After (re)turning to the Coen Brothers’ True Grit last night with a couple of friends, I was reminded of two things. Well, quite a bit more than two, actually. It’s incredibly re-watchable. But let’s keep it simple, shall we? So…two things:
First, Roger Deakins is, and has long been, and will soon cease to be (I say hopefully) my very favorite non-Oscar-winning cinematographer of all time. (Seriously. It’s getting silly, people. Someone give that man a statue already!)
Second, this 2007 conversation from The American Society of Cinematographers on “Deakins’ thoughts about his first two forays into the Western genre” is really great stuff. He hadn’t worked on True Grit yet, but his thoughts on shooting the Coens’ recently-completed “Modernist Western,” No Country for Old Men, could probably fill in for both films. Mostly, though, I was fascinated by his account of working on the astonishingly-under-appreciated The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Especially this moment (discussed in detail in the Q&A).
There’s one shot where the train is coming toward you and seems to hit the camera and carry it down the tracks; on the tracks, we set up a camera-platform rig with a big, soft buffer, and the train actually hit the platform and started pushing it along. In that particular shot, you can really see the warm glow of the bulbs underneath the engine. We also positioned a little silver reflector that caught some of the bounce from the 5K on the train, just to create some reflected light that would reveal the front of the train — otherwise, there was nothing else to illuminate it. We had a steam generator on the train so that when it stopped, we got this big cloud of steam that Jesse disappears into.