Lauded cinematographer Roger Deakins hasn’t made any bones about his stance on the film versus digital debate, repeatedly explaining that he’s simply interested in getting the best shot with the best equipment — digital, film or otherwise. When he made the move to digital back in 2011, he told Slashfilm that he didn’t know if he’d ever go back to film, instead opting for the freedom that digital has allowed him with his packed schedule.
For this year’s "Sicario," his latest collaboration with director Denis Villeneuve (the duo first worked together on 2013’s "Prisoners," and they’re set to reunite for the long-gestating "Blade Runner" sequel), Deakins again turned to the possibilities of digital to shoot another stunning feature. This time, Deakins and Villeneuve take on the drug cartel war through the eyes of a by-the-book FBI agent (Emily Blunt) who finds her world (and worldview) turned upside down by a new assignment to take down a nefarious drug lord, one that’s led by lawmen who exist far outside the limits she’s long embraced.
At a luncheon held in the film’s honor late last week at Manhattan’s Four Seasons restaurant, Deakins, Villeneuve and Blunt participated in a wide-ranging half-hour chat moderated by film critic and journalist Joe Neumaier, and all three of them got honest about some of the challenges the compellingly dark film presented to them, while Deakins again spoke in frank terms about the film-versus-digital debate.
"It’s where you put the camera and what’s in front of you [that’s important]," Deakins said. "There’s too much obsession these days about digital film…it’s becoming so technically-orientated, and that’s just distracting from what’s actually being put in front of the lens."
Deakins continues to use both film and digital for his projects.
Although "Sciario" is filled with ambitious (and Deakins-branded beautiful) shots, there was one sequence that almost stumped the 12-time Oscar nominee. Fortunately, Villeneuve had a solution.
During the discussion, Deakins was asked about crafting a third-act scene that relies on night-vision googles (versus "fake moonlight") to lead viewers through a daring raid that partially involves a tunnel. "It was my big worry as I was trying to figure out how to light this scene," he said. "I said to Denis, ‘I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense to do moonlight.’ In a movie, it’s always such a cheat, isn’t it? But particularly here, because your main characters are wearing these night-vision systems. I was worried about this for weeks and weeks."
The director was able to assuage his cinematographer’s fears. "Denis just sort of said, ‘We’ll just play it from their point of view then.’ And I thought, that’s pretty bold," Deakins continued. "For me it was, because I’d been worrying about it, but he had the solution."
When asked what other challenges he faced when making the film, Deakins got more philosophical. "I always say, the biggest challenge on any film is to create a kind of continuity within it," he said. "Each scene has to work with the next, it all needs to feel like the same world. You’re telling the same story in each image. That’s really the challenge."
Villeneuve, however, was a bit more jocular about any kind of challenges that Deakins could possibly face during the course of shooting, film stock by damned. "Roger could shoot a movie with a shoe," he joked to the crowd, "and it would look great."