Is it a practical choice, since it demands uncomfortable amounts of light?
Or is it a stylistic choice? Is deep focus more beautiful and "right" for BW-films than color features?
What do you think? What is your opinion on deep focus cinematography?
On '1984' I shot much of the film at F5.6. Even on colour stock this required a great deal of light and was an additional expense for the production, but that was the look I wanted. Today most Cinematographers are looking for naturalism and I think that a shallow depth of field gives the image a little softer and maybe a more natural look. It is certainly cheaper and quicker to shoot at a wider stop as well as cooler on the set, factors which need to be taken into consideration by most if not all Cinematographers. It is, maybe, something of a fashion. But remember, also, that lenses are so much faster and sharper these days. Even I remember being told whilst at Film School that the 'sweet spot' of a lens was between 4.0 and 5.6 (and that wasn't that long ago!). This may still be true but it's pretty much irrelevant as lenses today are so sharp even when wide open.
Personally I am a sucker for deep focus-shots, but that may be more for the sheer "show-off"-factor rather that the purpuse of the story. what do you, as a cinematographer, think when you see a movie with a lot of deep focus work?
PS: I wanna thank you for a wonderful forum, Mr Deakins. It is great that you take time to answer questions.
I don't quite understand about how slower color stocks and widescreen can lead to the decline of deep focus shots. From my knowledge, if wide lens, say an anamorphic lens (don't know if tht's wht you mean by widescreen) was used, wouldnt' that tend to increase the depth of field even more? And these days, most of the color stocks are much faster than the olden days stock.
I wonder if you have seen 'once upon a time in the west', which has lots of deep focus scene. But then again, the broad daylight in the desert may have made things a little easier, perhaps. I think in Sergio's western, the landscape is just as important as his characters, and maybe that's why deep focus conveys so effectively in his movies.
Whilst it is true that early colour stocks were slow that could also be said of early B/W stocks. Don't forget that lenses (there was less choice of focal length and a 50mm was standard) were also slower and lights were less efficient. Lens preference has a great deal to do with the apparent depth of field. Many contemporary directors use longer lenses, a 100 or 135mm, as standard as they like the shallow focus effect that these lenses will give. For a Coen Brother's picture a 32mm or a 27mm is a standard focal length and the difference in the 'look' is obvious.
Whilst deep focus was a style it was also, in many ways, a necessity. If you are shooting with a lens that will only open up to a 4.0, or is only acceptably sharp between a stop of 4.0/5.6 and 8.0, you will naturally be shooting images with a greater depth of focus. Another point to consider is that a B/W image with a good contrast range will appear to be sharper than a colour image of less contrast. Greg Toland's work in 'Citizen Kane' is often considered a prime example of deep focus Cinematography but if you look closely you will see that many of the supposedly 'deep focus' shots have been made using wide lenses, split diopters or are in fact composites. 'A Touch of Evil' is another example of beautiful deep focus B/W Cinematography, shot by the great Russell Metty, but how much of the apparent depth is created by the use of wide lenses and the contrast of the image as opposed to the use of an enormous amount of light. I'm sure there was a large amount of light on the set as Russell Metty did not have the luxury of a 500 ASA stock or a 2.0 lens. It follows that his use of hard, direct light sources may well have been as much for practical reasons as aesthetic ones.
Maybe the pragmatical side of it is the biggest factor why deep focus has diminished? Must be hard for filmmakers to defend a deep focus look to producers when it make the production more expensive, time-consuming and uncomfortable. Did you have to fight for your decision to shoot at F5.6 on 1984?
But not only deep focus, but even deep staging have decreased in contemporary cinema, to my eyes. The trend in staging seem to be flat, and have characters stand/sit on one spot in the same plane. The films of the Coen brothers and you are a delight with their staging in depth.
I did have to fight for the lighting sometimes on '1984' and a lot of other things. It was one of my first films as a cinematographer and the line producer didn't think I was experienced enough or at all capable of shooting it.
Ryan S. wrote:A great example of deep focus photography that comes to my mind is Paper Moon by the late great Laszlo Kovacs. Nearly everything in the film seems to be in focus, even the night scenes. Most of all though, it's a wonderful story. Thought I'd throw that out there.
Paper Moon is very good deep focus movie. What is even more interesting is that Kovacs used red filter (which filters out light), because Orson Welles told him and Bogdanovich so. So I guess it was a hot set.
On the RedUser forum David Mullen ASC wrote about Red Beard by Kurusawa, and points out that it is shot in anamorphic, with long lenses up 500 mm, and still have a deep focus look. Apparently Kurasawa had light leves up to F22 to get the look he wanted! Incredible that the actors and crew could stand the heat!
May I ask how you got the 1984-gig? Did Michael Radford see your documentary work?
You can use a 500mm and have everything in frame sharp if you have your action on the same plane. Much of Kurosawa's work tends to to be formal, not flat exactly but in the style of Japanese woodcuts. Even at a 22 I don't quite see this as a deep focus look though. I can't really see anything shot with a 500mm, anamorphic or not, being a deep focus look in the way I understand it. I must watch 'Red Beard' again!
I had known Mike Radford for some time before '1984'. We had done some documentary work together and also a previous feature, 'Another Time Another Place'.
But isn't it the long lens that make Red Beard seem flat like a japanese painting, not the staging? Since it is not allowed to post screencaps, I link to one: http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/DVDCompare2/redbeard/sub-cri-samp.jpg. To my untrained eye it seems that action are in different planes but it becomes flat by the optics used. But I agree with you that many shots in Red Beard only have action in one plane, so it might be an exaggeration to call it a deep focus movie.
That is a great composition you choose and I would agree with you that the compression caused by the use of a longer lens has tended to flatten the image. I would be interested to know just how long the lens was.
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