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M&C Interview: 'No Country for Old Men' cinematographer Roger Deakins

By April MacIntyre Mar 2, 2008, 0:45 GMT

M&C Interview: 'No Country for Old Men' cinematographer Roger Deakins

Based on the Novel by Cormac McCarthy. No Country for Old Men is a noir thriller set in West Texas, telling the blood-soaked tale of a man on the run with a suitcase full of money being pursued by a number of individuals. ...more

Joel and Ethan Coen's multiple Oscar winning film is an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel is set in 1980 in West Texas, where purloined drug money sets in motion the action of the film.

The Coen brothers share writing and directing credits that have Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbling on a suitcase containing $2 million dollars at the site of drug deal gone bad. Fleeing with the money and a guilty conscience, he is hunted down by hired gun Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a cold-blooded killer hell-bent on retrieving the cash.

As Moss scrambles to hang on to the money and his life, small-town sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) closes in on both men in a cat-and-mouse game that is unrelenting until final credits roll.

No Country for Old Men not only is chockablock full of incredible performances by Jones, Bardem and Brolin – but also behind-the-scenes as well.

Award winning cinematographer Roger Deakins was nominated for two Oscars for cinematography for the 80th Academy Awards, one for setting the mood for the Coen brother's art in perfect frames and light, and the other film he was up for was "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."

Deakins, 58, has made his stamp as a master of his craft.  He is probably best known as the longtime director of photography for the Coen brothers. He's shot all nine of their movies since 1991's "Barton Fink."

He grew up in the seaside south of England, and began as a still photographer before going to film school.  Along with his extensive work with the Coen brothers, Deakins has lensed "A Beautiful Mind," "Sid and Nancy", "White Mischief", "House of Sand and Fog" and "Jarhead among many films," and he has received previous Oscar nominations for "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", "Fargo", "The Man Who Wasn't There," "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Kundun."

Monsters and Critics was fortunate to have a chat with Roger Deakins on Friday.

M&C: What was it like being up for two nominations for two great films this year?

Deakins: How would you feel? Feels lucky!

M&C: No Country for Old Men featured a trio of exceptional performances, will you go on record with which one was your favorite and why?

Deakins: I have no favorite but I would say that Tommy Lee's performance centers the film. He gives a fine understated but deeply felt performance.

M&C: (Cinematographer) Gordon Willis told me once that you were on his very short list of favorite DP's, who are some of your peers you admire greatly?

Deakins: Well, I am very flattered. Of course, the feeling is mutual. Conrad Hall (who is credited with calling Gordon Willis 'the prince of darkness') was always my idol and I was glad to know him as a friend. I also admire Ossie Morris, Haskell Wexler and Owen Roizman as individuals and as Cinematographers.

M&C: What was it (what piece of film) that captured Joel and Ethan Coen's attention to hire you initially?

Deakins: I have no idea!I never asked them. I am just glad something did.

M&C: You are from a very verdant southern part of England, and this movie "No Country for old Men" was shot in desolate parts of New Mexico and Texas.  Where is the most interesting place (location) you have ever worked in?

Deakins: Yes, you could call Devon verdant; I would just call it wet! I tend to like dry places so, for me; the most interesting would be the Southern Sudan. I was shooting a documentary about the Nuba tribes in Kordufan province which was then, 1982, about as remote a place you can get.

M&C: What has been your career staple gear, lenses, camera, film stock, and new gadgets you are implementing in your arsenal?

Deakins: I have worked a lot with a remote camera head and a small jib arm since needing such a system to do a shot on 'Barton Fink' which goes from under the bed, into the bathroom, into the sink and down the plug-hole. Otherwise the equipment I use now is just an updated version of what I have always used; Arriflex cameras and Zeiss prime lenses.

I used an Agfa emulsion for films like 'White Mischief' and 'Mountains of the Moon' but that was discontinued so I now use Kodak stock for the most part.

The big change in the way I work has been in the area of post. Since working with a digital grade on 'O Brother Where Art Thou' I have finished most of the films I have worked on with the use of a Digital Intermediary. The original negative is scanned and the images timed from the digital file before being outputted back to create a film negative.

M&C: Who has been the most interesting character, and/or scene you have shot in your career- a particular moment or scene?

Deakins: That's an impossible question! I have found every character interesting from Winston Smith in '1984' to the Dalai Lama in 'Kundun', Ed Crane in 'The Man Who Wasn't There' and Mathew Poncilet in 'Dead Man Walking'. 

There was a night-time scene in 'Jarhead', set in the light of the oil fires of Kuwait, where the main character, Swofford, comes upon a horse drenched in oil. We shot the scene on stage at Universal with flickering lighting and a hand held camera. It was a fake situation but incredibly moving to shoot and a powerful scene in the film. 

M&C: If you were defining your style of shooting film, how would you put it?

Deakins: Less is more!

