Michael Chapman (cinematographer)

Michael Crawford Chapman, A.S.C. (born November 21, 1935) is a retired American cinematographer and film director 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.

Michael Chapman
Michael Crawford Chapman

(1935-11-21) November 21, 1935
Other namesMike Chapman
Film director
Years active1968-2007
Spouse(s)Amy Holden Jones

Early life and education

Chapman was born in New York City in 1935, but raised in Wellesley, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, 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.

Chapman’s father-in-law, Joe Brun, 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 Chapman served as the principal cinematographer for their documentary on The Band, called The Last Waltz. With nine cameras shooting at once, Chapman 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 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 an actor 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. As with 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 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, such as 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 final 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

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.

Awards and nominations

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

He was the winner of the 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 Director Notes
1973 The Last Detail Hal Ashby
1974 The White Dawn Philip Kaufman
1975 Death Be Not Proud Donald Wrye Television film
Nominated- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie
1976 The Next Man Richard C. Sarafian
The Front Martin Ritt
Taxi Driver Martin Scorsese
1978 The Last Waltz Concert film
King: The Martin Luther King Story Abby Mann Television miniseries;
3 episodes
Invasion of the Body Snatchers Philip Kaufman
Fingers James Toback
1979 The Wanderers Philip Kaufman
Hardcore Paul Schrader
1980 Raging Bull Martin Scorsese Nominated- Academy Award for Best Cinematography
1982 Personal Best Robert Towne
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid Carl Reiner
1983 The Man with Two Brains
1987 The Lost Boys Joel Schumacher
Michael Jackson: Bad Martin Scorsese Music video
1988 Shoot to Kill Roger Spottiswoode
Scrooged Richard Donner
Gotham Lloyd Fonvielle Television film
Nominated- CableACE Award Direction of Photography or a Dramatic or Theatrical Special
1989 Ghostbusters II Ivan Reitman
1990 Quick Change Howard Franklin
Bill Murray
Kindergarten Cop Ivan Reitman
1991 Doc Hollywood Michael Caton-Jones
1992 Whispers in the Dark Christopher Crowe
1993 The Fugitive Andrew Davis Nominated- Academy Award for Best Cinematography
Nominated- ASC Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases
Rising Sun Philip Kaufman
1996 Space Jam Joe Pytka
Primal Fear Gregory Hoblit
1998 Six Days, Seven Nights Ivan Reitman
1999 The Story of Us Rob Reiner
2000 The Watcher Joe Charbanic
2001 Evolution Ivan Reitman
2004 Suspect Zero E. Elias Merhige
House of D David Duchovny
Eulogy Michael Clancy
2006 Hoot Wil Shriner
2007 Bridge to Terabithia Gábor Csupó

As Director

Year Title DoP. Notes
1983 All the Right Moves Jan de Bont
1986 The Clan of the Cave Bear
Annihilator Paul Goldsmith Television film
1995 The Viking Sagas Dean Lent

Other Works

Year Title Director DoP. Notes
1965 Who Killed Teddy Bear Joseph Cates Joseph C. Brun Assistant camera
1966 The Fat Spy
1968 The Thanksgiving Visitor Frank Perry
1970 End of the Road Aram Avakian Gordon Willis Camera operator
Loving Irvin Kershner
The Landlord Hal Ashby
The People Next Door David Greene
Husbands John Cassavetes Victor J. Kemper
1971 Little Murders Alan Arkin Gordon Willis
Klute Alan J. Pakula
1972 The Godfather Francis Ford Coppola
Bad Company Robert Benton
1975 Jaws Steven Spielberg Bill Butler
1982 The Slumber Party Massacre Amy Holden Jones Stephen L. Posey Uncredited;
Director of photography: Prologue
1998 Homegrown Stephen Gyllenhaal Greg Gardiner Additional photography

References and Bibliography

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