Collider Connected: Roger Deakins Talks ‘Jesse James’, ‘1917’, Coen Brothers, and More in 80-Minute Interview

     April 6, 2020

Roger Deakins is the greatest cinematographer who’s ever lived. That’s not hyperbole. That’s not recency bias. It’s a pretty inarguable fact. Throughout a career that ranges from the docudrama style of Fargo to the poetic imagery of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to the stunning future vision of Blade Runner 2049, Deakins has consistently proven to be a master with light and shadow, conjuring emotion and drilling down character beats with strikingly evocative imagery. His work is diverse but never derivative, distinct yet not repetitive. He’s been nominated for 14 Oscars and has won two, and it’s not exaggerating to say it was a literal career highlight to sit down and interview him for the second installment of Collider’s new live interview series Collider Connected.

Deakins and his collaborator and wife James Ellis Deakins were gracious enough to sit down with Collider for an extended, exclusive conversation about their working relationship and a few notable films from Deakins’ storied career. The conversation spanned 80 minutes in length, and I still didn’t have time to touch on all the topics and films I wanted to. That’s a testament to how consistently noteworthy Deakins’ work is.

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Image via Universal Pictures

Over the course of our wide-ranging conversation, Roger and James talked about how their collaboration first began, and how James’ duties include watching all the dailies and serving as a liaison between Roger and the VFX department, and working closely to oversee the Digital Intermediate. This is of particular note when we discussed the game-changing work on O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the post-production experience that James calls “a nightmare” in our interview.

Roger and James also discussed how they first came to be working in the film industry, and their thoughts on how the conversation surrounding the art of cinematography has changed—namely how they feel about those “Cinematography Explained” YouTube videos and the idea that cinematography can be broken down into a mathematical science. The conversation also inevitably arrives at shooting on film vs. digital, and how a film like 1917 could never have been made shooting on traditional film.

As for specific films, we touched deeply on Roger’s many collaborations with the Coen Brothers, including Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn’t There, The Hudsucker Proxy, and Fargo, and the way in which Roger and James work with the Coens. We also discussed the experience of making The Shawshank Redemption with little-to-no available light and the overwhelming love for that film that came about after its theatrical released. We talked about the challenging experience of making the masterpiece The Assassination of Jesse James and working with Brad Pitt, why Roger originally wasn’t interested in making Skyfall, Roger and James’ work consulting on animated film projects, and of course the many, many challenges that came with crafting 1917 to look as if it were made in one single shot.

It’s an understatement to say that this was a career highlight for me, and again I am still kind of in awe of how gracious Roger and James were with their time, and how wonderfully candid Roger was about his career thus far and his thoughts on the art of cinematography. To hear a master of his craft talk about film and cinematography for over an hour is a true gift.

So check out this extended interview with Roger Deakins and James Ellis Deakins below, and be sure to head over to rogerdeakins.com to stay up to date on all things Deakins-related. The DP’s latest Oscar-winning work, 1917, is currently available on Digital HD, Blu-ray, and DVD.

If you missed our inaugural installment of Colldier Connected with Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino, click here.

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