NFTS Grad Roger Deakins Delights New Students

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NFTS Grad Roger Deakins Delights New Students

Discusses Skyfall & working with the Coen Brothers

NFTS’ first year students were treated to a masterful keynote by multiple Oscar nominee and School alumnus, Roger Deakins on their first day as part of Springboard week.

Roger is well known for his work with the Coen Brothers on films such as FargoO Brother, Where art thou? and No Country for Old Men. He has worked frequently with Sam Mendes on the likes of JarheadRevolutionary Road and Skyfall. Roger has also just finished working with Denis Villeneuve on the highly anticipated new Bladerunner movie and has previously worked with the French-Canadian director on Sicario and Prisoners. Nominated for the Academy Award for Cinematography no fewer than thirteen times, Roger has won numerous major awards including Best Cinematography BAFTAs for No Country for Old Men, The Man who wasn’t There and True Grit. Besides the ASC & BSC awards he has received, he was awarded the ASC Lifetime Achievement award in 2011 and the BSC Lifetime Achievement award in 2015. He was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2013 Queen's Birthday Honours List for his services to Film.

Roger was accompanied on his visit to the NFTS by his wife and former script supervisor, James Ellis Deakins. James now works as a Digital Workflow Consultant on Roger’s films ensuring the digital work flow is meticulously adhered to. In addition to the keynote, Roger spent time separately with the Directing Fiction students and the Cinematography students, who were given a bespoke lighting masterclass where Roger showed them how to best light the current spaceship set on the NFTS mainstage. He then went for Pizza with them! According to James, Roger has huge affection for the School and wanted to invest this time to give something back. 

(Roger pictured with NFTS Cinematography MA students.)

Another way that Roger gives back can be found at his website, www.rogerdeakins.com. He is frequently on that website’s forum answering questions from the participants.

The keynote was hosted by NFTS Co-Head of Cinematography, Stuart Harris who asked Roger how he came to attend the School. “I left art college and a friend told me about the NFTS. I loved stills photography but thought documentaries could be a good option. I shot 15 films while I was here; I was constantly shooting; it was fantastic for me!”

On his career and working on features, Roger said: “I was lucky to get into features; I would’ve been happy staying with documentaries and shooting features didn’t seem like a possibility to me.”

The students were curious as to how Roger selects the films he works on: “The story is the primary reason for doing something. I want to connect to the material.”

Roger highlighted the importance of understanding the way the director works. “It’s important to judge what the director wants from you beforehand.” The Coen Brothers, for example, storyboard meticulously, which offers a perfect springboard for working out what their vision of the film is”.

Another key theme and learning point for the students was planning and preparation – Roger was keen to stress the importance of the prep period and emphasized the need of being involved in the whole process - choosing locations, set design. “Nothing is worse than turning up on the day of the shoot to find a set the design of which you weren’t involved in and having to figure out how to light and shoot it.”   

Clips from Coen Brothers film, The Man Who Wasn’t There; Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario and Sam Mendez’ Jarhead and Skyfall were used to illustrate certain techniques to the students. Roger let the clips play out and then replayed them without the sound and talked them through in detail.

Roger relayed how something as simple as putting white or silver paper under a lamp will increase the effect of the natural bounce. This was used in The Man Who Wasn’t There.

Jarhead, which Roger describes as “haunting and a really interesting psychological film about war” was “often off the cuff with no rehearsal. I had the camera on my shoulders and just shot. I loved going round people and exploring letting the audience see the world.” Roger used Jarhead to explain how as a cinematographer you need to assess the logistics and practicality of how to shoot certain scenes in advance. For example, one particular scene featuring a horse walking through the desolate landscape had to be shot on a stage whereas others were on location or on set.

The Shanghai apartment fight scene in Skyfall was discussed as it was shot on a stage and lit mainly by the practical LED advertisement screens out of the window. Because the set was composed of glass, it proved quite a challenge.

Roger then talked through how different techniques were used to create tension in Sicario, which was another film that was mostly done on the day with limited storyboarding. “So much of filmmaking is a jigsaw. It might be weeks apart from location to set but it needs to flow and feel like one piece.”

The students showed their appreciation by queueing up for photos with “the legend that is Roger Deakins” and thanking him for his “brilliant talk”. The masterclass was summed up perfectly by one student who simply tweeted after the event: “Amazing man, amazing Q&A.”

If you are inspired to apply for our Cinematography MA, why not sign up to one of our opendays? We have two coming up for Cinematography - more info here.