Cinematographers Aren't There To Shoot Amazing Images: An Interview With Roger Deakins

Cinematographers rarely reach celebrity status. Directors and actors get all that action. Roger Deakins is probably as close to a rock star as cinematographers get. If you don't know his name, don't worry, you certainly know some of his movies. Deakins has worked the camera and created the visual style for almost every single Coen brothers movie. That means Fargo, The Big Lewbowski, and No Country For Old Men are included. He's also worked his magic with James Bond on Skyfall, and some other little-known indie films like The Shawshank Redemption and A Beautiful Mind
Variety sat down with Roger for an interview as part of their "Artisans" series, where he discusses topics like the philosophy of his craft and how the way he goes about things tends to get him in trouble when treating movie stars like characters in a movie. The interview is built on talking about his most recent work, Sicario, a dark, moody, and gritty drug war thriller featuring Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, and Josh Brolin. He begins:

You know the thing about cinematography is you're not there to shoot amazing images because each film demands its own look and each situation demands its own look. But I don't want anybody while they're watching the film go 'Oh! that's an amazing image,' because suddenly they're not in the story.

He really dives into how his background in documentaries influences how he operates and how that is a huge benefit with today's modern style of action. Ultimately, it's a fantastic (and short) little discussion worth your time. I always love peeking inside the mind of a legend, even if only to scratch the surface.

UPDATE: Thanks to Fstopper Floyd Rock for correcting me and letting me know that Deakins did not come on board with the Coen brothers until 1991 with Barton Fink. The first few movies before that had Barry Sonnenfeld at the helm.

Log in or register to post comments

7 Comments

Pranam Gurung's picture

Love his work!

Dr. Dominik Muench's picture

Roger Deakins work is amazing, I don't think this guy ever shot an unpleasing frame in his entire career. Skyfall looked so god damn amazing it almost hurts to watch :)

Peter Timmer's picture

I've seen this movie yesterday in a Sneak preview.
Loved it! I gave it 10 stars at imdb.
The best movie i've seen this year.

The most important thing in a movie to me is the story after that the acting and then comes the cinematography, that doesn't mean cinematography isn't important because it is...

When there's a really tense scene going on, i don't want the cinematography to go all Michael Bay about it, i hate it when that happens in a movie. The viewer should feel the tension of the actors or story and not be distracted by dynamically moving frames. There should be a good balance between fast dynamic shooting and taking the time to make a shot and to convey the right mood to the viewer.

I think this movie did an excellent job telling the story, embracing good acting and great cinematography!

Sean Molin's picture

This is a perfect testament to the way he approaches films by crafting a look and feel based on its own merit and no preconceived ideas.

Deakins starting working with the Coens on Barton Fink. Barry Sonnenfeld was their DP on Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, and Miller's Crossing before he went on to direct Men in Black.

Sean Molin's picture

I was close, but certainly not quite. I'll fix my statement. Thank you!