Roger Deakins on Finding the Essence of a Scene & Why He Only Uses One LUT

Roger Deakins needs no introduction around these parts. He is, after all, one of the most prolific and talented cinematographers to ever grace the medium of film. At the Cannes Film Festival last month – where Deakins' latest film Sicario was premiering – a representative from ARRI caught up with him. Needless to say, some delectable cinematography wisdom was imparted:

And here's the trailer for Sicario, which is the latest in a series of awesome collaborations between Deakins and director Dennis Villeneuve.

First and foremost is how Deakins approaches preparation for any given scene. He says that one of the things he's learned from collaborating with the Coen brothers over many years is that storyboarding is crucial, not necessarily because you're planning the exact shots that you will eventually capture, but because the process forces you to find the "essence of the scene." He'll meticulously storyboard everything with a director, but oftentimes that material will go out the window as soon as they arrive on set and start shooting. However, what he learned about the story and characters during the storyboarding process helps inform all of those spontaneous changes made on set.

Another interesting takeaway from this interview is Deakins' philosophy towards LUTs. While LUTs are without a doubt an instrumental tool in the digital age, as most everybody is shooting some flavor of log (and monitoring log footage is really a drag), it might surprise many people that Deakins has been using the same LUT for most of his digitally-shot films of late. He makes slight adjustments in contrast and saturation depending on the aesthetic of the film, but when it comes to crafting looks on set, he opts to do it through lighting adjustments.

I think what he's getting at here is actually really important. LUTs have become a major part of modern on-set and post production workflows, but many people rely on them to determine how their film is eventually going to look when all is said and done. If you're not satisfied with the images that you're seeing on set, manipulating the LUT can seem like an easy choice, but strengthening the lighting may end up being the best thing you could do.     

Your Comment

18 Comments

That makes sense. It is hard to light if a lut changes all the time. Working with one lut gives predictability to the final result. Once the DP knows how the lights are maped in the image there is less need to check the reference grade monitor upon every adjustment. I always work with some flavour of 1d rec709 LUT (or gamma preset for Red) for preview and then let a post house remap the log image to some other LUT or color space.

June 13, 2015 at 12:48PM

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Einar Gabbassoff
D&CD at Frame One Studio
1333

Storyboarding with a crew is much more important than just getting the right LUT.
The LUT is the last thing R.D. cares about when creating his masterpieces.

June 13, 2015 at 12:52PM, Edited June 13, 12:53PM

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Einar Gabbassoff
D&CD at Frame One Studio
1333

I agree. People forget that the lighting, the colors created by set and costume designers, and the framing is much more important for a cinematographer than what brand of camera or lens, or which LUT.

June 16, 2015 at 8:37PM

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Basically, he has found his IDT and RRT and ODT. That's all you need.

June 13, 2015 at 3:41PM

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Harry Pray IV
Director of Photography/Lighting Technician/Colorist
439

June 13, 2015 at 4:34PM

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BEN GROSSMANN
VFX SUPERVISOR
86

Yep, pretty much accepted he will shoot Bladerunner 2 on the Arri. I would love consistency between the two films, but I'm just glad a man of his talents is onboard. Remember the downshift of quality from Phantom Menace on 35mm to Attack of the Clones the first Digital only film?

June 13, 2015 at 7:20PM, Edited June 13, 7:20PM

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Zachariel Shanahan
Writer/Director
1192

Yeah, if only digital technology had advanced any in the past 10 years, it's really a shame...

June 15, 2015 at 7:53AM, Edited June 15, 7:53AM

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One LUT, just like shooting film. Simple, elegant and it works.
Get it in camera, not in post.

June 13, 2015 at 7:52PM

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I've been meaning to develop a lut and Deakins saying this just validates that I really should over the next week.

June 14, 2015 at 10:04AM

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Fahnon Bennett
Director/DP
156

what a pile of reeking pile of smelly stuff. He lacks ba_lls at this stage. you adapt to your shooting situation. I do switch camera profiles depending on daylight, nite ext, nite, int, ect. Your goal is to maximize gradation of capture at the time of the shoot so you do have options in post. Don't get me wrong, I'm ALL about getting it right in camera including use of diffusion, ND's ect to get the best possible image. What he is doing is basically slapping ISO 500 onto everything and sorting it out later.

I don't know why he is held in such "esteem" because there are plenty of other DP's who have done as good, or in reality better than he has done. I'm tired of the legacy BS. be judged on your last project or 2.

June 14, 2015 at 9:35PM

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Steve Oakley
DP • Audio Mixer • Colorist • VFX Artist
455

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHA

June 15, 2015 at 7:17AM, Edited June 15, 7:18AM

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Seth Evans
Editor
396

I'm sorry to come out a bit negative, but that's not how you should shoot film..

Every time you change a profile, you change the colour science (including sat, contrast, balance, etc) so each scene looks totally different colour-wise. And the reason you should stick to one ISO, if you can, is so that the sensor noise is consistent across the scenes and not jump around from shot to shot...

Like it or not, Deakins does know what he's talking about.

June 15, 2015 at 7:29AM, Edited June 15, 7:29AM

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PJ Palomaki
Cinematographer | Motion Graphics
405

Deakins knows what he's talking about for how Deakins shoots. He is one of, if not, the biggest names in cinematography. He can take the time to massage lights into the right place because he has the time and budget.

Nearly every DP I've ever worked for would prefer to do this, but when you get into the lower budgets and even TV you simply don't have the same resources. At that point being able to change LUTS or having a DIT that you trust to be able to manipulate the image as needed becomes paramount. That's the great thing about these articles that people forget. Deakins is saying why he does what he does but that doesn't mean that we should all do exactly the same thing.

June 15, 2015 at 7:58AM, Edited June 15, 7:58AM

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Steve Oakley is my favourite cinematographer of all time. OF ALL TIME!!

June 15, 2015 at 7:51PM

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Isaac Elliott
Director - Producer
671

and my favourite audio mixer, colorist, VFX artist, editor, plumber, gardener, cook, make-up artist, hair dresser...

August 27, 2015 at 3:11AM

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Thomas Bazin
Assistant Camera
176

Ahahaha, well his last projects were "Unbroken", "Prisoners", and "Skyfall". All beautifully shot.
Just looked at your reel: https://youtu.be/__b-2WoACUE
Some cool stuff and some really bad stuff. What makes Deakins amazing is his ability to have the cinematography be an asset to the story. Not a hindrance which you can really see in your reel(you have a an "oh, look at me" type of feel). So stop trolling and get over yourself. If you were really that good you would be working at the highest level.

August 27, 2015 at 10:09AM

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Tony
404

hmmm...before I knew who Deakins was, and even before I got into filming, I found myself really drawn to his movies and cinematography. (again, this is before I even knew he was the DP, or what a DP was.)

So, for me, he objectively has risen to the highest ranks of excellence. The same thing happened for my appreciation of Andy Wallace behind the mixing board in the 90s and early 2000s.

Years later, I've grown to understand fanboyism and legacy over-hype, industry standing, etc. But, objectively, for me, Roger is who I keep coming back to for inspiration. I'm glad for his contribution and have learn so much from him.

May 31, 2019 at 11:37AM, Edited May 31, 11:37AM

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This interviewer was awful. Clearly misses Deakins opening point and the one he's always trying to drum into film makers, story is most important. Instead they ask if he uses master primes, a closed and boring question.

June 17, 2015 at 4:36AM

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