Roger Deakins, 2011.jpg

Sir Roger Alexander Deakins CBE (born 24 May 1949) is an English cinematographer, best known for his collaborations with directors like the Coen brothers, Sam Mendes and Denis Villeneuve on their films. Deakins has been admitted to both the British Society of Cinematographers and to the American Society of Cinematographers. He is the recipient of five BAFTA Awards for Best Cinematography, and has had fifteen nominations and two wins for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. His best-known works include The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, A Beautiful Mind, Skyfall, Sicario, Blade Runner 2049, and 1917, the last two of which earned him the Academy Awards.

An alumnus of the National Film and Television School, in recognition of his "outstanding contribution[s] to ... British film" Deakins was named and serves as an Honorary Fellow of the school. Deakins received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Cinematographers in 2011, and in 2013 he was bestowed a CBE by the Palace for his services to film. In the 2021 New Year Honours he was knighted as a Knight Bachelor.

Early Life

Deakins was born in Torquay in the English county of Devon. His father ran a construction company, while his mother was an actress and amateur painter. Deakins attended Torquay Boys' Grammar School. He took up painting from a young age, and subsequently enrolled in the Bath Academy of Art in Bath, Somerset, where he studied graphic design. While studying in Bath, Deakins developed a passion for photography; he cited the photographer Roger Mayne, who was then a guest lecturer at the academy, as a major source of inspiration.

After college, Deakins applied to the newly opened National Film School, but was denied admission as his photography was considered not "filmic" enough. He spent the following year wandering the countryside, photographing rural life in North Devon, before finally being admitted to the National Film School in 1972. Director Michael Radford was one of Deakins's schoolmates.

Career

Early career

After graduating, Deakins found work as a cameraman, assisting in the production of projects for about seven years. An early project of his involved filming a nine-month trip on a yacht as an entrant of the Whitbread Round the World Race, titled Around the World with Ridgeway. Deakins was hired to film two documentaries in Africa. His first, Zimbabwe, was a clandestine documentation of the Rhodesian Bush War, while his second, Eritrea – Behind Enemy Lines, depicted the Eritrean War of Independence. He also shot anthropological documentaries in India and Sudan.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Deakins was involved in a number of music-related projects, including Blue Suede Shoes, a music documentary about the British rockabilly scene, the concert film Van Morrison in Ireland, and the Ray Davies musical film Return to Waterloo. He also made short music videos for Herbie Hancock, Eric Clapton, Marvin Gaye, Tracey Ullman, Madness, Level 42 and Meat Loaf.

Feature films

Deakins's first dramatic project was miniseries titled Wolcott, about a black detective working in the East End of London. The camerawork of the miniseries impressed his former schoolmate and frequent collaborator Michael Radford, who enlisted Deakins for their first dramatic feature, the 1983 film Another Time, Another Place. The film screened at the Cannes Film Festival and was well-received; subsequently, Deakins and Radford teamed up again on Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), based upon George Orwell's novel of the same name. The film was praised for its bold, unusual palette, which Deakins achieved through a process known as bleach bypass, where the silver is retained in the print, creating a washed-out look that reflected Orwell's bleak vision. Deakins was the first Western cinematographer to use the technique, which has since become highly influential and could be seen in films such as Seven (1995) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). Throughout the 1980s, Deakins continued working in Britain, serving as cinematographer for films including Defence of the Realm (1986), Sid and Nancy (1986), White Mischief (1987; his third feature film with Radford), Stormy Monday (1988) and Pascali's Island (1988).

In 1991, Deakins began his long-term collaboration with the Coen brothers, starting with the film Barton Fink. The Coens had been impressed with Deakins's work, and reached out to him after their previous collaborator Barry Sonnenfeld left to pursue a career in directing. The film won the Coens' the Festival de Cannes 1991 Palme d'Or and Best Director awards (and John Turturro the award for Best Actor), and earned Deakins best cinematography awards from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles film critics circles.

In 1994, the year Deakins was admitted to the American Society of Cinematographers, he served as cinematographer for The Shawshank Redemption, which earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography, and his first American Society of Cinematographers Award. He received two further Academy Award nominations in that decade, for Fargo (1996) and Kundun (1997).

For the Coen brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), Deakins spent some two months fine-tuning the look, turning the lush green Mississippi landscape into a burnt, autumnal yellow and desaturating the overall image. This feat made O Brother the first ever feature film to be digitally color-corrected in its entirety, and earned Deakins his fourth Academy Award nomination. The following year, for his work in the Coen brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), Deakins received his fifth Oscar nomination and won his first BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography.

