This article contains minor spoilers for Skyfall.
A cinematographer's job may be to bring the visuals of a film to life through lighting and camera movement, but for Roger Deakins it's rarely about finding "the right look." Hisunique philosophy to shooting feature films — less photographer than interpreter of words — may be the reason why Deakins' career includes some of the best dramas of the last 20 years. It also makes him a unique pick to shoot the latest James Bond blockbuster, Skyfall.
"I'm not an obvious choice to do an action movie," says Deakins. "That's not what I've been doing." Beginning his career in documentary, Deakins transitioned to feature films like 1984 and Sid and Nancy. In the '90s he found his most lucrative collaborators, the Coen Brothers, for whom he shot Barton Fink, Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men and more. "I don't see images when I read a script. I see characters. I'm interested in character development. The arc of the story."
After teaming with director Sam Mendes on 2005's Jarhead and 2009's Revolutionary Road, Deakins was enlisted by the theater-director-turned-filmmaker to man the camera to take on duties for Skyfall. "Sam came to L.A. one time, we went for a walk on the beach, and he basically talked to me about the script, his thoughts on what he thought he could do with the franchise," says Deakins. Surprisingly, Mendes' hope was to maintain the style they he and Deakins honed on their previous, smaller scale dramas. "There's a danger when you do action movies, they all end up looking the same. End up being coverage. People do great stunts… big budget movies are trying to one up each other, move the camera in a more audacious kind of way. But that's not where we came from at all."
Deakins grew up watching Bond, but his goal was never to pay homage or feel indebted to the 50 year history of the series. "I think each sequence is done differently," says Deakins. "The heavy action we shot very simply, with one or two handheld cameras. I think you can get too caught up in technique. You can lose the plot, really." When it comes to shooting set pieces, Deakins stays away from the manic style of many modern blockbusters. Technology allows him to move the camera like a madman, but he doesn't. "If [the performance and script] are not inherently exciting then you're not going to do anything with a camera. The camera reacts to what's in front of it. I react to the actors."
Mendes, while not an action director by trade, had the same sensibilities as his cinematographer when it came to capture the physical moments of Skyfall. "Something like the one shot where they're fighting and [Patrice the assassin] falls out of the skyscraper, that was an idea Sam wanted very early on," says Deakins. "He didn't want to do it in a huge amount of cuts. He wanted this very cold, graphic shot that encompassed most of the action in one." Deakins notes that Skyfall's footchase through The Tube, London's subway system, is done in the same manner, with the final money shot — a car crashing derailing and crashing through brick walls — composed in static camera shots.
To maintain control over the lighting and framing of everything in Skyfall, Deakins and Mendes decided to build sets and shoot a majority of the film at Pinewood Studios, an enormous soundstage complex that's an integral part of Bond history (the studio even has a building dubbed "the 007 stage" in honor of the franchise). After traveling many of their international locations in hopes of finding suitable locations, Deakins admits that, more often than not, it made sense for Skyfall to shoot back home in England. "We wanted to shoot there but it became impractical," says Deakins. "We decided visually it made more sense to construct these things in studio." Originally, these sequence where Bond follows Patrice the assassin up to the top of a Shanghai high-rise, and later travels by boat the gambling town of Macau, were all to be shot on location in China. Instead, the filmmakers recreated them at Pinewood. "The idea of shooting that 59 floors up at night in Shanghai… it wasn't going to happen. We wouldn't have gotten the graphic look, the great big signs."
By faking many of the interiors, Deakins captures an image that would be in possible out in the open but are necessary for the drama inherent in Bond's tale. "There are certain sequences that benefit from making them dark and mysterious. There's such a variety of locations and looks and color. Such a wide palette to play with."
Deakins and Mendes have both shown fearlessness in their films when it comes to playing with shadows. Skyfall's grand finale, a shootout teased in the trailers that ends with a mansion in flames, is both a perfect example of their untraditional tactics and one of the film's greatest technical challenges. "We had a sequence in No Country for Old Men which was going from evening into night, dusk to true night, and we had to make it blend," says Deakins. "So I was thinking that when we were shooting sequence in Skyfall. The scale of it as well, it's like a Western. When we were shooting exteriors, Sam said, 'let's shoot it like a Western.' Like a Peckinpah movie or a John Ford movie. Let action play in the frame."
To pull off the set piece, Deakins turned to every trick in the book. Apparently lighting a scene where a helicopter crashes and a building burns down all in one setting is no easy feat. "[Production Designer] Dennis Gasner built the house and then we burnt it. It's like a shell of a house. So you're mixing an interior in a stage with an exterior on location and mixing it in with a model." Then there was the vehicular component: "The helicopter was partially live, with a search light and everything, but part of it was a model. A very large model. It worked quite well!"
Skyfall marks the first James Bond film to be shoot digitally (an Arri Alexa for the camera nuts out there), and it took some convincing on Deakins part for Mendes and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson to go that route. "I was talking to Sam about the film and how much night work and lowlight work there would be, and I thought, 'maybe I should suggest shooting digitally.' Sam hadn't shot digitally. I showed him some of In Time and he was quite taken." Deakins says with only two digital films under his belt, he's still learning about the new technology, but even for his collaborators, the format is quite helpful. "You see it on set. You see what's recorded. And for Sam and the actors, it means you can keep the camera running longer."
Deakins' cinematography innovation may not be apparent to the untrained eye — although, really: beautiful is beautiful — but for some lucky audience members, they'll get to see James Bond in a whole new way that the photographer is quite eager for people to check out: IMAX. The movie wasn't shot for the large-scale format, but it turns out Deakins' camera choice made opening up the frame an easy option. "I don't really like framing for two formats' (we basically shot [widescreen] 2.35 and IMAX is like 1.90). But then I realized we were shooting with a 4:3 camera, the chip is 4:3. So we kept the frame clear to 1.90, and I basically had the IMAX in mind. There was very little that had to be done for IMAX. It's not an extraction from the 2.35 film. It's using the whole chip. You're recording a bigger image."
For Deakins, Skyfall opened the door to lots of new challenges and techniques, but what he savored most from the experience was shooting back in his home country after years of working in Hollywood. "I've shot in London a lot, but not for many years. The idea of shooting London and shooting underground London, subterranean, that's really great. We scouted all these Victorian tunnels, underground reservoirs. It was amazing to see."
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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
Tom Cruise's latest movie Valkyrie has suffered a setback: After finally having a ban on filming inside an important German historical location overturned, the footage shot there has turned out to be unusable.
Crucial scenes filmed at the Bendlerblock in Berlin, where a number of German officers were executed after an abortive attempt to assassinate Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in 1944, will now have to be reshot by director Bryan Singer.
A spokeswoman for the production company tells German newspaper Bild, "A majority of the film material is unusable. We have to film it again."
Colin Ullman, a representative for the company that delivered the footage shot to a post-production studio in Munich, adds, "The production company told us that there were problems with the negative development in Arri Munich, one of the top post-production companies in Germany. The images were wiped away."
Fortunately for Singer and Cruise, the German government has agreed to allow them further access to the Bendlerblock.
They had previously been banned from filming there because officials did not want the "dignity of the place" to be violated.
In the movie, Cruise portrays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who was put to death after plotting to blow up Hitler.
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