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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  September 23, 2021 12:30am-1:01am BST

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hardtalk�*s stephen sackur speaks to the acclaimed british cinematographer sir roger
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deakins. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur and this is soho in london, where the uk film industry does its deal making and much of its post—production. the brits are still big players in the global film industry, and none more so than my guest today, sir roger deakins. he's made a host of brilliant movies. he's won two oscars, but his industry is changing, thanks to technology, to cgi, even to this thing, the smartphone and its camera. so how does he see the future of the film business?
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sir roger deakins, welcome to hardtalk. thank you. you're laughing because i say "sir." yeah, because i haven't... you got me straight away. you've got to get used to it. i mean, you're regarded as a bit of a national treasure, aren't you? yeah. it's funny that but you never have that perspective on it yourself. i don't, anyway, no. i think the nice thing for a lot of british people is that you've just published a book of photographs, still pictures, which talks about... ..visually talks about your very british roots in the south west of england. and ijust wonder why, in the midst of an incredibly prolific and successful film career, you've decided to put this book out. vanity. it's interesting because i kind of, when i started out, i kind of thought of being a painter, as you do when you don't know what you really want to do. and then...and then i discovered stills photography
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and i dreamt of being a photojournalist and a big part of me wonders what my life would have been like if i'd been that person. and so i've always taken photographs on and off more times than others. and it wasjust 18 months or so ago, two years ago, i was thinking, well, what am i going to do with these photographs? you know, theyjust sit where, you know, and i've always liked books. i've always liked having a book of a photographer's work. i've always enjoyed seeing that. so i thought i'd take the opportunity. and i guess what they tell us, because having looked at the pictures in some detail, what they tell us is that you clearly had an eye for character and detail very early and you clearly were brilliant, capturing particular moments on film from the very beginning. i'm thinking of the shot of a dog falling off what looks like a pier on the seaside.
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yeah, it's a promenade. and there was the dog's owner was throwing a stick and the dog jumped over three times maybe. and just the one image, i took three images as they went over. and just on one time it looked at the camera and thatjust made the shot. i mean, i didn't make the shot. the dog made the shot because it looked at me. the two of you made the shot. but it's those sort of chance moments that i've always loved. but ijust wonder, is there a common thread then in that ability to capture things and a moment to be very spontaneous and also to focus on people and maybe sometimes animals, too, you know, are there threads that you can see developing in your late teens in stills photography, which even today we can still see in your movies? yes, that's a hard one. it's a hard one. um, you know, is there a back and forth? i feel they're very separate.
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i mean, i think that obviously there's a connection in the idea of the composition and the juxtaposition of ideas within a frame and choice of lens and position and stuff, and light. but i find it a very different discipline, taking still photographs. it's a different way of telling a story. you've got a single image that you're trying to put a couple of ideas in. and usually it's a very simple idea. how would you define the role of cinematographer? you're regarded as one of the best. that question! well, it's an important one because most of us, we're not movie buffs. we just love movies and we see the credits go up and we know that the director is sort of the ultimate boss, i suppose. right. but then we see this word "cinematographer" and we think, well, maybe that's the guy who made the film look the way it does. is that right? it is and it isn't. i think the best situations are really
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collaborative where you're. .. ..you're extending each other in a way. you're pushing each other to do better, to think in a different way. you're challenging each other, i think. but, for example, to be very literal about it, i mean, you're known as a guy who's brilliant using light on film. and that... is that entirely your domain when it comes to making the mechanics of making a movie? the mechanics. yes, but you're working with the whole team. you know, depending on the movie, you could have five or six electricians working with you and maybe 150, you know, depending on the complexity of the shoot. and so, yes, you are generally the person envisaging what you really want it to look like in terms of the light and how you're going to achieve that technically. you know, it's almost two
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disciplines, there's the creative side that you do from the director's guidance and then it's a whole technical challenge to organise how you actually achieve what you have in your mind's eye, i suppose. so, to dig into this relationship with the director's vision, and tell me a little bit more about the coen brothers, and because you've made, i think, around a dozen movies with them, and movies that many of us have loved over the years, i think it started with barton fink... yes. ..and fargo, just a whole raft of great films. how does it work then between them and you? well, the first time on barton fink, we had quite a lot of prep and i sat with them for weeks and in a hotel room, working on storyboards, discussing the script and working on storyboards. but then gradually there was less and less discussion because as we got to know each other, and funnily, sometimes it's the quietest
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set i've ever been on. you know, itjust, once you're working on a set, everything becomesjust, i don't know. i guess because you know each other so well, you know what they want. they know what you like. exactly. and you've sort of gelled together. yeah. and you read one of their scripts and it's like immediately apparent where they're going. all their scripts are very different. they're very different genres and they play with different themes. but you read that, you read their script and straight off you can visualise it. erm, it's interesting. yeah. let me drill a little bit, if i may, into your own psychology, because you've said actually you feel that you're quite a shy and introverted person... iam, yeah. ..and yet you're working in this industry that we all feel is full of glamour and big egos and personality. yeah, it is and it isn't. i mean, maybe i've been lucky. i mean, most of the people i've worked with in films i've worked on, it's not really
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been like that. and, often, where... ..often where an actor has a reputation, when they've come to actually the set and the director that i've been working with, they've acted in a different way. i tell you, one of the first films i did and one of probably my favourite films is 1984, the george orwell, and it wasjohn hurt and richard burton, it was richard burton's last film. and that was the moment not only i realised i was a cinematographer because i was on a set with richard burton, but i realised that people are just people. he came with such a reputation and he was such a lovely man. we would sit, we were shooting down in salisbury plain, one little scene, i remember sitting with him and john hurt one lunchtime and just talking, you know, about life and... not about liz taylor and stuff, not about that, just about life, you know, and the film.
