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Taxi Driver: Relationship with Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader and Robert De Niro

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How we shot Taxi Driver on the streets of New York
Michael Chapman Film-maker
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We didn't have the money or the time, or the permits, to just shut everything down, and... as... as some occasional movies try to do in New York, usually unsuccessfully. There's another style of New York shooting that works better, which is kind of swimming like a fish in the sea of the people, and what it really takes, more than anything else, is very good ADs, and... and people who, you know, kind of control the crowds and jolly people along, and... and jazz someone here and there, and shine them off, and... and give a few bucks to this person or that – all of this, it's a very New York style of street shooting – and we had people who could do that, and... and we also tried not to have to have, you know, huge sets of lights, for instance, and things like that. And when we shot in the taxi cab, with Bobby [Robert De Niro] driving at night, we... I rigged up a few lights that we had to put a battery, a 110 battery pack in the back, in the... in the trunk of the taxi and... and the poor sound man crouched in there along with the batteries, trying... trying to... with his Nagra, with his earphones, and then we would mount the camera, or we would have the camera with somewhere operating, and we would just drive off. We had no... probably had a... I don't remember, but I assume we probably had a... a cop car somewhere around, but basically we would just drive off in the city and just go shoot all night. Go shooting along, wherever we were, and... and do the dialogue, and do the stuff, and we didn't have anything other than that, and we simply, as I say, would swim like fishes in the sea of the people. We would go through the streets of New York, and obviously that sense of New York-ness comes through in the movie, you know. And I would balance the light... the lights in the... that was lighting Bobby or the... were lighting the passengers and Bobby, to... to be more or less equal or a little less than the... than the lights that they would be going past, so that there was... so that you just felt that they were driving along in the streets. And it seemed to work out, but we didn't have... and we had none... there was no towing, there was no camera car, there was no generator – it was just a 110 battery pack in the back – and some... seven little, tiny little inkies, where inkies bounced into a card or something, you know, the most minimal lights, just to get a) an exposure, and b) a kind of an angle of light that we liked. And then we would just get in the car and off we'd go.

One time Bobby fell asleep, and we bumped into a car, because he was so exhausted, because we were going night after night; I mean, it wasn't a big accident – he just, you know, he fell asleep for the moment, hit the bumper... hit the bumper of a car ahead of him or something, but we would just drive off, and Marty would squat in the back and kind of giggle, and he had earphones, and he would say things to Bobby, and I'd... some... in those cases, I often operated or we would just have a... we would have the... the camera rigged in... on a... on a... in those days they didn't have speedrail or any of that stuff; they'd just have a piece of two by four mounted across the hood, and we'd have the camera tied to the two by four, looking through the window at Bobby, where... where it would hang on. And it was... but it was very, very simply done, and that turns out, in general, if it's at all possible, to be the best way to shoot in New York... is a... is a very simple documentary style, if you can adapt that enough to just get as much light as you need, and... and angle of light as you need, and we were able to do that, so we just drove off through the night. And we'd come back and change the battery pack after a while and get a cup of coffee, and off we'd go again. And it was... it was a wonderful summer. It was very hot and I was madly in love; it was a wonderful summer.

Michael Chapman, an American cinematographer, has had a huge influence on contemporary film-making, working on an impressive array of classic films including 'Taxi Driver', 'Raging Bull', 'The Lost Boys' and 'The Fugitive'.

Listeners: Glen Ade Brown

British Director of Photography and Camera Operator Glen Ade Brown settled in Los Angeles 10 years ago.

He has been working on features, commercials and reality TV. He played an instrumental role in the award-winning ABC Family series "Switched" and is also a recipient of the Telly and the Cine Golden Eagle awards for Best Cinematography. He was recently signed by the Judy Marks Agency and is now listed in her commercial roster.

Tags: Taxi Driver, New York, Robert De Niro

Duration: 3 minutes, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008