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Michael Chapman
The Portrait of Michael Chapman 2020 - Chalk on paper 36" x 22"
Michael Crawford Chapman

(1935-11-21)November 21, 1935
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedSeptember 20, 2020(2020-09-20) (aged 84)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
  • Cinematographer
  • film director
Years active1968–2007
Known forAmerican New Wave
SpouseAmy Holden Jones

Michael Crawford Chapman, American Society of Cinematographers (November 21, 1935 – September 20, 2020) was an American cinematographer and film director well known for his work on many films of the American New Wave of the 1970s and in the 1980s with directors such as Martin Scorsese and Ivan Reitman. He shot more than forty feature films, over half of those with only three different directors.

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. He graduated from high school at Andover, a college preparatory school in Andover, Massachusetts.[1] After high school, he attended Columbia College, where he majored in English. Upon his graduation, he worked temporarily as a brakeman for the Erie Lackawanna Railroad in the Midwest. In 1958, he was drafted in the United States Army, where he served in the Signal Corps stationed in New Jersey and Thule Air Base in Greenland.[1]

Chapman’s father-in-law, Joe Brun, got him his first job in the industry: working as an assistant cameraman 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, distinguishing himself on Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972) and Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975). before making the leap to cinematographer. He fondly remembered his time as an operator, and called 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 known for his two collaborations with Martin Scorsese: Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980). Chapman was also the cinematographer for the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). 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 (1978). With nine cameras shooting at once, Chapman remembered that “the strategy for filming all of their songs was planned out in enormous detail.”

Chapman's style tended to feature high contrasts and an aggressive use of strong colors. He was also adept at setting up complex camera movements quickly and improvising on the set. This style was 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 worked as Director of Photography for 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 had also directed several films of his own, the best known being All the Right Moves (1983), starring Tom Cruise in one of his earliest 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." He became a member of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) in 1995.[2]

His final film was Bridge to Terabithia (2007). According to the DVD commentary, Chapman planned to retire after the film was finished, saying he would like to have the last film he shot be a good one.

Personal life

Chapman was 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 stated later in his life that he no longer watched films directed by frequent collaborators Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg, as he knew their general style would 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 admitted that his preferred method was to watch movies at home and that he rarely, if ever, went to a theater any more. [3]


Chapman died from congestive heart failure on September 20, 2020, at his home in Los Angeles.[4]

Awards and nominations

Chapman was nominated twice 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 ASC Lifetime Achievement Award. 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
1976 The Next Man Richard C. Sarafian
The Front Martin Ritt
Taxi Driver Martin Scorsese
1978 The Last Waltz Concert film
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
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
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
The White River Kid Arne Glimcher
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

TV movies

Year Title Director Notes
1975 Death Be Not Proud Donald Wrye Nominated - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie
1988 Gotham Lloyd Fonvielle Nominated - CableACE Award Direction of Photography or a Dramatic or Theatrical Special


Year Title Director Notes
1978 King: The Martin Luther King Story Abby Mann 3 episodes


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


  1. ^ a b "Michael Chapman - Film-maker", Web of Stories interviews.
  2. ^ Oganesyan, Natalie (September 21, 2020). "Michael Chapman, 'Taxi Driver' and 'Raging Bull' Cinematographer, Dies at 84". Variety. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  3. ^ Newman, Nick (November 17, 2016). "Michael Chapman Talks Restoring 'Taxi Driver' and the Problem with Modern Cinematography". The Film Stage. Retrieved July 13, 2023.
  4. ^ Barnes, Mike (September 21, 2020). "Michael Chapman, Cinematographer on 'Taxi Driver' and 'Raging Bull,' Dies at 84". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 21, 2020.