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and he was so pleased to be working on a film that actually felt meant something at that point in his life because he'd been doing a few films that he wasn't that proud of. and it was just really lovely to sit and talk with somebody of his reputation but, you know, just a regular guy. the point about introversion or maybe self—effacement with you seems to go even further, though, because you have always said, i think about the way you make your movies, that you don't want people to really think hard or notice or regard as sort of special the treatment, visual treatment, you've given the movie, because you sort of say if they're coming up to me saying, i love that brilliant shot you put in at x or y point in the movie, you almost feel that's a failure. why is that? i do think if the cinematography, the imagery or any other aspect of bringing
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that story to a screen is more noticeable, or draws attention to itself, whether it's a flamboyant camera move or some very kind of well crafted arty lighting, i think it's a mistake, you know. so, you consciously are seeking to avoid that? i think sometimes i kind of draw back and say, no, that's going to draw attention to itself, you know. let me ask you about one particular film where there was a huge amount of discussion of how you did that, not in a particularly showy way, but partly in a technical way, partly in a sort of just awestruck way. and i'm talking about in 1917, the sort of epic movie that you made with... well, sam mendes directed it, and then it almost looked like it was filmed in a single take. i mean, obviously it wasn't. right. we know that. but there were some very, very long takes in it. right. how stressful is it putting something together like that? incredibly.
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i find it incredibly stressful, yeah, erm... yeah, but then you have... you're working with a director that, you know, you have a relationship with and he has a complete understanding of the challenges of the thing. and then you're working with a group of people that are there to back you up. and, again, that's what i learned early on, on a film like 1984, that actually you're not alone. you know, you've got a bunch of friends that are with you and also an actor like richard burton, for all his experience, is just as nervous as you are. but when you're into the middle of a sort of ten—minute take... yeah, and that was... yeah. ..and there's all sorts of mechanics and logistics that have to happen on the second, every second, and it's going brilliantly... yeah. ..and then there's a glitch. yeah. or maybe, literally,
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an actor forgets a line. yeah. and you're telling me everybody is incredibly collaborative and they all say... right. .."don�*t worry, it's all fine, "we'lljust do it again". well, no, there's a few expletives go around on those occasions, and it might be me that says one. you know, i mean, i, probably on the majority of 1917, i was operating remotely. so, you know, when an actor's going very fast, and you're panning the camera, using wheels, and trying to stay with it, and then, yeah, you get to the last minute of a seven—minute take or whatever, and you think, "he's going to go around that corner "really fast, so i've got to whip the camera around", and all that, and it's like, yeah, it's kind of nerve—racking, but it's also exhilarating. and the number of times when we did, i don't know, six, ten, 12 takes, and then sam would say, "ok, we've got it", and the crew would high five, and it was, like, such a high, you know, because again, it was that sort of sense of people collaborating to something that they all had in their mind, but to get there was a real achievement. it's wonderful.
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and i love the smile you have on your face, as you remember that but i'm also intrigued that you absolutely made the point of saying, you know, it is me operating the camera, and, you know, you're a cinematographer who's done, what, 70 odd films, but is it true that on every single one you have insisted on operating the main camera? i have, yeah, yeah. there's been other operators, like on 1917... sure. ..there were a couple of other operators doing specific pieces of equipment, but i've always wanted to operate, yeah. imean, i... is that control freakery? because some other leading cinematographers don't quite... no, yeah. ..feel they have to. erm, control freakery? no, i don't think so. it goes back to that, erm, my relationship with my still camera. it goes back to that little thing that i want to be the one that's just doing that little bit of minor adjustment.
