GREGORY CREWDSON : BRIEF ENCOUNTERS, a film by Ben Shapiro - INTERVIEW

By Laetitia Allal

Gregory Crewdson Shooting Location with assistant


Gregory Crewdson shooting location with assistant

First of all, could you introduce yourself ? Who is Ben Shapiro?
I make documentaries in a variety of media, including films, television and radio. I’m from the west coast, but New York is now my home—but I have family history in Western Massachusetts where Crewdson has taken most of his photographs.

Tell us more about your professional genesis.
Although I’ve always been making films since I was a kid, my first jobs were in public radio, producing news and documentary programs. More recently, since being based in New York, I’ve filmed and directed many documentary and television projects. I see film and radio/audio work as decidedly different, but closely allied. Brief Encounters is my first feature film.

GREGORY CREWDSON : BRIEF ENCOUNTERS, a film by Ben Shapiro - INTERVIEW


Maple St Location

How did you discover Gregory Crewdson, and how would you define his art, his approach?
Although I had seen his images before, I really discovered Crewdson when I filmed a short television documentary about him. I would define his approach as cinematic, yet concerned with creating a perfect frozen moment. By adapting the techniques of cinema for still photographs, he achieves a control of the image that gives his photographs a very specific quality: we’re drawn in to the images by their beauty and richness, and also the mystery of their content.

Could you introduce your first meeting with him?
I first met Crewdson when he was on location of the “Flower Beanstalk” photograph from the Twilight series. That was in 2000, and while still elaborate, his shoots then weren’t anywhere near the scale they became later. In those days less was delegated to crew, he was very hands on. I spent the day following him around, basically, until he was able to get the shot. It was a fascinating day for me, I think he was too engrossed by the project to pay much attention to the camera.

GREGORY CREWDSON : BRIEF ENCOUNTERS, a film by Ben Shapiro - INTERVIEW


Ophelia Location Soundstage

What decided you to make this film?
After filming Crewdson taking several pictures, I knew he was doing something special and unique. I also recognized the visual interest inherent in his process as well as in the scenes he was creating. I think as a filmmaker, you just get a sense of the potential of a character. So I proposed that I keep filming and he was fine with that, in fact he was very supportive.

Tell us more about this movie?
Unlike many films about important artists, where their major works are done by the time filming begins, I had the good fortune to follow and film Crewdson closely in the process of him making some of his most important works. In that sense it’s a process film, taking us behind the scenes at the moments of creation. But it also tells the story of Crewdson’s life and influences—the things that contribute to him making the art that he does.

Untitled (Birth)


Untitled (Birth)

You’ve been working on this project for ten years, no?
Yes and no. It was more than a decade from first filming to last, but in that time I was involved with many other projects. Crewdson’s team would keep me in the loop, or I would call up his office to see what was happening, and I would go and film when they were in production as my time permitted.

Could you explain his process of work?
His pre-production process is extensive, as you might imagine. It begins with him conceptualizing his images, which can happen when is scouting locations, or when he’s swimming. He then works with his team - lighting designer, set designer, props - to develop the kind of scene he wants to create. His assistant Costanza Theodoli-Braschi is also integrally part of this process. The actual shooting happens in twilight, many frames taken rapidly as the light fades.

Untitled (Brief Encounter)


Untitled (Brief Encounter)

And how have you seen Crewdson’s work evolve over the years?
I saw his process become more elaborate, until there were as many as 50-60 crew people working on his interior sets. There were also changes in the image — thematic and visual- that shifted over the years. For me, some of the most beautiful and striking images were the last ones in the Beneath the Roses series.

How can you explain his needing of cinematic tools (special effects, hundreds of lights, and huge staff) to create one picture?
Its very simple actually : He wants the control that filmmakers have, by building custom designed sets, picking just the right wallpaper or props, carefully controlling light, choosing the specifics of the image in the greatest detail possible. All that, combined, is what gives his images their special quality. There are no short cuts.

Untitled (Ophelia)


Untitled (Ophelia)

Even if his photographs are like extract from a movies, Crewdson’s images seem more close to painting ; how can you explain that?
There is, in Crewdson’s photographs, great care and craft devoted to the quality of light, color and form—that to me is what makes them painterly, and the fact that Crewdson and his team have mastered those qualities. It’s a cliché of cinematography but it is also true: they are painting with light.

Gregory Crewdson is usually working with a huge crew (around 60 persons), with the budget of an independent movie. How does he finance this kind of pictures?
I’m not the best one to talk about his financing, but its clear that the process and the crew size grew slowly over the years, and he became better known as an artist, thus affording him greater resources. I would say it was cyclical thing that evolved over time.

 Untitled (The Madison)


Untitled (The Madison)

You are director, producer and Editor of Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters. Isn’t it to difficult ? Why this absolute desire to make this movie exist ?
Producing and directing is hard, especially in a film like this that is very low budget, with very limited resources. But, like any other big project you just decide you want to do it and bit by bit tackle the challenges as they come. At a certain point a film develops its own momentum. And I like making films, they fascinate me.

How and when will we see the film?
That depends where you are! Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters will have its theatrical premier November 1 at Film Forum in New York. After that it will appear nationwide in the US. In Europe the film will begin appearing in festivals this fall,and on some television channels as well. We are now working on wider distribution in Europe.

Untitled (Twin Beds)


Untitled (Twin Beds)

Did you find a distribution plan?
See above…in the US I am working with the distributor Zeitgeist for the nationwide release.

Next project?
I’m developing a few possibilities but I don’t like to expose them to light of day until they are firmed up. My next production is a music video for a friend.

Untitled (Worthington Street)


Untitled (Worthington Street)

Next dream?
Bring this film to the audience it deserves! I’m looking forward to screening the film to audiences outside the US. Then I want to make another film.

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters Trailer


GREGORY CREWDSON : BRIEF ENCOUNTERS -Trailer

Gregory Crewdson Movie