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News > Alumni News > Allanian Camera Operator behind Bond and Harry Potter movies returns to Dame Allan's Schools

Allanian Camera Operator behind Bond and Harry Potter movies returns to Dame Allan's Schools

Renowned camera operator Peter Robertson returned to Dame Allan's to share industry secrets and insights with pupils hoping to inspire the next generation of filmmakers.
10 Apr 2024
Alumni News
Allanian Peter Robertson at Dame Allan's Schools
Allanian Peter Robertson at Dame Allan's Schools

Cameraman Peter Robertson has worked on some of the country’s most iconic film franchises, including Bond and Harry Potter, and collaborated with an enviable list of top-tier Hollywood actors.

Lauded as one of Britain’s leading camera and Steadicam operators, with over 38 years’ experience in feature film and drama production, Peter had no shortage of stories when he returned to Dame Allan’s Schools to share with pupils his career journey from a promising young artist to an award-winning moviemaker. 

Having worked alongside big name stars such as Keira Knightly, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts, he’s used to being asked for celebrity gossip. “People always want me to spill the beans, which I have been known to do…. But only to a select audience. I have my career to consider!” he quipped. “What I can say is that, when you work day in and day out with actors, you realise they’re not as glamorous as people assume. Our relationship is a professional one and there’s an ordinariness about the process of it all.” 

As a child of the 60s growing up in Denton Burn, Peter never expected to rub shoulders with A-listers and shoot renowned scenes in exotic locations around the globe. “I think if I had told anyone that I wanted to be a cameraman making Hollywood blockbusters, I would have been laughed at. It just wasn’t a career option back then,” he admitted. 

He does, however, credit his days at Dame Allan’s, where he excelled in art and sports, for helping him forge an illustrious career in the film industry. “I’ve ended up using everything I learnt at school in my work; my days at Dame Allan’s were very influential,” he said. 

Peter joined the Boys’ School on a scholarship in 1967 and stayed to complete A Levels in Art, Physics, Geography and General Studies at Dame Allan’s Sixth Form. Under the guidance of the Head of Art, Mr Heal, Peter demonstrated a gift for drawing and was awarded the art prize in his final year. 

Outside the classroom, he excelled on the sports fields, playing rugby and cricket for the school and at county level. He also played football for Montagu and North Fenham FC. 

“My love of art and sport has proven to be the most perfect combination for the career I’ve carved out,” said Peter. “Sport is a great discipline and Dame Allan’s valued sport a great deal. My sports teachers at Dame Allan's were instrumental in pushing me to succeed. I use that discipline a lot now in my camera work.”

After leaving Dame Allan’s in 1974, Peter studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, in London. It was there that his love of photography and film grew. On leaving Slade, he remained in London and worked as a freelance illustrator, his work appearing in a number of publications including Time Out magazine. 

His move into the film industry was driven by his passion for the visual arts. “I actively started looking for film camera work and was lucky enough to be taken on as an assistant, running around after the cameraman and director,” said Peter. “The film industry is all about networking and making connections.” 

Working in a niche role, Peter carved a career as one of the UK’s leading camera and Steadicam operators. His five-minute-long, single-take Dunkirk scene in Atonement was hailed a masterpiece in the logistics of filmmaking and widely acknowledged as a ‘tour de force’ of international Cinema. 

“It’s a job that truly ignites my passion and excites me. It’s so challenging and rewarding in equal measure,” he said. “One of my proudest moments was when I shot the first Harry Potter film – the Philosopher’s Stone. That was a landmark achievement for me.”

“My children were a similar age to the young cast, and they’d all play around on the set together. Getting Dan Radcliffe and the others to concentrate and be ready to film was hard work!”

Peter spoke about the demanding nature of his work. “I’ve endured extreme conditions, from filming in minus 40 degrees Celsius in northern Russia for Anna Karenina to scorching heat in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco for Charlie Wilson’s War and Sahara,” he said.

“Filming Anna Karenina was particularly taxing. The balletic scenes and intricate camera work which were shot in Shepperton studios coupled with the location work in sub-zero temperatures presented significant physical challenges throughout the shoot.”

Reflecting on 2014 action film Edge of Tomorrow, with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, he added: “Working on intense battle sequences with explosions and actors performing stunts on wires was equally demanding."

Peter also opened up about his work alongside renowned director Joe Wright. He said: “Collaborating with Joe requires meticulous attention to detail. His exacting standards for script, actors and camera movements demand nothing less than perfection.”

His most recent collaboration with the ‘Darkest Hour’ director saw Peter spend eight months in Rome shooting M. Son of the Century, a landmark Sky original drama series based on Antonio Scurati’s internationally bestselling novel that recounts the birth of fascism in Italy and Mussolini’s rise to power. 

Advances in technology and the use of visual effects and artificial intelligence in the film industry also bring new challenges to the job, admitted Peter. When filming the 2023 Warner Bros. movie Wonka, Peter explained that the giraffe was fully computer generated by the VFX and production design teams. 

He said: “When I was filming the scene with Noodle and the giraffe, what I was actually filming was Noodle and a fake giraffe head on a pole that was being moved around by a puppeteer. When I was framing some of the shots it was just a tennis ball on a pole!”

Returning to Dame Allan’s, some 50 years after leaving, to share his stories and experiences with pupils, Peter said the school felt ‘surprisingly familiar’.

“Although the school has obviously gone from strength to strength in the years since my departure with a lot of very impressive new buildings and departments, the life and heart of the school felt very much the same,” he said. 

“Given my particular passion for the study of the visual arts and the role it has played in my subsequent career, I was very heartened by the expansion of subjects such as art, theatre studies and dance with impressive new facilities and fantastic examples of the pupils’ work on display.”

 

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