In 2008, Deakins received dual Oscar nominations—his sixth and seventh—for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) and No Country for Old Men (2007). He was the first cinematographer to achieve such a feat since Robert Surtees, who was nominated for The Last Picture Show and Summer of '42 in 1972. Deakins served as director of photography for Stephen Daldry's The Reader (2008) but left mid-production due to delays and previous commitments, and was replaced by Chris Menges. The two cinematographers received a shared nomination for Best Cinematography at the 81st Academy Awards.

Deakins worked with the Coens on the 2010 western True Grit—their eleventh collaboration—for which he received his ninth Oscar nomination.

Deakins signed on as cinematographer for Skyfall (2012), having previously worked with director Sam Mendes on Jarhead (2005) and Revolutionary Road (2008). For his work, Deakins received another Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography, eventually losing to Claudio Miranda of Life of Pi—his 10th nomination without securing a win.

In addition to his live-action work, Deakins also served as a visual consultant on animated features, including WALL-E (2008), Rango (2011), Rise of the Guardians (2012), The Croods (2013), the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy (2010, 2014 and 2019), Abby Hatcher: The Movie (2022), Eleanor (2023), De Blob (2024), Deathspider (2024), Ni Hao, Kai-Lan: The Movie (2024), Team Umizoomi: The Movie (2024), Little Einsteins: The Movie (2025) and Bubble Guppies: The Movie (2025).

Starting with Prisoners (2013), Deakins began working with director Denis Villeneuve. The two proceeded to collaborate on Sicario (2015) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017), with Deakins earning Oscar nominations for all three films. For his work on Blade Runner 2049, Deakins received his first Academy Award for Best Cinematography on his 14th nomination.

Deakins reunited with Sam Mendes on the 2019 war film 1917, filmed and edited to appear as one uninterrupted take, for which he received his second Academy Award on his 15th nomination.

Roger Deakins is currently the cinematographer on the upcoming Sony Pictures Animation film, Lin-Manuel Miranda's Vivo.

Awards and recognition

He has been nominated for Academy Awards fifteen times, winning the Academy Award for Best Cinematography twice—on his fourteenth and fifteenth nominations—for Blade Runner 2049 (2017) and 1917 (2019). He has been named as an Honorary Fellow of his alma mater, the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, an honour which recognises "outstanding contribution to the British film and television industry" On 28 February 2020.

Deakins is the recipient of five BAFTA Awards for Best Cinematography, for The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) in that same year, and for No Country for Old Men (2007), True Grit, Blade Runner 2049 (2017), 1917 (2019), each in the year following their release. As well, two films that he shot, Fargo (1996), and A Serious Man (2009), won Independent Spirit Awards for Best Cinematography in the year after their release.

He received the Royal Photographic Society's Lumière Award for major achievement in cinematography, video or animation in 2009.  The National Board of Review, a group of New York-based reviewers whose organization dates to 1909, honoured Deakins in 2007 with its award for Career Achievement in Cinematography. Deakins went on to receive the American Society of Cinematographers and the British Society of Cinematographers Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 and 2015 respectively.

Deakins was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to film. He was knighted in the 2021 New Year Honours, also for services to film.

Critical reception

Deakins is often cited as one of the greatest and most influential cinematographers of all time. His consistent output led fellow cinematographer Robert Elswit to jokingly suggest that the American Society of Cinematographers should establish a special award for "films shot by Roger Deakins." Deakins did achieve a degree of notoriety, however, for his lack of success at the Academy Awards, where he received 13 nominations without a win, a fact often lamented by journalists and film critics. His first Oscar win (on his 14th nomination) for Blade Runner 2049 at the 90th Academy Awards was widely reported and met with great enthusiasm.

Deakins is considered to be among the most respected and sought-after cinematographers in the film business. His involvement in a film could secure the casting of established stars—a distinction usually reserved for auteur directors. He landed the role of director of photography in The Shawshank Redemption at the insistence of Tim Robbins, who had previously worked with him on the Coen brothers film The Hudsucker Proxy. Josh Brolin agreed to join the cast of Sicario only after hearing of Deakins's involvement. When Ryan Gosling accepted his role in Blade Runner 2049, he cited the involvement of Deakins as a factor for his decision.

Personal life

Deakins married Isabella James Purefoy Ellis (b. January 1954, professionally known as James Ellis Deakins and often referred to simply as James) on 11 December 1991. They had met in 1991 in Los Angeles on the set of David Mamet's Homicide, where she was working as the script supervisor. The two began dating after the Homicide production finished and were married within about six months. Since then, James Ellis has "ovesee[n] the digital workflow of... film[s]", and they have worked together on various projects, including The Goldfinch and 1917. As of February 2020, they reside in Kingswear, Devon, and Santa Monica, California.

