It’s in his blood! Jeff Cronenweth, ASC Tells His Story

Jeff Cronenweth on the set of Gone Girl (2014, Merrick Morton)

Christine Bunish
October 11, 2019
Creative Content Wire

Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, ASC lensed his first feature, “Fight Club,” in 1998.  He earned Best Cinematography nominations from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the American Society of Cinematographers for two more collaborations with director David Fincher, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011) and “The Social Network” (2010).  Cronenweth also shot Fincher’s “Gone Girl” (2014), Kathryn Bigelow’s “K-19: The Widowmaker” (2002) and Sasha Gervasi’s “Hitchcock” (2012).  He recently completed director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s “A Million Little Pieces,” based on the literary hit.

In addition to his feature career, Cronenweth is known for his stylish and CLIO Award-winning music videos and commercials.  In the last two years he shot music videos for Katie Perry, Jennifer Lopez, Pink, Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift.  A native Angelino, Cronenweth studied filmmaking at the University of Southern California (USC) and began his professional career apprenticing to some of the industry’s greatest cinematographers, including Sven Nykvist, ASC, John Toll, ASC, Conrad Hall, ASC and his father, the late Jordan Cronenweth, ASC.

Cronenweth, behind the camera A on left, and his crew set up double coverage for a scene between Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and the film’s nameless narrator (Edward Norton). On the right, B camera operator (and future Panic Room cinematographer) Conrad W. Hall. (1999, Merrick Morton)

What was your pathway into this field? 

“My great-grandfather owned a photo store in Pennsylvania.  My dad’s dad won the last Oscar given for portrait photography: He was a staff photographer for Columbia [Pictures]. My grandmother was a Ziegfeld Follies dancer.  My dad [Jordan Cronenweth, ASC] won a BAFTA for ‘Blade Runner’ (1983) and got an Oscar nomination for ‘Peggy Sue Go Married’ (1987).  So as a child I often visited sets and went on location for extended stays.  I felt like I wanted to be part of that great experience, that camaraderie.  Each day was like a military unit battling to bring back great images.

“I knew I wanted to do something in the industry: I had been around it all and found it all so exciting.  I made many Super 8 films in high school and decided USC (the University of Southern California) was where I wanted to attend film school.  But two years into school Film Fair, a commercial production company my father had collaborated with, had a position open for a staff loader and that job offered the opportunity to get into the union.  I visited my dad as often as I could when he was shooting ‘Blade Runner’ and assisted him on other movies as a camera operator and on second unit.  A lot of relationships I formed then carried over when my dad retired.

“I met [director] David Fincher on a Madonna video my father photographed and I shot second unit for in the heyday of music videos – it was a very creative and innovative time, and I was grateful to be there.  I was his camera assistant on the documentary ‘U2: Rattle & Hum’ (1988) and the film ‘State of Grace’ (1990), both directed by Phil Joanou, a former USC film school classmate.  Then I got my first feature as a cinematographer, ‘Fight Club,’ with Fincher.  Not a bad credit for the first time out of the gate!”

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From Facebook to ‘Fuck-You Flip-Flops’: How Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher Made ‘The Social Network’ a Fiery Word-Off

Adam Buffery
May 28, 2019

I’ve been Mark Zuckerberg—there are times in my life where I’ve acted that way. There are times in my life where I’ve been Eduardo Saverin—where I’ve gone and made a scene and regretted it and where I’ve been emotional and felt silly and stupid. And there are times when I’ve felt self-righteous and I’ve acted out in this other way… Look, what Mark does is no different than directing a movie—it’s what I do for a living every day. You grow something, and your job is to grow it well and to make sure it gets enhanced and to take care of it. That’s the subject of the movie. And if you have to hurt people’s feelings in order to protect that thing, that’s what you have to do. It’s a responsibility. You want to love every character in the movie. You want to be able to understand them. You want to be able to relate to them. But, as a director, the characters’ behaviors are inevitably related to facets of moments in your own life. You look at the work and say, Maybe I do know what that is. I’ve been the angry young man. I’ve been Elvis Costello. I know what that’s like. The anger is certainly something I felt that I could relate to—the notion of being twenty-one and having a fairly clear notion of what it is you want to do or what it is you want to say and having all these people go, well, we’d love to, we’d love you to try. Show us what it is that you want to do. It’s that whole condescending thing of having to ask adults for permission because the perception is that you’re too young to do it for yourself. And that’s why I understood Mark’s frustration. You have a vision of what this thing should be. And everyone wants to tell you, Oh, well, you’re young. You’ll see soon enough. —David Fincher

