How David Fincher’s ‘Dragon Tattoo’ Marked the End of the Big-Budget Adult Drama

Merrick Morton (Sony Pictures)

Adam Chitwood
November 7, 2018
Collider

When David Fincher was fielding accolades for his 2010 masterpiece The Social Network, he was already in the midst of filming his follow-up project. On the surface, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wasn’t a significant departure for Fincher. At the time, he was already well-versed in the arena of making dark dramas with an edge, be it The Game or Zodiac, and he clearly had plenty of experience telling stories about serial killers. The source material of Dragon Tattoo was massively popular, sure, but with that popularity came the opportunity to take hold of an even bigger budget, telling this dark tale about a pair of outsiders investigating a killer of women against an epic canvas. What Fincher (and the rest of us) couldn’t have known at the time, however, was that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo would be one of the last of its kind, the dying breath of the big budget studio adult drama, as Hollywood would pivot to bigger, flashier, and more superhero-er films in the ensuing years. In hindsight, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a fossil from a bygone era.

The “American” adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s bestselling novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was born in 2009, when producer Scott Rudin secured the rights to the book for Sony Pictures and fellow producers Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal. They set Oscar-winning Schindler’s List screenwriter Steven Zaillian to work on the adaptation, and in March 2010—just as Fincher had completed principal photography on Sony’s The Social Network—the studio began courting the Se7en filmmaker to take the helm.

Fincher had actually been approached about Dragon Tattoo years earlier by Kathleen Kennedy, with whom he’d worked on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. But he rejected the proposition without reading the book, assuming a movie about a bisexual hacker in Stockholm who helps a disgraced journalist uncover a dark secret would never get made. The Swedish film adaptation proved he was wrong, and when Pascal came calling a couple years later, she had an exciting proposition:

“As I finished Social Network, [Sony studio boss] Amy Pascal told me they’d just bought the rights to Dragon Tattoo,” says Fincher. “She said, ‘We believe that a movie franchise doesn’t necessarily have to be for 11-year-olds, that this material is most certainly not for 11-year-olds and that is why we are bringing it to you’.”

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Colorist Podcast: Ian Vertovec, from Light Iron

2018-01-16 Colorist Podcast - Episode 20. Ian Vertovec

Episode 20

January 16, 2018
Colorist Podcast

This episode is sponsored by Colorist Society International and Mixing Light.

On this episode of the colorist podcast, I talk with Ian Vertovec, Co-Founder, and Senior Colorist at Light Iron.

Ian has colored major films “The Social Network,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and “Gone Girl.” And more recently, he has colored the TV shows “Baskets” for FX and “Glow” on Netflix.

Originally from Chicago, Ian focused on photography, then moved on to digital compositing. He later co-founded two post facilities in Los Angeles: Plaster City, then Light Iron. Out of necessity, he moved on to color at his company. He found his combination of photography and compositing matched perfectly for a career as a colorist.

In this podcast, we talk about:

  • Coloring David Fincher films and working with extremely dark images
  • The challenges of working on VFX heavy projects
  • Making HDR look both cinematic and realistic
  • Advantages of working with high-end systems like Quantel Pablo
  • The difference between working on TV and films
  • How experience with compositing served him as a colorist
  • Bringing life to images using texture
  • Using film emulation LUTs in his workflow
  • Comparing different cameras as a colorist
  • Using ACES in a color managed workflow
  • Keeping grades simple, clean, and efficient

Listen to the interview

Tech Media Planet: The Social Network

Episode 22

December 6, 2010
Tech Media Planet

Colorist Ian Vertovec from Light Iron Digital takes us through the ins and outs of color grading one of this year’s biggest hit films “The Social Network”.

Listen to the interview

Dolby: Ian Vertovec and Michael Cioni, from Light Iron

September 2, 2011
Dolby (YouTube)

Playlist:

Thanks to Joe Frady

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — Breaking Convention

Michael Tucker
January 30, 2018
Lessons from the Screenplay (YouTube)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an exciting thriller about an unlikely pair of misfits trying to solve a forty-year-old crime, but it’s also interesting from a structural perspective. It uses a non-conventional, five-act structure. This video breaks down the anatomy of an act, to examine how the film breaks the rules while following them at the same time.

