The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents January 2012 Return to Table of Contents
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
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Presidents Desk
Production Slate
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up

The filmmakers found one of the Epic’s most significant advantages to be its HDRx function, a simulated high dynamic range mode that enables a secondary, darker track of video to be recorded, allowing for 1-5 stops of selectable highlight bracketing via the secondary, faster-shutter exposure track. “We used that to get about 3 more stops of latitude,” says Cronenweth. “It records on a separate track that’s a frame off, and you then use software to sync it back. It really fills up the data cards by doubling the recorded information, but for certain situations it’s invaluable. 

“We also like the fact that the Epic is smaller and lighter than the One and doesn’t have that camera’s quirks,” continues the cinematographer. “In addition, you can overcrank up to 96 fps and stay in 5K [resolution]. David also likes to have the option of manipulating the final composition or stabilizing the image, and with the Epic we had 5K to work with. We utilized the extra resolution to create our own frame lines, smaller than what you get using the entire sensor. Actually, we did that with both the One and the Epic, allowing room for repositioning shots. For example, if an operator clipped an eyebrow on a tilt up, we had plenty of space to correct the composition. We also used the extra space created by the extra resolution to help stabilize many shots, including all the driving footage we shot in Stockholm. The Epic gives you much more information than you actually need, and that gives you more flexibility.” 

“I like the picture the Red gives me, the way it feels,” says Fincher. “Ultimately, that’s what people are talking about when they say they prefer one format over another. When people speak fondly of the anamorphic lenses from the 1970s, they’re talking about the feeling they get from that certain kind of image. I like the Red One MX a lot — in fact, I wish we hadn’t switched to the Epic at the end of our shoot. There’s nothing wrong with the Epic, but I sort of like the graininess of the MX [image]. It’s an aesthetic choice, not a technical one.”  

From Fincher’s perspective, perhaps the biggest advantage of the Red is its size. “Because it’s small, I feel like the filmmaking process itself becomes sort of intimate,” he says. “Filmmaking is a small circus — that’s the nature of the beast — but I prefer to keep it as intimate as possible. When the mechanics become too consuming, it’s too easy to get distracted from the real reason we’re there: to capture the actors’ performances. When the gear gets too big, I feel like there’s a wall between my cast and me, and it’s hard to get around it to talk to them. I really prefer to have that relationship, that connection, be immediate. How we shoot, where we shoot and what we shoot with all play a role in finessing that relationship.”  

Shooting with two cameras simultaneously and having the cinematographer operate the B camera are usually part of the plan. “David has almost always worked that way,” says Cronenweth. “I was the B-camera operator on Fight Club and Social Network, and Claudio [Miranda] was the B-camera operator on Benjamin Button.”  

Fincher explains, “I try as much as possible to put that second camera in a place where it will get me another setup that I actually need — I’m never just looking for gravy. It can be frustrating for my cinematographer and tough for lighting, but I’m going to challenge him to bring that second camera as far around as possible, to not just stack [the cameras] and get a medium and close at the same time. I’m going to shoot a pretty wide and fairly disparate view. If I can, I’ll do opposing coverage, 180 degrees. That does make lighting tough, but sometimes getting those performances simultaneously is what’s best for the movie.” 

In keeping with Fincher’s preference for keeping the technical footprint as small as possible on the set, Dragon Tattoo didn’t have a digital-imaging technician. “I don’t believe in tweaking on set,” says the director. “Why would I want a tent and more people around? That’s anathema to me.”  

Instead, just as they did on Social Network, Fincher and Cronenweth set one look-up table at the beginning of the shoot and didn’t change it. “Originally we thought we might have one LUT for every location, but that got confusing,” notes Cronenweth. “Our approach is similar to using just one film stock. If we change anything, it’s the color of the light or the filter instead of chasing LUTs. It makes things faster and easier.” 

The Red One is known for having higher sensitivity in the blue spectrum, and the filmmakers used an 80D filter on the lens most of the time. “Although Sweden has a cool, desaturated palette in winter, we used the 80D to raise the color temperature about 400°K, which gave a little more blue light to the sensor and gave us more latitude to work with later,” says Cronenweth. 

The production shot primarily on the locations described in Larsson’s novel. “The notion of these horrors, these particularly evil doings, taking place in an environment that’s icy, snowy and somewhat inhospitable just seemed right to me,” says Fincher. “I couldn’t see setting the story anywhere else. In Northern Europe, you’re cut off from the rest of the world a good portion of the year in a very unique place. The people are hearty, and the winters are very hard. I’m happy we didn’t transpose the story to Seattle or Montreal or, worse, play Montreal for Sweden.”  

However, the unique properties of natural light at that latitude presented some challenges. At summer’s peak, Stockholm experiences 19 hours of daylight, and at winter’s peak, just six hours. Moreover, the winter sun barely makes it off the horizon, even at “high noon,” and the summer sun typically reaches a point about 54 degrees off the horizon at the height of the day.  

“There’s a reason why Sven Nykvist’s movies look like they do!” Fincher notes with a laugh, referring to the late ASC cinematographer who was famous for his collaborations with fellow Swede Ingmar Bergman.  

Early in his career, Cronenweth worked with Nykvist as a camera assistant and operator. “Sven brought his own version of soft light to all of his movies,” he says. “He was very inspired by the light of his hometown. In the summer, it almost never gets dark, and because you’re so far north, the sun can set and then rise again, about an hour later, in almost exactly the same place. If you want a dawn shot, dawn can last two hours! The light changes so much throughout the year that it’s very challenging on a project as long as this one.” 

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