Roger Deakins in an interview for Variety:
In a recent visit to the offices of Variety, he quoted one of his heroes, the late Oscar-winning d.p. Conrad Hall, as a way of reflecting his own philosophy to the craft: “Connie Hall said it best: ‘I just wish I could film despair and get rid of all the artifice and actually get to the real meaning of it,’ ” Deakins says. “It’s not about pretty images and beautiful compositions, it’s about something that just feels right.”
He credits his background in documentaries with teaching him to think quickly on his feet, and taking a certain unfussy approach to his craft.
“The documentaries gave me two things really,” he says. “An experience of the world and a sixth sense about what’s about to happen and what’s important in the frame. I think that’s really key to what I do; it’s how you position yourself and the camera to interpret what’s in front of you. It also teaches you to work very quickly and very instinctively.”
Deakins doesn’t like to intellectualize about cinematography. He says he works “emotionally and spiritually.
“It’s never showy, it’s never going for the obvious,” Crudo says of Deakins’ work. “Roger has certainly had a million opportunities to place photography out front, to put it ahead of the story. But he never does that. And none of the great cameramen do. Yet (the work) absolutely has his stamp on it. I attribute this to his individual way of seeing. These things are as peculiar to an individual as their handwriting.”
While nobody exactly took Deakins under their wing as he was rising in the ranks, there are a few d.p.’s he looked up to, and still does. “There’s so many, mostly that I never knew,” he says. “I only met (French Nouvelle Vague master) Raoul Coutard once at the ASC.” He also mentions the Japanese d.p. Kazuo Miyagawa, known for his collaborations with Akira Kurosawa (“Rashoman”) and Kenji Mizoguchi (“Ugetsu”), and, of course, [d.p. Conrad] Hall, whom he idolized.
Maybe the closest thing to a mentor was fellow Brit Oswald Morris (“The Spy Who Came In From the Cold,” “Moby Dick”). “I used to get letters from Ossie telling me I shouldn’t operate,” recalls Deakins.
When asked if all these near-misses get under his skin, Deakins seems genuinely indifferent.
“It really doesn’t matter to me,” he says. “I feel very lucky. It’s what individual people think about your work. I still see myself as just starting out. And then you realize, ‘I’ve been doing this a long time.’ I’ve had a fantastic life already, and I’ve got plenty to come, I hope.”