A list of his accomplishments demonstrates the “Less is more!” style has served Deakins well:

AFI Awards, USA

2002 Won AFI Film Award AFI Cinematographer of the Year for: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
 
Academy Awards, USA

2008 Nominated Oscar Best Achievement in Cinematography for: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Best Achievement in Cinematography for: No Country for Old Men (2007)
 
2002 Nominated Oscar Best Cinematography for: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
 
2001 Nominated Oscar Best Cinematography for: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
 
1998 Nominated Oscar Best Cinematography for: Kundun (1997)

1997 Nominated Oscar Best Cinematography for: Fargo (1996)

1995 Nominated Oscar Best Cinematography for: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

American Society of Cinematographers, USA

2008 Nominated ASC Award Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases for: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases for: No Country for Old Men (2007)
 
2002 Won ASC Award Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases for: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)

2001 Nominated ASC Award Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases for: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
 
1998 Nominated ASC Award Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases for: Kundun (1997)
 
1997 Nominated ASC Award Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases for: Fargo (1996)

1995 Won ASC Award Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases for: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

BAFTA Awards

2008 Won BAFTA Film Award Best Cinematography for: No Country for Old Men (2007)
 
2002 Won BAFTA Film Award Best Cinematography for: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)

2001 Nominated BAFTA Film Award Best Cinematography for: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

1997 Nominated BAFTA Film Award Best Cinematography for: Fargo (1996)

Boston Society of Film Critics Awards

2001 Won BSFC Award Best Cinematography for: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
 
1997 Won BSFC Award Best Cinematography for: Kundun (1997)
 
British Society of Cinematographers

2001 Won Best Cinematography Award for: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

1994 Nominated Best Cinematography Award for: The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

Camerimage

2001 Won Special Award (shared with Joel Coen and Ethan Coen) To a team for outstanding achievements in the field of the art of cinematography.
 
1995 Won Bronze Frog for The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Nominated Golden Frog for: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Roger Deakins shooting O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Roger Deakins shooting O Brother, Where Art Thou?

 
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards

2007 Won CFCA Award Best Cinematography for: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Nominated CFCA Award Best Cinematography for: No Country for Old Men (2007)
 
2002 Nominated CFCA Award Best Cinematography for: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
 
2001 Nominated CFCA Award Best Cinematography for: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
 
1992 Won CFCA Award Best Cinematography for: Barton Fink (1991)
 
Chlotrudis Awards

2002 Nominated Chlotrudis Award Best Cinematography for: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)

Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards

2007 Won DFWFCA Award Best Cinematography for: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
 
Evening Standard British Film Awards

2005 Won Evening Standard British Film Award - Best Technical/Artistic Achievement
for: The Ladykillers (2004). Also for The Village (2004).
 
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards

2007 Won FFCC Award Best Cinematography for: No Country for Old Men (2007)
Also for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007).
 
2002 Won FFCC Award Best Cinematography for: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
 
Hawaii International Film Festival

2000 - Excellence in Cinematography Award    
 
Independent Spirit Awards

1997 Won Independent Spirit Award - Best Cinematography for: Fargo (1996)

1992 Nominated Independent Spirit Award - Best Cinematography for: Homicide (1991)

Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards

2000 Won Sierra Award Best Cinematography for: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

London Critics Circle Film Awards

1995 Won ALFS Award British Technical Achievement of the Year for: The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
 
1993 Won ALFS Award British Technical Achievement of the Year for: Barton Fink (1991)

Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards

2001 Won LAFCA Award Best Cinematography for: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
 
1991 Won LAFCA Award Best Cinematography for: Barton Fink (1991). Also for Homicide (1991).
 
National Board of Review, USA

2007 - Career Achievement Award for cinematography.
 
National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA

1998 Won NSFC Award Best Cinematography for: Kundun (1997)

1992 Won NSFC Award Best Cinematography for: Barton Fink (1991)

Roger Deakins and M. Night Shyamalan shooting The Village

Roger Deakins and M. Night Shyamalan shooting The Village

New York Film Critics Circle Awards

1997 Won NYFCC Award Best Cinematographer for: Kundun (1997)

1991 Won NYFCC Award Best Cinematographer for: Barton Fink (1991)

Online Film Critics Society Awards

2008 Won OFCS Award Best Cinematography for: No Country for Old Men (2007)

Nominated OFCS Award Best Cinematography for: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

2002 Won OFCS Award Best Cinematography for: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
 
2001 Nominated OFCS Award Best Cinematography for: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards

2002 Nominated PFCS Award Best Cinematography for: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
 
San Diego Film Critics Society Awards

2007 Won SDFCS Award Best Cinematography for: No Country for Old Men (2007)
 
2001 Won SDFCS Award Best Cinematography for: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
 
Satellite Awards

2007 Nominated Satellite Award Best Cinematography for: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
 
2002 Won Golden Satellite Award Best Cinematography for: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)

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Further Reading on M&C

Tommy Lee Jones Biography - - Tommy Lee Jones Movies -

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