Naked Girls at Work: Crazy Horse Director Frederick Wiseman on Filming Performance, Shooting Digitally, Getting Permission and Not Writing Dialogue

01/26/2012 4:00 AM |

Can you talk a bit about your choice of typefaces for the credit sequences? They almost always correspond stylistically to the subjects of the films.

Well, I’m very interested in type, and I try to pick the type very carefully in ways that are, at least in my mind, some way related to the film. The typeface for Crazy Horse is Busorama, which I’ve also used for Model and two of other films. You’re the first person to ever ask me about that. In my mind it’s important because it’s the first thing the audience sees.

Right. And it’s something they leave with, too.

Exactly. Because I use the same type for the end credits as I do for the opening.

Was Crazy Horse shot on film?

No, it was the first film shot on HD. And it was shot on HD because I can no longer get the money for film. Forty-eight minutes of HD costs about forty dollars. Forty-eight minutes of film, by the time you count the costs of the negative, the development of the negative, and making a work print, would be well over eleven hundred dollars. Kodak is in bankruptcy and DuArt doesn’t process film anymore. In fact, most of the labs that I know of don’t process 16mm film anymore.

This is the beginning of something new for you, then.

Yeah. I tried in the color gradation to give Crazy Horse a film look. The film was shot with a Sony 900 camera, which was quite good except in low light conditions. There’s a new Arriflex camera called Alexa, and there’s also the Red, where the quality is very, very close to film, and you can also shoot in very low light conditions.

What are you currently working on?

I’m editing a film about the University the California, Berkeley. It’s going to be ready by the end of the summer. Berkeley’s a great university. It is a public university that, in effect, has become a private university. It used to get most of its money from the state and now it gets nine percent of its money from the state. Berkeley an outstanding faculty and the students are great, but the institution is struggling to maintain its very high standards in a situation where there are serious financial constraints.

Which reminds me of your decision to use Northeast High School in Philadelphia as the setting for High School. At the time, the school was considered the best of its kind.

That’s right. It’s more interesting that way. Why shoot a sitting duck, so to speak? It’s more complicated if people are trying to do a good job. There is more to think about.