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'Primal Fear': Shooting in the same location as 'The Fugitive'

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The Fugitive: Lighting and crashing the train
Michael Chapman Film-maker
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It has a big train crash, and that was achieved by actually crashing a train. And that turned out to be the best way to do it. We were in the... in the mountains in North Carolina, in the winter – awfully cold – and there was a railroad which ran in the summer there as a sort of tourist railroad. It must once have had some industrial function, but now and for many years it had been simply a tourist railroad to take people through the Smokey Mountains, or whatever the hell they are, and in the winter it wasn't used. And so, we rented... rented an engine and some cars and a section of track, and crashed the train. And I... presumably they built a new engine, or whatever they did. I don't know. We'd left and gone back to Chicago by then, so I don't know. But... well, the big secret of how we did it was – we just crashed a train and filmed it with a lot of cameras. That was an amazing sequence. Yeah, it is. And... and... but it turned out that the best thing to do was not to do a digital anything, it was just to crash a train, and we crashed a train. We had a lot cameras and turned them all on and lit it well, and crashed the train. And... then there was some other... some stuff, actually, that... that we matted in with Harrison [Ford] running and things, but a lot of that, even, is... well, we shot Harrison and we shot where he's running and the train is going behind him and everything. We didn't... obviously you can't threaten a big movie star with that, so that was composited later, but most of it we just plain crashed the train and shot it.

There's some... there's some nice stuff in it. There's nice... nice examples of... I did that once where... where I was talking at some God-knows-what. After you get to a certain age, you spend most of your time talking instead of doing, but I was trying to give examples of the two poles that I was talking about earlier of a documentary and theatrical lighting, and I used that movie because there are... there's that sequence where they... where they sneak up on a house in the slums of Chicago, which is done without any lights, without anything, and mostly hand-held, and he just sees them coming in and going into the house. And it's done utterly documentary and it looks... I think it works very successfully as these agents sneaking up on a beat-up house in the bad section of Chicago, and it's quite thoroughly documentary, without any embellishment of any kind. And in the same movie there is the opposite end. There is a sequence where they... where they... Tommy Lee Jones and the other guys hunt Harrison through a series of sewers underneath a... underneath a tunnel that leads to a bridge, and it was all made up; it's all nonsense. But... I don't know if you remember, but there's a... you know, they go through a whole series of tunnels and there's water pouring down, and they slide down this and that. And, in fact, there is... if it were a real place there would be no light at all. Because it's underneath a road which is in a tunnel. So it’s... so there's no light, you know. But, of course, you can't have a movie if there's no light. So I took big lights and I would shine them straight down through various holes as if, for some reason, instead of being underneath a road in a tunnel, they were outside. And so there'd be a shaft of light here that would miraculously happen to aim just where you needed it to aim, and that was the... and there'd be no other light – maybe a tiny bit of fill light but probably not. And that was all built... that set of tunnels was all built on a stage in some big warehouse in Chicago. And we built sort of tracks underneath the water so we could dolly along here and there. And I had a small amount of fill light on the front of the dolly, maybe. But basically it would be just dark and then there'd be these big shafts of light, and those shafts of light are the opposite of documentary. They are that basic theatricality of telling you where to look, like, you know... and where to look happened to be where Tommy Lee Jones or Harrison Ford was. But it works. And then he jumps off the... jumps off a fake dam, top of a dam, and we dropped a dummy in front of a huge real dam in North Carolina, and there you are; it all works.

Anyway, there are... those... the two poles of cinematography and both happened to be in that one... in that one movie, and I was using it in some film festival or something I was talking about; I don't know. But it's an amusing movie. It's fun, I thought, The Fugitive. Sort of silly, but nice. And it works, I guess. Seemed to... made a lot of money anyway. And got me an Academy Award nomination again. So who am I to know? And all the time I bitched and complained, and said I hated being there, and this was... I was the wrong guy and then cursed and this and that, and it all worked out. So, you know, you never know. You really do never know. Never, never know. Never have any idea. Even back... way back to [The] Godfather, we had no idea. No idea in the world. Francis almost got fired, and when we were over budget there were all conspiracies and this and that going on, and look at what happened, you know. So nobody... all that old cliché – nobody knows anything – is entirely true. Nobody knows anything, just about.

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: The Fugitive, The Godfather, Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones

Duration: 4 minutes, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2004

Date story went live: 29 September 2010