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Author Topic: Michael Chapman  (Read 1625 times)
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« on: October 25, 2011, 02:48:49 PM »

Sorry, I tried to find a suitable Scorsese thread where to post this but I couldn't find it so I created a new one just to share with you this interview I had with Michael Chapman, the cinematographer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull: http://reallightfilms.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/michael-chapman/ It's a straight transcription with all the grammar errors and what have you.

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« Reply #1 on: October 25, 2011, 03:48:39 PM »

Thanks for the link  Afro

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« Reply #2 on: October 27, 2011, 06:02:32 PM »

Fantastic! Very interesting read, when he talks about digital cinematography it's a REAL shame he never got to shoot a feature in that medium. "It seems to me that it could change more radically than it has, in the sense that there must… There’re inherent characteristics of film, it has grain, it has this, it has that, no matter what you do. And it seems to me that digital imagery must have certain basic characteristics that are always there and it doesn’t seem to me that people have explored them enough…to have explored the difference between film and digital enough. And really there may be whole areas of digital that nobody’s even… Now maybe I’m just being romantic, maybe it’s not even true, but I would love to have tried and seen what I could do digitally to make it really quite different from film."

His way of thinking shows the kind of radical but intuitive approach to his art that made so many of the productions he worked on stand out. He can't quite articulate in words what he means about how he may have used digital cameras but through practice is would have been wonderful to have seen where he could have gone with the right collaborators. If we're lucky he may, like Freddie Francis (another former Scorsese cinematographer) be persuaded to get behind the cameras again despite being officially "retired".

By the way I suspect the missing/misheard word for the first * was " Barbizon", an En plein air school of painters who's work was only possible through the industrialised invention of pre-prepared oil paint in tubes.

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« Reply #3 on: October 30, 2011, 03:21:13 AM »

By the way I suspect the missing/misheard word for the first * was " Barbizon", an En plein air school of painters who's work was only possible through the industrialised invention of pre-prepared oil paint in tubes.
That may well be. I'll have to check it. Thanks Afro

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« Reply #4 on: October 30, 2011, 06:04:18 PM »

The guys at Barbizon were the best painters ever: the impressionists.
Anyway, what he says about digital cinematography is very similar to what Darius Khondji said on the topic at a Seven screening I was lucky to attend: he talked about how digital camera were often used to emulate film while we should use them for what they are and try a whole different road with them.
To me the three best examples of movies shot on digital and not trying to look like film are Zodiac, Collateral and Inland Empire. All of them in their own way.

Anyways thanks a lot MS! Great read, I'm sharing it. How come you got a chance to interview him?

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« Reply #5 on: October 31, 2011, 11:55:08 AM »

Anyways thanks a lot MS! Great read, I'm sharing it. How come you got a chance to interview him?
He was one of the main guests of this year's Midnight Sun Film Festival (www.msfilmfestival.fi/), held annually at Sodankylä, Finland. I wrote an article about the event for a magazine run by a student organization of my college, so I got an opportunity to interview mr. Chapman. The actual article includes only a couple of paragraphs of this interview but I thought the whole thing deserved to be published.

I too think that he may have a point about digital cinematography - that it has its own characteristcs etc. - but I must say that I'm not a big fan of Collateral or Inland Empire (haven't watched Zodiac yet). There's something about digital image that makes it distracting and uninvolving. Most of the time, if I see a movie that is obviously shot digitally, it becomes all about the image and texture to me and following the story becomes harder. Of course there are some (lets be frank: nowadays majority) digitally shot movies where I can't tell whether it's digital or film and then I can really be sucked into the story - but that is because it looks like film. So for me, digital cinematography is at its best when it emulates film. I'm aware that this may well be because I'm just used to film but I have a theory that film actually resembles more the way we see things - and more importantly: how we remember them - than digital.

So for me, the best way to use (obvious) digital cinematography is to really make the cinematography the subject. For example, Family Viewing (1988) features sequences that have been shot like a soap opera, on videotape, and it is an essential part of the movie. But of course I have enjoyed some digitally shot movies that look like vomit (Dancer in the Dark) just because of their story, acting etc.

