A still photographer on a movie set is not often greeted with much fanfare. Sometimes, however, this person’s role on a production allows him to capture the heart and soul of the film at hand.
Steve Schapiro was the special photographer on the set of Martin Scorsese’s era-defining classic, Taxi Driver, a film featuring an unhinged Robert De Niro performance for the ages. Now the photographer has released hundreds of pictures taken during the production of Taxi Driver for a massive coffee table collection that reveals the mood on set.
Before taking on Taxi Driver, Schapiro was the special photographer for The Godfather, another universally acknowledged masterpiece. (He released a similar book for that film, too.) While Francis Ford Coppola’s film had a family vibe, though, with the lauded director’s wife and children frequently on set, and the main cast acting as part of a single unit, Scorsese’s picture was another story entirely.
"Taxi Driver was shot mostly at night in New York, and the sense of the city sort of bore down on it," Schapiro says. "Also, Robert De Niro, who had spent a month really driving a taxi at night to get into the spirit of the film, maintains his character throughout. When he develops a character, he really becomes that person—both internally and externally—and he maintained that character pretty much on and off the screen. It was a much more tense situation than on The Godfather and many other films I’ve worked on."
One of the more illuminating aspects about the book, though, similar to the anachronistic photos from the set of Mad Men that were released last year, is that you can see the mood lighten between takes. During the filming of Taxi Driver's bloody climax, Schapiro made sure to get up close and find high moments. One image in the book stands out for showing the cast on the ground and very bloody, laughing in between takes and easing out of the tension of the scene. The tone of the film didn’t just affect the cast, though—it hit the director as well.
"Scorsese would sort of take on the whole intensity of the movie in between scenes," Schapiro says. "You could often see him in a really tense mood, figuring out what he was doing next."
See more images of Scorsese and De Niro from Taxi Driver in the slides above.
[Photos courtesy of Taschen | Copyright Steve Schapiro]