Christopher Probst, ASC, is curating The ASC’s Instagram for March.
Hello and thanks for the warm welcome! I’m honored to be hosting this month and look forward to posting a variety of images/topics. Being a nerd, there’ll be plenty of technical posts about cameras/lenses, but I’d also like to draw on my teaching at Global Cinematography Institute and writing/editing for American Cinematographer for the last 24 years. To begin, I’ll start with a little Mindhunter anecdote.
Over the past few months I’ve been asked, “What’s it like shooting for David Fincher?”
Coming up the camera department as a 1st AC/operator then shooting music videos and commercials, I’ve operated most of my projects. Simultaneously, I’ve also been writing for AC since 1994 and its Technical Editor since 98. That enabled me to literally corner many of the DPs I admired and pick their brains under the guise of some altruistic journalistic cause (but always with the underlying motive to learn from idols like Conrad Hall, Deakins, Chivo, Khondji, Harris Savides; and directors like Spielberg, Bay, the Coen bros., and Fincher). Like many of you, I’ve admired/studied David’s work, so thinking myself somewhat clever and not without operating skills, I opted to operate A-camera on my episodes.
Early in the schedule, we were shooting a prison corridor as Jonathan Groff is led to meet the serial-killer Ed Kemper. We had 2 cameras on 150’ of dolly track: a 65mm locked-off closeup and a 29mm low 2-shot I operated remotely. We did a take and David said, “That’s great, but pan a little to the right.” Ok… note taken. Next take. “Pan to the left…” What the hell? Ok, what’s he looking at? We shot Mindhunter in 6K framing for a 5K extraction, so I was mainly looking where to place our lead in this low 3/4 shot. You know, rule-of-thirds kind of thinking:
Then it dawned on me. David’s looking for balance/symmetry in all aspects of his work. Forget what books say. He’s looking at the shot as a whole. Not just the actors. As the two walk, if I framed only for Ford, the guard may be at the edge or even cut off. Anything but symmetrical! But once I got in David’s head, I moved back from the monitor and tried to NOT look at the actors and just balance the sides of the frame.
That level of symmetry/precision permeates all aspects of a Fincher film. Working with David is full of moments that strengthen you as a filmmaker if you are open to challenging yourself and your preconceived ideas.