Anarchy in the U.S.A.

Flashback: Fight Club

Talking about one of the most divisive films of the 1990s, as director David Fincher teamed with first-time feature cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, ASC to craft a tale of modern disillusionment.

Director David Fincher teams with first-time feature cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth to craft a tale of modern disillusionment in Fight Club.

Christopher Probst [ASC]
Unit photography by Merrick Morton [SMPSP]
November 1999
American Cinematographer

In his 1996 novel Fight Club, writer Chuck Palahniuk posed this question: What do you do when you realize the world is not destined to be your oyster, when you recognize the innocuous banalities of everyday life as nothing more than a severely loosened lid on a seething underworld cauldron of unchecked impulses and social atrocities?

Director David Fincher is no stranger to this theme. All of his previous films, Alien3 (see AC July ‘92), Seven (AC Oct. ‘95) and The Game (AC Sept. ‘97), have explored the dark side of the human psyche. With Fight Club, Fincher once again demonstrates his affinity for this bleak and foreboding realm, displaying a deft cinematic sensibility and a gift for taut visual execution.

Fight Club opens as its disenfranchised — and nameless — narrator (Edward Norton) feigns illness and begins attending cancer-patient support group meetings in a vain attempt to find purpose within his lonely, mundane existence. Through a chance encounter on an airplane, he meets the enigmatic Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), the organizer of Fight Club, an underground group of young men who take part in bare-knuckle brawls concocted to vent their pre-apocalyptic angst.

Fincher has worked with a score of prominent cinematographers on commercials, music videos and feature films. Interestingly, he began shooting Alien3 with the late Jordan Cronenweth, ASC — who left the production due to his battle with Parkinson’s disease, and was replaced by Alex Thomson, BSC. For Fight Club, Fincher enlisted Jordan’s son, Jeff Cronenweth [ASC], to realize his uniquely dystopian vision.

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Cronenweth (wearing cap, just behind the camera on left) and his crew set up double coverage for a conversation scene between Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and the film’s nameless narrator (Edward Norton).

Follow Jeff Cronenweth, ASC Archives on Twitter

Conversations with Darius Khondji

Visit with Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC

Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC (Marianne Chemetov / American Cinematographer)

Benjamin B
February 11 & 22, 2019
American Cinematographer (Blogs), The Film Book

When I visit Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC, in his home in Paris recently for coffee, tea and talk about his art and craft, we speak in his dark living room, with a small pool of light from a lamp on a nearby table, and soft daylight coming through French windows that give on to a snowy courtyard.

Darius’ wife, photographer Marianne Chemetov, kindly agrees to shoot a still of her husband for me near a window. They discuss the lighting. Darius asks to be in silhouette, and, afterwards he darkens Marianne’s photo on his iPhone even further. I ask him about this, and he says: “I like the radical quality of this chiaroscuro.”

Part 1: Book, Dimming, Colors, Direction

Part 2: Sources, Exposure, Contradictions, Directors

Book Excerpt: Conversations with Darius Khondji

The esteemed ASC member reflects on his breakthrough feature Se7en, which helped change the face of Hollywood horror and suspense features and remains a cinematic touchstone.

November 05, 2018
American Cinematographer

The following is an excerpt from the new book Conversations with Darius Khondji, written by The Hollywood Reporter film critic Jordan Mintzer and published in a French-English bilingual edition by Synecdoche in Paris. The excerpt is taken from the chapter “Out of the Shadows,” which begins with Khondji describing his work on David Fincher’s Se7en (1995) — the first feature he shot in Hollywood.

Read the excerpt

Order the beautiful limited-edition hardcover book: Conversations with Darius Khondji, by Jordan Mintzer (Synecdoche, Paris). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

ASC List of 100 Milestone Films in Cinematography of the 20th Century includes “Seven”

January 08, 2019
The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC)

Throughout 2019, the Society will honor the best-photographed films of the 20th century, as voted on by ASC members.

Founded on January 8, 1919, the American Society of Cinematographers celebrates its 100th anniversary today.

As part of the centennial festivities, the Society released their members’ list of the 100 milestone films in the art and craft of cinematography of the 20th century. Organized by Steven Fierberg, ASC (The Affair, Good Girls Revolt, Entourage) and voted on by ASC members, the list is the first of its kind to showcase the best of cinematography as selected by professional directors of photography. […]

The 100 films list will serve as a library of influential, key titles that all cinematographers should see as well as an educational tool for students, teachers and film lovers to better understand and appreciate the importance of cinematography. “It is our hope that the list will help cinematography to be better understood by the public — the audience — [and to showcase] each of us as an artist who is an essential contributor to the magic of cinema,” offers Fierberg.

