The Turner Legacy

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“Red sky at night, sailors' delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.”

It's an old sailing proverb for predicting the weather that Rhett Turner probably heard a thousand times as a kid. The son of TV mogul and environmentalist Ted Turner, Rhett grew up in the outdoors. At age 8, he began sailing small two-person snipes with his father; by 12, he was racing snipes competitively. And if he wasn't out sailing on Lake Altoona near his family's Atlanta home, Turner says he and his father were probably doing something else outside.

“We did a lot of hunting and fishing together — still do,” the younger Turner says. “And we've always talked about [the environment]. It comes from being a kid and being outside so much. My father had a lot to do with that. He's had a very large impact on my life and my appreciation for the environment.”

In 1990, Ted Turner formalized his commitment to the environment when he created the Turner Foundation, which has awarded more than $255 million in grants to environmental groups since its founding. In an effort to teach his family how to be responsible philanthropists and environmentalists, Turner appointed his five adult children to the foundation's board of trustees.

The message was not lost on Rhett. After studying video at the Rhode Island School of Design and working at CNN's Tokyo bureau, Rhett started his own one-man production company in 1999. He has since produced two environmental documentaries and is currently working as director of photography on an eight-hour documentary about preventing nuclear war, which is scheduled to air on PBS in April.

His first documentary, Pollinators in Peril, is about the declining number of honeybees in America and its impact on our food supply. Narrated by Peter Fonda, it aired on his father's TBS station in March 2000.

Rhett followed up with a documentary about the Mexican gray wolf recovery program in New Mexico. El Lobo: The Song of the Wolf was a co-production of Turner Studios and the National Wildlife Federation. TBS aired it in June 2001.

“That's the type of stuff I'm interested in doing,” Rhett says about the two documentaries. “It's important to make a good cause out of television instead of using it only for entertainment purposes.”

Rhett developed this appreciation for the small screen during his time at CNN. “I found that when I was working on a story I could put it together pretty quickly and lots of people would see it,” he says. “The small screen is a very immediate and effective way to reach people and make a difference in the world.”

On his current project, Avoiding Armageddon, Rhett is shooting in 16:9 with his Sony DNW9 Betacam SX widescreen camera. He says he purchased the camera because he thought it was important to have a switchable model, and adds that he may not have been hired to shoot the PBS documentary if he didn't have a widescreen camcorder.

In addition to his DNW9, Rhett also has three Sony prosumer cameras: a DSR-PD100, a PD150, and a VX1000. For editing and post work, Rhett has two PC-based Avid systems, Xpress 4.5 and Xpress DV 3.5. When a project calls for equipment he doesn't own, he generally hires freelancers to help him and rarely uses the facilities at his father's Turner Studios. “They charge me their regular rate,” he jokes.

When it came time to pick a name for his company, Rhett recalled the old sailing proverb from his childhood, which is how he came up with Red Sky Productions. “I couldn't use ‘Turner,’” he says. “‘Turner’ is taken.”

Coby Holt is a freelance writer based in the Midwest. Email him at



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