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if the actor does something unexpected, i feel i want the responsibility to go with them or not, or, you know? yeah. and just, i want to be in a situation where the director trusts me to operate, and that gives me a bit of freedom to take a chance on something, if i feel it spontaneously, and maybe they'll shout at me, but they'll still forgive me for screwing up the take. it doesn't happen very often, thank god, but, you know... yeah, and that, you just, again, used a word ifind fascinating, "trust". yeah. is it true, and, again, it's something i read about you and i've now got this opportunity to find out if it's really true, that you felt you could never work, for example, with ridley scott, because you felt that he would be too intrusive on your part of the film—making? no, it wasn't... yeah, well, it wasn't that. i mean, i've talked to ridley scott over the years a lot, and obviously he was producer on blade runner, but years ago, i went for an interview for a film, and i won't say
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which one it was, but, erm, and we sat talking, and i said, "well, i'm really glad to meet you, "because it is the first time i've met you, "but you always operate." he said, "yeah." "well, are you not going to operate?" he said, "no, i'm going to operate." isaid, "well, i operate, so it's not going to work, is it?" and he said, "no, i guess not." but it was kind of nice chatting, you know. so it wasn't about intrusion, it was about the method of working, and just, sometimes, sometimes, that's your comfort zone, i suppose, and you don't want to go out of it, or, as i say, it's that sort of personal relationship with a camera. i find what the camera does, the position and the composition, is more important than lighting. i love lighting, but that's not it, really, it's my relationship with the camera and the relationship of the camera to the actors in the frame, it's how do you compose a human face? how do you... you know, often, an actor
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or actress are on a set, doing a big, emotionalscene, and the first person they look at is the camera operator, after the director's shouted "cut", orsomething, and i love that, just, again, you know, which i experienced with, again, as i said, with richard burton and john hurt in 1984, and it's just a wonderful thing to be that person. having watched a lot of your films, that completely makes sense, because i think it's true to say you love working on films, which focus on human beings, you know... yeah. ..on people and their stories. you have said that you actually worry that far too many films these days are being made, you know, all about the sort of action, the wham—bam, the big bang, rather than telling human stories. does that mean you feel out of sync with the 21st century... i do. ..movie business? yeah, ido. i, er, yeah, i do.
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i love films that... i love films in which the main characters have kind of been passed by by the world. now, whether that's, like, "assassination ofjesse james" and the outlaw�*s bypassed by the world moving on, or whatever, but i feel like that, yeah. you know, i'm a creature of the time i grew up in, and the films i loved as a teenager, you know, and i don't see many of them now. i don't see a progression. you know, it's wonderful, in britain, i grew up watching ken loach movies. ken loach is still making those films. but where are the other people? where... you know, it's not, that progression has been with technology, and, you know, digital technology, and effects, and superheroes, and it's wonderful, i'm not decrying that, but where's the other side of it?
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you know, i guess, in your film—making life, the genres have shifted and evolved, but also the technology has really shifted and evolved... yeah. ..and you just alluded to it, with much more computer—generated imagery... yeah. ..and virtual reality, and now they're building these extraordinary, i think, called led walls. yeah, yeah. you can do more and more shooting, not on location, which you're famous for, scouting your locations, lighting them so carefully. right. now, you could conceivably make what looked like a location—based movie, entirely fake, entirely in a led wall environment. right. could you imagine doing that? no. i mean, maybe for certain sequences. i'm sure it works great for car work, so you don't have to be out in the middle of new york at night with a tracking vehicle. mm. erm, but to do a whole film like that, it doesn't really interest me. i mean, some people do it, and it looks pretty amazing. but i think you're missing something,
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it's missing something. i think the actors... what are you missing? well, i think the actors are missing something to... ..relate to, in a way. i think you're missing the environment that everybody�*s working in that feels like part of the story. i don't know. i can't explain myself very well, but there's something about being on location, and being in a real environment. it's like on 1917. sam and... sam was determined to do as much in camera as possible. sure, there's some effects work. yeah. i mean, if you've got that technology, why not use it? there are respected film—makers who now work with smartphone technology... yeah, yeah. ..and film on a smartphone. absolutely. and, you know, to a certain extent you can imagine that increases spontaneity. you can film something in a very unique sort of way, when it's this tiny, hand—held device that you can just shift in no time. mm. would that interest you?
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no, it absolutely does, i mean, i've shot sections of films on a phone anyway. have you? but, i mean, now, you look at alexander nanau, who did, er, "collective", shooting with a tiny little camera, was doing most of it himself, he could be in the room with, er, you know, the subjects, the journalist, and the minister, and he could just almost be invisible and allow things to play out, and take his time in shooting that. you could never do that with a film camera, so that that sort of technology has opened up all sorts of possibilities, and so has the digital technology in post, and the idea of creating worlds like we did in blade runner, you know, blade runner 2049. but denis, and i, and dennis gassner, the production designer, were determined to do as much in camera as possible.
