ROGER DEAKINS CBE BSC ASC in conversation with KIM BATTERHAM ACS
ROGER DEAKINS CBE BSC ASC
I was privileged to be among those who had the opportunity to meet with FILM ROYALTY, namely Roger Deakins CBE BSC ASC to watch and discuss his film work, work which earned him his most recently the CBE “Commander of the Order of the British Empire” in the 2013 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, for his services to film.
The event was presented by the ACS and AFTRS, who provided the wonderful venue for the screening of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford”.
We were entertained not only by the screening followed by the opportunity to mingle over a lovely lunch, but also enjoyed the informative interview and Q & A session by Kim Batterham ACS, which finished off the day nicely.
I thought I’d give you just a taste of what we gleaned…some of the topics and comments that were discussed were firstly about The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford
THE FILM - The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford
Roger Deakins happily discussed the various methods he used not only in the making of this particular film but of films throughout his career.
A career that began with a love of photography leading him to leave his studies of Graphic Design and instead to pursue studies at the National Film and Television School in England where upon completion he would go on to work with director Michael Radford who had also been a student at the Film School, the Coen Brothers, Sam Mendes and many other major Directors.
His first seven years was spent working mainly on Feature Documentaries and Music Videos, some of which he can scarcely remember...
Blue Suede Shoes
Others which he recalled with very fond memories of his life lived and years well spent included:
Van Morrison in Ireland, Enitra, Zimbabwe, Around the World With Ridgeway which incidentally took him on a nine month around the world yacht race.
His career has blossomed to include an abundance of well loved, respected and awarded films including eleven films directed by The Coen Brothers and Animations where he has worked as a visual consultant.
THE COEN BROTHERS, JOEL AND ETHAN
- Barton Fink,
- The Hudsucker Proxy,
- Fargo, The Big Lebowski,
- O Brother, Where Art Thou?,
- The Man Who Wasn’t There,
- Intolerable Cruelty,
- No Country for Old Men,
- A Serious Man,
- True Grit
VARIETY OF DIRECTORS, (Inc: Sam Mendes, Norman Jewison, Edward Zwick, Andrew Dominik, Michael Radford, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese and Gore Verbinski to name but a few).
- Nineteen Eighty-Four,
- Return to Waterloo,
- Defense of the Realm,
- Sid and Nancy,
- Personal Services,
- Stormy Monday,
- Mountains of the Moon,
- Air America,
- The Long Walk Home,
- Passion Fish,
- The Secret Garden,
- The Shawshank Redemption,
- Dead Man Walking,
- Courage Under Fire,
- The Siege,
- Anywhere but Here,
- The Hurricane,
- A Beautiful Mind,
- House of Sand and Fog,
- The Village,
- In the Valley of Elah,
- The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,
- Revolutionary Road,
- The Reader,
- How to Train your Dragon,
- The Company Men,
- In Time,
- Rise of the Guardians,
- The Croods,
- How to Train Your Dragon 2
FRAMING & LIGHTING
Deakins felt that framing was something that he felt should “feel right”, to him it is much more important than lighting, not to deny that lighting is really important, but that framing is something he is truly passionate about and to him he needs to find what feels right to him, knowing that to each of us “what feels right” will be slightly different.
While on the topic of lighting he happened to mention that he was shocked when told that he had not had to light “The Shawshank Redemption” with the implication that it was all naturally lit, he went on to discuss just how many lights had been used to light the particular prison scene being referred too. I guess he should take the comment as a compliment; he obviously achieved that natural look.
He explained how on the train robbery scene he had overhead lights on cranes in place ready in case the scene needed them, but the atmosphere that night held the light so nicely that just before shooting he turned them off and relied on the sole use of the 5K Par attached to the train and the outlaws handheld lanterns, saying to anyone who questioned him that the lights on the cranes were “Just work lights”.
Discussing the volume of lights needed on various films, Roger went on to joke that The Coen Brothers used to give him a hard time about his budget for lights, teasing him by saying “surely couldn’t he just light a scene with only three light globes”, as he’d done it before in Fargo.
When questioned Deakins admits he’s not fond of backlighting and prefers the use of contrast of light and dark, as a method of separation although to me he is a master when it comes to the use of the silhouette, using the silhouette to make beautiful memorable and evocative imagery.
