Roger Deakins is one of the most highly regarded cinematographers living today (which is probably why we like to talk about him here at NFS). He has photographed aesthetically breathtaking films such as The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, and No Country for Old Men (he has been nominated for 11 Oscars, but he has yet to win a single one), and has always been very open and willing to share the wisdom he has picked up throughout his almost 40-year career. In a very helpful, very inspiring BBC News article, Deakins shares his top 10 tips for young cinematographers, and we've chosen a few gems to share with you.
Get some life experience
Deakins states something later in the article that directly ties into this. He says, "I think it's important to develop as a person. You have to develop your way of being," which in reference to not copying other cinematographers. Going out there, getting some mileage under your feet will help you to (hopefully) learn more about yourself as a person and as an artist. In other words, personal experience, according to Deakins, is a better teacher than film school, a tutorial, or even a film (even his own).
I think it is more important to experience the world, really. You can't learn cinematography and you can't copy it. The job is just your way of looking at the world. Maybe that sounds a bit pretentious, but I think life experience is always more important than technical knowledge.
Understand the importance of lighting
Cinematographers are the painters of light, and the most skillful of them know where, when, and how to apply it in order to tell the story. There is, of course, the obvious task of making sure your subjects are lit and visible, but the challenge lies in making the light speak in ways that your characters cannot.
So, on the one hand, you need to light a space so you can see the actors - but, more than that, you are creating a mood, you are creating a world for those actors to inhabit and for the audience to get submersed in. Lighting is one of the most important aspects of any great film.
In this video from NPR, Deakins breaks down one of his favorite scenes in his film No Country for Old Men:
Keep up with new technology but remember the storytelling
This might be ironic (or a good reminder) since we're coming off of NAB, but it's true -- the core of filmmaking is storytelling. It's easy to fall in love with new cameras and gadgets, because they're exciting, they produce beautiful images, and make our lives a little bit easier, but we have to always remember that these things are just tools to be used to tell stories.
Technology is changing all the time, but for me nothing has changed in the sense that you are still telling stories by the use of light, the use of a frame, the way you move a camera. I'm still hoping to be part of telling stories about people and the way we are. So, to me, technology is important, but it's only in the background, it's a means to an end, it's like the paintbrush.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7hUUVSvCso
I think a lot of us understand that initial fear when you first get your hands on a camera and have to push record during a project. There's so much riding on your ability to not only capture a technically sound image (correctly focused, exposed, and framed), but to capture one that is emotionally engaging and original. Definitely learn from films, classes, tutorials, and experienced cinematographers, but don't forget just how important it is to your art and career for you to get out there and get to work.
For the full list of Roger Deakins' tips, be sure to check out the original BBC News post.
What do you think of Deakins' advice? Do any tips hit home for you? Do you have any wisdom to share with your fellow cinematographers? Let us know in the comments below.
Link: Top 10 Tips: Bond cinematographer Roger Deakins -- BBC News
April 28, 2014 at 6:19AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
April 29, 2014 at 12:23PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
Roger Deakins has written the foreword to Routledge's new 'The Film Handbook'
April 28, 2014 at 7:11AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
I cut my own hair. My hairdresser died when I was eleven. He was a really nice man and I didn't have anyone else, so I started cutting my own. I know it sounds silly, but I really don't like people fussing, frankly. It's only hair.
April 28, 2014 at 8:44AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
Love that scene and totally love that movie. Maybe my favorite of all time.
However, I've always been confused by that scene. When Tommy is about to go into the hotel room, Anton is inside hiding. But when Tommy enters and looks around, nobody is in there, even the bathroom window is locked. I'm probably just a simple minded bafoon, but I am confused by this scene. Can someone explain this for me?
April 28, 2014 at 9:49AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
I always thought he was in the next room down.
April 28, 2014 at 10:31AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
Anton wouldn't have been in the next room, because he's lit by the blown-off lock.
April 28, 2014 at 10:54AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
Maybe if we read the book we'd get this part. Anybody here read the book?
April 28, 2014 at 2:00PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
I always thought it was his imagination
April 29, 2014 at 1:09AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
He was in the opposite room. When he bought two rooms, he was in the other one. I believe
April 28, 2014 at 8:12PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
He's not lit by the blown-out lock, it just looks that way because of the light coming into his room through the curtains, to add to the suspense. He's in the room behind (opposite?) the one TLJ walks into.
April 28, 2014 at 11:28PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
I think it's a way to present the fight between Tommy and Anton, even they never met, the editing created the tension here which makes you feel they are really gonna encounter.
April 28, 2014 at 10:51AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
I think that Anton was sort of the expression of his fear...he imagined this scary guy in a room, but the scary guy isn't really there.
April 28, 2014 at 10:51AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
I thought that too.
In the scene before, the sheriff was being told about a murderer getting back to the crime scene after a few hours, like a ghost or something (i don't quite remember very well how was the story).
Although I also thought about the fact that Anton did not kill Llewellyn but went there anyway to check if the money was there, just at a different time.
April 28, 2014 at 11:03AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
Exactly... I think too many film makers live in the world of the concrete with a fixed physical world... It would help a lot of they learned to depict imagination, how to edit time jumps to make a chronologically interesting scene and simply try to think out of the box.
There are several good ideas about that Tommy vs Anton scene. My own thought is that Anton was long gone when Tommy arrived and both of them were very much on their toes projecting their fears as they go along.
So try to get out of that "what you see is what you get" mindset, it would really help a lot of movies.
April 29, 2014 at 3:41AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
He forgot the most important, shoot in 6K, how could he miss this one?
April 28, 2014 at 11:30AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
Wally Pfister is a hack compared to this genius.
April 28, 2014 at 2:08PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
Which is pertinent considering Pfister is mentioned nowhere at all in this article.
April 28, 2014 at 2:24PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
Doesn't mean it's not true.
April 29, 2014 at 5:40AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
But it doesn't really add to the conversation either. It'd like going to a Jazz concert to yell that you think Heavy Metal sucks. Sure, some people in that crowd will probably agree with you, but it didn't add anything to the concert.
April 29, 2014 at 6:49AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
lol HAS TO BE 6K
May 25, 2014 at 7:28AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
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April 29, 2014 at 6:19AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
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May 18, 2014 at 7:04PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
The words are so meaningful to me and its reflect myself. I m thankful for those tips.
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June 3, 2014 at 12:23PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
Remember story telling! Often we get caught up in what I refer to as "Polishing the turd". The production becomes a vehicle for flashy display and effects. It is always good to ground yourself and remember that in the majority of cases, good solid technique will win against over produced events. Time is the great teacher about what is ultimately successful and what resides on the boulevard of broken dreams.
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March 10, 2017 at 2:42PM, Edited March 10, 2:41PM