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Before production began, Cronenweth was given time to perform tests and establish his lighting and exposure scheme. "I encourage anybody shooting a movie to do as much experimentation in the tests as they are allowed," the cinematographer advises. "As an assistant, I would call the lab every morning and check the printing lights. Having watched the dailies with the director of photography the night before, I'd give the lab any adjustments that needed to be made during the printing. While working as an assistant or operator on 14 or 15 pictures, I got an incredible education in printing. I was away from printing for a few years when I first started shooting commercials and music videos, but thankfully, all of my experience came right back when I started Fight Club. Obviously, you don't really want to start your first image [on your first feature] on a bad note."
He explains, "We had quite a lot of makeup and wardrobe tests because of all the prosthetics [cuts, swollen eyes and bruises] being used in the film. There were approximately 33 different prosthetic changes between the two lead characters. Within this time, however, I was also able to test every type of practical used on the film. I tested several different film stocks and processes like pushing, pulling and flashingto establish the contrast and tonalities we were looking for. I had portions of the set walls brought in, and we tested the various paint colors in both matte and gloss finishes."
Cronenweth photographed Fight Club with Panavision Platinum cameras outfitted with Primo prime lenses. He utilized Eastman Kodak EXR 5248 and Vision 250D 5246 for the daylight exteriors and a few select day interiors, and Vision 500T 5279 for all the remaining interiors and night sequences. The cinematographer notes that some of the night exteriors were also flashed about 5 percent in the lab. Rating the stocks at their recommended ISO specifications, he achieved printing lights in the high 30s to low 40s at Technicolor in North Hollywood. The lab will also be treating a number of the film's prints to an 80-IR level of ENR (see "Soup du Jour" AC Nov. '98 for information about this process).
Cronenweth's camera crew consisted of A- and B-camera operators Conrad W. Hall and Chris Squires, Steadicam operator Chris Haarhoff, first assistant John Connor, second assistant Lisa Guerriero (who pulled double duty as the B-camera first assistant) and loader Gary Kanner.
Like Seven and The Game, the film was framed in the 2.35:1aspect ratio by way of the Super 35 process, a format Fincher favors for maximum flexibility in composition, in terms of both the film's eventual video release and the increased range of spherical focal lengths available in the Primo series. "David also likes Super 35 because it allows us to use less equipment, light with smaller sources, and expose for practical night exteriors and actually get something out of the existing lighting at the location," notes Cronenweth. "In fact, some of our practical locations were chosen based on what the city lights did in the backgrounds."
Cronenweth worked with gaffer Claudio Miranda and key grip Michael Coo, both Fincher veterans from The Game, to incorporate this naturalistic aesthetic into the film's lighting design. "A good part of the lighting employed some sort of toplight source," he explains. "Many practical locations are lit by fluorescents in the ceiling, so we purposefully tried to maintain that element of reality. Toplight seemed to help with the prosthetics as well, by showing off the integrity of the wounds without revealing too much.
"If the surroundings of a certain location had a particular color of light, then we'd go with that color and perhaps add to it. We carried a whole array of different fluorescentsChroma 50s, normal 3200°K bulbs, Cool Whites and Warm White Deluxesbut if there weren't any specific colors in a given scene, we'd usually use white light or perhaps a little warmer light."
To model actors' faces, Cronenweth would often start with his top-light ambience and then add a back edge- or halflight, motivated by any practicals in the scene. "The general game plan was to make sure that the actors separated from their environment," he reveals, "and then play the actors's edgelight off of the practicals as much as possible without actually 'lighting' them. For this film, we didn't necessarily want to be able to see directly into their faces. It was more interesting and appropriate to the story to force the audience to pay attention. Faces were generally underexposed 11/2 to 2 stops, though it depended upon the scene. If the scene called for the audience to really be able to see them, I'd make the faces closer to 11/2 stops under. In either case, it was still important to feel the presence of their eyes, so we often played with eyelights everything from Obie lights to Kino Flos taped to the matte-boxwhich we usually kept three stops under."
"We lit the faces mostly with Kino Flos covered with 1/4 CTO and muslin," adds gaffer Claudio Miranda. "The angle and direction of that depended on where the practicals were. If it was a door shot, the key may have to come from the top, or if a pillar got in the way, we might bring it in from the side. David and Jeff wanted everything to be as natural as possible and allowed areas to go dark. We then played with creating blacks that you could just read into with hints of reflections for texture."
The production spent about half of its 138-day schedule on practical locations in and around Los Angeles. The other half of the shoot was executed on soundstages at 20th Century Fox in Century City.
One key setpiece in the film is Tyler Durden's Paper Street home. This disintegrating, dilapidated location was created in two parts: an exterior facade constructed in San Pedro, California, and interiors erected on Stage 15 at Fox. "The interior of the Paper Street house was a beautifully built set designed by Alex McDowell," submits Cronenweth. "It was well into a state of decay, with ceiling pieces coming down and wallpaper and paint peeling, so we had a wide range of textures to work with. We wanted to get a feeling of the old, decrepit house, as well as the deconstructed world the characters were living in. I played the lighting quite down, usually underexposing the walls by 2 to 2 1/2 stops, so that you could just barely see into them."
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