a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Learning a moral code from the movies


Working within the studio system
Michael Chapman Film-maker
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

It is not after all making movies under the Nazi occupation of France, or anything. Or making movies under the most severe Stalinist situations where, if you make a mistake, they'll send you to the Gulag. It isn't... it isn't... that way. It is to a certain extent, yes, in that for instance when Gordy [Gordon Willis] did [The] Godfather it was a big studio movie and they couldn't... they just were going to shoot him. If they could've gotten across the continent and shot him they would've, because it was too dark and you couldn't see their eyes, and this and that, and yes, he was a... but, you know, Gordy was a great artist. And he fought, and... and now, of course, everybody considers that... that's how lighting should be. I don't remember... those are situations that don't come up very often. And not every movie needs or deserves that, you know. Many movies are... for instance, musicals. I mean, Gordy in a musical, they did an American version of that... you know, the guy who wrote The Singing Detective? What's the one before that? Pennies from Heaven. What? Pennies from Heaven. Pennies from Heaven. You know. Yes, well... now the original British television version of Pennies of Heaven is... it's just breathtaking; it's so wonderful! And Bob Hoskins is just... and, unfortunately, the one that Gordy did with Steve Martin is, sort of, overblown and sits there, and it just doesn't work. The difference between water colors and oils, or something. The original British one is just... you just gasp, it's so wonderful, because it flows and it's simple and it's light, and the big studio system and the lighting and everything kind of overpowered that, that's true.

And there comes times when the studio application is not right for even a musical. It'd be nice to do a kind of... it would be nice to do an almost documentary musical. I always wanted to shoot... I always tried to convince Marty [Martin Scorsese] to do Mahogany. God, I would love to do Mahogany. And do it in a... oh, in some just sort of sleazy wonderful waterfront area somewhere. And I can't get anybody to; I don't know why. I do know why really, but I can never get anybody to do it. I think it would be wonderful. And there's a pretty good... there's... I think there's even a pretty decent translation of Mahogany into English, so that it could be done in English, but I never have been able to get anybody to do it. I'd love to do that and I certainly wouldn't do it as a big studio musical. I'd do it as a... almost a documentary, you know, and it would be... God it would be wonderful! And shoot it somewhere in... I don't quite know where, but, I mean, a place with dumps and, you know, sleazy bars and, oh God, it would be heavenly! So if you know anybody who wants to do Mahogany, again, I'm available. I'll do it cheap. I won't... I promise I won't sing.

But, no, I don't have... doing studio movies is a perfect example of that... of what I was talking about before: of doing your... doing your work and concentrating on your work and concentrating on whatever the limitations are and letting the surprises happen, and letting the bits of unconscious magic come out when they come out, and where they come out. And if I were to sit down and go through my... sort of, whatever you want to call it... studio movies, I could point out to you various places where that happened. And not just me, but all sorts of people, and sometimes just plain studio movies, and the most obvious example is... is musicals... turn out to be wonderful, within... utterly within the confines of the studio system; after all those were the great days of movies... was the studio system. That's when movies were the great art form of the 20th Century. That's when they were the church of the 20th Century, before television and before the rise of Protestantism. When it was just one big church, and they were... you know, they were wonderful then, and they made no pretence of being anything but... but that... that studio system. And it was... it was an art form. It was... it was also, by the way, an industrial procedure. An extraordinary industrial procedure. It was much more rational than it is now. They shot everything looking this way one day, and... everything. And then they... and then the night crew would come around and lift walls up there, and you'd put the cameras and turn around, and then they'd shoot everything this way. And it was all done like a factory. It was done incredibly rationally, and that's how they ground out all those movies, you know, per week. Because, theatres all over America and all over the world, in those... when I was a kid, it was all double bills. I mean, there were two movies every... every time you went you saw two movies.

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: The Godfather, The Singing Detective, Pennies from Heaven, Mahogany, Gordon Willis, Bob Hoskins, Steve Martin, Martin Scorsese

Duration: 4 minutes, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2004

Date story went live: 29 September 2010