By Sam Molineaux
British cinematographer Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC began renting equipment from Otto Nemenz International when he first moved to Los Angeles 14 years ago. “I’ve never used anyone else,” he says, of the company that’s consistently gone the extra mile to fulfill his sometimes unusual requests.
As a regular collaborator with the Coen brothers, Deakins often finds himself asking for the (almost) impossible, particularly when it comes to the brothers’ famous penchant for spinning objects. “One of the first films they serviced entirely was Barton Fink, and in that we had a shot where the camera came out from under a bed, across the room, into the bathroom and ended up going down the plughole,” he remembers. “To get focus on the plughole as the camera touched it, they had to re-engineer this short-focus camera and produce a cog and a large handle so we could focus on the plughole. On The Big Lebowski they custom-made a bracket for a shot of a ball going down a bowling alley.”
For the Coen brothers’ newest film, Ladykillers, Deakins was directed to shoot from the viewpoint of a football player making his way down the field. “I used an old Arri 3C mounted right in the face mask, which had to be hit very hard when a ball falls from 40 feet in the air. Nemenz adapted different brackets to fit it on, with a little flexibility so I could adjust it too.”
Deakins normally shoots Arri, though occasionally he’ll try out something new if a project requires it, like the handheld work shot from a helicopter in Edward Zwick’s Courage Under Fire. “Moviecam had just brought out the lightweight SL and I really wanted to get one for that sequence,” he remembers. “Otto really pushed and they got the first one ever used in this country so I could shoot the materials. It was the same recently with the Cooke lenses. I would ask ‘When’s the 40 mm coming out?’ and there it would be.
“It’s good to know there’s always somebody who can make things happen,” he adds. “Especially when you’re working abroad. If you have a problem, you need to know you can get it solved quickly and that gizmo is going to be on the next plane. Their service has been phenomenal.”