The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Presidents Desk
Need for Speed
ASC Close-Up
Roger Deakins

Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?

At 16, I was hardly a child when I saw Peter Watkins’ The War Game (1965) at a local Torquay film-society screening. Two women fainted in the theater, and the film had such a powerful effect on audiences elsewhere that it was subsequently banned for 25 years. I have never forgotten seeing that film, nor Watkins’ Culloden (1964).


Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?

Eduard Tisse, for the power of his compositions, as in Ivan the Terrible and Alexander Nevsky; Vadim Yusov, for the atmospheres he created for Ivan’s Childhood and Solaris; Kasuo Miyagawa, for the sheer beauty of his lighting for Ugetsu and Sansho; Haskell Wexler [ASC], for his heart and passion; and Conrad Hall [ASC], for the subtlety and diversity of everything he did.


What sparked your interest in photography?

I imagine it was seeing the photography of Bill Brandt and Henri Cartier-Bresson. I had wanted to be a painter, but I just painted life in a naturalistic way, so photography seemed to be a better medium. 


Where did you train and/or study?

I studied at Bath Academy of Art and, later, at the National Film School.


Who were your early teachers or mentors?

Roger Mayne, famous for his London street photography, was a tutor at Bath Academy.


What are some of your key artistic influences?

I think it’s hard to single out ‘key’ influences. Surely we are all influenced by everything we see and come into contact with, be it an exhibition by Edvard Munch, a film by Jean-Pierre Melville or the view from my Sydney hotel window as I am typing this.


How did you get your first break in the business?

I was a member of the crew and shot a documentary aboard a yacht in an around-the-world race. To get the job, I ‘exaggerated’ my experience of the sea, but as I am from Devon, I was never closely questioned.


What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?

Probably just making it home after nine months on that yacht!


Have you made any memorable blunders?

I can’t remember any, but that probably says most about the selective nature of my memory.


What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

A onetime producer and studio head advised me to forget my ambition of becoming a cinematographer. Luckily, for me at least, I am not good at taking advice.


What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?

Always the photographs of Alex Webb. All Is Lost inspired me to revisit Bresson’s A Man Escaped. I was lucky to see a pristine archival print of The Mirror at the Brisbane Film Festival recently; Tarkovsky is a constant inspiration.


Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?

I would love to shoot a science-fiction film, something in the vein of Stranger in a Strange Land, maybe, or The Man in the High Castle.


If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?

I applied for a job as a beach photographer once, during my school summer holidays, but I was turned down. So I guess that would not be an option.


Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?

John Bailey, Allen Daviau and Steven Poster.


How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?

For me, the ASC is foremost a group of good friends, and it is a great help to have friends in this business.


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