World of Roger Deakins, cinematographer
The Coen brothers' 'third collaborator' talks to Jessica Salter about meeting his wife, living between Torquay and LA and working with Richard Burton in 1984.
By Jessica Salter
Roger Deakins, 62, has worked as a cinematographer (Ďthe person who runs the set when the director is not shootingí) on films including The Shawshank Redemption, 1984 and Jarhead as well as 11 movies with the Coen brothers Ė Joel Coen has described him as their Ďthird collaboratorí. Deakins has won three Baftas, including best cinematography this year for True Grit, out on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday. In February the American Society of Cinematographers honoured him with a lifetime achievement award. He lives in Los Angeles and Torquay with his wife, James.
Daily routine There is no routine when youíre shooting; thatís why I love the film business. On set you can work 12-18-hour days, sometimes more. You do that for a few months and then you stop and rest Ė itís only at the end of a film that I feel tired. But when Iím here in Devon my day starts with running with James along the cliff path, or going out on my boat. We go to bed later here than in LA, where we go to sleep about 8pm because we get up at 5am.
LA The first time I went to America I was shooting a promo for Marvin Gaye for his song Sexual Healing (1982). We were meant to shoot it in London but I think his grandmother was ill so they had to do it in LA. Then I went back there to shoot Alex Coxís film Sid and Nancy (1986) and after that I stayed for a few months and travelled around. A few years later I met the Coen brothers, shot Barton Fink (1991) and decided to move to LA. Iíve lived there for about 21 years now and try to come back to Torquay for a couple of months a year.
Tides My father had a tiny sailboat, then he got a little motor boat and thatís what Iíve got now. I know this shoreline so well and it gives me a connection to growing up. My mum died when I was very young, so it was just me, my dad and my brother. Luckily we all liked fishing. The best fishing happens before the best spring tides, so the tides book is important to me. Iíve done some fishing in America, but itís mainly a hobby for when Iím here.
Photography My childhood ambition was never to leave Torquay, but there was nothing that I wanted to do for a job here. I thought Iíd go to art college and figure out what to do from there. While I was there I discovered stills photography, which I still love Ė whenever Iím back here I try to spend time taking photos with my Leica camera (pictured). My photographs led to documentary-making and after about six or seven years of that, including the civil war in Rhodesia, I was asked to shoot peopleís feature films. Iíve always been a film nut Ė it was the only thing that could tear me away from Devon.
Family portrait My dad found some old negatives in a box years ago. We printed them up and one was this portrait (pictured) that my grandfather took of his brother and a lady friend in Torquay. I donít know the date but I love it because itís an absolutely fantastic composition: it was very unusual for someone who was not a professional photographer to cut somebody off at the knees.
Richard Burton I have this poster of the film 1984 (pictured), which came out in 1984, framed because I have happy memories of that movie. It was about the third or fourth feature film I shot but it was the first one with that size set and with that sort of cast: I will always remember working with John Hurt and Richard Burton. Richard was lovely. On the first day he called the whole crew over to his trailer and said, ĎI just want to thank you for one of the nicest dayís filming Iíve ever had. When I came on set first thing this morning and saw all these young faces I was absolutely terrified, but itís been the most wonderful day.í
Old friends If Iím in New York or London I always make time to go around the galleries: in London the National and National Portrait galleries are a must. I have specific paintings that I have to see Ė in New York it is an Edvard Munch called Vampire. I donít know why some things affect you, but these paintings do. Theyíre like old friends I go to visit.
Life change I met James soon after I moved to LA. I had just bought a house in Santa Monica and two days later I went to shoot David Mametís film Homicide (1991) where James was the script supervisor. We started seeing each other after the movie and got married about six months later. So within a year I moved to LA, bought a house and got married; it was pretty cool.
Rescue birds Growing up, we used to live in the middle of a pigeon flight path Ė people used to race them from France to the Midlands, and if there was a gale or something some of them would get lost. My brother and I would catch them and contact the owners, but they never wanted them back because they werenít good for racing after that. So we had about 20 pigeons in our garden, until a fox got in one day and took the lot.
Record player I know itís old-fashioned but Iíve still got a record player (pictured) and all my old records. Iíd hate to throw them away. I grew up listening to Van Morrison and Woody Guthrie, people like that. Iím not very good with gadgets; Iím terrible on the computer and we donít even have a DVD player here. Cameras Iím good with, but with everything else, if I donít care about it I canít really be bothered.