October 24, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

Unbroken has no shortage of action. Director Angelina Jolie’s fact-based drama chronicles the incredible life of Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), an Olympic athlete-turned-WWII hero who survived two years in a Japanese POW camp after he had endured a plane crash in the Pacific and 47 days aboard a life raft. In this quiet but striking scene set on that raft, Zamperini and fellow GI Russell Allen Phillips (Domhnall Gleeson) have just experienced a devastating loss. (No spoilers if you haven’t yet read Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book.) ”The light is beautiful, but it’s also kind of bittersweet,” says cinematographer Roger Deakins, who worked closely with Jolie on the reported $65 million production. He waited until late afternoon to catch the low-hanging sun. ”I tend to shoot exteriors quite naturalistically, so I light as little as possible,” he says.

While some of the raft sequences were shot off the coast of Australia, this one was filmed in an outdoor water tank in Queensland in front of a bluescreen. (The clouds actually came from a northern Queensland sky captured on a different date; they were digitally added later.) ”I would have loved to have shot it all on the open ocean, but that would have been a different-budgeted movie,” says Deakins, an 11-time Oscar nominee for his work on such films as The Shawshank Redemption and Skyfall. ”We had to face certain practicalities.” Filming in a tank may have been less authentic, but it did have an upside: The actors preferred it. ”You bet your life they did,” he says with a laugh. ”It’s hard being out on the open water — there’s spray and the sun and the wind and no escape, no cover.”

Laura Hillenbrand
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