The 21st century computer-scribes who work behind the scenes behind the screens, creating culture and beauty with code, got an anti-hero to remember on the silver-screen in 2010 with David Fincher’s 8th feature film. From a once-in-a-generation, “holy shit” screenplay by Aaron SorkinThe Social Network is a movie about a 19-year-old Harvard student creating Facebook while losing the relationships in his life. It is an examination of a social outsider who built one of the biggest “clubs” the world’s ever seen, and it’s about the new age zooming past the old. It’s about ignorance in high places, that awkward moment when powerful hired officials prove they have no concept of what simple features on Facebook are in a hearing on Facebook security. It’s about a new language of coding that’s sweeping and running the globe, and about treating coding with the respect it deserves. It’s about coders being taken as seriously as writers, musicians, filmmakers, film producers, painters, costume-designers, photographers, and all other artists and creators. It’s about attaining power even though you’re socially anxious or awkward, and about finding that inner drive that helps you accomplish your goals. It’s about what happens when you lose your humility in your thirst for greatness, and about the fragility of the line between “passionate” and “ass-hole.” The Social Network is simultaneously about a seismic shift in the zeitgeist and your best friend getting your company in trouble for feeding his fraternity chicken a piece of chicken. It’s about creating and solidifying one’s identity, and everything and anything else that goes with what Fincher once jokingly referred to as “the Citizen Kane of John Hughes movies.”

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Film stills by Merrick Morton (Sony Pictures)

Other in-depth articles on films by David Fincher on Cinephilia & Beyond:

Alien3: “Take all of the responsibility, because you’re going to get all of the blame”

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

Downwards Is the Only Way Forwards: Welcome to David Fincher’s The Game

Fight Club’: David Fincher’s Stylish Exploration of Modern-Day Man’s Estrangement and Disillusionment

Fincher’s Zodiac As Easily One Of The Best Thrillers Of The Millennium So Far

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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).

Colorist Ian Vertovec’s Instagram Notes on His Work for David Fincher

Ian Vertovec & Michael Cioni
March 17, 2019
Ian Vertovec (Instagram)
Michael Cioni (Instagram)

Ian Vertovec is Supervising Colorist at Light Iron, which he co-founded, a Panavision company specialized in dailies, digital intermediate, archival, and data services for projects originated on file-based motion cameras.

View this post on Instagram

Reposted from @ianvertovec – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Dir: David Fincher DP: Jeff Cronenweth One of the best technical and creative accomplishments of our team's career was collaborating on this film. GDT included scenes shot on the first RED Epic camera (mixed in with lots of RED ONE MX) and was the first 5K RAW DI. We had to work with Quantel at the time to innovate a new way to do DI in a 5K extraction and display in 4K. It was our first time making 5K DSM non-scaled 2.40 and 1.78 masters so no blow-up was required for deliverables. It also means there is a 4K 4:3 version somewhere! The creative techniques and technology discovered on this film went into hundreds of films we did thereafter. Sometimes I travel the world and people ask, "How do you get RED cameras to look so good?" I tell them, "Don't worry so much about it. We all have access to the exact same technology to make these pictures look great. The difference is in who actually touches the tech." Colorist @ianvertovec is the key to these images and leads the Light Iron creative team to bring the best color regardless of the camera. Now you can follow his colorful journey on Instagram. Follow @ianvertovec #thegirlwiththedragontattoo #davidfincher #rooneymara #danielcraig – #regrann #regrann  #redcamera #redepic #redcamerausers #lightiron #lightironcolor #digitalintermediate #colorcorrection #cinematographer #cinematography #resolution

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‘Mindhunter’ DP Erik Messerschmidt on Working with Fincher, the Show’s Aesthetic, and Season 2

Erik Messerschmidt with Camera Operator Brian Osmond (Patrick Harbron / Netflix)

2018-05-28. Collider - ‘Mindhunter_ DP Erik Messerschmidt on Working with Fincher, the Show_s Aesthetic, and Season 2 06
Merrick Morton / Netflix

Adam Chitwood
May 28, 2018
Collider

The Netflix original series Mindhunter is, by far, one of the best new shows currently running. The true story-based, 1977-set drama chronicles the early days of criminal psychology and criminal profiling primarily through the eyes of three people at the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit: eager newcomer Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), somewhat jaded veteran Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), and brilliant psychology professor Wendy Carr (Anna Torv). That this show is immaculately crafted from top to bottom will come as no surprise to those aware that it’s the brainchild of David Fincher, who serves as executive producer and directed nearly half of the series’ first season.

