Filmmakers all use the same tools, more or less, but do so with endlessly varied methods, says cinematographer Roger Deakins. That idea drove the master cinematographer, who won Academy Awards for Denis Villeneuve’s “Bladerunner 2049” and Sam Mendes’ “1917,” to launch with his wife James Deakins the buzzy behind-the-scenes podcast Team Deakins, a streaming chat show that has now hosted more than 60 film artists of all stripes.
Since April the couple have done their trademark free-ranging interviews with remarkable cinematographers to be sure, including Rachel Morrison and Anthony Dod Mantle, but DPs have no monopoly as guests. Writer/directors Joel Coen and Jason Hall, producer Jon Kilik, key grip Gary Hymns, actors Josh Brolin, Tim Robbins and Joel Edgerton, composer Thomas Newman, post supervisor Dave Diliberto and casting director Fiona Weir have all shared their inspirations and insights on Team Deakins – and the podcast shows no signs of slowing down.
Stephan Ukas-Bradley of camera maker Arri, the host of Team Deakins, spoke to Roger and James for the 28th EnergaCamerimage fest’s master class series, one of 10 presentations that will remain online through the end of 2020.
Although the podcast launch appears to have been a brilliant response to COVID-19 lockdowns last spring, the couple says the inspiration for the show pre-dates the pandemic. “We do a lot of Q&As and we do get asked the same questions over and over again,” said James. “So I thought if we did a podcast we could answer all those questions once and move forward.”
In that spirit, the power couple themselves are interviewed by several guests on subjects including a breakdown of scenes shot for “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and “No Country for Old Men.” But, they say, the idea of recording Q&As soon evolved into an exploration of what motivates so many in the film world to follow their dreams.
They are equally interested in what has shaped the careers of artists as they find their way into the movie business. Hand in hand with this idea was to explore how film professionals find the way of working that’s right for them, says the Deakins couple, in the process of collaboration.
“We felt it would be really important to talk to people we admired,” Roger said, “so we reached out to people like Alex Webb, a photographer I’ve always admired since I first saw his work.” The Magnum-repped street photographer, who has shot stills for the New York Times and National Geographic, is a refreshing guest on Team Deakins, repping the inspiring work of someone not involved in film production as he discusses the role of color and serendipity in creating great visuals.
“One thing about it I think is important is we always ask people how they got into the business,” Roger Deakins said. “You know, how they found film, how they came to find a role in it. And I find that’s really interesting for other people starting out. It’s so fascinating how everybody’s taken a different path. There is no one way of doing it.”
The couple also discusses their professional relationship as partners, in which James acts as liaison to Roger on set, fielding questions and issues from the rest of the crew so that her husband can focus on camera work. “Cinematography has gotten more complicated instead of more simple,” Roger said. “You’d figure it would have gotten simpler but if you wanted simple you’ve got to go back to film.”
Roger also emphasized the importance of how DPs and directors go about the process of communicating and realizing their vision for how a film should look. “It starts from the first conversation before you each agree that you’re going to team up.”
And in shooting, as in podcasts, planning is crucial, he said. “I like to have a lot of prep – even if it’s not consecutive. I like to be committed on a project for maybe months beforehand so that I’m available to go on early location scouting.”