Short Clip from "The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford"
Roger explained how he achieved the look that is now termed
“The Deakonizer Technique”
and no he sadly admits he doesn’t get any royalties for the technique heavily featured in The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford
Deakins went to see Otto Nemenz to see how he could improve on the concept he was after in replicating something he had experimented with in photography, where he would place a small lens element in front of a 50mm giving him the vignetting effect he was now hoping to replicate, they ended up using a combination of an old wide-angle stills lens with its front element removed and placing it in front of an ARRI Macro lens.
The effect giving a vignette to the image with slight but certainly visible colour aberrations which gave the evocative or even emotive effect to the cinematography, which was the affect he and Director Andrew Dominik were after, to in effect, mimic the look of old time photographs.
THE FINAL CUT (The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford)
The film cut Roger Deakins first saw was nearing the four-hour mark and he felt personally that it was a better cut than what the studio eventually went with and what we had just viewed, that comment made me want to curious about all that extra footage he shot so I asked if he thought it should ever have been screened as a mini-series? He explained that was never an option, it was always going to be the feature, just that by the time we filmed the whole script it was almost four hours of material to cover the screenplay, and the studio made them cut it down, twice in fact, then had a studio audience test the versions, which ranked equally so the studio went with the current version, the audience never saw the fuller version which Deakins explained really gave each of the characters their fuller story, he went on to say he lost some of his favorite shots which is always tough, and even joked that it is something he later gives a director a hard time about if given the chance.
SPHERICAL OR ANAMORPHIC FORMAT
Yet to shoot an anamorphic film, not that they haven’t been proposed a few times…just none have come to fruition. Deakins stated his personal preference for being close to the actor which gives a certain intimacy and lends itself to spherical format. Perhaps this is something we will see in the future, as he is not totally opposed to the idea.
…here is just some of the Other Films touched upon:
“Nineteen Eighty Four“– Deakins revealed that it was only a chance discussion at the famous Cannes Film festival when Michael Radford was asked by Producer Marvin J Rosenblum what he was doing next? Radford who was almost stumped by the question finally came out with the words “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, the executive producer said Okay and then next thing we knew we were filming. Deakins went on to explain that he and Radford, the film’s Director had originally wanted to shoot the film in Black & White but being denied lead to tests and a decision to use a beach bypass to create the films washed out look, even their dallies were printed with the bleach by-pass.
In an unusually rare case the film negative was not actually treated rather the more expensively scenario of the treatment being applied to each release print, with the silver retained in the negative giving the film its additional depth, this in turn has lead to the modern-day anomaly of the current digital prints being taken straight from the negative now being in full colour which Deakins felt looked so wrong when he first viewed a blue-ray copy.
Roger said he had really enjoyed the experience with Pixar working on the animated feature WALL-E, he went on to say his role in Gore Verbinkski’s “Rango” where he worked as a visual consultant gave him even greater scope and increased involvement as a constant contact point for Verbinkski who would contact Deakins with each new setup either via phone or emails to discuss the proposes lighting set-ups seeking his input, all while filming on The Coen Brothers set “True Grit”
When asked about Conrad Hall ASC and Haskell Wexler ASC, who’s work he admits has definitely influenced him, he seemed both shocked and humbled when recounting his initial meeting them both when invited to the ASC Clubhouse for the first time – They knew who I was! I couldn’t believe it these guys were MY hero’s…
Roger Deakins CBE BSC ASC had been nominated ten times for and Academy Award for Best Cinematographer, has been nominated eleven times and won three times the Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography by the American Society of Cinematographers, Has been nominated six times with three wins to be awarded the BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography and has won two out of his three nominations for Best Cinematography in the Independent Spirit Awards, and has received the ACS International Award for Cinematography on two ocassions.
To top the Day off Roger Deakins CBE BSC ASC was presented a framed certificate for his Honorary Membership of the ACS along with the ACS International Award for his work on Skyfall and a bundle of goodies from the ACS including a copy of The Shadowcatchers. His lovely wife, Script Supervisor, James Ellis Deakins who is traveling with him was presented with flowers.
Overall a fabulous day to meet a Film Legend,
Thanks ACS for putting on such a wonderful event.
ACS National Webmaster