Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC (The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford and No County for Old Men), Robert Elswit, ASC (There Will be Blood), Janusz Kaminski (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) and Seamus McGarvey, BSC (Atonement) are contending for the cinematography Oscar in the 80th annual Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences competition.
The cinematographers and their films are mirror images of the nominations in the 22nd annual American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Outstanding Achievement Award competition. That has only happened once before; in 1996, five of the six ASC nominees were also contenders in the Oscar competition. This is an encore performance for Deakins, who was nominated for both Oscar and ASC awards in 1996 for Fargo. The last time a cinematographer earned two Oscar nominations was in 1971 when Robert Surtees, ASC was chosen for The Last Picture Show and Summer of ‘42.
The four nominees are a diverse group. Deakins was born and raised in England, where he began his career as a documentary cinematographer. Elswit was born and raised in the United States. McGarvey is a native of Ireland but launched his career in England. Kaminski was born in Poland, but his career only began after migrating to the U.S.
No Country for Old Men marks the tenth collaboration for Deakins with Joel and Ethan Coen at the helm. The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford is only Andrew Dominik’s second outing as a director and his first collaboration with Deakins. There Will Be Blood is the sixth time that Elswit has collaborated with Paul Thomas Anderson. Atonement is McGarvey’s third film with director Joe Wright. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the first collaboration between Kaminski and director Julian Schnabel. Kaminski also claimed top honors for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly at the 2007 CamerImage International Festival of Cinematography in Lodt, Poland.
Both the Oscar and ASC nominees are chosen by peer groups drawing from the same list of nearly 500 films which qualified for Academy Award contention. The main difference is that the ASC peer group is significantly larger, consisting of some 290 members. They aren’t generally looking for “beautiful images.” They are judging cinematography based upon how it works for the story and how it makes them feel.
“Cinematography is a collaborative process,” says ASC president Daryn Okada. “But there are no general rules other than the cinematographer must be in synch with the director’s personality and vision. It’s a two-way street; you listen, but you also suggest ideas. It is a total team effort, involving many people who are doing diverse jobs… the production and costume designers, makeup and hair artists, the camera, electrical and grip crews and the actors all interact with the cinematographer. You also need trusting relationships with the cast, so they feel comfortable and free to follow their instincts.”