Eye on the Oscars 2013: The Cinematographer

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With 10 Academy Award nominations and no wins so far, British d.p. Roger Deakins is closing in on the late George Folsey’s record as Oscar’s ultimate cinematography bridesmaid, with 13 noms.

If it’s an issue with Deakins, you’d never know it. His peers know that he’s also set the bar for excellence in cinematography enviably high, which allows him the luxury to pass on a project if it doesn’t match his demanding sensibilities.

“I never thought I’d ever do a Bond movie,” he admits about his work on “Skyfall,” “as it’s not a genre that I’m really into.”

It was only when director Sam Mendes (for whom he’d shot “Revolutionary Road” and “Jarhead”) approached Deakins and discussed his vision “for giving this old franchise a fresh look and feel” that the d.p. reconsidered.

“Then we had a reading where (screenwriter) John Logan talked the script through, and I thought, ‘What a fantastic opportunity to try something different, and I love working with Sam, so let’s go for it,'” he recalls.

Deakins also felt it was time for him to shoot something “with a bigger, more ambitious canvas that was a bit of fun too, and ‘Skyfall’ has it all — exotic international locations, fantastic set pieces and action sequences, and a lot of emotional depth too.”

For Deakins, the biggest challenge was “the same as usual — giving all the disparate parts a coherent look and feel, so you feel that every scene belongs to the same movie and story arc. But a Bond film is so big and complicated — 130 days shooting in places like China, Turkey and Scotland, and you’re shooting in such a disparate way, that it’s even more difficult to keep hold of that thread. But we had a lot of prep time where Sam and I talked through the script, detail by detail, and scouted locations. By the time we started, we were very organized.”

The d.p. shot with the Alexa, “because we needed a camera that could deal with a lot of low light and retain color saturation,” he explains. “I wanted the colors to be strong, even though we also accented the gray, wintry feel of London in many scenes.”

The glittery neon backdrop of Shanghai in particular gave Deakins “a great visual comparison” with Bond’s familiar home world of London.

“I hadn’t done anything like it before,” he says of the complex high-rise assassination sequence, “but I knew how I wanted it to look — with all these multiple reflections and these huge neon advertising signs, all shot at night. So even if you’ve never done it technically before, you dream it in your head but then making it a reality can be quite daunting.”

Eye on the Oscars 2013: The Cinematographer
Cinematographers in tight race
Roger Deakin | Janusz Kaminski | Seamus McGarvey | Claudio Miranda | Robert Richardson

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