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Roger Deakins

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#1 Alexandros Angelopoulos Apostolos

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Posted 08 June 2016 - 04:48 PM

Could some of you tell me why is Roger Deakins so much admired, so popular and so loved? At first, I thought that much of his popularity comes from his noticeable online presence, and that colourists, people in digital manipulation of images, and indie filmmakers loved him more than cameramen, but there’s much more to it than that.

 

I had to ask after seeing this post by David Mullen:

 

Heck, even I want to be an intern for Roger Deakins...

 

Why is Roger Deakins so special? What are some of his trademarks? What is he known for? What is some of his greatest work in your opinion, both whole films and particular scenes? What is it in his work that fascinates people so much?


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#2 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 08 June 2016 - 05:14 PM

I knew he had good titles to his name but after a quick re-check of his IMDB page he had like... a lot of good titles to his name. Shawshank, Fargo, Big Lebowski, Beautiful Mind, Jarhead to name a few. What some could consider tragic about his career is being the Buffalo Bills of cinematographers. 13 career nominations in 21 years (at one point 2 in 1 year) and never pulled an Oscar home.

 

I've come to acknowledge that anyone with multiple well known titles to their name is great at what they do. To sum up potential debates like these, "who's a bit greater than the other!?"


Edited by Macks Fiiod, 08 June 2016 - 05:16 PM.

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#3 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 08 June 2016 - 06:12 PM

To sum up potential debates like these, "who's a bit greater than the other!?"

 

Be that as it may, it's worth discussing. 

 

The primary mark of a great cinematographer is that his/her photography serves the story.  There are certain cinematographers whose work is so immersive that their photography disappears into the film.  Roger Deakins is one them.  To contrast, I love Robert Richardson & Janusz Kaminski and their respective works, but you can definitely "see" their styles in virtually every one of their films.  With Richardson, it's the over-exposed top-lighting and with Kaminski it's often the powerful white light coming through the windows.  

 

All three are styles.  All three serve the stories in different ways.

 

But I think Deakins falls more into the class of Haskell Wexler, William Fraker, Vilmos Zsigmond, Conrad Hall and even Gordon Willis in the sense that he doesn't use any more than he really needs to to tell the story. 

 

Unless it's been highly publicized, I often need to see the credits in order to now Roger Deakins shot the film.


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#4 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 08 June 2016 - 06:46 PM

Unless it's been highly publicized, I often need to see the credits in order to now Roger Deakins shot the film.


See, I can tell right away. His trademark is to shoot the scene in camera pretty flat. He also uses MOTIVATED LIGHTING in almost every shot, which is one of the most critical points. The use of 32mm lens for almost everything. The balancing of the background, so it doesn't go too dark and there is still detail in the image. Plus, he favors physically putting the camera closer to the actors and not doing over the shoulder coverage, it's mostly singles.

I've been following Deakins since I was a kid because his minimalist/realistic style works so well on motion picture film, it's something I've always wanted to mimic elements of on my own projects. I like realism, I like the cinematographer to be invisible. I don't want to see a scene that's suppose to take place in the 1800's with a 12k HMI as backlight or a huge amount of light blowing in all windows, all the time like so many other cinematographers do.

It's unfortunate Deakins is so against motion picture film today, he's truly an anti-film guy. I don't think his digital movies do his technique any justice. There are great moments in them, but as a whole I feel they are more flat then his movies shot on motion picture film. One of the side effects of shooting flat like he does, is the fact you really need to do a digital intermediate in order to add some contrast, so Deakin's is a huge DI guy, which I'm not a big fan of either.
 

To contrast, I love Robert Richardson & Janusz Kaminski and their respective works, but you can definitely "see" their styles in virtually every one of their films.


It's funny because the only guy currently shooting I don't like is Kaminski. His lighting can be unmotivated and draw an audiences attention away from the action as a consequence. Amongst my friends, we call Kaminski the "lazy lighter" because when he's pushed due to time constraints, the solutions he and his gaffer come up with, appear to be the lazy way out. I look at key/pivotal scenes in even his more recent films like Bridge of Spies. The whole dinner scene with Hanks early on with his family, lit from a single overhead diffused box. Really? your dinner table looks like that? I don't think so. He uses the same stupid box in so many other shots, it's disturbing. It's so plain, unmotivated and ugly, it subtracts from what COULD have been a cool, very interestingly lit scene.

