Harmonica Cinema: Zodiac

Another comprehensive article by Spanish DP, Producer and cinematography scholar Ignacio Aguilar, this time on the cinematography of Zodiac. Time to practice your rusty Spanish or get help from a good web translator.

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Excepcional adaptación cinematográfica del libro de Robert Graysmith, basado en su propia investigación sobre los asesinatos cometidos en la zona de San Francisco a finales de la década de los 60 y comienzos de los 70, por un asesino que además enviaba cartas a los períodicos, anunciando sus planes y próximas víctimas. El film está protagonizado, además de por el propio Graysmith (interpretado por Jake Gyllenhaal), por su compañero en el San Francisco Chronicle, Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) y por el detective de homicidios Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), los cuales uno a uno, se van obsesionando por el caso que les ocupa a medida que profundizan en el mismo y creen encontrarse cerca de resolverlo. Se trata quizá del mejor y más sólido trabajo de David Fincher detrás de las cámaras, quien deja de lado su conocida solvencia técnica y se lanza a narrar minuciosamente todo lo concerniente al caso que inspiró películas como “Dirty Harry” (1971), tomando una estructura y formas muy parecidas a las de una de sus películas de referencia: “All The President’s Men” (Alan J. Pakula, 1976), escrita por William Goldman y protagonizada por Dustin Hoffman y Robert Redford. Anthony Edwards, Chloe Sevigny, Elias Koteas, John Carroll Lynch y Brian Cox, entre otros, completan el reparto de un film absolutamente modélico.

Ignacio Aguilar
1 agosto 2018
Harmonica Cinema

El director de fotografía fue Harris Savides [ASC], un hombre cuya carrera en cine, entre su tardía llegada y su prematuro fallecimiento por un cáncer cerebral a los 55 años de edad en el año 2012, desgraciadamente fue demasiado corta. Procedente de los videoclips y de los anuncios publicitarios, debutó en 1996 con “Heaven’s Prisoners” a las órdenes de Phil Joanou. Ya el año anterior había rodado metraje adicional para David Fincher en “Se7en” (1995), quien le contrató para su siguiente film, “The Game” (1997), la película que puso a Savides en el mapa. Posteriormente destacó mucho con “The Yards” (James Gray, 2000) y con varios trabajos para Gus Van Sant: “Finding Forrester”, “Gerry”, “Elephant”, “The Last Days” y “Milk”, además de por su trabajo para Jonathan Glazer en “Birth”. Además tuvo tiempo para colaborar con Ridley Scott en “American Gangster”, con Woody Allen en “Whatever Works” o con Sofia Coppola en “Somewhere”. Su estilo, muy sencillo y poco recargado, a menudo estaba dominado por la subexposición y la luz cenital, a veces asumiendo grandes riesgos, siguiendo en muchos aspectos la línea de Gordon Willis durante la década de los 70.

Savides por lo tanto era el director de fotografía ideal para Fincher en este proyecto, ya que el citado modelo “All The President’s Men” precisamente fue fotografiado por el autor de “The Godfather”. Ambientada desde finales de los años 60 hasta principios de los 80, “Zodiac” sorprendió mucho porque fue el primer proyecto de David Fincher rodado en formato digital y porque hasta aquél momento, dicha forma de adquisición se había empleado principalmente en películas como “Attack of the Clones” (2002) y “Revenge of the Sith” (2005), “Collateral” (2004) y “Miami Vice” (2006) o incluso “Apocalypto” y “Superman Returns” (2006), sin que ninguna de ellas (dejando de lado del film de Gibson) fueran películas de época. Savides (ante la insistencia de Fincher) recurrió a la cámara Thomson Viper Filmstream, la misma usada por Michael Mann en las dos películas citadas anteriormente, pero a diferencia del director de “The Last of the Mohicans”, en el caso de “Zodiac” los cineastas no lo hicieron para rodar con niveles de luz muy bajos o luz disponible, sino que rodaron en HD iluminándolo de forma muy parecida a como lo hubiesen hecho rodando en 35mm. Por ello, el efecto vídeo de las películas de Mann, tanto por la textura de la imagen como por emplear el obturador abierto, no está presente en absoluto en “Zodiac”, que en muchas ocasiones es mencionada como un hito precisamente porque su estética digital fue la primera que demostró que en este formato podían seguir obteniéndose imágenes de parecida calidad a las que se conseguían con el celuloide. Y aunque la Viper era una cámara limitada (con un sensor pequeño y no tanta latitud como las modernas) lo cierto es que prácticamente nunca se perciben dichas limitaciones.

