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Cinematography will be my career

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How I got into the movie business
Michael Chapman Film-maker
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I was a freight brakeman in... in various railroad yards along the Jersey shore, across from Manhattan, and it was really a marvelous job in a lot of ways for a, you know, a... a young beatnik, pompous pseudo poet, whatever... whatever in the world I was. But in... in the course of it, I looked up an old friend of a girl that I had lived with in... in college, and began dating her, and she was the daughter of a... of a cameraman, a French émigré cameraman in New York, named Joe Brun – the... the father, not the daughter – who was really a marvelous cameraman, who had just barely escaped France in 1940 with his family, and got them out of... over the Pyrenees and things and... and eventually ended up in New York. And he and another émigré, more famous Boris Kaufman, shot most of the movies that were shot in New York in those days. You know, he, Boris shot On the Waterfront and Joe shot a... another waterfront movie called Edge of the City, and Boris would shoot this one and Joe would shoot the one slightly below it. And he was a marvelous guy, not very... you've got this short little guy, but a marvelous... in spirit huge. And I married his daughter, and he felt, I think quite rightly, probably, that he didn't want his daughter to be married to freight brakeman on the Eyrie Lackawanna Railroad, and he got me into the movie business, really, essentially just because I had a wife and she was pregnant and, and then I had a child, and I needed money, you know, and... and the movie business, loading magazines and things, even then, paid more than being a freight brakeman. It wasn't as romantic, but... and then I... and... and really I just... it was simple necessity. I need... I had a family, I had a wife and I had a child and another child, and I needed to make money, and I, you know, I did a good job, and I... I went to... I was on staff at a... a production house that did mostly commercials in New York in the middle '60s, and I met Gordon Willis, who was a young cameraman there, and Owen Roysman who was a cameraman there. And slowly I began to realize that I could not just make a living, but that it was, it really was the movies, and I, and I don't know when it quite dawned on me that, my God, I was in the movie business, you know, and that I, and that I could, really could be as, I don't know what the word is, but that I could be as satisfied by it as if I had been a beatnik poet or a... or an abstract expressionist painter. I was... I was on the sort of fringes of the art world in my youth in New York, because Frank Stella and Carl Andre had gone to school with me and we were all friends in the Village, and this and that, and I knew all of those people. And that suddenly I realized that I... my God, I could be a moviemaker, just as they were painters, and that it was all going to be fine.

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: On the Waterfront, Edge of the City, New York, Joe Brun, Boris Kaufman, Gordon Willis, Owen Roysman, Frank Stella, Carl Andre

Duration: 3 minutes, 3 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008