was negotiating with the Chinese for the American trade delegation to be accompanied by Enersen and Sturholm as well as a reporter from a Seattle newspaper. Nothing was definite, and no dates were set.

Sturholm started thinking about what he should carry. He had worked on overseas assignments before, and was concerned about compatible power for recharging batteries. A call to someone at the NBC Television Network who had already made the China trip gave him the information he needed to start packing.

"He told me most of the outlets are 220-volt ones, and the plugs are the same as in most of Europe," Sturholm says. "The biggest problem was in Shanghai and ,other cities where there were historic foreign influences. In these places, there are often three different types of power outlets."

Sturholm filled 10 cases weighing around 280 pounds. They included a CP-16A camera with a 12mm-to-120mm lens, a Bell & Howell TOOL camera, a Sony TC 110 cassette tape recorder, 30 400-foot rolls of prestriped Eastman Ektachrome video news film 7240 (tungsten), 10 400-foot rolls of prestriped Eastman Ektachrome video news film high speed 7250 (tungsten), 20100foot rolls of the 7240 stock, a tripod, four ECM and RCA conventional camera mikes, and two Electrovoice stick mikes, a portable lighting kit, battery pack belt and plug converters. …

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