Roger Deakins (cinematographer)
Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC is the most renowned of cinematographers working today. Even audiences, which generally associate the entirety of filmmaking to just actors and directors, know him by name. For the cinematographer, usually a modest and unsung image maker, it’s a rare and enviable position to be in. Yet, surprisingly, Deakins who is a nine-time Oscar nominee has never actually won an Oscar. (In 2008 he came very close by becoming the first cinematographer in history to be nominated twice for THE ASSASINATION OF JESSE JAMES and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, but then lost to Robert Elswit who deservedly won for THERE WILL BE BLOOD).
The Person, the Cinematographer
Born in 1949, a few years after World War 2 in Torquay, Devon, England, Roger Deakins is 63 now, but you’d never guess it. Despite the white hair (whiter, in fact, than his trademark white shirts!), Deakins remains very prolific and adaptable to change (he famously abandoned the venerable 35mm film emulsion by lensing Andrew Niccol’s IN TIME on the Alexa, a much-desired new digital cinema camera by Arri. In fact, he is the most preeminent proponent of this camera and currently also Arri’s unofficial mascot). Deakins’ penchant for naturalism comes from his early days in documentary, and his formalism may be explained by a fervent passion for still photography which continues to this day. He married script supervisor Isabella James Purefoy Ellis in 1991 and lives between Devon, England and Santa Monica, California.
The Deakins Look
Roger Deakins’ cinematographic style is almost always described as “beautiful”. His approach to creating visuals is non-effusive and elegant, always in service to the story. Technically, his methodology hinges on precise framing (Deakins operates the camera himself) and an overwhelming use of natural or “reflected” light, usually from a large single source. He does not use any filters in front of the camera lens, favors (spherical) prime lenses over zooms and, despite the switch to digital cinematography, still relies on his trusty Gossen light meter to set exposure. Also known to work with the same crew he lauds at award ceremonies, the consistency translates into one distinctive feature of the “Deakins look”: a startling golden and very soft quality of light. Many sequences in SKYFALL contain this look, as do other films Deakins has photographed—particularly REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (again for Sam Mendes) and A SERIOUS MAN (for the Coens, his friends and regular collaborators). Continue Reading