Roger Deakins is widely known and acknowledged as one of the great cinematographers of our time. He is certainly one of my favourites, having shot such a wonderfully diverse range of films while maintaining quite an incredible level of artistry which always has a relevance and respect for the story at hand. Deakins has worked as cinematographer on The Shawshank Redemption, No Country for Old Men, A Beautiful Mind and The Big Lebowski, among a vast number of others. I was actually looking for a brief youtube interview that I bumped into a while back, when I came across a much longer 50 minute interview with Deakins, led by John de Borman, the President of The British Society of Cinematographers. I feel the video implicitly explains a great deal about why Deakins has been so prolific and successful.
I will keep this brief as rest assured, if you click the link you will end up watching the whole interview despite saying to yourself “I’ll just watch 10 minutes for now and finish it tomorrow when I’ve had some sleep”.
Deakins speaks in some details about a number of things including the importance of his early work in documentaries which helped him to observe and use natural light and to compose a shot quickly. He speaks about the importance of the characters in the story and that for him to take a job he needs to be able to relate to the characters, so that the audience can relate to his representation of them through the lens, as that is really one of the ultimate goals. He talks about his approach to lighting night scenes. He also argues that the hardest thing in the world is to maintain continuity for day scenes lit by the natural light of the sun. For True Grit, for example, weather problems meant that they shot one scene over the course of 14 days and he was expected to make it appear as though the scene takes place in under 2 hours. He speaks about his feelings towards digital – to briefly summarise, it allows him to sleep at night for all sorts of reasons, which is a novel thing. He also fields questions about diffused and direct light which leads him on to explaining why he has been so successful. He argues that it has very little to do with his use of diffused or direct light and everything to do with luck and timing.
That’s a summary anyway, just so that if you were a bit tempted, now you’re really not going to get any sleep until you’ve given it a watch.
Two things strike me about Deakins which I feel account for his great success and why he is such a role model for me.
- His character
- His talent
Just through this and a couple of other interviews that I have watched of Deakins, as well as what I have been told from people who have met or worked with him, I feel I have got a real sense of his character, which I love about him just as much as the films he has shot. How he speaks seems equally valuable to me as what he is saying. He seems to be a total realist, totally calm, totally logical, modest, genuine and friendly. These are all characteristics of the best people I have worked with, on any project, film related or otherwise. I can’t help but feel this has played an enormous part in his success and that these characteristics are vital in making a cinematographer great. The way he talks about his success just cements this in my head – he calls it luck, and undoubtedly he did come across the right people at the right time, but there’s no way they would have taken him with them had he not been an absolute pleasure to work with, and consistently so. I don’t need to comment on his talent. Rather, go and watch one of his films and see for yourself. The man is seriously talented and just like his character appears to be, consistently so as well. Watch the interview with Roger Deakins here.
I hope you enjoy the interview and find it as useful as I have done. It may be of equal interest for me also to share the BSC’s vimeo page. It has a ton of interviews which I have literally only just found myself. To put into perspective how little this goldmine of information is being watched, I’m about to become the 79th person to watch the Chris Menges interview. Funny when you consider this Michael Bay interview on Youtube has had over 40,000 views…