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Lens Crafter: Roger Deakins on 'Doubt'

Roger Deakins might be the most famous man working in film that you’ve never heard of.

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A still from Revolutionary Road.

Photo By FRANCOIS DUHAMEL/2008 DREAMWORKS LLC

Roger Deakins might be the most famous man working in film that you’ve never heard of.

The Coen brothers rarely make a movie without him — when he isn’t working for other directors such as Ron Howard, Paul Haggis, M. Night Shyamalan and Martin Scorsese. He’s garnered seven Oscar nominations for movies like 2008’s “No Country for Old Men” and “The Assassination of Jesse James,” as well as “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Fargo” and “Kundun.” This year might bring several more — and finally, a win — with the hotly tipped “Revolutionary Road,” “Doubt” and “The Reader.”

But the soft-spoken cinematographer demurs on the topic of awards and accolades. “I think you’re just there to service the film,” says the native of Devon, England, by phone from aboard his sailboat in Paignton Harbour. “It’s just trying to get the best look for the film without compromising the performance. Without performance, you’ve got nothing. I’m not in love with pretty cinematography.”

Such service is worthy of recognition, others have decided. This week Deakins was nominated by a jury of his peers, the American Society of Cinematographers, for his work on “Revolutionary Road” and “The Reader” (which he worked on until delays forced him to hand the camera over to Chris Menges).

“Roger is one of the greatest cinematographers in the world,” says “The Reader” director Stephen Daldry. “Who would not want to work with him? He is one of the most gifted collaborators one could possibly hope to have on a set. His advice, guidance and help were invaluable.”

And, in a world where egos are always jostling for hierarchy, Deakins is refreshingly straightforward. “He’s a very modest guy and he’s a man of few words,” says “Doubt” director John Patrick Shanley.

In keeping with his unobtrusive style, Deakins values story over opportunities for flashy camera work. “I really tend to go towards the scripts that are about characters,” he says. That led him to join the emotional drama “Revolutionary Road,” directed by Sam Mendes, with whom he worked previously on 2005’s war flick “Jarhead.” Though much of “Road” was shot on the very constrained location of a suburban Connecticut house where he had to re-create abundant natural light, Deakins didn’t balk.
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