The Showman
by Chris Reyna
Sep 04, 2012 | 541 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Chapin Cutler in 1982
Chapin Cutler in 1982
Chapin Cutler and Larry Shaw
Chapin Cutler and Larry Shaw
Each year, Telluride honors an organization or individual for promoting the art of cinema. Special Medallion recipients include TV producers (HBO and BBC’s Arena), critics (Stanley Kauffman), magazines (Sight & Sound and Positif) and producers (Serge Silberman). This year, the festival honors projection and theater specialist Chapin Cutler and his company Boston Light & Sound for dedication to quality film presentation.

It has been my good fortune to have had Chapin as my friend and colleague for 30 years. Without him, the movies just wouldn’t be as spectacular! He designs, implements and supervises high-profile big-screen events around the world. He calms the nerves of jittery directors worried about various technical challenges (Chapin’s phone might ring with calls from Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Michael Moore or Jon Favreau). He designs memorable interior spaces for movies, and serves as the technical director for some of the best festivals in the world: Telluride, Sundance, Traverse City Film Festival, Doha (Qatar) Tribeca and the TCM Festival in Hollywood. And you’d need a map and plenty of pins to track where Chapin has created world-class film exhibition spaces: the studio event showcase at CinemaCon in Vegas; L.A.’s Grauman’s Chinese, Kodak (now Dolby) Theatre, Nokia Center and Hollywood Bowl; in a circus tent on Ellis Island and at the Apollo Theatre in New York; the Roman amphitheatre in Pompeii; the Karl Marx Theatre in Havana; and the Colosseum in Rome. That’s just the short list.

“Chapin has a very unusual blend of appreciation for the art inherent to film, concern for the filmmakers’ and the audience’s need to see and hear the films presented flawlessly, and deep technical understanding of both older and the latest image and audio technologies,” said Larry Shaw, his partner in the company Boston Light & Sound for the past 40 years. “Chapin’s expertise has greatly enhanced the film-going experiences of millions of people attending prestigious screenings around the world for decades.”

Boston Light & Sound, which in the early days included Chapin’s wife, Deborah C. Cutler, has developed the capacity to stage just about anything on the big screen. They’ll tackle any exotic film format. They’ve figured out how to run the same movie on two different screens 300 ft. apart and how to show film dailies in firehouses and machine shops.

“Like Oz behind the curtain, I’ll never know exactly how Chapin pulls it off,” said Genevieve McGillicuddy, managing director for the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood. “He is truly a craftsman and scholar of film, and these talents permit the filmmakers’ art to be showcased as they intended.”

We really developed our chops with the world tour of Abel Gance’s lost 1927 classic Napoleon (which premiered in Telluride in 1979). The film finishes in triptych—on three screens, with three projectors, carefully synched and aligned. In 1981, Larry Shaw produced a screening at Radio City Music Hall, and then Chapin and I took the film on a world tour, dividing the globe at the Mississippi. We have since produced more than 200 performances, including one last March at the historic Oakland Paramount. Each Napoleon screening is a spectacular event, including live music with an up to 70-piece symphony orchestra playing in sync with the film. At Rome’s Colosseum, Chapin delivered a performance on a 110-foot screen for 5,000 people.

“It was thrilling! Even in the rain, the audience was caught in a magic spell,” Chapin said. “They were entranced.”

“Over the years, Chapin Cutler has proved equal to the task of mounting some of the most original, challenging and difficult cinema experiences that I’ve seen yet,” Francis Ford Coppola said. “He deserves this recognition for his work on the Abel Gance three-screen Napoleon alone, but his work went far beyond that. I would like to join with American Zoetrope in saluting Chapin for his body of work.”

Chapin’s career began a union projectionist in Worcester, Mass. Chapin earned one degree in film from Emerson College, then another in mechanical design, and embarked upon a career as a documentary filmmaker. Soon, he was working for the iconic Orson Welles Cinema as well as running the film facilities at Boston’s PBS channel WGBH. In the years since, he and his company have become legendary in the field, impressing even the most prestigious and demanding clients.

“In the 14 years Chapin has served as technical director for the Sundance Film Festival, he has enabled us to become a festival well-known for its technical presentation quality,” said Sarah Pearce, director of operations for the Sundance Film Festival. “He demands consistency and the highest quality performance in both equipment and staff.”

With film morphing into digital formats, Chapin relishes the new challenges. “I’m compelled to preserve the high standards of quality presentations, no matter how many new playback formats arrive,” he said. “The challenge is like a piece of rhubarb pie. And I love pie! … It is still all about the show. It is not just the content, but how the overall show is produced. I am indebted to the many festivals, film directors, archives and studios for giving me the opportunity to give them my best, and of course, Telluride Film Festival has had a special place in my heart for these past 28 years.”

Chapin has worked at Telluride since 1984, overseeing a stream of challenging programs and elevating the festival’s makeshift venues into world-class theaters for the weekend.

 “[For] more than a quarter century, Chapin’s contributions to the Telluride Film Festival have been enormous,” Film Festival Co-founder Bill Pence said. “It is no exaggeration that there would be no festival here today were it not for him and the contributions of Boston Light & Sound. Chapin defines excellence in film presentation, and he has elevated it to an art.

“He is the ‘show’ in showmanship.”  

Chris Reyna, one of the world’s foremost specialists in both large-format film and digital production and mastering, was a 1998 recipient of Telluride’s Special Medallion. His most recent film, Samsara by Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson, recently opened worldwide in 4K digital cinema.
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