Oscars 2018: Roger Deakins wins his first award for Blade Runner 2049 after being nominated 14 times

Abhishek Srivastava

Feb 19, 2018 15:37:37 IST

(Editor's note: Roger Deakins finally won the Best Cinematography award at the Oscars 2018. This piece is being republished in lieu of the win).

He has a fondness for cutting his own hair and loves his Persian scrollwork belt buckle that has supported his jeans for the past 44 years. Apparently the belt buckle was bought from an Afghani drug dealer. People will be hard pressed to see him dress in other than a white shirt and blue denim. Ace cinematographer Roger Deakins is an unusual man with atypical habits.

And it is this prodigious quality that has taken him places.

After a record 14 nominations, Roger Deakin has finally won the cinematography award for his surreal camera work for Dennis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049.

Roger Deakins/Image from Twitter.

Roger Deakins/Image from Twitter.

The history of Oscars is replete with numerous talents who simply could not manage to lay their hands upon the trophy. Oscar remained a pipe dream for Peter O’Toole despite his eight nominations (he was given an honorary Oscar in 2003) and the same holds true for Richard Burton with his seven nominations, and Glenn Close with six nominations. Maverick director Alfred Hitchcock, despite his five nominations, could not manage one even with Psycho. Roger Deakins follows this legacy, and despite the 13 nominations he has managed since 1995, not a single one could fructify. His amazing camera work for the sequel to Blade Runner is another chance that has been thrown open to him.

It is believed that the status might change and the shelf at his UK house might finally get a place for the statuette when the ceremony happens on 4 March as it is believed that his camera work in Blade Runner 2049 is nothing short of exemplary.

The unflinching faith that Coen Brothers have shown in Deakins, spanning over 27 years with more than 10 films and still going strong, speaks volumes about the work of this Academy-ignored genius. Be it the verite techniques of Barton Fink, the playful shots of The Big Lebowski, or the unimaginable textures that snow could offer in Fargo only helped seal the reputation of Roger Deakins. The five Oscar nominations he has managed for Coen Brothers’ films is a testament.

The long and the unfulfilled journey took shape and started in 1994 with the much loved Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption.

During the 67th Academy Awards, the Academy found John Toll’s camera work in Legends of The Fall superior to Deakins’s work. His second nomination was in 1997 for Fargo, but that year too he came home empty handed after John Seale won the trophy for his sweeping camerawork for The English Patient. His third nomination was for Kundun which also remains his only association with Martin Scorsese. That also was an unfortunate year for Deakins as Titanic, with its 14 nominations, ensured that it sunk hopes of Deakins once again. In 2000 and 2001 he was nominated again for films of Coen Brothers, the films being O Brother, where Art Thou? and The Man Who Wasn’t There, shot entirely in B/W but both were eventually trounced by Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings respectively.

The poster for The Shawshank Redemption and The Big Lebowski/Image from Twitter.

The poster for The Shawshank Redemption and The Big Lebowski/Image from Twitter.

How his work is viewed by the world can be gauged by the incident of when a fellow cinematographer once complimented him for his brilliant work in The Shawshank Redemption. The compliment mentioned that the jail sequences were beautifully shot without any artificial lighting and natural light did its trick. Most of the prison sequences were shot with artificial lighting.

One reason for Roger not winning the coveted trophy could also be blamed on the fact that the below-the-line categories on the Academy awards ballot do not mention the name of the contender and its always the name of the film. At the Oscar, in most cases the trophies for camera work and Best Film go hand in hand, and based on this criterion, the closest Roger came to winning the trophy was in 2007 when No Country for Old Men won the trophy for Best Film but sadly lost in the the Best Cinematography category.

2007 was also a golden year for Deakins as two of his films were nominated in the same category but still failed to make the cut. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was the other film. And then again from 2012 to 2015 he was nominated every year for Skyfall, Prisoners, Unbroken and Sicario but none could fetch him the award. Just as he was nominated five times for Coen Brothers films, he repeated the same magic with Dennis Villeneuve too. Prior to Blade Runner 2049 the association had hit the bull’s eye with Prisoners and Sicario.

A still from Blade Runner 2049/Image from Twitter.

A still from Blade Runner 2049/Image from Twitter.

Deakins work in Blade Runner 2049 is also being hailed by his critics as his best till date and there are chances that it would be extremely hard for the Academy to ignore him this time.

His genius of naturalism comes from the fact that few of the Las Vegas shots that feature in the film were inspired from images of a dust storm that had hit Sydney in 2009. He created the universe of the film by shooting them at an old Russian power station, basement of an old factory and a school in Budapest. Ryan Gosling, who faced his camera in Blade Runner 2049, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly had remarked that if there’s a Mount Rushmore of DPs, he’d be right there in the middle. When friend, fellow colleague, and Oscar winner Robert Elswit accepted his American Society Cinematographers Awards in 2007 he had casually remarked in his speech that ASC should form another category for ‘films shot by Roger Deakins’.

Roger has done practically everything behind the camera – from shooting sci-fi to western to biopics to war movies. It definitely comes as a surprise when he talks about dramas. In an interview to Filmmaker, the famed cameraman had remarked that dramas are something that is close to his heart. “I really like doing personal dramas. I don’t really like action films. I like film about people. I would’ve loved to have done Ken Loach’s movies of films or films for Alan Clarke or Peter Watkins,” Deakins had remarked.

After having cut his teeth by filming documentaries in Africa along with shooting the mushrooming music video scene in the 80s, his major breakthrough came with Barton Fink and then after four years landed with his debut Academy nomination.

It’s been 23 years since with 14 nominations in between. This is finally his year.

Updated Date: Mar 05, 2018 11:32:19 IST