Session 5-10: Roger That! An Exploration of Reshooting Paper Moon the Deakins Way

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PITCH

This weekend I began to build the workload for this next assignment. As a reminder I'm looking to understand the role in which a layout and story artist duties overlap. So, for this project I started of thinking that this would be a great chance to layout and stage it in the way the Coen Brothers would. So, I began by watching Barton Fink, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and True Grit on Friday to better understand how to utilize the environment, for how the acting should take place by the father and daughter duo in Paper Moon.


SHOT ANALYSIS

On Saturday, I created a shot analysis for the sequence above, to work out way Peter Bogdanovich's choice for certain camera lens and their emotional impact. Which reminded me that Roger Deakin was responsible for most of the films the Coen Brothers have made to date. So after digging around, I discovered this great piece by Premium Beat's Johnathan Paul entitled 10 Tips from Master Cinematographer Roger Deakins.

RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

CHARACTER DESIGN


SIX TIPS FROM DEAKINS

Luckily for us, Deakins loves connecting with other cinematographers and giving advice whenever he can. He does most of this through his website forum where he answers questions and give tips, tricks, and general advice. Cinematographers from around the world flock to his site hoping to learn more about their craft.

We’ve pulled a few of our favorite cinematography tips straight from the cinema master’s mouth. We believe these useful tips will aid you as you embark on your career or your next production.

1. Learn to Be Selective

Image from By The Dart Before you begin a new project, make sure this project is actually something you want to take on. Make sure it’s something that you believe in. Be selective with any project you latch on to, because as Roger Deakin mentions in this article from the BBC, you’re going to be on this project for a long time. "I’m picky about the sort of material I want to work with, always have been. But usually I’m drawn to scripts that are about characters, I don’t have a love of doing action movies. It is really important to choose which projects you are going to work on carefully. You are going to be on a film for a long time."

Image from By The Dart

Before you begin a new project, make sure this project is actually something you want to take on. Make sure it’s something that you believe in. Be selective with any project you latch on to, because as Roger Deakin mentions in this article from the BBC, you’re going to be on this project for a long time.

"I’m picky about the sort of material I want to work with, always have been. But usually I’m drawn to scripts that are about characters, I don’t have a love of doing action movies. It is really important to choose which projects you are going to work on carefully. You are going to be on a film for a long time."

Video from Cinefii Channel

2. The Importance of Lighting

Image: Fantastic lighting from No Country For Old Men via IMDb Lighting is king for cinematographers. The way you light a scene greatly effects how the audience reacts to that scene. In fact, Roger Deakins says that great lighting begins with the script. Keep this in mind when picking your color and lighting. Discuss the scene with the director and find out what they want the audience to gain from the scene. "So, on the one hand, you need to light a space so you can see the actors – but, more than that, you are creating a mood, you are creating a world for those actors to inhabit and for the audience to get submersed in. Lighting is one of the most important aspects of any great film."

Image: Fantastic lighting from No Country For Old Men via IMDb

Lighting is king for cinematographers. The way you light a scene greatly effects how the audience reacts to that scene. In fact, Roger Deakins says that great lighting begins with the script. Keep this in mind when picking your color and lighting. Discuss the scene with the director and find out what they want the audience to gain from the scene.

"So, on the one hand, you need to light a space so you can see the actors – but, more than that, you are creating a mood, you are creating a world for those actors to inhabit and for the audience to get submersed in. Lighting is one of the most important aspects of any great film."

3. Embrace Documentary

When working with documentary film, you have to be quick on your feet. You’ve got to find the action and frame it at any given moment. This is definitely something that has aided Roger Deakins throughout his career.

"You work with the light that’s available and create something with what you have at hand. It teaches you how to be quick in terms of setting the frame and finding the angle and reading what’s happening – reading the development of what’s going on in front of you."