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so even though the backgrounds had changed, in some very specific scenes, there's a lot of manipulation, like the, erm, the, er, the threesome, with the two girls and ryan, you know, and they're interchanging and becoming one and splitting. well, how are you going to do that? that's, obviously, you use the technology that's available to tell a story, in hopefully an interesting and, you know, perceptive way. but, erm... so you're not, you're not anti—technology, clearly. no, not at all. yeah. i mean, no, because i have to say, withjoel and ethan, i was the first one that used a digital finish on a film, on "o brother, where art thou?" i want to end with a thought that, you know, it's a treat to talk to somebody who has been steeped in film—making for so long, and your experience is vast,
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and your movie stats speak for themselves, and we've talked about it all, in terms of this amazing collaboration that you've had with a series of brilliant directors. is there a time, will there be a time, when you want to direct yourself? there was, and i've written a couple of scripts, but, i mean, frankly, i can never see the kind of film that i would really want to make. it's probably too dark! really? yeah, i'm a pretty negative person, really! films i like are, yeah, kind of dark. it's not really the world today. people don't want to watch those kind of films. so you're telling me the film that you have in your head, yourfilm, that you would create from your own vision and direct, it's never going to happen? no, look, the truth is, i'm really... i really feel that i'm getting satisfaction, both creative satisfaction, and personal satisfaction from working with other people, and contributing to the films i've contributed to.
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i would never have had a career as a director and worked on the kind of films i've worked on with other directors, would i? yeah. and if my career had started out and i'd gone in that direction, directing, i might have, if i'd been lucky, directed five or ten films, you know, maybe one or two people might have said, "they were pretty good". i don't know. i don't know, but i, you know, equally, i could have been a stills photographer, and, god, would i have loved to have beenjames nachtwey? i don't know, you know? you don't know where you'll go, you know? well, i guess we're pretty glad you took the path you did. so am i, so am i! so it's all right, you know, thinking i could have been... maybe next time around, we'll have a look, you know? i mean, i might also be a fisherman next time around. we've been down in devon, and i've been doing quite a bit of fishing. i love fishing. well, i guess that's for another hardtalk, but, for now, i just want to thank you very much for being on this edition of hardtalk. it's been a pleasure. thank you.
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hello. wednesday wasn't a bad day at all for the greater part of england and wales. but, quite a significant but, it was a different kettle of fish at least for a time through wednesday across parts of scotland and northern ireland where you had to contend with a weather front which is bringing this increase in cloud and at times bits and pieces of rain. through into thursday we are going to see quite a vigorous area of low pressure dragging its way over towards southern parts of scandinavia. notice how tightly packed
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those isobars are. the wind is going to be a real feature across the north of mainland and scotland and especially so through through the northern isles. it isn't just the strength of the winds, there will be showers if not longer spells of rain. here we have the gusts and you'll see indication they are 65, possibly 75 mph as we get on through the daylight hours of thursday morning. even further south the gusts really quite significant. wednesday's weather front just producing the odd bit and pieces of rain and sufficient cloud for a time and then slumping to the southwest of england. all the while the low pressure moves away from scotland pulling its frontal system with it. a weak linkage back towards more cloud and rain getting towards the western side of scotland. but with sunshine through wales, the midlands and eastern england through the afternoon 22 possibly even 23 degrees. much of the weather action to be found across our northwestern corner of scotland as we bring those new weather fronts in with a low centre close by to the eastern side of iceland. through friday the winds just beginning to fall back to the west and the southwest
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a relatively mild direction. any suggestion of the cold air behind tonights lowjust over the northeast of scotland, that will be pulled away and will all be flooded into this moisture laddened west to south—westerly air flows as you get on through friday. anywhere facing those western shores could well pick up and of cloud for the odd bit of rain but again with some brightness for the issue could be looking at 22, 23 degrees. come the weekend it won't be west and southwest it will be south and south—westerly winds which will pump really mild air up and across the greater part of the british isles. it's not wall—to—wall sunshine nor dry for everybody. there will be a scattering of showers but for the time of year i suspect it will feel very pleasantly mild.
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welcome to newsday, reporting live from singapore, i'm karishma vaswani. the headlines. president biden promises to donate half a billion coronavirus vaccines to poorer countries, but the world health organization warns they need help now. growing pressure for india to cut back on coal, but many indians depend on it as a source of energy. we have a special report. such is the demand that the country is planning on building dozens of mines. and imports coal. at the white house, british prime minister borisjohnson gets a clear message — a free trade deal with the us won't be happening any time soon.
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