I'm writing a pretty advantageous feature film right now that I can't make for years due to it's cost, but when I write interior scenes, especially intimate one's, I always design the lighting rig in my head as I write. I want to know where the source of motivated lighting is coming from. Is it a candelabra sitting on the table? Is it some light coming in from the window, which is augmented by reflected light back on the actors face? Is it moonlight splashing through a window frame and leaving a blue fill to the room? As a cinematographer by trade, turned writer/director, it's fun to examine these things during the writing phase, so when you're developing a scene you know what it's going to entail during production to make it right. That's how I decide if a given scene needs to be a set or can be modified practical location. It's also how I know how much it's going to cost as well, because that's an element a lot of writers don't think of. They simply write for the sake of writing and let the crew figure it out. But when you're making low-budget stuff, you kinda have to write within your budgetary means.

I do like Richardson though.
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#5 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 09 June 2016 - 01:25 AM

Why is Roger Deakins so special? What are some of his trademarks? What is he known for? What is some of his greatest work in your opinion, both whole films and particular scenes? What is it in his work that fascinates people so much?


This is a good place to start: https://youtu.be/NE_Jzp0cyhg

Other than that, just watch the films he has shot. My favorites are 'The Shawshank Redemption', 'No Country For Old Men', 'The Assassination of Jesse James', 'Barton Fink', 'Fargo', 'Skyfall', 'Jarhead' and 'Sicario.' He is a master of composition and camera movement. Also, there is something to be said for an artist with a strong and consistent point of view. Much like Gordon Willis, Deakins believes in a restrained use of the camera. This tends to give his films a stylistic trademark of direct simplicity and clarity of language that one might usually associate with an auteur director.

Also, his creative use of motivated lighting always builds mood while never upstaging the story. One of his best scenes for me is in 'No Country' when Tommy Lee Jones investigates a motel room while the villain hides inside. Deakins uses two hard frontal key lights to create a double shadow inside the room, motivated by headlights of Jones's police cruiser. It's something most DPs would never even think of doing, as we have been conditioned from early on to think of double shadows as a mistake. In the context of the scene, it is a perfectly logical choice and at the same time an unusual image. You can draw your own conclusions on what the double shadow means, but I think it works really well and elevates the scene beyond what is on the page.
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#6 Alexandros Angelopoulos Apostolos

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Posted 13 June 2016 - 02:09 PM

Wow, I have a lot of homework to do... The more I delve into his work, the more the pile of stuff to be seen or investigated grows. To bad that a lot of the things he photographed aren’t my kind of thing. Thus my cluelessness. I just thought it was hip and trendy to like him, especially in the crowd of filmmakers and people involved in film-making that are tech-savvy, but that the knowledgeable public did not share that same flattering opinion of Roger.

 

P. S. I have no idea how this thread ended with this baffling title, which should’ve, obviously, been “What’s the deal with Roger Deakins?”

 

Unless it's been highly publicized, I often need to see the credits in order to now Roger Deakins shot the film.

 

Wow.  :blink: I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

 

… a huge amount of light blowing in all windows, all the time like so many other cinematographers do.

 
Ha! I thought that was a must! Something like the opposite of double shadows: you just have to have lots of light going through windows! But look at that… :)

Edited by Alexandros Angelopoulos Apostolos, 13 June 2016 - 02:14 PM.

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#7 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 13 June 2016 - 02:39 PM

Wow, I have a lot of homework to do... The more I delve into his work, the more the pile of stuff to be seen or investigated grows. To bad that a lot of the things he photographed aren’t my kind of thing.


Umm, aren't your kind of thing?

He's shot in pretty much every genre, he's worked with some of the biggest directors, he's been nominated for 13 oscars and have won a myriad of other prizes for his achievement in the art of cinematography.

You can't get as front and center in the world of modern cinematography without mentioning Roger Deakins.

So yea, it's time to sit down and watch his movies. If all you did was watch the Coen Brothers one's, you'd most likely be entertained AND get a drift of how good he is.

Ha! I thought that was a must! Something like the opposite of double shadows: you just have to have lots of light going through windows! But look at that… :)


It's a lazy/cheap way to light a scene. It's not bad at all, in fact it's a good technique because it keeps the audience from peering out the windows. However, when you OVER use it like Kaminski does, it gets old fast. In my eyes, if the window is 6 stops over the actors exposure, it's a bit much.
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#8 Mitch Gross

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 11:17 PM

The beauty of what Deakins does is that it all looks so simple, so matter of fact.  But in reality there is a vast amount of careful consideration and detailed planning.  He doesn't just randomly go into a location, look at the natural lighting and then boost that.  He thinks about what he wants to say visually, finds a way to express it that can appear simple and invisible to the audience, and then carefully executes it without intruding in the director's or actors' work.  That takes an incredible amount of talent and skill to pull off.  

 

Anyone can emphasis a moment with a fast dolly in and a shaft of backlight.  Deakins does it with a simple closeup and soft light coming from just outside of the frame.  That is craft.


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