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HomeAwardsContender – Roger Deakins, Cinematographer, A Serious Man

Contender – Roger Deakins, Cinematographer, A Serious Man

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Roger Deakins
Roger Deakins

A Serious Man is the tenth collaboration between Joel and Ethan Coen and director of photography Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC. “We’ve worked together so long that we’re on the same wavelength, and I pretty much understand what they want just from reading the script.”

The film is the latest in a series of quirky dark comedies from the brothers, including No Country For Old Men, which won them the 2008 Oscar for Best Picture and Academy Awards for direction and screenwriting. Deakins did the lensing, and was also nominated. In all he has been nominated for the Best Achievement in Cinematography Oscar eight times, and a record nine times for the ASC best cinematography on a feature award, winning twice.

The film is about a modern-day Job, Larry Gopnick, a physics professor at a Midwest college who is beset by family travails ranging from the banal to the existential. His wife runs off with a smarmy friend. His son is a slacker at Hebrew school. And his penniless brother is crashed out on the living room sofa. Deakins contributes his usual elegant and crisp “effort of no effort” cinematography, letting the character-driven narrative flow. “It’s simply shot—a lot is about the framing and the naturalistic lighting,” says the DP.
Deakins is his own camera operator. He shot with an Arriflex 535-B, which he’s used for years. “Some say it’s old fashioned, but it serves my purposes and is lighter than the 535,” he notes. He used Arri’s super-fast Master Prime lenses. The film stock was Kodak Vision 5219 and 5217.

“I used as much natural light as I could, sometimes boosting it a bit.” The lighting for the overhead shots in the synagogue during the son’s bar mitzvah was more tricky. “I needed quite a big rig to light that space,” he says. A kind of chandelier composed of six hexagonals was constructed lit with 287, 75-watt bulbs.

Most of the scenes were shot on location, adding to the film’s verisimilitude, but creating some problems for the DP. “We were shooting on a low budget and a tight schedule, and it was challenging to make some of these small locations work,” says Deakins. “But they bring authenticity to something that is very hard to get on the set.”

The opening stands apart. The first few minutes take place in a shtetl in Poland. The dialogue is all in Yiddish, with subtitles. “The Coens wanted it to stand apart from the rest of the film,” he notes. To make it seem like an old faded movie, the footage was distressed.

Deakins has already started work on the next Coen Brothers project, True Grit, based on the original novel by Charles Portis. – Jack Egan

Previous Noms and Wins

2009: Nominated, Academy Award for Best Cinematography, The Reader (with Chris Menges); Nominated, ASC Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in a Theatrical Release, Revolutionary Road; The Reader (with Chris Menges); Nominated, BAFTA Best Cinematography, The Reader. 2008: Won, BAFTA Best Cinematography, No Country for Old Men. 2008: Nominated, Oscar, Best Cinematography, No Country for Old Men; ASC, Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in a Theatrical Release, No Country for Old Men. 2002: Won, BAFTA Best Cinematography Award, The Man Who Wasn’t There; ASC Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in a Theatrical Release, The Man Who Wasn’t There. 2002: Won, Academy Award for Best Cinematography, The Man Who Wasn’t There. 2001: Nominations, Academy Award for Best Cinematography, O Brother, Where Art Thou?; ASC Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in a Theatrical Release, O Brother, Where Art Thou? 1998: Nominated, Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Kundun; ASC, Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in a Theatrical Release, Kundun. 1997: Won, Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Fargo; ASC Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in a Theatrical Release, Fargo; BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography, Fargo. 1995: Won, ASC Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in a Theatrical Release, The Shawshank Redemption; Nominated, Academy Award for Best Cinematography, The Shawshank Redemption.

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