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« Reply #6 on: October 31, 2011, 12:28:28 PM »

Zodiac rocks. Strange during the first scenes (plastic look like in star wars 3) but then becomes one of the most amazing texture work we've seen. Digital at its best (shot on Viper if I'm not wrong). Collateral was cool (I'm only talking about the way they tried something new with digital) at the time, looks videoish now. Inland Empire went for the noisy way. It works perfectly within the movie, regardless the quality of the whole thing.

Then, for digital imitating film:
The Social Network is the best shot so far (to me). And shooting this on film would really suck (everything is in low light). The Red One with that upgraded censor is one of the greatest moviemaking tool ever.
Drive, shot on Arri's new Alexa, tries very hard to look like film... and most DP in the world would not be able to tell it's not film, except if that's the only thing they track during the screening.

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« Reply #7 on: October 31, 2011, 12:33:47 PM »

Anyway, f you can forward me the recording I should be able to figure out the french names for you.

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« Reply #8 on: October 31, 2011, 01:11:44 PM »

Then, for digital imitating film:
The Social Network is the best shot so far (to me). And shooting this on film would really suck (everything is in low light). The Red One with that upgraded censor is one of the greatest moviemaking tool ever.
Drive, shot on Arri's new Alexa, tries very hard to look like film... and most DP in the world would not be able to tell it's not film, except if that's the only thing they track during the screening.
I almost mentioned Drive as one of the best digitally shot movies. I was really impressed by it. There were like one and half seconds during the whole movie where it felt "digital". I had my reservations about Alexa when I saw Melancholia because, as great as it looks, there was a clinic feel to it, but now I'm totally sold.

I'll send you the audio clip.

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« Reply #9 on: November 01, 2011, 09:23:09 AM »

Thanks for the mp3! The second name is "Courbet" (Gustave Courbet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustave_Courbet). The first one is definitely not Barbizon (where we I shot the Rapaces pilot by the way), it sounds more like "planelism" or "playlenism" to me, which doesn't make any sense. I also thought of "plenty of isms", that could make sense in the context but I'm not buying it either. It may also have something to do with en plain air, like JM said. I think a native English speaker would actually be more helpful and qualified than me. If somebody else gets the file, it's around 6:35.

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« Reply #10 on: November 01, 2011, 09:38:10 AM »

While looking for the missing word I found this PDF about tube painting and it's consequences: http://www.arguimbau.net/images/articles/tube_paint_2010_4p.pdf
What stroke me is the way a radical invention such as tube painting (allowing low costs and high mobility) also had its drawbacks (inability to paint shadows). That's probably where we stand today with digital cameras: they're far more cost effective and allow numerous things you cannot do with a film camera (low light, unlimited shooting time, easy back up...) but still cannot compete with film cameras in term of texture and dynamic range. However, if you gave me an unlimited budget to shoot a feature film, I'd probably still go for digital since it has proven to be "good enough" (Drive, The Social Network) and far far more convenient.

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« Reply #11 on: November 01, 2011, 04:08:59 PM »

Thanks a lot Afro I'll add Courbet.

While looking for the missing word I found this PDF about tube painting and it's consequences: http://www.arguimbau.net/images/articles/tube_paint_2010_4p.pdf
What stroke me is the way a radical invention such as tube painting (allowing low costs and high mobility) also had its drawbacks (inability to paint shadows). That's probably where we stand today with digital cameras: they're far more cost effective and allow numerous things you cannot do with a film camera (low light, unlimited shooting time, easy back up...) but still cannot compete with film cameras in term of texture and dynamic range. However, if you gave me an unlimited budget to shoot a feature film, I'd probably still go for digital since it has proven to be "good enough" (Drive, The Social Network) and far far more convenient.
Wise words you speak, but "unlimited" is tricky word. With unlimited budget I would go for film (hell, why not even 65mm or VistaVision - it's unlimited!) but with a realistic budget I would probably go for digital (most likely Alexa at the moment) and use the money saved to have more shooting days. 

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