I don’t know about you but I have my Oscar speech ready. I practice it in the shower every morning using a bar of soap as my microphone.
It would be a thrill just to be nominated, let alone win. But imagine if your career soared to such great heights that you were nominated for an Academy Award FOURTEEN TIMES!
Now imagine you lost the first thirteen.
That’s what happened to master cinematographer Roger Deakins.
Some great Roger Deakins Lighting here.
How long did it take to get here?
Roger Deakins’ cinematography career spans almost five decades. Over that period of time he's become widely recognized as one of the most influential cinematographers in film history.
So let’s take a look at his work and see what lessons we can glean from his journey.
Watch: Roger Deakins Cinematography Style
1. Give each film a unique style
If you can take only one big thing away from Roger Deakin’s career, it’s that he gives every film he works on a different look and style.
There is no set Roger Deakins cinematography style.
It doesn’t matter what the tone or genre of the piece is, Roger Deakins makes sure that whatever he’s capturing reflects the desired intent of the movie's story.
File this under “Best cinematography tips.”
2. Use references for inspiration
When Roger Deakins went to work on Blade Runner 2049, he had the entire original 1982 film to pull from.
Yet Deakins wanted his work to stand alone, even while still existing in the same universe.
Roger Deakins Cinematography is real life.
Here’s a quote from Deakins’ interview with Deadline about the film:
“Although [Blade Runner 2049] carries on from the original film, I don’t think any of us were saying, ‘Well, it’s got to be like the original film,’” Deakins explains. “I was certainly never going to light it like the original film. I couldn’t if I wanted to.” — Roger Deakins
What did he emulate in particular?
Peckinpah's emphasis on reality.
And it tracks that a Roger Deakins movie tends to feel more grounded, no matter what the plot.
True Grit is a movie about one woman’s memory, so while certain parts of it feel fantastic, it maintains that signature grounded quality of Deakin's shooting style.
Roger Deakins didn’t come up with his style entirely on his own. He’s constantly learning. That’s how he became a master.
If you want to learn more Cinematography tips, we have thirty cinematography techniques for you to test out on your next project.
3. Roll with the punches
If you’ve spent any time on movie sets you know things usually go wrong at some point or another.
Take a peek at this interview with Roger Deakins from The Hollywood Reporter:
Deakins talks about spending time prepping to try and eliminate all those types of mistakes.
Prepping in this way can really become the most important step of any shoot. StudioBinder can help you streamline your shot lists like a pro.
Here's a cool example of how Deakin's and his team adjusted on the fly to things they saw happening on set.
When Deakins was shooting in a water tank toward the end of Blade Runner 2049 the heated water would hit the cold air as day turned into night and there was a beautiful steam that rose off the water.
Great Roger Deakins Lighting
Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins thought the steam added an amazing layer to the scene so they not only kept it in the movie, but waited an extra hour every day to shoot in order to ensure that sure they got an opportunity to use it.
This helps us transition into another one of his tips...
4. Keep an open mind
Roger Deakins spent the majority of his career shooting on film.
In a 2011 interview with SlashFilm, Deakins explained his new love of digital:
“This is the first film I’ve shot digitally, because, frankly, it’s the first camera I’ve worked with that I’ve felt gives me something I can’t get on film. Whether I’ll shoot on film again, I don’t know. [Shooting on Digital] gives me a lot more options. It’s got more latitude, it’s got better color rendition. It’s faster. I can immediately see what I’m recording. I can time that image on set with a color-calibrated monitor. That coloring goes through the whole system, so it’s tied with the meta-data of the image. So that goes through the whole post-production chain, so it’s not a case of being in a lab and having to sit and then time a shot on a shot-by-shot because this has already got a control on it that’s set the timing for the shot.” — Roger Deakins
Deakins has also since jumped back to shooting film, with Hail Caesar!
His flexibility to work within both mediums is admirable. He shot Blade Runner 2049 on digital. Same with Prisoners.
His consistency attention to detail and focus on story is more important than the media he's working with.
5. Operate the camera
In a recent interview with Arri, Roger Deakins talks about wanting to be behind the camera at all times. He prefers to operate the camera so he can leave himself open to changing the frame in real time.
Whether it’s pushing in for an extreme close-up in Jarhead...
Perfect example of Roger Deakins Cinematography
Or pulling back to make sure you get the foreboding shadow of the Japanese soldiers about to capture these American castaways in the movie Unbroken.
As a Cinematographer, Deakins like to remain at the helm.
Roger Deakins, Cinematography pro.
6. Keep conversations intimate
The scale of modern cinema has gotten so large that it’s hard to remember there are key human elements to shooting a conversation scene.
We talked earlier about Roger Deakins’ focus on reality.
Well shooting conversations is just like shooting an action scenes for him.
The emphasis is always personal.
Roger Deakins wants his audience to feel one thing.
Films are essentially empathy machines and Deakins wants even the most mundane dialogue scene to consume us with a sense of character and place.
Don’t believe me?Look at this scene from No Country For Old Men.
There’s an underlying tension in this dialogue scene that’s simply terrifying.
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