Deakins has kept a boat since beginning such activities with his father as a child—with him, first a sailboat, then a motor boat—and he currently keeps one in Torquay, his hometown, to which he often goes (and from which he fishes) when in England. When in Devon he enjoys running, and has maintained a passion for still photography.

Since 2005, Deakins has maintained a website through which he frequently communicates with admirers and other industry practitioners. His correspondence includes answering fan questions and offering cinematography tips. Since April 2020 he and his wife have hosted the Team Deakins podcast, whose guests have included Sam Mendes, John Crowley, and Denis Villeneuve.

Filmography

Roger Deakins filmography
Year Title Director Notes
1977 Cruel Passion Chris Boger
1979 Van Morrison in Ireland Michael Radford 1st of 4 collaborations with Radford
1980 Blue Suede Shoes Curtis Clark
1983 Another Time, Another Place Michael Radford
1984 Nineteen Eighty-Four
Return to Waterloo Ray Davies
1985 Shadey Philip Saville
1986 Defence of the Realm David Drury
Sid and Nancy Alex Cox
1987 Personal Services Terry Jones
White Mischief Michael Radford
1988 Pascali’s Island James Dearden
Stormy Monday Mike Figgis
The Kitchen Toto Harry Hook
1990 Air America Roger Spottiswoode
Mountains of the Moon Bob Rafelson
The Long Walk Home Richard Pearce
1991 Barton Fink Ethan & Joel Coen 1st of 12 collaborations with the Coens
Homicide David Mamet
1992 Passion Fish John Sayles
Thunderheart Michael Apted
1993 The Secret Garden Agniezka Holland
1994 The Hudsucker Proxy Ethan & Joel Coen
The Shawshank Redemption Frank Darabont 1st of 15 Academy Award nominations
1995 Dead Man Walking Tim Robbins
1996 Courage Under Fire Edward Zwick 1st of 2 collaborations with Zwick
Fargo Ethan & Joel Coen
1997 Kundun Martin Scorsese
1998 The Big Lebowski Ethan & Joel Coen
The Siege Edward Zwick
1999 Anywhere But Here Wayne Wang
The Hurricane Norman Jewison 1st of 2 collaborations with Jewison
2000 O Brother, Where Art Thou? Ethan & Joel Coen
2001 A Beautiful Mind Ron Howard
Dinner with Friends Norman Jewison Television film
The Man Who Wasn't There Ethan & Joel Coen
2003 House of Sand and Fog Vadim Perelman
Intolerable Cruelty Ethan & Joel Coen
Levity Ed Solomon
2004 The Ladykillers Ethan & Joel Coen
The Village M. Night Shyamalan
2005 Jarhead Sam Mendes 1st of 4 collaborations with Mendes
2007 In The Valley of Elah Paul Haggis
No Country for Old Men Ethan & Joel Coen
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford Andrew Dominik
2008 Doubt John Patrick Shanley
Revolutionary Road Sam Mendes
The Reader Stephen Daldry Co-cinematographer with Chris Menges
2009 A Serious Man Ethan & Joel Coen
2010 The Company Men John Wells
True Grit Ethan & Joel Coen
2011 In Time Andrew Niccol 1st of 2 collaborations with Niccol
Rango Gore Verbinski
2012 Skyfall Sam Mendes
2013 Prisoners Denis Villenueve 1st of 3 collaborations with Villenueve
2014 Unbroken Angelina Jolie
2015 Sicario Denis Villenueve
2016 Hail, Caesar! Ethan & Joel Coen
2017 Blade Runner 2049 Denis Villenueve
2019 The Goldfinch John Crowley
1917 Sam Mendes
2021 Vivo Kirk DeMicco
Vampirina Tim Burton Visual Consultant
2022 Abby Hatcher: The Movie Chris McKay
Harlem Boys George Miller 1st of 2 collaborations with Miller
2023 Santiago of the Seas: The Movie Genndy Tartakovsky
Eleanor George Miller
2024 De Blob Phil Lord and Christopher Miller Visual Consultant

1st of 2 collaborations with Lord and Miller

Deathspider Doug Liman
Ni Hao, Kai-Lan: The Movie Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger Visual Consultant

1st of 2 collaborations with Aibel and Berger

Team Umizoomi: The Movie James Gunn Visual consultant
2025 Swiper Andrew Niccol
Little Einsteins: The Movie Phil Lord and Christopher Miller Visual consultant
Bubble Guppies: The Movie Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger
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