Lee el artículo completo

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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

Exclusive: DP Claudio Miranda on ‘Only the Brave’, Shooting Fire, and David Fincher Stories

By Adam Chitwood
October 12, 2017
Collider

Claudio Miranda has had an interesting career thus far. After working as a gaffer on films like Se7en and Fight Club, filmmaker David Fincher (with whom he’d worked on a few commercials and music videos as a cinematographer) asked him to serve as the cinematographer for the wildly ambitious 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. That VFX-intensive effort scored Miranda an Oscar nomination and led to him then shooting visually breathtaking movies like Tron: Legacy and Oblivion, and of course Life of Pi, for which he won the Best Cinematography Oscar.

Miranda’s latest film reteams him with director Joseph Kosinski for the third time and also marks something of a departure—the true story drama Only the Brave. The film revolves around one unit of local firefighters who battled the Yarnell Hill wildfire in 2013 to tragic results. Josh Brolin leads a cast that includes Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, and Jennifer Connelly.

With Only the Brave hitting theaters on October 20th, I recently got the chance to have an extended conversation with Miranda about his work on the film. He talked about his working relationship with Kosinski, the challenges of capturing real fire onscreen, shooting on location, and his approach to shooting realistic visual effects.

But I’m also a big fan of Miranda’s work in general, so the conversation veered off into his early days working as a gaffer for Fincher, and we discussed his “trial by fire” experience shooting Benjamin Button as well as what it’s like to work with Fincher and how his gaffer work with other cinematographers like Harris Savides and Dariusz Wolski has shaped his approach. Finally, with Kosinski next set to direct the Top Gun sequel Top Gun: Maverick, I asked Miranda what the prep has been like on that movie so far.

It’s a wide-ranging and refreshingly candid conversation that hopefully admirers of Miranda’s work, or just those curious about cinematography in general, will find illuminating. I certainly had a great time chatting with the talented DP.

Read the full interview

Fear Itself: David Fincher’s THE GAME At 20

Twenty years later, Jacob revisits the master filmmaker’s technically accomplished dissertation on anxiety and desire.

By Jacob Knight
Sep. 12, 2017
Birth. Movies. Death.

When David Fincher was pitching his adaptation of Spider-Man during the ’90s, the key element that ruled out his take with studio execs was the refusal to execute another feature length origin tale. In Fincher’s version, our friendly neighborhood web-head was going to have his backstory explained via an opening mini-operetta, which would get his superhero coming of age out of the way so the fastidious Hollywood technician could tell the story he wanted to tell. This idiosyncratic approach rubbed suits the wrong way, but was repurposed for The Game (’97), Fincher’s Hitchcockian follow-up to the smash bit of serial killer morbidity, Seven (’95).

We’re introduced to Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) via a series of home movies. It’s Nicholas’ birthday party at his family’s lavish estate, and the kid is all half-assed smirks, the sparks of candles placed on an unseen cake illuminating his face like fireworks. Yet whenever his father is around, Nicholas tenses; the patriarch’s distant gazes and unsubtle grimaces casting a long shadow over what should’ve been a festive day. This is all foreshadowing; letting us know exactly what type of man Nicholas is going to turn out to be. There’s no radioactive spider, or magical transformation. Genes are all that’s required to transmute Mr. Van Orton into a shadow of his soon to be suicidal father – an ultimate, and probably unavoidable, fate.

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‘Se7en’: A Rain-Drenched, Somber, Gut-Wrenching Thriller that Restored David Fincher’s Faith in Filmmaking

(May 27, 2017)
Cinephilia & Beyond

Slightly more than 22 years ago, David Fincher, a talented filmmaker who made music videos and commercials and was left by his directorial stint on his first feature Alien 3 so disillusioned and bitter he felt “he’d rather die of colon cancer than do another movie,” stumbled upon a script that would renew his faith in the filmmaking business. This particular piece was written by Andrew Kevin Walker, and was deemed too dark and bleak to succeed. The story was largely shaped by Walker’s experience of living in New York City for a couple of years, where he felt alienated, lonely and unhappy. Desperately trying to get his story made, Walker agreed to rewrite the screenplay on the demand of director Jeremiah Chechik (Christmas Vacation), and it was this altered version that should have ended up in Fincher’s hands. But the studio made a mistake, delivering Walker’s original piece to Fincher, who was immediately intrigued and, even when the mistake was explained, chose to insist on the utter darkness Walker envisioned. By mere happenstance, therefore, Se7en found its director and made the first, crucial step on its way to cinematic immortality. […]

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