Yes, this is really happening – there is an unidentified jacket flying right in our direction and Martin Coppen’s seminar hasn’t even started yet. Predictably, the cinematographer in question is not even slightly fazed by all the commotion. “I did suggest that we should get people dancing on these tables” – he observes calmly. Somebody get us out of here!
Ever wondered if what you do actually matters? Martin Coppen didn’t have to. “I was very proud of that. If I die tonight, at least I have left something behind” – he says after showing his video for The Nobodies by Marilyn Manson. “I knew this video is going to be good. When we finished filming, Manson went to take a shower. His new girlfriend was there – he went out with that actress, and then with another girl that looked like that actress. He came out and said: Do you feel the same as me? I feel so good about it I will let you fuck my girlfriend. In a twisted way, I understood what he meant. And she didn’t even bat an eyelid.” Forget Christmas bonuses – now that’s a sign of real appreciation.
Coppen, this year’s recipient of Camerimage Award for Outstanding Achievements in the Field of Music Videos and the Jury Chairman of the Music Videos Competition, started out as a stage lighting technician in the mid-1970s. He toured with Slade, David Bowie, Genesis or Eric Clapton. Not bad for a farmer’s son from Essex. “I remember at a very early age I just wanted to move to London for some reason. Even then I knew that my future was not there at the farm – the only prospect was to be a farm worker, a factory worker or stay at school to get a better diploma to be an engineer. In a factory.” No wonder he left home when he was just 16.
His first break came when one of the girls who worked in the lighting company went on to work in film production. “About 6 months later, out of the blue, I received a call. She said: Martin, do you want to work on a music video tomorrow? I said yes, not realising how important that phone call was. That was the beginning of my career in the film business.” Coppen became a sought-after gaffer and got to work on some groundbreaking music videos directed by Russell Mulcahey, Bryan Grant and Steve Barron, including Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles – the very first video that aired on MTV. But he always had his sights set on something bigger.
“The U.S. was certainly an eye-opener and something that I wanted” – admits Coppen. “After a while I met Sidney J. Bartholomew, a production designer who later went on to work on all the Farrelly brothers’ movies. We became partners in directing and after a few jobs we decided that I should shoot all our videos in the future.” As so he did, ever after the partnership dissolved. Although it took him almost 3 years to get an agent, he just… kept on going. Such perseverance eventually paid off in 1991; Coppen’s first important video as a cinematographer was Metallica’s Enter Sandman.
Since then, Coppen has been shooting commercials, working for television (check out his promo for The Private Life of Nashville Wives, which we have to see, like, right now) and he has been nominated a whopping 6 times for the MTV Video Music Awards for Best Cinematography; he won in 1999 for Marilyn Manson’s The Dope Show. “In a music video everybody is important – not just the cinematographer. I think you can see it in this video. Paul Hunter directed this and I was working with him on many, many jobs. Manson invited him to his house once – he is a very strange guy. So Paul was walking around and he noticed hundreds of women’s shoes on the floor. Tons of shoes all over. He was already freaked out and then Manson came out and said: Let’s come into the bedroom.” Let’s just hope his girlfriend wasn’t there at the time. Speaking of which – anybody knows where she’s at?
After that, he shot music videos for the likes of Lenny Kravitz and Courtney Love. “Quite a lady that one” – smiles Coppen mischievously. “Quite a girl, I’m telling you. I shot her really sexy and she was calling my agent saying: I want Martin to come and shoot me – I’m doing something with CNN. She wanted to use me for everything just because I made her look good. Once we were doing a take and a friend of Paul came in. When Courtney Love saw her, she took her shoe off and threw it at this girl. That was funny.”
“I’m not a public speaker” – says Coppen, although to be perfectly honest, he might have said something like “Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia” for all we know. Quite a fast-talking motormouth, that one. “If I had a camera, I would feel a lot better looking at all of you guys. But I’m here and it feels… well, there you go. Always listen to the director, that’s very important. Obviously I’m picked for a reason – I think that a lot of my images are sort of in-your-face. But in the end, I’m always embellishing the director’s dream” – he adds. “I’m a pretty intense guy when I shoot. But in a good way.” We believe you dear, but for the love of God: Just. Speak. Slower.