Five-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins is best known for his work with the Coen brothers. Much of that lensing is considered pioneering, particularly his role in the first complete digital intermediate performed on a feature for “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and his development of a unique approach to black-and-white imagery for “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” a film that earned him an American Society of Cinematographers honor from his peers in 2002.
He filmed “House of Sand and Fog” on the heels of the Coens’ “Intolerable Cruelty,” and calls the Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley starrer the polar opposite of the brothers’ salute to screwball comedy.
“Coming off ‘Intolerable Cruelty,’ which was a deliberately glossy and colorful piece,” Deakins says, “this film was a real contrast — much more realistic by nature. Lighting throughout was simpler and the camera style more direct and less considered in many ways.”
The visual use of fog as a constant element, and more generally, creating the film’s dark, somber backdrop were among Deakins’ key challenges. “The exterior location we used in Malibu (doubling for San Francisco) was visually good, but its large, open spaces, access problems and position were not ideal for an effects team, which had to create fog with consistency over night and day scenes,” he recalls. “We did get breaks, more than once, from the weather, though, as our major night work coincided with two Pacific storms, which brought the humidity up and helped our effects team, led by Richard Helmer, to create the look we wanted (using a misting system suspended from two construction cranes).
“Toward the later part of the film, the house itself becomes a darker place, and the contrast between the crystal light fixtures and the fog outside was an interesting visual to play with. I deliberately made the later suicide/death scenes rich and golden to contrast the event itself — I felt it would be more sad that way, and not just gruesome and nightmarish.”
Key tools: Arriflex 535B for ‘A’ camera and Moviecam SL for handheld work; new Cook lenses; Kodak 5274 and 5279 were the primary film stocks.
Aesthetic: “For this film, I felt it was important that the cinematography remain crystal clear and simple, to let it serve as a vehicle for the actors, given the nature of the story — it’s a character study and an actor’s piece.”
Challenge: “The most serious challenge was to create the feeling of fog as an ever-present element. We also had to make the house itself a character in the piece.”
Oscar pedigree: Nominated for “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994), “Fargo” (1996), “Kundun” (1997), “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000), “The Man Who Wasn’t There” (2001).