Oscar-Nominated Roger Deakins on One of the Best Ways to Learn How to Be a Cinematographer

Matthew Heineman and Roger Deakins Vice Mexican Drug War
Matthew Heineman and Roger Deakins share a number of things in common. 

They've both shot documentaries, and they've both been nominated for Academy Awards this year for films related to the drug war along the US/Mexican border — Deakins for shooting Sicario (his 13th for cinematography) and Heineman for his documentary Cartel Land (which he shot and directed). In this great Vice talk, the two gush about each other's movies, the difficulties of shooting in certain parts of Mexico, and the best way they try to achieve realism in their work (the Deakins advice for learning to be a cinematographer is about 4 minutes in, with the full quote below):

As Roger Deakins explains in the video, he started his career in documentaries, and it's fascinating to wonder what he might be making if he was still shooting them today. As for advice, Deakins thinks documentaries are a fantastic way to learn how to be a director of photography:

I used to do documentaries for television. When people ask me how do you learn how to be a cinematographer, I think that's probably the best way you can. Even on a feature film, you're reacting to something that's in front of you, so shooting documentaries you learn that speed. 

The line between narrative and documentary cinematography has blurred even more in recent years, and so many of the same skills are required for both. Learning how to be fast is an important skill for a cinematographer, and as Deakins says, you can learn that by shooting docs, since there isn't much time to react to the story unfolding in front of you.

Cartel Land

As for Matthew Heineman, we talked with him during Sundance 2015 about Cartel Land, and some of the crazy things he encountered while shooting the film. Here's that interview:

Heineman: We had a security firm that was following us with a tracking beacon in case we got kidnapped; we wore bulletproof vests. Everyday when we got up in the morning, we'd have a series of different journalists that we'd call to triangulate where we were so they knew what roads we'd be driving on. Then obviously, you gain an on-the-ground sense of the danger and how to avoid it. We'd always have a certain getaway car in case we had to leave quickly. Again, I had no idea the situation I would find myself in: shootouts, meth labs, things that I never could've predicted.

If you haven't seen it, check out the trailer for the film:


And here's the trailer for Sicario along with an interesting interview from Deakins:

Good luck to both filmmakers tomorrow!     

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Your Comment


For every interview with Deakins I see, the more I get convinced that he's probably the nicest and most down-to-earth person on the planet

February 27, 2016 at 9:27AM, Edited February 27, 9:27AM

Oscar Stegland

On his website I asked him about his theory for a scene in The Village and he replied to me in less than 24 hours. The guy is so giving.

February 27, 2016 at 7:42PM


Does anyone know the name of the security firm Heineman refers to that tracked him? Going into some questionable places soon and would love to contact that company.

February 29, 2016 at 8:54AM, Edited February 29, 8:54AM



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