Michael Chapman (cinematographer)

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Michael Chapman
Born (1935-11-21) November 21, 1935 (age 81)
New York City, U.S.
Other names Mike Chapman
Occupation Cinematographer
& Director

Michael Chapman, A.S.C. (born November 21, 1935) is an American cinematographer who is well known for his work on many films of the American New Wave of the 1970s and in the 1980s with prominent directors such as Martin Scorsese and Ivan Reitman. To date, he has shot more than forty feature films. On over half of them, he has worked with only three different directors.

Early life and education[edit]

Chapman was born in New York City but raised in Wellesley, Massachusetts, without much of an interest in film. As a youth, he was more interested in sports than photography or painting. After high school, he attended Columbia University, where he majored in English. Upon his graduation, he worked temporarily as a brakeman for the Erie Lackawanna Railroad in the Midwest and then served a brief stint in the United States Army.

It was actually Chapman’s father-in-law, Joe Brun, who got him his first job in the industry: working as an assistant camera and focus puller on commercials, as there weren’t enough feature films being shot in New York at the time.


Chapman began his film career as a camera operator before making the leap to cinematographer, distinguishing himself on Steven Spielberg's Jaws. He fondly remembers his time as an operator, and calls it one of the best jobs in the movie business because "you get to see the film before anyone else does!"

As a cinematographer, he became famous for his two collaborations with Martin Scorsese, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. Chapman was also cinematographer for the 1978 hit remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He and Scorsese were huge fans of The Band, and even with nine cameras shooting at once, Chapman served as the principal cinematographer for their documentary on The Band, called The Last Waltz. Chapman has noted that “the strategy for filming all of their songs was planned out in enormous detail.”

Chapman's style tends to feature high contrasts and an aggressive use of strong colors. He is also extremely adept at setting up complex camera movements quickly and improvising on the set. This style is epitomized in the boxing sequences in Raging Bull, during which the camera was often strapped to the actors through improvised rigs. His bold use of black-and-white cinematography on Raging Bull proved particularly difficult and earned Chapman his first Academy Award nomination. Like his work on Jaws, Chapman used a handheld camera to shoot much of the film.

Besides his work with Scorsese, Chapman has worked as Director of Photography for noted directors Hal Ashby, Philip Kaufman, Martin Ritt, Robert Towne, Michael Caton-Jones, Andrew Davis, and Ivan Reitman. He occasionally made small cameos in films that he shot. He has also directed several films of his own, the best known being All the Right Moves, starring Tom Cruise in one of his breakout roles.

In 1987, Chapman collaborated again with Martin Scorsese on the 18-minute short film that served as the music video for Michael Jackson’s Bad.

Chapman also shot a string of comedies in the late 1980s and early 1990s, like Ghostbusters II and Kindergarten Cop, and admitted that he didn’t need to alter his style very much. But he has said, “On comedies, I use a little more fill light; you tend to create a lit atmosphere where the performers can be at home, where they can move around…without having to hit a precise mark."

His most recent film was Bridge to Terabithia. According to the DVD commentary, Chapman was planning to retire after the film was finished, saying he would like to have the last film he shot be a good one. He has since officially retired.

Personal life[edit]

Chapman is married to screenwriter Amy Holden Jones. His father-in-law, Joe Brun, was an Oscar-nominated cinematographer who had emigrated from France in the early 20th century.

He has stated that he no longer watches films directed by frequent collaborators Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg, as he knows their general style will not change much. “Unless a director makes some huge sea change in what he does, that the work, the mechanical work, is going to be vaguely the same — or of the same school, anyway — but what changes is the intelligence and passion behind it in the script.” He also admits his preferred method is to watch movies at his home and that he rarely, if ever, goes to a theater anymore.

His favorite television show was HBO’s The Sopranos.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Chapman has twice been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography: for Raging Bull and The Fugitive.

He was the winner of the prestigious National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Cinematography in 1981 for his work on Raging Bull.

He received the 2003 American Society of Cinematographers Lifetime Achievement Award.

More recently, Chapman received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 24th International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography Camerimage in 2016.


Year Title Role
1968 Frontier Producer, actor
1970 The Landlord Camera operator
1971 Klute Camera operator
1972 The Godfather Camera operator
1973 The Last Detail Cinematographer
1974 The White Dawn Cinematographer
1975 Jaws Camera operator
1975 Death Be Not Proud Cinematographer
1976 The Next Man Cinematographer
1976 The Front Cinematographer
1976 Taxi Driver Cinematographer
1978 The Last Waltz Cinematographer
1978 King: The Martin Luther King Story Cinematographer
1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers Cinematographer, actor
1978 Fingers Cinematographer
1979 The Wanderers Cinematographer
1979 Hardcore Cinematographer
1980 Raging Bull Cinematographer
1982 Personal Best Cinematographer
1982 Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid Cinematographer
1983 The Man with Two Brains Cinematographer
1983 All the Right Moves Director, cinematographer
1986 The Clan of the Cave Bear Director
1986 Annihilator Director
1986 Legal Eagles Songwriter
1987 The Lost Boys Cinematographer
1987 Dorothy L. Sayers Mystery Producer
1988 Shoot to Kill Cinematographer, actor
1988 Scrooged Cinematographer
1988 Gotham: The Dead Can't Lie Cinematographer
1989 Third Degree Burn Actor
1989 Ghostbusters II Cinematographer
1990 Quick Change Cinematographer, actor
1990 Kindergarten Cop Cinematographer, actor
1991 Doc Hollywood Cinematographer, actor
1992 Whipsers in the Dark Cinematographer
1993 Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography Interviewee
1993 The Fugitive Cinematographer
1993 Rising Sun Cinematographer, actor
1995 The Viking Sagas Director
1996 Space Jam Cinematographer
1996 Raven Hawk Actor
1996 Primal Fear Cinematographer
1998 Six Days, Seven Nights Cinematographer
1999 The Story of Us Cinematographer
2000 The Watcher Cinematographer
2001 Evolution Cinematographer
2004 Suspect Zero Cinematographer, actor
2004 House of D Cinematographer, actor
2004 Eulogy Cinematographer, actor
2006 Hoot Cinematographer
2007 Bridge to Terabithia Cinematographer

References and Bibliography[edit]

Silberg, Jon. "Honoring a (Reluctant) Vanguard." American Cinematographer Feb. 2004: ASC. Print.

"Announcing the 2016 Camerimage Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient." Camerimage. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.

"ASC Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography." The American Society of Cinematographers. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

Lodderhose, Diana. "Cinematographer Michael Chapman Honored at Camerimage Film Festival." Variety. 6 July 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Newman, Nick. "Michael Chapman Talks Restoring ‘Taxi Driver’ and the Problem with Modern Cinematography." The Film Stage. 17 Nov. 2016. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.

Orr, John, and Olga Taxidou. Post-war Cinema and Modernity: A Film Reader. New York: New York UP, 2001. Print.

"Past Awards." National Society of Film Critics. 30 Aug. 2015. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.

External links[edit]