Deakins’ early docu work has made him a dependable d.p. in taxing environments.
“Sam Mendes was concerned that I could do something off the cuff, that I could shoot with a handheld camera and have a lot of flexibility,” says Deakins. “What convinced him was my documentary background. When I first started off, I shot war-zone documentaries such as ‘Eretria: Behind the Lines.'”
On the final day of production, Deakins had to shoot the scene where Swoff (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) venture back to camp across the desert. In the background, there’s the beautiful sight of burning oil fields.
“There’s these glamorous sand dunes outside Yuma,” he says. “When I arrived there at 9 p.m., there were 40-50 mph winds bellowing. I thought, ‘We’re never going to get this shot.’ I had to gel these huge 12-by-12 lights, which we lit behind the dunes. The wind kept blowing them out. About an hour later, the wind settled, leaving an amazing look upon the sand.”
The overwhelming percentage of the “Kong” shoot took place on an exterior lot in Wellington, including a seven-acre New York backlot that touted a Time Square and five city blocks as well as parts of the Venture ship. The city is nicknamed “Windy Wellington,” because of the winds that blow in off the Pacific Ocean and through the Cook Strait.
“It took a lot of textiles to control the light, and in windy conditions that meant a lot of crane power and serious rigging,” says Lesnie. “A 20′-by-40′ grid cloth required two 70-ton or bigger cranes to support it. Sometimes we had sudden downdrafts that added up to four tons of extra weight to the rig. It was an exercise in safe deployment,” he adds.
Morocco stood in for Lebanon and Tehran. The United Arab Emirates played the role of Beirut as well. And Dubai was used for the rest of George Clooney and Matt Damon’s Middle Eastern dwellings. “The hardest thing about Dubai was shooting in 130 degree heat during Ramadan. You’re not suppose to eat or drink in front of the Muslim crew members. Also wearing shorts was a sign of disrespect,” says Elswit.