Film Roundtable: Jeff Cronenweth, Erik Messerschmidt, and Phedon Papamichael

Matthew Woolf
December 18, 2020
Film Roundtable (Instagram)

In our latest Film Roundtable discussion we talked with Jeff Cronenweth, Erik Messerschmidt, and Phedon Papamichael about how the love of the image fosters the collaborative relationship amongst Cinematographers.

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David Fincher: Hollywood’s Most Disturbing Director

With films including Se7en, Zodiac and Fight Club, David Fincher has explored the darkest edges of humanity. Yet there’s more to his unique vision, writes Gregory Wakeman, as the director’s film Mank is released.

Gregory Wakeman
December 3, 2020
BBC Culture

David Fincher fans have had plenty to celebrate over the past few months. September marked the 25th anniversary of Se7en, Fincher’s deeply disturbing psychological thriller that established the then 33-year-old as one of the most iconoclastic young directors in Hollywood. Then, just a couple of weeks later, The Social Network, Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s searing exploration of Mark Zuckerberg and the origins of Facebook, turned 10. Most exciting of all for Fincher aficionados, though, is the fact that, more than six years after the release of his last feature film Gone Girl, Mank will finally arrive on Netflix on 4 December.

Fincher has waited around 20 years to find the perfect home for the film, which was originally written by his father Jack in the late 1990s. But while most major Hollywood studios were put off by the idea of a black and white biopic of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz, Netflix gave Fincher carte blanche to fulfil his vision.

The early reviews for Mank have been extremely positive, and Fincher has immediately become one of the main contenders for the best director Oscar. Covid-19’s disruption of the 2020 cinematic calendar means that Fincher’s competition isn’t quite as strong as it could have been. But it’s to the Academy Awards’ great shame that this titan of modern filmmaking has somehow only received best director nominations for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network. Despite this oversight, Fincher’s place in the cinematic pantheon has long been secure. No other modern filmmaker has examined alienation, depression, obsession, and the dark side of intelligence like he has, while keeping a stylish, visceral, and, most importantly of all, entertaining approach. 

But what is it that sets Fincher’s work apart from that of his peers?

David Fincher’s Impossible Eye

David Fincher by Jack Davison

With ‘Mank,’ America’s most famously exacting director tackles the movie he’s been waiting his entire career to make.

Jonah Weiner
November 19, 2020
The New York Times

Six years ago, after I contacted David Fincher and told him I wanted to write an article about how he makes movies, he invited me to his office to present my case in person and, while I was there, watch him get some work done. On an April afternoon, I arrived at the Hollywood Art Deco building that has long served as Fincher’s base of operations, where he was about to look at footage from his 10th feature film, Gone Girl,” then in postproduction. We headed upstairs and found the editor Kirk Baxter assembling a scene. Fincher watched it once through, then asked Baxter to replay a five-second stretch. It was a seemingly simple tracking shot, the camera traveling alongside Ben Affleck as he entered a living room in violent disarray: overturned ottoman, shattered glass. The camera moved at the same speed as Affleck, gliding with unvarying smoothness, which is exactly how Fincher likes his shots to behave. Except that three seconds in, something was off. “There’s a bump,” he said.

Jack Fincher photographed by David Fincher in 1976, when he was 14.
“That’s why it’s out of focus”.

No living director surpasses Fincher’s reputation for exactitude. Any account of his methods invariably mentions how many takes he likes to shoot, which can annoy him, not because this is inaccurate but because it abets a vision of him as a dictatorially fussy artiste. Fincher, who is 58, argues that this caricature misses the point: If you want to build worlds as engrossing as those he seeks to construct, then you need actors to push their performances into zones of fecund uncertainty, to shed all traces of what he calls “presentation.” And then you need them to give you options, all while hitting the exact same marks (which goes for the camera operators too) to ensure there will be no continuity errors when you cut the scene together. Getting all these stars to align before, say, Take No. 9 is possible but unlikely. “I get, He’s a perfectionist,” Fincher volunteered. “No. There’s just a difference between mediocre and acceptable.”

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10 Years Later, ‘The Social Network’ Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth on Finding Art in Compromise

Andrew Garfield, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeff Cronenweth, and David Fincher.
(Will Kirk, homewoodphoto.jhu.edu)

“I learned a long time ago that fear is a wonderful thing, if you embrace it.”

Anhar Karim, Contributor
October 24, 2020
Forbes

This month marks the ten year anniversary of The Social Network, the David Fincher film which made a captivating thriller out of the founding years of Facebook. The movie met an incredible amount of acclaim over the years, much thanks to the stellar team of talent on board, including Oscar-nominated cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, who is no stranger to Fincher’s style.

“David comes really from the Hitchcock school in that he really does all the prep ahead of time. So you try to eliminate any of those kinds of surprises and the curve balls before they actually arrive,” said Cronenweth. “But there’s so much room to create, improv, and find your voice within that kind of structure.”

