By CHARLES COLEMAN
“I’m always looking for the untold story,” says documentary filmmaker Beth Turner. That search led Turner and her husband to launch Storyteller Productions in 2018.
The Tulsa-based video production company specializes in personal history, capturing people’s memoirs on camera and turning them into slick, professional documentaries.
“When someone’s famous, we get to see their story told in crisp HD with clean audio and graphics,” explains Turner. “What about everyday people? I think everyone’s story is worthy of that level of production.”
Turner says one of her most prized possessions is a video of her late grandmother, shot on grainy, VHS video in the 1980s. “Having her voice and laughter after she was gone was such a treasure,” says Turner. “I want everyone to have that kind of treasure.”
While valuable, Turner knows that a little bit of technical skill and knowledge could have vastly improved the video of her grandmother. “I know they started the interview at 12:34 because the time code covers her forehead.”
Before starting Storyteller Productions, Turner, a graduate of the University of Arkansas’ documentary film program, served as video producer for the Union School district. “I worked with alumni at Union a lot and I really enjoyed getting to know people and learn their stories,” recalls Turner. A video project for the class of 1958 reunion particularly piqued Turner’s interest. “Learning that history and seeing how their successes led to where Union is in the present was an eye opener.”
In 2017, Turner began a side project that would grow in scope into what is now a feature-length documentary titled, “Randy Crouch: Survival of the Fiddlist,” which is currently in post production. As that project grew, Turner realized she was making a film and, therefore, needed to create a production company. “Originally, Storyteller Productions was created just for the Randy Crouch documentary,” explains Turner. “But then we started getting little jobs here and there until I eventually had more work than time.”
That led to what Turner says was a difficult decision to leave her job at Union. “I loved Union,” says Turner, “so it was really tough to leave. But I’m so excited about the work I’m doing now. Hearing people’s stories has given me such a better understanding of Tulsa’s history.”
While posterity has been the driving force behind Storyteller’s business plan, the process of interviewing clients to get their stories has revealed some unexpected benefits, especially to the company’s older clientele. “Reliving your favorite memories brings joy to the present that you didn’t know was missing,” says Turner. “I’ve seen clients become mentally stronger over the course of an interview. They become more present, more engaged.”
Serving an older clientele has presented challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Turner says that Storyteller Productions lost a significant amount of work in 2020 due to safety concerns, but she chooses to focus on the positive and use 2020 as a learning experience. “This pandemic taught me how to do this work more safely, now and in the future,” says Turner. She also believes the pandemic makes Storyteller’s service more poignant than ever. “We’ve lost so many of our loved ones to COVID. I feel like we are all mourning together, and I feel passionate about recording our stories while we can. We just aren’t promised tomorrow.”
That increased sense of urgency might not compell everyone to green light their own personal documentary, but Turner says the company can work with a wide range of budgets and needs. “Some people just want their old photos scanned and retouched or their home movies digitized,” says Turner. “That can be the first step in a larger production, but if not, it’s still important to capture those keepsakes in digital format before they fade and deteriorate.”
Turner certainly has a passion for posterity, but it’s her passion for teaching that shapes Storyteller’s long-term goals. “I would like to connect and build partnerships between retirement centers, alumni groups and educational systems to provide hands-on training for young people to learn, not just the technical skillset, but the heart behind what I do,” explains Turner. “That way, elders can pass on their wisdom to the younger generation, and the next generation will better appreciate where we are today, and carry that into our future.”
For now, Turner feels fortunate to be where she is. “If COVID has taught me one thing it’s appreciation for the people I love,” says Turner. “Seeing the faces of our loved ones is precious. This work builds on that.”
To learn more about Storyteller Productions, visit storytellerproductionsllc.com or call 918-346-3230.