The list represents a range of styles, eras and visual artistry, but, most importantly, it commemorates films that are inspirational or influential to ASC members and have exhibited enduring influence to generations of filmmakers.

The list culminates in a Top 10 by number of votes, while the other 90 titles are unranked.“We are trying to call attention to the most significant achievements of the cinematographer’s art,” Fierberg assures. “We do not presume to call one masterful achievement ‘better’ than another.”

Members chose to frame this list around the 20th century to ensure that enough time has passed for the titles and work to reasonably exhibit enduring influence.

The process of cultivating the 100 films began with ASC members each submitting 10 to 25 titles that were personally inspirational or perhaps changed the way they approached their craft. “I asked them — as cinematographers, members of the ASC, artists, filmmakers and people who love film and whose lives were shaped by films — to list the films that were most influential,” Fierberg explains. A master list was then complied, and members voted on what they considered to be the most essential 100 titles. […]

Detailed essays and historical information on each title will be published over the coming months, celebrating the diverse, global art form of cinematography throughout the ASC’s Centennial year. […]

  • Seven (1995), shot by Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC

See the full list

Harris Savides, ASC and director David Fincher plumb the depths of human obsession

Flashback: Zodiac.

David E. Williams
Unit photography by Merrick Morton, SMPSP
April 2007
American Cinematographer

Most people remember the San Francisco Bay Area of the late 1960s for “flower power” and the Summer of Love. But as the decade came to a close, a grim nightmare unfolded in the counterculture mecca. On the night of December 20, 1968, two teens in the San Francisco-adjacent town of Benicia were brutally slain by a lone gunman. At midnight on July 4, 1969, another young couple was attacked in nearby Vallejo. On July 31, cryptic letters arrived at three Bay Area newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle; each contained part of a complex cipher. The writer warned that unless his coded messages were printed on the front page of each publication, “I will go on a kill rampage.” A followup letter soon arrived at the newspaper. Opening with the sentence “This is the Zodiac speaking,” the missive detailed the particulars of both crimes. The killer had given himself a name and stated his purpose: to taunt and terrify. The three-part cipher was soon solved, revealing a hate-filled manifesto. In all, he would communicate with such letters and codes on more than 20 occasions.

One front-line observer to the unfolding story was Chronicle editorial cartoonist Robert Graysmith, who began investigating the case after it became clear that harried law-enforcement officials — hampered by jurisdictional regulations, misleading evidence, and the emergence of more than 2,500 suspects — were powerless to unmask the killer. In 1986, Graysmith published his true-crime book Zodiac, which connected disparate clues for the first time and presented theories on the killer’s identity. This book formed the basis of the recently released film, photographed by Harris Savides, ASC for director David Fincher.

In the film, Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), SFPD inspectors Dave Toschi and Bill Armstrong (Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards, respectively), and Chronicle reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) are sucked into the Zodiac’s vortex. All four try to manage their growing obsession with the case, but soon find their lives inextricably intertwined with that of a madman. The case remains unsolved to this day.

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Zodiac

“What’s it like shooting for David Fincher?”

Christopher Probst

Logo - The ASC

Christopher Probst, ASC, is curating The ASC’s Instagram for March.

Christopher Probst, ASC
March 2, 2018
The ASC (Instagram)

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:

Mindhunter S01E02 - Christopher Probst 02

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.

Mindhunter S01E02 - Christopher Probst 03

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Christopher Probst, ASC, Nominee for the ASC Awards

2018 32nd ASC Awards

The Nominees Are: 2017 Achievements in Cinematography Earn ASC Accolades

The American Society of Cinematographers

The winners will be revealed at the organization’s February 17 ceremony. The event will be held at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland.

The ASC Awards — attended each year by more than 1,500 guests including Society members, other top cinematographers, their crews and representatives from many industry-leading support companies worldwide — is cinematography’s biggest annual event, celebrating the finest work of the year and its exceptional practitioners.

Motion Picture, Miniseries, or Pilot Made for Television:

Pepe Avila del Pino for The Deuce pilot on HBO
Serge Desrosiers, CSC for Sometimes the Good Kill on Lifetime
Mathias Herndl, AAC for Genius (“Chapter 1”) on National Geographic
Shelly Johnson, ASC for Training Day pilot (“Apocalypse Now”) on
CBS
Christopher Probst, ASC for Mindhunter pilot on Netflix

2018-02-01 Christopher Probst, ASC (Instagram) - Ad appearing in the recent issue of American Cinematographer magazine [Ed.]

Netflix (American Cinematographer)