NAME: Alister Chapman
BORN: A long time ago (but I am still fit and healthy).
SKILLS: Cinematographer, DIT, Technology consultant, getting the very best from cameras.
EXPERIENCE: Decades of it.
I am a freelance filmmaker.…. jack of all trades perhaps, that has worked in broadcast television since 1984. These days I work as a cinematographer, digital imaging technician as well as editor/colourist. I am particularly good at coming up with new ways to do things, figuring out new processes, designing new camera rigs. I really enjoy those… “can you make this work……” or “is there a better way to do this” types of challenges.
I’m also a very well know Sony ambassador and film and video production trainer and technologist.
I was a member of my schools photography club and turned the under stairs cupboard into a darkroom as a child but my career in film and television really started after studying electronics to degree level and getting a job helping to design equipment for use in television outside broadcasts.
Around this time I started experimenting with fitting video cameras into Rally and Race cars, and you have to remember that back in the 1980’s video cameras were normally huge. My hobby was rally driving and at weekends I used to film club events with tube camera and a u-matic portable recorder. A production company called BHP, who produced almost all of the BBC’s motorsports content saw what I was doing and offered me a job developing in car cameras and filming motor racing. This was a dream job, designing new camera systems, thinking up new ways to do things and working in F1, the world rally championship and numerous other branches of motorsports.
After a couple of years at BHP I went freelance in order to concentrate more on camera work and less on mini-cams. That was in 1990, I have been freelance ever since.
Along the way I worked for extended periods as a cameraman editor and producer for the PBA making sports magazine shows for Sky and Eurosport, mainly featuring windsurfing and snowboarding. I also worked as an editor and ran the edit and colour grading suites for one of the UK’s top independent post production companies for a couple of years (Documentary Video Associates). I freelanced for the UK military working on films for the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force, worked with the Ferrari F1 team and so much more. During this period I used a broad range of cameras and equipment from 16mm film, BetacamSP, Digibeta and the early days of DVCAM.
In 1999 I got a commission from National Geographic to produce a one hour special about Tornado Chasing.
The programme which aired internationally (Twister Tours) was a big hit and introduced me to severe and extreme weather. I have always enjoyed watching thunderstorms, ever since I was a child but the combination of adventure, danger and the challenge of getting top quality footage of extreme weather is something I find irresistible. Since then I have specialised in filming natures extremes and this has taken me up to the Arctic in winter to shoot the Northern lights, filming erupting volcanoes in Iceland, to the deserts of Arizona for monsoon thunderstorms as well as countless tornado and hurricane chasing adventures. My weather and natural extremes footage is used in all kinds of programmes from kids TV shows to BBC natural history specials and quite a few feature films. It’s more than likely that you will have seen something I have shot tucked away within a film, TV show, museum exhibition or web clip of some kind.
But don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t just shoot the weather! I shoot all kinds of things from drama to documentaries. Recently I’ve worked as a consultant on major Hollywood blockbusters and I’ve been filming a lot of circus performances. I continue to shoot occasional motor sports events as well as a lot of airshows and aviation programmes. My clients include Sony, Philips, Toyota, Microsoft, as well as National Geographic, Discovery, IMAX and many, many others.
In between all this I have become well know for my website XDCAM-USER.COM and I am a Sony ambassador. I run workshops on various cameras and filming techniques for Sony, equipment dealers and film schools all around the world. When I started out as a cameraman I found it very difficult to learn about how to set up cameras and how to get the very best out of them. Over the years I have learnt a vast amount about cameras, filming techniques and related equipment and my electronic engineering background helps me to really understand what goes on under the hood. Now I wish to share some of that knowledge and encourage others to delve into their cameras menus and get the most from what for many people is a considerable investment. But, I am still above all else a film maker.
The Sony Connection: First let me say that I am not an employee of Sony. I have been using Sony cameras since the 80’s and they have always served me well. I have also used and owned cameras from Arri, Red, Panasonic, JVC and many others. Over the years I have gained a great deal of experience with these cameras. With my engineering background I am not afraid of trying new settings and tweaking my cameras and equipment for the best results. For many years I have written about my settings and methods in magazines, in forums and on blogs.
I have often been an early adopter of new technologies. Back in the 80’s I developed some of the very first in-car camera systems using newly invented CCD cameras recording on to specially modified portable Betamax recorders, while others were still using tube cameras and u-matic.
To this day I continue to develop award winning camera systems from 3D to remote control. Recently I have been studying and using virtual production, learning what it is really good for and what it is less suited for. I have also developed a special infrared day for night filming rig for use in feature films. I’m a qualified IRATA rope access technician and this allows me to use ropes and climbing techniques to get cameras or lights into otherwise inaccessible places.
As a result of my extensive knowledge of Sony cameras, Sony pay me to help run workshops, write articles on workflows or techniques as well as technical white papers. I do get paid for this on an event by event or article by article basis. If I am asked to review something I will only ever review products that interest me and products that I genuinely believe to be useful and any opinions given are true and genuine.
At the end of the day, as a cameraman and cinematographer it is vital to me that I choose the most appropriate tools for my job (and perhaps if that doesn’t exist design it). I am always on the look-out for tools and equipment that will allow me to improve the quality of my work, from ANY manufacturer. Yes, I am a fan of Sony equipment, but I have a reputation to maintain as an independent film maker, so I would never put my name to a piece of kit that didn’t do what it was supposed to. I try to be objective in my reviews and look at the facts, pro’s and con’s of each piece of kit.
And just because I do so much training, have a high online profile and vast amount of experience that doesn’t mean that I am super expensive to hire. My rates are very reasonable and my experience and skills mean that whatever the project everything will be done to the highest creative and technical levels. If you think I can help, do reach out.