Roman Osin worhips Westerns, seeing himself in the genre’s silent heroes. “That’s me, the cinematographer,” he says. “He rides into a project, shoots from the hip and hopefully survives long enough to ride out of town again, leaving it a ‘better’ place.”
With each project, the dreadlocked d.p. seeks out a new frontier, finding inspiration in locations as diverse as India (“The Warrior”), Bulgaria (“I Am David”), rural Texas (“The Return”) and Norway (“True North”). Osin’s wanderlust traces back to his upbringing. His mother was German, his father Nigerian. He spent time in both countries before landing in London, where he tries to avoid shooting. “I am so used to it that I do not ‘see’ it anymore,” he says.
Of Osin’s pics, “The Warrior” is most like a Western. The challenging shoot began in 115-degree desert heat and ended high in the snow-covered Himalayas, iconically reflecting the two extremes.
“I prefer a page of description any day to a page of dialogue,” says Osin. According to director Joe Wright, Osin’s modern style and “gentle way with light” helped “Pride & Prejudice” escape the talky, theatrical BBC style of other Jane Austen adaptations. “So much of the film was set in exteriors, and I wanted a sense of fresh daylight that Roman is so skilled at capturing,” says Wright.
Osin’s latest project, the fantastical “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” takes place almost entirely within the confines of a toy shop. “I didn’t want a movie that was dependent on CGI in order to be magical,” explains director Zach Helm. In one scene, Natalie Portman closes the door on a room full of hoops, switches the knob and steps through to an entirely different room packed with trains. Instead of cutting together several shots, Helm says, “Roman was able to figure out that we could do it in one.”
Favorite tool: “The weather! Sun, rain, snow, wind, light, dark, day, night — get it right or get lucky and you have magic on celluloid.”
Preferred film stock: In Holocaust pic “I Am David,” Osin shot concentration camp scenes on Fuji, then switched to Kodak after the character escaped. His preference? “It is like Bond driving a Jaguar one day and an Aston Martin the next,” he defers.
Inspiration: “Conrad Hall. He was uniquely brave in his approach at a time when the studio look was very prevalent.”
What’s next: On location now in Norway shooting his third feature with Asif Kapadia. “‘True North’ is an exercise in extremes,” he says. “It’ll be breathtaking and dangerous to watch, exciting and disturbing.”