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Working on Hardcore


Paul Shrader's Hardcore
Michael Chapman Film-maker
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He had this script about the porn industry, and I remember having read it without any thought that I was going to do it or even that he was going to do it; it was just a script, you know. I read it and liked it, and I had always thought that the way to do it was to do it like a documentary – like anthropological documentary, you know; I'm going to New Guinea and I'm going to study this tribe and this tribe has the goddamndest habits you ever saw, and it would all be done in 16mm handheld like... like a anthropological documentary, because, believe me, the world of porn is as weird as anything you ever could imagine, and it does have rituals and... and social structures and things that are like some very primitive tribe, and that it would be done that way. And then... and I... and I kind of... I can't remember the details of how it came about but I remember that I said, 'Yes', still halfway thinking that's how it was going to be done, or at least thinking maybe I could convince Paul [Shrader] that was how it was going to be done. And then in pre-production, when it was in the process of happening, George C Scott was signed on as a star, and suddenly it wasn't going to be that way... no, because you're not going to shoot George C Scott 16mm handheld grainy deliberately screwed up faux anthropological documentary.

So it became a traditional movie; it became... it became kind of The Searchers, you know – I'm looking for Natalie Wood – and... and I still regret that... I wish that it had... I wish we had done in that way... it would have been a very different movie, and I think a far more interesting one, because the world of porno is a... absolutely appalling – the most antisexual thing you ever saw in your life – but fascinating to have shot that way, the smells and the... oh my God. And we shot a lot of it in San Diego because there's a huge porn section in San Diego, because there's a big marine base and a big navy base, and therefore clients for a big porn section, and we shot a whole lot of it there because... because that's where the action was, and we built our own porn sites and everything, you know, and several times women would come to us and say, 'Listen, can we... can we... are you hiring, because your place is much cleaner than ours', you know, and they didn't know that it was movie set.

It was awful... real world of porn... it's just... I mean, it would turn you off sex for life just to be there and look at it, and it did, in fact, because we were... when we went back to LA and we were on the stages, word got around – I forget where it was...Warner Brothers maybe... I think it was Warner Brothers – that they were doing this dirty movie and there was a lot of naked women and everything, you know, and so guys were always coming around saying, 'I got to inspect the... I got to inspect the electrical outlets and everything', and trying to get on the stages but my crew guys – all they wanted to do was get off, get out of there; they just didn't want to see anymore naked women and think about it. It was very hard to find them but other guys were always trying to sneak in. You could always tell the real crew guys from the guys sneaking in because the real crew guys were always trying to just leave; they were so depressed and never was... and these were all old friends and people had known. I had never worked on a crew where there was so much grumbling and everybody was so unhappy. It was profoundly depressing to be in that world, but had we done it like an anthropological documentary I think it would have been kind of wonderful. We didn't. It was whatever it was; some people like it. I'm... you know, I'm sure it's a fine movie, I don't...  I just was so... I had that image in my head of how I thought it was going to be done, and it wasn't, and whatever... whatever, but Paul's an old friend and was a great, great writer, and I'm happy to have been around him and worked with him – he was always fun to talk to. Odd guy but... but marvelous to talk to. And some people actually like it very much – think it's a fine movie – and I guess it is. I don't know, I just... I can't really look at it objectively because of... I had... because I had this idea so strongly in my head... whatever. It was freezing cold, and we went to Grand Rapids where he came from and shot there, because that's where George C Scott was supposed to come from. Bitter, bitter cold... wow, made you understand Paul, because that's where he came from – Dutch Calvinist Reform Church, you know; he'd never seen a movie until he was 20 or something like that, and just... wow – in its own way as weird a world as the world of porn: very different but not so completely dissimilar, I guess.

Michael Chapman (1935-2020), an American cinematographer, 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: New Guinea, The Searchers, Warner Brothers, Paul Shrader, George C Scott, Natalie Wood

Duration: 4 minutes, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008