Rembrandt in America: Producer's Notes

Producer's Notes: An Interview with Scott Davis

What did you know about Rembrandt's work before you started working on this piece?
Like many people I mostly knew Rembrandt as a symbol of quality. I had seen a few of his paintings and prints in museums over the years, but had never really studied his work or known the details of his personal life. So as we began the project I was really starting with a clean slate. Then having the opportunity to talk with the four curators of the exhibition (Dennis Weller, George Keyes, Tom Rassieur and Jon Seydl) and NCMA's director, Larry Wheeler, and to immerse myself in Rembrandt's art, his workshop, and the controversies surrounding the authenticity of his paintings, was just an amazing learning experience.

How has your opinion of him as an artist, person or historical figure changed?
What has impressed and moved me most about Rembrandt is his ability to express great depth in the works that he painted. People talk about Rembrandt's ability to "capture the soul" of an individual, and when you stand before his paintings -- especially his late Self-Portrait in the exhibition -- the spiritual essence of the sitter really comes through. I'm not sure I would've really understood or believed it without the opportunity to spend time with his portraits in the NCMA's exhibition.

Why do you think so many people are drawn to Rembrandt?
I think there is a strong degree of realism in Rembrandt's paintings that make them easy to understand. And yet, what comes through is more than just a "photographic" image, it is so much deeper and moving because it has been expressed in such a powerful way by the painter. Curator George Keyes says it is as if we actually know these people, and it's true. That's how it feels, even though they were painted over 350 years ago.

What makes this exhibit unique to other Rembrandt exhibits around the nation?
What makes this exhibition unique is that it brings together 30 authentic Rembrandt paintings -- paintings that have survived what I call, "the attribution wars" -- and so the curators are able to claim, "the largest collection of authentic Rembrandts ever assembled in this country." What also makes this unique is that, except for one painting, all the paintings in this exhibition are from American collections, public and private. The opportunity to compare and contrast Rembrandt and "Not-Rembrandt" paintings (paintings produced by Rembrandt's Workshop, Circle, or Followers) in one location is a fascinating aspect of this exhibition.

What type of production challenges/considerations did you have while working with such valuable subjects?
UNC-TV and North Carolina Museum of Art have had a very long and productive partnership. Together we have produced several documentaries focusing on the NCMA's special exhibitions, including Rodin: A Man of Passion, Matisse, Picasso and the School of Paris, and Monet in Normandy. Over the years we have developed a wonderful working relationship, and every time we do a program, I feel like we're cousins coming to visit on Thanksgiving.

Of course our production crew is always very careful with the placement of our camera and our lights, and we have developed a process over the years which allows us to move from one painting to another in a very methodical way. In addition to shooting the individual paintings we also do dolly shots which allow the camera to move through the galleries, providing the viewer with a sense of the physical layout of the exhibition.

One of the challenges we had with a few of the Rembrandt in America paintings was the glass covering the art. For the very large Elison portraits, for example, we had to put up a large barricade of black cloth to block out the reflections coming from paintings on the other side of the room.

As the project comes to a close, what will you take away from the time you've spent with the paintings, the curators, the Rembrandt enthusiasts?
I think I will come away with a much greater respect for Rembrandt as an artist. In the face of very tragic circumstances towards the end of his life, he still continued to paint. That drive to do his art and to perfect his craft never left him, and I find it very inspiring as a filmmaker.