The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
Return to Table of Contents
Return to Table of Contents January 2012 Return to Table of Contents
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4
Presidents Desk
Production Slate
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
David Fincher reteams with Jeff Cronenweth, ASC to remake the Swedish hit The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Unit photography by Baldur Bragason, Patricia Castellanos and Merrick Morton, SMPSP. Photos and frame grabs courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
David Fincher has tackled some twisted tales over the course of his career, notably Seven (AC Oct. ’95), Fight Club (AC Nov. ’97) and Zodiac (AC April ’06), but his latest picture, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, could be his most complicated narrative yet. Adapted from the first book in Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular trilogy, the film follows Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a renowned investigative journalist who accepts an unusual job offer after his journalism career is derailed by accusations of libel. Wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) asks Blomkvist to solve a 40-year-old cold case, the disappearance of Vanger’s niece, Harriet, and in return Vanger will not only pay handsomely, but also help disprove the libel accusations against Blomkvist. During his investigation, which reveals a number of sordid family secrets, Blomkvist teams with young, eccentric hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), whose eye-catching tattoo gives the story its title.  

Larsson’s trilogy — The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest — was brought to the silver screen by Swedish filmmakers in 2009, and when Fincher began prepping his version of Dragon Tattoo, he was keen to retain its native elements by shooting extensively in Sweden and using a Swedish crew. “It was an aesthetic choice,” says Fincher. “We wanted it to look and feel like a Swedish film, and I think it does. We were already getting flak for doing a Hollywood version of the story, so we made a commitment to doing as much of the movie as possible in Sweden, with a Swedish crew.”  

That crew initially included a Swedish cinematographer, but after a few weeks of shooting, Fincher decided to make a change. He called Jeff Cronenweth, ASC, one of his longtime collaborators, and asked him to take over. Cronenweth recalls, “I got a call at 6 in the morning, and it was Bob Wagner, David’s assistant director, asking how I was doing. I said, ‘I’m fine, Bob, but it’s 6 a.m., so this obviously isn’t a social call. What’s up?’ He said David and the cinematographer weren’t seeing eye-to-eye, and he asked if I was available to take over. 

“I gave it a lot of thought because it was a tough situation,” continues the cinematographer. “One doesn’t want to replace someone else. It’s always unfortunate. I hadn’t been involved in the prep, and I was worried about communication with the crew, thinking they might resent me because I was replacing one of their own. But David and I go way back, we’ve worked together many times, and, luckily, we had discussed the movie before he embarked on it. Ultimately, the decision was not that hard, and it was really smooth sailing. The crew welcomed me with open arms.” 

“It’s a difficult thing to walk onto someone else’s film, and Jeff didn’t agree to it overnight,” says Fincher. “In retrospect, I would have done it a different way and not been so committed to the idea of an entirely Swedish production; I would have started with Jeff from the beginning. I was really lucky he was able to bail us out and that we got a chance to work together again.” 

The production was using the Pix system, an online project-management platform that facilitates instant access to reports, script changes and dailies, and with it Cronenweth was able to view all of the footage that had been shot before he arrived in Europe. He met with the key production team in Zurich on a Saturday morning, and by the following Tuesday he was shooting in Stockholm. 

He recalls, “I had just come off a commercial in Miami, and suddenly I was out on the water in Stockholm, trying desperately to stay warm! It was quite a shock to the system. Fortunately, [A-camera operator] David Worley was there, and he was a very familiar face. I had worked with him back on Alien3 [AC July ’92] with my dad [Jordan Cronenweth, ASC]. 

“We had a British grip and camera crew and a Swedish electrical department, and we all got on fantastically,” he adds. “The first week was really just day-to-day, shooting based on what had already been decided and rescouting at night, but by the time we got to the second week, I was up and running.” 

Cronenweth was with the production for more than 150 days of its approximately 160-day shoot, and because of script changes, he ended up reshooting several of the sequences that had been filmed during the first week. 

The ambitious production involved locations in Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and England and stage work in Los Angeles. (Some minor process work was shot onstage in Stockholm.) “We started in Stockholm, and then we spent two weeks in Zurich before the Christmas break, and then I went back to Los Angeles and started prelighting stages,” recalls Cronenweth. “After our holiday break, we shot for about three months onstage in L.A. During that time, David and I planned the next phase of the shoot, and I got the same prep time as everyone else before heading off to England for three and a half weeks, and then back to Sweden. 

“Overall, the weather in Northern Europe made for the biggest challenge,” he adds. “We experienced severe winter storms as well as a very hot summer in Sweden. The cold was the hardest, though.”  

Fincher had used digital capture on his previous three features, Zodiac (shot by Harris Savides, ASC), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (shot by Claudio Miranda, ASC; AC Jan. ’09) and The Social Network (shot by Cronenweth; AC Oct. ’10), and he decided to do the same on Dragon Tattoo, selecting Red Ones upgraded with the Mysterium-X sensor. Red’s new Epic was just becoming available, but using it as the main camera posed too many problems when the shoot began, according to Cronenweth. 

“At first we had a hard time getting cards for the Epic,” he recalls. “In addition, at that time, all Epic footage had to be sent directly to Red for transcoding before it could be sent to editorial, and we just weren’t comfortable with that. But John Schwartzman [ASC] was working with the Epic on The Amazing Spider-Man and helping to pave the way. By the time they wrapped, RedRocket could handle the Epic footage, and Spider-Man had made a huge number of cards available, so we shot the last 20 percent of Dragon Tattoo with the Epic. 

“We made sure not to switch cameras within a sequence,” he continues. “Although the Epic has a lot more resolution and slightly different color range than the One, the color is close enough that we were confident all our footage would match.”  

Indeed, at press time the digital grade was underway at Light Iron with colorist Ian Vertovec (The Social Network), and Cronenweth reports that “matching between the two cameras has been as seamless as anticipated. We’re working with a Quantel Pablo 4K color-correction system and a Sony 4K projector in a theater-type setting. We’re basically just fine-tuning the original footage as captured on set, making some subtle adjustments to better match shot-to-shot within a scene, and doing some repositioning.”

next >>