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LFTS Recommended Reading List

Books in this video
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Into the Woods: A Five-Act Journey Into Story by John Yorke
Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field

Watch the previous video on The Avengers and traditional act structure:

David Fincher quote:
BFI LFF: MINDHUNTER Q&A with David Fincher hosted by Nev Pierce. Audio
Min. 1:05:28

Other Lessons from the Screenplay:
Gone Girl — Don’t Underestimate the Screenwriter
True Detective vs. Se7en — Creating Light Amongst The Dark

How David Fincher Uses Pop Music

The Discarded Image (Julian Palmer)
Published on 14 Nov 2017
YouTube

In this video essay I breakdown how David Fincher uses popular music in films like Fight Club, The Social Network and the new Netflix series Mindhunter.

The Girl We Left Behind: Why It Was a Mistake Not To Finish Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo Trilogy

Posted by Donnia Harrington | Aug 30, 2017
Audiences Everywhere

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo deserved better. David Fincher’s adaptation of the popular Swedish novel ranks amongst his most undercelebrated movies. Although it was critically praised and did moderately well at the box office (oh yeah, and it landed Rooney Mara a Best Actress nomination), it somehow still wasn’t enough for the studio to decide to continue the trilogy.

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How a Thinking Filmmaker Films Thinking: The Shot-By-Shot Slow Burn of David Fincher

Posted by Brandi Blahnik | Aug 28, 2017
Audiences Everywhere

One of the most challenging aspects of storytelling is showing a character thinking. It might sound like a straightforward task, but think about what you look like while studying. Ever watched someone complete a puzzle? It’s a quiet, meditative task marked by trial and error. In reality, there’s remarkably little head-scratching or furrowed brows. Visually, it’s rather unimpressive.

So how does a creator reveal thinking—poring over material, investigative work, head-buried-in-clues research—without absolutely boring the audience? How does a director reinvent frustration, the false lead, the maddening search, particularly over a two-hour film?

David Fincher has made a career of chronicling that very process.

Not only has Fincher produced some of the most haunting detective sequences in film—Se7en, Zodiac, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—but you’d be unlikely to find criticism calling his films boring. He’s a master at tension-building and unapologetic about his resolutions. Perhaps this is why so many of his characters fall prey to their own obsessive madness. The unraveling of a character is something Fincher portrays with patience and deliberateness.

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How Rooney Mara Became One of the Most Exciting Actresses Working Today

Rooney Mara is addicted to filmmaking vision, and it’s resulted in one of the most surprising young careers Hollywood has right now.

Zack Sharf
Jul 7, 2017
IndieWire

It’s the “A Ghost Story” scene critics can’t stop talking about. Still grieving from the loss of her husband, the widow M returns home and consumes an entire vegan chocolate pie in one sitting. David Lowery captures the moment in a nearly four-minute long take, but the stillness of the camera makes it feel like an eternity. It’s up to Rooney Mara to fill the frame with a sense of hopelessness that anyone who’s been through the grieving process can relate to. She does so with the commitment and the sensitive gusto that has defined a majority of her 12 years as an actress.

Mara first began acting as an extra in movies starring her sister, Kate, before landing television supporting roles on shows like “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Women’s Murder Club” and “ER.” Now she’s one of the most exciting film stars in the business, with one of the year’s best films in select theaters (read IndieWire’s A review here) and a potential Oscar contender hitting awards season on November 24 (“Mary Magdalene”). Her ascension to becoming an indie film darling has been marked by careful decision-making, and it all started with a shot from Hollywood’s most demanding auteur.

With “A Ghost Story” now playing, it’s become increasingly clear Rooney Mara will never stop surprising when it comes to her performances. Here’s how she made it happen.

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