This is without doubt one of the best looking pieces of entertainment released in 2017, regardless of medium, with classical framing, motivated camera movement, and a tremendous palette that gives a mere peek into the darkness inside the minds of the criminals and serial killers who are the subject of the Behavioral Science Unit’s interviews.

So when I got the chance to speak with cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt about his work on the series, I was thrilled. Messerschmidt shot eight of the first season’s 10 episodes, including the Fincher-directed closing installments, and as he revealed during our interview, this was essentially his first major gig as a cinematographer. Messerschmidt had worked previously as a gaffer on shows like Mad Men and Bones, and then later the feature film Gone Girl where he first came into contact with Fincher. Based on their work together on that film, Fincher called Messerschmidt up when they were looking for a new DP for Mindhunter after the show’s original cinematographer exited over creative differences.

This promotion from gaffer to DP is a familiar refrain with Fincher’s cinematographers, as he did the same with his The Game and Fight Club gaffer Claudio Miranda, who was brought on as DP for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and went on to win the Oscar for Best Cinematography for his work on Life of Pi.

Messerschmidt’s rise to the primary cinematographer of Fincher’s brand new TV show elicits similarly spectacular results, as the DP’s work on Mindhunter is elegantly classical and incredibly motivated by character and theme. During the course of our conversation, Messerschmidt talked about the road that led to him becoming the cinematographer on Mindhunter, the specifics of his working relationship with Fincher, what it’s like to serve as a DP in the world of episodic television, how the work of production designers and costumes designers goes under-appreciated, and trying to maintain a consistent aesthetic with multiple directors. He also teased a bit about Mindhunter Season 2, including revealing their extensive shooting schedule.

Check out the full interview

2018-05-28. Collider - ‘Mindhunter’ DP Erik Messerschmidt on Working with Fincher, the Show’s Aesthetic, and Season 2 07.jpg
Erik Messerschmidt with Episodes 3 & 4 Director Asif Kapadia (Merrick Morton / Netflix)

Art of the Shot: Mindhunter cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt

Working with David Fincher, the RED XENOMORPH, CW Sonderoptic Leica Summilux-C lenses and shooting for Netflix

By David Alexander Willis
October 23, 2017
ProVideo Coalition

Shot with a tailor-made RED camera, the RED XENOMORPH, auteur David Fincher chose cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt to helm camera for his latest, and possibly most ambitious project, the 10-episode Mindhunter series. Based on the novel Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, Messerschmidt lensed actors Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany during the extended production as they play FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench. Focusing on the precocious criminal psychology work of the 1970s, the show centers on the duo as they attempt to understand the mind of a serial killer. Mindhunter is available to watch via Netflix now.

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Thanks to Joe Frady

Why David Fincher’s ‘Mindhunter’ DP Believes ‘There Are No Rules’ in Lighting

Hawkins DuBois
October 13, 2017
No Film School

‘Mindhunter’ DP Erik Messerschmidt shot the darkly intimate show with custom-made RED Xenomorphs.

When it comes to cinematography, every filmmaker, every movie or show, and every shot is different. While there may be a “textbook” way to approach a scene, there is no “correct” way. Even so, patterns and styles always emerge, and few filmmakers have developed a look as distinctive as David Fincher‘s. While Fincher is best known for his mysterious and gritty films, ranging from Fight Club to The Social Network, he’s recently ventured into the realm of streaming television, where he has produced and directed the critically-acclaimed House of Cards, and now seeks to expand on that success with the recently-released Mindhunter for Netflix.

Mindhunter tells the story of a pair of FBI agents, played by Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany, as their work in the Elite Serial Crime Unit leads them down a dark path where they interrogate and explore the mindsets of serial killers and rapists. It’s another psychologically tense world from the mind of Fincher, and a significant part of what brings this world to life is the work of cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, who keeps audiences grounded and in the moment.

Messerschmidt, a longtime gaffer in the industry, built up years of knowledge while working alongside some of the best DPs in Hollywood, and his unique background allowed him to creatively solve problems and accentuate story with his camerawork. No Film School recently sat down with Messerschmidt to talk about his career and Mindhunter, including his decision to come up through the lighting department, mastering crew-management skills, and how to incorporate natural lighting into your shots.

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