SM: Halloween was not the first film to use a Steadicam.
DC: There had been a couple of other films — Bound for Glory and I think Rocky — that used it for one shot. We used it on the opening shot in Halloween and continued to use it throughout the movie. It was the first movie to use it extensively as a narrative tool compared to just a onetime thing.
SM: Did you have any clue during production what an impact it would make on the genre and how influential, downright trendy, your camerawork would become?
DC: You always hope. And I think part of it is always approaching a film — no matter how small or how terrible the script was — as if you’re going to make an especially good film that will measure up to what the audience expects from studio films. I don’t think you ever really know. Halloween was sort of a resurrection of genre. Nobody had done slasher films before that. The classic ones were Frankenstein and Dracula. Then they disappeared for awhile and came back as giant crab monsters. It was always a science-fictiony thing.
SM: You’re forgetting one: Psycho.
DC: Yeah. Of course. We very consciously watched two or three Hitchcock films. It was necessary, especially on a low budget shoot because it was easy to do and didn’t require big sets and all that kind of stuff. They were personal films. Psycho was the perfect example of how to scare people with one guy and a knife.
Walking with the Enemy Official Trailer
SM: You’re at a point in your career where you could spend your days working with proven talent on mega-budget films, yet you’re still out there giving a first-time directors a break. How did you meet Mark Schmidt and eventually get involved with Walking with the Enemy?
DC: Oddly enough I got a phone call from my Canadian agent, Karen, who said this guy who loved Back to the Future who wanted to know if I was interested in working with him. He came over to the house with a couple of other guys, said they were making this movie, and handed me a script. His interest was in having someone help him with it, which I have always been interested in.
Recently I’ve gotten involved with small indie films like that. You can get more creatively involved especially with new directors who are open to collaboration compared to giant $150 million movies where you’re a cog in the wheel. I was intrigued by the subject matter and the period. I had never done a WWII film. I gave him advice on the script, some of which he took. We went off and scouted Romania and it looked like it was going to be an interesting project, so I was very glad to have been involved.
SM: Normally I associate you with colors that pop, but Walking with the Enemy is a much more subdued piece of work without going the cliched route of desaturating color to make it look old.
DC: Right. I think that that was part of our approach to it. My conversations with the wardrobe people indicated subdued colors. That was the overall look, yet you could still keep the colors when you wanted them. It was a case of doing a little bit of desaturation and color shifting in the final color correction. A lot of it was not making it so obviously altered that people have a hard time relating to it. If you’re going to do black-and-white you might as well do black-and-white. It’s a case of just touching it just right so it doesn’t look like a contemporary world and life.
SM: Are you pleased with the conversion from film to digital?
DC: Not quite yet. It’s an ongoing process that changes quite literally every six months. There are some aspects that I like. I like the control of color and stuff that you can do later. That’s like another tool in the toolbox. I like the idea that if you have a good monitor on the set, you can see what it is you’re getting and adjust it as opposed to shooting on film and worrying that when you see the dailies it didn’t turn out as you had hoped. At the same time there’s something about film that… most of the cameras now and the shooting techniques are all trying to emulate film. We still hold film as the Holy Grail way of making movies. They’re getting there, but it still has technical issues.
SM: You seem to be the go-to man for combining live action and animation, but before Roger Rabbit, Casper, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, and Garfield, there was Rock ‘N’ Roll High School. Even though not one animation cell was used during the making of the film, I’d probably credit it as your first cinematoon. The paper airplane avalanche gag is a joy to behold. Do you remember what it took to get the planes POV shot?
DC: I think it was fairly simple as we had to be in those days of low budgets and Roger Corman. We just sort of taped it underneath the matte box of the camera and flew it down the hallway on a dolly. It was actually pretty low-tech, but fairly effective. Today, it would be a very elaborate digital effect with the airplane flying and the camera sort of following it and all that. We did it the way we had available in those days which was simple in front of the lens stuff.
SM: You are chosen to win a life-time achievement award at the Oscars -- because God knows your work is far too good to warrant a real one — and asked to pick three moments from your films to open the clip-reel. What would they be?
DC: I guess I go to the stuff that everybody sees and reacts and relates to.
SM: I smell a dinosaur coming.