Video from AFIFEST

4. Stay With the Character and Story

Image: Jeff Bridges in True Grit via IMDb Not every shot needs to be a jaw-dropping exercise in masterful composition. Sometimes you need to reign it in and go back to the basics, allowing the characters and the story to drive the narrative and keep the audience engaged. There’s nothing worse than an ostentatious shot or some lighting that draws attention to itself, and you might go, ‘Oh, wow, that’s spectacular.’ Or that spectacular shot, a big crane move, or something. But it’s not necessarily right for the film — you jump out, you think about the surface, and you don’t stay in there with the characters and the story. – Roger Deakins via Screen Writing from Iowa

Image: Jeff Bridges in True Grit via IMDb

Not every shot needs to be a jaw-dropping exercise in masterful composition. Sometimes you need to reign it in and go back to the basics, allowing the characters and the story to drive the narrative and keep the audience engaged.

There’s nothing worse than an ostentatious shot or some lighting that draws attention to itself, and you might go, ‘Oh, wow, that’s spectacular.’ Or that spectacular shot, a big crane move, or something. But it’s not necessarily right for the film — you jump out, you think about the surface, and you don’t stay in there with the characters and the story. – Roger Deakins via Screen Writing from Iowa

mage: Scene from Prisoners via Alcon Entertainment. This is really an extension of the previous tip, but it’s so vital that it needs its own spot on the list. The main idea: Don’t compromise the actor’s performance for a perfect shot. Instead, capture the performance the actor gives you in the best way you can. You’ll find (as Deakins has mentioned in past interviews) that a great performance can mask a bad shot. In the end a film can look lousy but work because of a great performance but not the other way round. That’s something always worth remembering. Legendary filmmaker Terrence Malick has a reputation for filming the performance. He and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki allowed the actors on The Tree of Life to move right into their performance freely, and it was there they would capture the footage they needed. While some scenes were storyboarded, most of the footage was done in a very cinema-verite style.

mage: Scene from Prisoners via Alcon Entertainment.

This is really an extension of the previous tip, but it’s so vital that it needs its own spot on the list. The main idea: Don’t compromise the actor’s performance for a perfect shot.

Instead, capture the performance the actor gives you in the best way you can. You’ll find (as Deakins has mentioned in past interviews) that a great performance can mask a bad shot.

In the end a film can look lousy but work because of a great performance but not the other way round. That’s something always worth remembering.

Legendary filmmaker Terrence Malick has a reputation for filming the performance. He and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki allowed the actors on The Tree of Life to move right into their performance freely, and it was there they would capture the footage they needed. While some scenes were storyboarded, most of the footage was done in a very cinema-verite style.

Video from FoxSearchlight

6. Find Your Style

Image: Deakins on the set of The Village

It’s likely you have one or two master filmmakers that you just absolutely love, but make sure you aren’t just copying what those filmmakers do. Incorporate their techniques into your own style while working toward finding your cinematic voice.

You can’t learn your craft by copying me or anyone else. I hope what I do can do is in some way inspire others but I would be appalled if I though my work was being studied as ‘the right way to do the job’. – Roger Deakins via Revl8.


SUBMISSION AND CAVEATS

Well... taking on the challenge of trying to pull of storyboarding in the blocking style of the Coen brothers has been fun. However, I feel I spent to much time doing research when I could have been working on backgrounds. The character designing, plotting of blocking and camera angels, and acting portion of my research went quickly. Yet, I needed at least 10 solid hours to work out background designs and bring them to life; which I hadn't planned on. The major reason for the time is due to the amount of polish I wanted to showcase, as well as moving from paper to Wacom was a bit of a curve.

So, for this assignment I decided to focus just on Pray and his lines. Once, I have time I'll focus on the other character's and board their preformances.

For my next assignment I want to continue to pull from my influences and try to showcase my interpretation, since I'm putting this work into my portfolio. But, this time I plan on simplify things first and using character designs that have already been tested on the big screen. Anyway, here's the final version, that I'll be revisiting to polish up more at a later time. Enjoy!

Also, here's a little bit of wisdom that I learned from Craig "NEVER ask for extensions to your deadlines. Let the higher up's be the only ones who do that..."