"Cinematography Is More Than A Camera" - This & 5 Other Gems Of Wisdom From Master Cinematographer Roger Deakins!

By Arun Fulara. Posted on March 30, 2016

We are huge fans of Roger Deakins, as all of you who've been following our blog for a while, will know. The master cinematographer is the man behind visuals of films like The Shawshank Redemption, Skyfall, The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men and more recently Sicario.

He is also one of the most accessible cinematographers. All you have to do is check his forum & ask your questions. Through the forum, he engages with fellow cinematographers and technicians in many insightful discussions, which we would recommend to every aspiring cinematographer & filmmaker out there. We've long been surfing through this forum & have distilled a few interesting pieces of advice that we've found to be very useful. For more such gems of filmmaking wisdom do check out the forum.

1. Cinematography Is More Than A Camera

"Cinematography is more than a camera, whether that camera is a Red an Alexa or a Bolex. There is a little more to it than resolution, colour depth, latitude, grain structure, lens aberration etc. etc. etc. The lenses used for Citizen Kane were in no way as good as a Primo or a Master Prime and the grain structure in that film is, frankly, all over the place. But the cinematography? Well, you tell me."

2. Cinematographers Involvement Is To Do With Your Relationship With The Director

"It is not the role of the cinematographer to be involved in the writing of the script but the visualization of that script. Obviously, that the 'visualization' of a script can mean more than a strict interpretation of words on a page. You give your comments and ideas, that is only natural, but your involvement is all to do with your relationship with the director."

3. Focusing In Digital

"A good AC will take a few reference measurements with a tape but judge focus on a take by eye. In my experience, it is becoming more common to shoot a 'rehearsal' as actors work in a much more 'fluid' way than they did traditionally. It's an approach that I am quite comfortable with as I work with a great focus puller and dolly grip. The problem with watching focus on a monitor is that you are often late unless you use the picture to judge where an actor is in the space rather than actually watching the focus plane."

4. Pick The Camera For The Job

"There is an obsession with technology that I don’t care for. You pick the camera for the job based on cost and many other factors. I think In This World or Slumdog Millionaire are good case studies in this regard."

5. Pulling Focus Is A Tough Job For The AC and The Operator

"The 1st AC’s job is one of the most responsible on the whole crew. I know I could never do it and I have great admiration for someone who does the job well. I have worked with the same 1st AC for many years and we are very much in sync. I do think judging focus is very much intuitive but it is also the job of the operator to watch for image sharpness and for the timing of a pull etc.

Sometimes, as when I am making up the shot or on a particularly tight close up, I will work on a fluid head and have one hand on the focus knob just as if I were shooting a documentary. When you are working fast and without real rehearsals, as is becoming the norm, there is little choice to do otherwise."


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