Roger Deakins is a little bummed with Hollywood at the moment. The two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer took some time during his quarantine to hop on video chat with Collider for a nearly 90-minute interview in which he looked back at his illustrious career, from “The Shawshank Redemption” to “Fargo,” “Blade Runner 2049,” and “1917,” among other projects. Deakins shared a bit of Hollywood criticism when he said, “Movies have become more about the aesthetic than the story and the content and what the film is trying to say. I find that pretty disappointing and pretty depressing.”
One reason for Hollywood’s downward trajectory that Deakins alluded to during the interview was the lack of a cohesive voice in major Hollywood tentpoles. Studios often rely on second units to pick up the filming of various scenes. Marvel Studios is notorious for working this way. One reason the MCU has lured new indie talent behind the camera is because the studio has second unit teams working on the action scenes. Deakins and his wife and longtime filmmaking collaborator James Ellis Deakins refuse to work that way.
James Ellis remembered how during pre-production on “Blade Runner 2049” the line producer expected the duo to need up to nine camera units to film Denis Villeneuve’s science-fiction sequel. When you hire Roger Deakins, you’re hiring Deakins and Deakins alone. “We kept saying no, no, we don’t need that. And the line producer didn’t believe us,” James Ellis said. “The same thing with ‘Skyfall.’ They said, ‘Don’t you need five or six cameras?’ I know they didn’t believe we could do it with one camera.”
“It’s always like that,” Roger Deakins added. “They say, we need a list of the four or five camera crews you want because we have to get all these shots. I said, what four or five? No! I thought that was strange to ask that on ‘Blade Runner’ as we worked with Denis before, quite successfully I felt. But it’s always like that with production. The bigger movies, if someone says, ‘Oh, we’ll put six cameras on it and get the scene.’ No thanks.”
Deakins said it’s “sloppy” to make movies by relying on various camera units and he said he filmed “Blade Runner 2049” predominantly with one camera. A time Deakins made an exception to his second unit rule was during the production of “Skyfall.” A second unit camera team traveled to Turkey without Deakins to shoot footage, but Deakins only allowed it because he was able to heavily storyboard the shots he wanted along with director Sam Mendes. The second unit team went out to film with strict instructions from Deakins, who mapped out the filming he wanted. As Deakins said, “It wasn’t just a second unit going out and doing their own thing.”
Deakins won the Oscar for Best Cinematography this year thanks to his work on Mendes’ war thriller “1917.” The trophy was Deakins’ second Academy Award after “Blade Runner 2049.” Deakins is not attached to any future projects at this time. Watch his video interview with Collider in the embed below.