November 16, 2015

Cinematographer Roger Deakins: If the Audience Doesn't Notice, You've Done Your Job

In this great DP/30 interview from David Poland, cinematographer Roger Deakins talks Sicario, when a DP has done their job, working with different directors, and whether 70mm makes sense if the general public won't see it projected that way:

As Deakins says in the interview above, the average person doesn't recognize that they aren't at a real border crossing in Sicario (the border crossing is in a parking lot and the rest was accomplished digitally). When asked by Poland, Deakins agreed that this means the filmmakers have done their job, when a shot is sold and the audience doesn't notice. If you want to see exactly what they are talking about, this BTS footage gives you a look at the set the Sicario team created:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzPSt--NsP4

As for Taratino and the showings of The Hateful Eight in 70mm, Deakins makes a great point. While Deakins likes film, he sees it as just another tool, and if you are going to make a film in a format that only a handful of people will see, who are you really making the film for, a selected audience or the general public? Watching 70mm in its native format is really something else, but not many are going to be able to see it this way. There is certainly an argument to be made that 70mm converted to digital will still give you a look you're not going to get digitally. That's likely what the Coen's are thinking, and why they and Deakins went back to film for Hail, Caesar!, a film that takes place in the 1950s. 

Personally I like that Tarantino is trying to keep the format alive, but as the number of working projectors eventually disappears, will it be worth it when you're only showing the original format in only a few theaters?

Always great food for thought from Mr. Deakins. What do you think about Tarantino and the few theaters that will be showing 70mm?     

Your Comment

11 Comments

I think there is room for visual expressionism in cinematography as well. Deakins' work tends to feel gritty, maybe even a bit a bit drab, and tends to lack a sense of childlike wonder and magic. There is a place for the deliberately beautiful, even for the visually distracting. Look at Disney's recent Cinderella. How would Deakins have shot it? Or Suspiria (or anything Dario directed). I don't think I would have personally very much liked the results.

The "real" style only works for very serious, very earnest stories, which to my knowledge constitutes 100% of what he has worked on. That's great and all, real academy award stuff, but none of it is the kind of thing that inspired me to want to work in film, and that's not all film is, nor is it all film should be.

Sometimes we want a vaguely surreal, beautiful visual spectacle.

November 17, 2015 at 1:53AM

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Robert Ruffo
Director/DP
354

2014 How to Train Your Dragon 2
2012 Rise of the Guardians
2011 Puss in Boots
2011 Rango
2010 How to Train Your Dragon
2008 WALL·E

Deakins played a large role as a visual consultant for all these films. Check this article out. It talks about how he struck the balance you are talking about.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-hill/roger-deakins_b_3268900.html

The reason Deakins has established himself and been so successful is because he has the ability to adapt to so many different forms of cinema and still create a stunning but immersive image.

November 17, 2015 at 3:03PM

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Mack Calistan
Cinematographer
282

Fair enough - but these were not in lien with his stated philosophy. Also, WALL-E was mostly CGI as was How to Train Your Dragon II. The films he refers to when he talks about when he mentions this theory of approach are nothing like this.

@ Mack Yes you are right. But a career of being invisibly adaptive is simply not my idea of dream job, and although I make a lot less $$$ than he does, and am basically unknown to the world outside my clients, I'd rather have my comparatively mega-humble career than one where I have no particular, personal vision going in. Many would disagree with me, or say it's just because I have a big ego, and that is fair enough too.

November 17, 2015 at 5:51PM, Edited November 17, 5:57PM

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Robert Ruffo
Director/DP
354

Maybe you're overcomplicating his approach? The motive behind Deakin's philosophy is story. That's his drive - telling great stories, and doing whatever is necessary to do so properly. Having an approach, style, etc. before each project runs the risk of adapting the story to serve style, vs. adapting style to serve story. Who cares about one's own vision if it's not going to do the story any particular good?

November 18, 2015 at 9:34AM

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Steven Bailey
Writer/Director/Composer
1240

I think you hit the nail on the head Steven. Style can only be justified and should always be dictated by story. Your job as a DP is to help mould the Director's vision into something that supports the story without your visuals subtracting from the overall immersion of the piece.

Robert I would implore you to maybe look into Deakins' process. I think you will find that he always has a personal vision going into the film e.g. going back to 35mm on "Hail, Caesar!" for aesthetic reasons as well as the nostalgic feel he wanted to bring to the film.

I think each cinematographer inherently has their own style but what sets successful cinematographers apart is who has the ability to adapt to each individual piece of work while still creating something with substance that accompanies the film instead of drowning it.

November 18, 2015 at 3:44PM, Edited November 18, 3:44PM

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Mack Calistan
Cinematographer
282

I disagree about Deakins' style being drab. Certainly it can be, but he's not a one-trick pony by any stretch of the imagination. I've thought his work on movies like The Big Lebowski, The Hudsucker Proxy and the forthcoming Hail Caesar seem to have a a very rich color palette, very clear cinematography.. all to the point that it's a bit surreal. Very rich, but not what I would consider real world, and that's ok. I think those capture the idea that you're in a Coen brothers movie, and it's all a bit ridiculous and fun. But it's anything but drab. I think he did their forthcoming Hail Caesar film as well, and it has that same tone to it, and I love it.

January 16, 2016 at 3:05PM

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"when the audience doesn't notice"....hmmm idk, deakins is amazing but i wouldnt really say his cinematography is so invisible....i think he's speaking theoretically here more than anything, it's something that all cinematographers say. for invisible cinematography see: max ophuls, robby mueller....

November 17, 2015 at 5:34PM

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When the audience doesn't notice they are being fooled, that is.
And when the cinematography doesn't remind them that it is only a movie...

November 17, 2015 at 5:44PM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9668

I'm not sure expressionistic cinematography always does that. Look at Metropolis or the Cabinet of Doctor Caligary, or Amelie Poulain, or Delicatessen. We get used to their highly expressionistic worlds, and they become part of the story, not a contradiction of it. But no one walks away saying they didn't notice the visual approach.

November 17, 2015 at 5:55PM, Edited November 17, 5:56PM

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Robert Ruffo
Director/DP
354

yea duh bro

November 19, 2015 at 5:14PM

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I'm an amateur still photographer, which means I have some frame of reference. The Film vs. Digital debate is an interesting one, and most of my favorite looking movies are all shot on film. It's hard to say if that's the x factor that makes it stand apart or not.. but I think it is. I'm on board the argument for film.. but what I don't get up in arms about is digital projection, per se.. When the Dark Knight Rises came to my local IMAX dome theater, I was there to take the big image in, in all it's glory. I did it multiple times for TDK. Thought it was great.. but then I went for a repeat viewing of TDKR at AMC with digital projection (an option I didn't have with TDK), and found the experience much better. The image was crisper, brighter and clearer. Not as big, but I could see what was happening better in dark scenes. To me, there is a clear advantage to digital projection over conventional film projection. So, how the image is natively captured, and then transferred is what's key. I want to continue to see movies captured on film, but transferred at high resolution and projected digitally is just fine with me.

January 2, 2016 at 3:09PM

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