By: Cal Parsons
Roger Deakins is one of the most admired and distinguished cinematographers to have ever used a camera. His portfolio is a myriad of award-winning films such as Fargo, Shawshank Redemption, and No Country for Old Men. With such a plethora of great films, he has been nominated for 13 Oscars for his cinematography, and, yet, he still hasn’t won one. It’s safe to say that Deakins is the “Leo” of cinematographers.
In case a refresher is needed on what a cinematographer’s job is, a cinematographer (or director of photography, DP for short) is the leader of the camera crew on a film set. A DP is in charge of lights and camera operation, including lenses, filters, and other camera settings. The director of a film expresses what they want the shots to look like to the DP and the DP makes it happen. The cinematographer has one of the most important jobs on a film set, as they are in charge of making the movie look good, and some can do even more than just making a movie look pretty.
Roger Deakins is one of a select few cinematographers that can communicate pages of a screenplay into a single shot using framing, lighting, and angles. His skills can be seen across all of his films, dating all the way back to 1984, with the film 1984, directed by Michael Radford. In 1984, Deakins uses very dramatic lighting that exaggerates contrast in lights and darks, creating an ominous and gritty tone. And then, 7 years later, the Coen Brothers found him and hired him for their writer’s block film Barton Fink, and thus began a perfect director-cinematographer pair that continues to work together to this day.
Deakins and the Coen Brothers have worked together for many of the Coens’s films, including The Big Lebowski, True Grit, O Brother Where Art Thou?, and their most recent film in 2016, Hail, Caesar!. Their work together is discussed really well in this video highlighting how the Coens (and Deakins) make use of shot/reverse shot. Deakins uses specific camera lenses and angles when shooting actors’ close-ups, and, as the video shows, is an innovative way to exaggerate emotion and movement.
Deakins is a mastermind of cinematography. His ability to use existing light and artificial light to create beautiful imagery is mindblowing and makes for great film to look at. In his latest works, he has been outdoing himself on many occasions. His most recent DP work includes Skyfall and two of Denis Villeneuve’s films, Prisoners and Sicario. He is also the DP in Villeneuve’s upcoming sequel to Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, which I could not be more excited to see.
This shot of soldiers walking in the dunes during sunset is one of the more famous shots in Sicario, and perfectly encapsulates the mastery Deakins has acquired from his years with a camera. The silhouetted figures and the beautiful orange and blue backdrop is still talked about and brought up when Deakins’s name is heard. It’s truly a beautiful scene.
I’m not saying that Deakins needs an Oscar to be verified as a great cinematographer, but it’s crazy to me that after thirteen nominations, Deakins has walked away without a trophy, and without, what I would expect, to be a great acceptance speech about his career. But like I said, Oscar or not, he will always be known as one of the most accomplished and masterful cinematographers in film history.
Here’s his IMDb.