Film Talk

Posted on by

The Shawshank Redemption: Light and Dark (7 replies and 4 comments)

BenjaminD. Sharples
5 years ago

A few days ago I watched The Shawshank Redemption. I've seen this wonderful film so many times. But this time I payed very close attention to exclusivelyn the "Lighting" throughout the picture. I noticed a strong presence of light cast through the cell doors and Hope juxtaposed with the darkness paired with evil. For example the "Better get busy living or get busy dying" Scene: Andy walks away from Red because he's had enough with the prison therefore he stands in the light and Red remains under the shadow of the prison's walls. Was this theme of lighting intentional throughout the film or just a product of my imagination?

Roger Deakins
5 years ago
Roger Deakins 5 years ago

I expect the truth is a little of both. I always love playing with light and shadow. Sometimes I think of the light representing good and evil or hope and despair but my thinking is not always so conceptualized. Sometimes, as with Red remaining in the shadow, you have to work with the space and the light that you are given. In that case we had light that was not the best so we staged the scene in the shadow of the wall and tried our best to maintain continuity during what was quite a long scene. I believe I shot the wide side angle when the light was at its best and then used overheads to control some of the closer work. The shadow was nice but I wouldn't say I was consciously thinking of hope and despair at the time of the shoot. Just getting the scene shot with as much consistency as possible. 

BenjaminD. Sharples
5 years ago

Thanks for the response. I have to ask do you ever see yourself collaborating with Frank Darabont again?

Roger Deakins
5 years ago
Roger Deakins 5 years ago

Never say never but 'Shawshank' was a long time ago!

BenjaminD. Sharples
5 years ago

Maybe if Frank comes back to Film. He needs to forget about Zombies 😉

RAS
5 years ago
RAS 5 years ago

Even if it is free interpretation, there is an article I enjoyed reading a lot about light and shadow in 'Shawshank': http://thefilmspectrum.com/?p=663#C11»

I suggest you pay special attention to the part on "Indicative Lighting". The comments on the shadows - and camera placements - comparing Brook's release from prison and Red's release are especially amazing. 

Roger, do you remember if those setups were conscious? I don't know if they were, but they surely gave more meaning to the story and showed the value of great cinematography.

Roger Deakins
5 years ago
Roger Deakins 5 years ago

I think I am always 'conscious' when I make the decision where to place the camera, what lens to use, what the framing is, how the light is falling etc. We were very 'concious' of the comparison between the release of Brook and of Red. We spent a long time on those sequences both looking at locations and deciding on shots. On the other hand a shot or a sequence can, perhaps, be analyzed more deeply than was ever anticipated.

Tim Lookingbill
5 years ago
Tim Lookingbill 5 years ago

I have to agree with the linked article's author RAS posted. Shawshank Redemption is my top movie favorite with Green Mile second and LA Confidential third or...no The Big Lebowski, but it was for the story and how it was told through editing, dialog, lighting and composition. 

I have to admit I didn't know at the time Roger was DP for the two mentioned but then I never watched movies to look for it. But I can say I've sensed a consistency from the ones I know Roger imbues a level of maturity and grounded sensibility for slightly stylized realism that doesn't distract like most other movies.

I also assumed Roger had already won several Oscars until that article got me to google to find out if he'ld won. I was dropped jawed at the fact he's only been nominated now 12 times. ARE YOU F**KING KIDDING ME?! Wow! the Oscar committee really seem to like Roger's work but just can't commit.

Now I have to wonder what  the Oscar folks base their decisions for best DP on. Do they analyze it like that reviewer? Or do they simply go by pretty colors?

Now I'm going to have to see what won DP against Shawshank Redemption. It better blow my socks off but I'm not counting on it.

Tim Lookingbill
5 years ago

It was John Toll for "Legends of The Fall". I remember seeing it but was bored out of my mind sitting through it but never noticed any of that having to do with the cinematography but then didn't notice anything special about it either other than the beautiful nature landscapes and golden hour lighting.

Ah! So it is based on pretty colors. OK, Roger, just crank up the saturation on your next movie and you're good to go for a win.

RAS
5 years ago
RAS 5 years ago

Thanks a lot for your answer, Roger! Out of respect, I just wanted to clarify that by asking if your camera setups had been conscious, I did not mean to say that those scenes in 'Shawshank' might have been filmed just out of luck, without any planning or thought. By following your work and forum, I know well how carefully you execute everything. I just meant to ask if the interpretations given by the author in the linked article were the ones the director and you actually wanted to give; in other words, if you had that same interpretation in mind, since we have seen how people sometimes make free interpretations and give meaning to films that were not necessarily in the filmmaker's mind. And whether or not the comments of the author I mentioned were in your mind while filming, they seem absolutely true and are a tribute to excepcional cinematography. 

But glad to hear from you how everything was carefully planned indeed, including the comparisons between the releases of Brook and Red. Very glad to hear it from you indeed, and thanks for answering my question!

Roger Deakins
5 years ago
Roger Deakins 5 years ago

I think there are many things said about many films that are in the mind of the viewer rather that in the mind of the film maker. I think it was John Huston who said that you shoot with your gut and not with your head. He was about the best there ever was so he should know. 

Yes, the comparison was there between the release of Brook and the release of Red. That was in the script and it was something that we were conscious of when we started visualization the film. I can't say it was more than that.

RAS
5 years ago

Great answer, once again. Thanks a lot for your explanation!

Back to Film Talk...