Cronenweth and Fincher have now collaborated across a wide collection of award-winning films including Fight ClubGone Girl, and The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo. The duo has found a magical dynamic between their methods to deliver some of the most engaging and thrilling stories of modern cinema. And, according to Cronenweth, a key part of that collaboration is the understanding that not everything can be perfect on the first try.

“If you’re responsible for creating a movie that’s gonna last a long time and change the visuals and approaches in a lot of people’s minds, then you’re gonna not win every single time,” said Cronenweth. “Sometimes you’re gonna step a little too far and then you have to go back and reanalyze and do it again. That’s how you make art.”

I recently got to speak further with Jeff Cronenweth about working with David Fincher, dealing with unexpected challenges, and shooting for a film where dialogue, not visuals, drives the story. Below is a summary of our conversation.

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David Fincher’s Longtime DP Jeff Cronenweth Has Advice, Insight, and Stories

25th Annual American Society Of Cinematographers (ASC) Awards (2011)

A podcast about how to build a career in filmmaking. No Film School shares the latest opportunities and trends for anyone working in film and TV. We break news on cameras, lighting, and apps. We interview leaders in screenwriting, directing, cinematography, editing, and producing. And we answer your questions! We are dedicated to sharing knowledge with filmmakers around the globe, “no film school” required.

Jeffrey Reeser
August 28, 2020
No Film School

Oscar-nominated camera wizard Jeff Cronenweth sat down with us to talk about his origins in the film industry.

As a young man, Cronenweth spent time on the set of Blade Runner as his father, Jordan Cronenweth shot it. He walks us through the next chapter of his career, starting out as an AC for legendary DP Sven Nykvist and how his longtime working relationship with David Fincher began when shooting pickups for a Madonna music video.

We discuss his experiences crafting the look of Fight Club, The Social Network, and Gone Girl, among other great films. Now in 2020, he is up for an Emmy for his work on the Amazon series Tales From The Loop.

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No Film School
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“I Had to Figure Out the True Latitude, Speed and Color Science”

DP Jeff Cronenweth On The Social Network Ten Years Later and the Mysterium X Sensor.

Aaron Hunt
May 4, 2020
Filmmaker

Film stills by Merrick Morton

On October 1, The Social Network turns ten. The RED Mysterium X sensor (also turning ten) that rendered the film is now outmoded, but The Social Network thrives due to, not in spite of, the marks of its time. The limited latitude of the once cutting-edge camera sensor pushed David Fincher and DP Jeff Cronenweth—who also shot Fincher’s Fight Club, The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl—into the darker bends of The Social Network’s imitation Harvard dorms. The camera struggled with highlights, so they avoided hot windows and sunny exteriors. It also strained to digest warm tones, so they chose a cooler palette that was easier for the RED to chew on. The sensor’s limitations had implicit limitations with the story of Facebook’s origin, the first of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s two tech mogul reprimands (Fincher’s Zuckerberg was follow by Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs)—individuals he believes pioneered our doom out of spite, envy, inceldom.

When The Social Network initially released, an anecdote about Fincher hiring a mime to distract Harvard campus security was often iterated in the press. Fincher and Cronenweth stitched three shots captured by three REDs on a roof across the street and did a “pan and scan” in post to get a move they couldn’t have otherwise. But they needed light on some of the dark arches, so Fincher hired a mime to push a battery cart full of lights behind them, the impetus being that “by the time [security] got him out of there we would have already accomplished our shot.” Fincher adopted digital in its nascent stages to limit the compromises caused by the erratic nature of the film set. What remained to be compromised on he’d have more ways of fixing in post on digital than on film.


Filmmaker: What have you been watching?

Cronenweth: Eh, I don’t know. Mostly movies. I tried to do the Ozark series, which I like, but it starts to get redundant: same bad guys doing the same things. The only problem I find is that the first week we watched maybe 50 movies, so now we can’t separate the good scenes and shots from the others because we’ve watched so many in a row. That can be a handicap. I’m 58. This is the longest I’ve had off since I graduated from college. So, there are a lot of things I’ve been putting off for twenty years that have been good to get done with.

Filmmaker: Have you rewatched The Social Network recently?

Cronenweth: No, I tend not to. You see them so many times when you’re making them, in the edit, the color correct and the screenings. I would like to, though. It’s such a cleverly written script and Fincher did such a great job at bringing Aaron’s dialogue across. Everytime I watch it, regardless of how tied into it I was, it always amuses me how quickly it feels like it went by. You never have a chance to get off the rollercoaster, which is one of [Fincher’s] mottos. But by the end you go “Really? That’s the whole movie?” It feels like it just started.

Filmmaker: You guys were the first feature film to use RED’s Mysterium X sensor.

Cronenweth: It was my first experience shooting something long form with a digital camera. I had shot music videos and commercials on an array of different formats and cameras. Obviously Fincher had done Zodiac and Benjamin Button digitally. I can’t remember what they shot that on?

