Roger Deakins’ “Team Deakins” podcast continues to be a must-listen event for cinephiles. Following last week’s interview with Denis Villeneuve, the latest guest to appear on the podcast is Deakins’ fellow cinematographer Greig Fraser. An Oscar nominee for “Lion,” Fraser has two massive Warner Bros. projects in the pipeline as the cinematographer of both Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” and Matt Reeves’ “The Batman.” Fraser avoided revealing details about these new films outside of calling it “a blessing” to work with Villeneuve, which is something Deakins knows quite well as the cinematographer on “Prisoners,” “Sicario,” and “Blade Runner 2049.”
One of the more fascinating parts of the conversation is when Fraser asks Deakins what the worst part about being a cinematographer is. “The worst thing is saying yes to a film I knew I shouldn’t have done,” Deakins answered. “I knew I shouldn’t have done a film but I was maybe persuaded by an agent or something like that, and then five weeks later I’m quitting or being fired. Not trusting my gut. Taking a decision based on analysis and not an emotional reaction to the job.”
Deakins wouldn’t list any films by name, but the two cinematographers were eager to name the most beautiful films they shot that many moviegoers never saw. For Fraser, one such film is Garth Davis’ religious drama “Mary Magdalene.” The film starred Rooney Mara in the title role opposite Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus.
“Some of the films I’ve been most happy with have been the films that don’t see a lot of traction,” Fraser said. “For me, ‘Mary Magdalene’ is the most beautiful film I’ve shot with the performances and the script and the actors and ensemble. But not one saw it. Maybe it’s not the best film I’ve shot, but [I think so].”
“Mary Magdalene” was a box office flop at the U.S. box office with a gross of just $124,751. The movie was supposed to be released by The Weinstein Company but was sold to IFC Films, which opened the film in spring 2019. The project was a reunion between Fraser and director Garth Davis after their work together on “Lion,” which earned Fraser his first Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography.
“It’s a bit of a letdown when you’ve spent so much time on something and then it’s either buried or the audience doesn’t relate to it,” Deakins added. “I feel that way with ‘Kundun.’ It was one of the best experiences of my life, for a lot of different reasons. Not just the challenge of the filmmaking, but the people involved and the crew and the Tibetans. It was just a wonderful experience. And the film was basically buried, frankly. It was really disheartening.”
“Kundun” is a Deakins collaboration with Martin Scorsese. While the film earned Deakins an Oscar nomination, the Disney release flopped with a worldwide gross of $5.7 million on a production budget near the $30 million mark. The movie was mostly buried by Disney after China threatened to block its release and end its future relationship with the company.
Listen to Fraser’s full interview on the “Team Deakins” podcast here.