Filmmaker: I think they were both shot on the Viper. [Benjamin was a combination of the Viper, Sony F23 and some 35mm on the Arriflex 435]

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Art of the Shot: Jeff Cronenweth, ASC on Tales from the Loop & How Story Drives the Visuals

Derek Stettler
April 27, 2020
Art of the Shot

Welcome to the Art of the Shot podcast! Join writer and filmmaker Derek Stettler for conversations with the artists behind the camera on strikingly-shot films, series, music videos and commercials. Discover how they made their careers happen, hear about their creative process, and learn how they make the shots that make us say: wait, how did they do that?

For the third episode, Derek speaks with none other than Jeff Cronenweth, ASC!

Jeff is the two-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer behind many of David Fincher’s films, including The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and their first film together–and Jeff’s first feature film–Fight Club.

(And if you’re worried, no, they don’t talk about Fight Club… much.)

Jeff has also shot numerous commercials and music videos for some of the biggest artists, including Madonna, David Bowie, Shakira, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry.

And this month marked the release of Jeff’s first foray into television, with the pilot to the Amazon Prime original series, Tales from the Loop: a sci-fi anthology adapted from the paintings of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag.

What you may not know is that Jeff Cronenweth is the son of legendary cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth, the eye behind the era-defining look of Blade Runner. Enjoy this in-depth conversation about everything from how Jeff forged his own path while following in his father’s footsteps, and his approach to lighting based on story, to working with David Fincher, his work on Tales from the Loop (including how he achieved a never-before-seen lighting effect), and his trick for making sure eye lights look more natural.

Note, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this conversation was recorded remotely, but all efforts were made to ensure quality audio.

The Art of the Shot podcast is brought to you by Evidence Cameras, an outstanding rental house in Echo Park specializing in high-end digital cinema camera packages, lenses, support, and accessories.

If you like what you hear, please subscribe to be notified of future episodes, and share this podcast with others to help grow the show!

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Tales from the Loop trailer audio copyright Amazon.com, Inc. Used with permission courtesy of Amazon Studios.

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The Cinematography Podcast: Jeff Cronenweth

Jordan and Jeff Cronenweth on the set of Francis Ford Coppola‘s Gardens of Stone

Jeff Cronenweth, ASC on David Fincher, Fight Club, growing up in Hollywood, music videos, Mark Romanek, One Hour Photo, Gone Girl, The Social Network and the new Amazon series Tales from the Loop.

Ben Rock & Illya Friedman
April 22, 2020
The Cinematography Podcast (Cam Noir)

Jeff Cronenweth comes from three generations in the film business and followed his father, cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth (Blade Runner) into a career as a director of photography. Growing up on film sets and working alongside his father enabled Jeff to take a hands-on role in the camera department. He started as a loader and camera assistant, getting into the union while attending USC. He met David Fincher while working on the Madonna music video “Oh Father” as a camera assistant. Fincher gave Jeff his first opportunity to DP for the film Fight Club. Jeff’s collaboration with Fincher later earned him two Oscar nominations- one for The Social Network and one for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He also began working with director Mark Romanek on music videos, such as EelsNovocaine for the Soul” and Nine Inch Nails’ “The Perfect Drug.” Jeff and Romanek also worked together on the feature film, One Hour Photo starring Robin Williams. The film presented many lighting challenges since the bulk of it takes place inside a store with flat white lights before the darker undertones of the movie are revealed.

Jeff also shot the pilot for Tales from the Loop with director Mark Romanek, streaming now on Amazon Prime.

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Cam Noir
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Podcast Credits:

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras (Instagram)
Editor in Chief: Illya Friedman (Instagram)
Ben Rock (Twitter, Instagram)
Producer: Alana Kode
Editor: Ben Katz
Composer: Kays Alatractchi

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Jeff Cronenweth Discusses the Unique Job of a Cinematographer

Joey Magidson
April 2, 2020
HollywoodNews.com

Cinematography is a true art form. To compose a memorable shot is something that one really does need a skill for. That doesn’t even take into account how a cinematographer must work well with a director, have an understanding of their camera, and an infinite number of other assets necessary to help make a movie succeed. Earlier this week, we got a chance to talk with two time Academy Award nominated cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, who was able to detail just some of what goes into being a quality DP.

Cronenweth has been cited by the Academy twice. Both times, collaborations with director David Fincher (The Social Network, followed by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) received Oscar nominations in Best Cinematography. Tomorrow, he ventures into television for the first time, collaborating with filmmaker Mark Romanek on an episode of the new Amazon Prime science fiction series Tales from the Loop. Generously chatting on the phone for nearly a half hour, Cronenweth details not just working on the show, but with Fincher as well. He even tells us a few interesting stories about his father Jordan Cronenweth, a famous cinematographer in his own right. It’s an informative and loose interview, so we hope you enjoy it…

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Fight Club Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, ASC

Jeff Cronenweth in the set of The Social Network (Merrick Morton, 2010)

Alan Schaller & Christopher Hooton
February 7, 2020
Candela: Photography & Cinematography masters

Fight Club cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth talks us through this iconic shot and many others in David Fincher‘s masterpiece. We also discuss how the relative naturalism of The Social Network was just as difficult to achieve, and whether something is lost with VFX even when it looks perfect.

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