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Further intrigue was added to the moody visuals through Fincher and Cronenweth's astute use of compositional detail, and the marrying of texture and tonality to a nearly monochromatic frame. "We played with crosslight, toplight, sidelight and uplight to establish where and what practicals should be placed to bring out the textures of the environment," Cronenweth explains. "Also, when we'd place a practical, we'd then use an additional concealed raking-source to bring the wall's texture out and create some contrast with highlights and shadows. The type of instrument we used for this really depended on the situation, and how broad we needed to be with the light, but we mainly used standard tungsten units that we softened with some 216 or 250."
Another aspect of Fight Club's visual palette was the conscious use of depth of field to add dimension to the frame. "T2.3 was pretty much the stop for the entire movie," Cronenweth says. "Whether we were inside or outside, we always wanted to keep a shallow depth of field to keep the audience focused on what we wanted them to see. I'm very confident about shooting with the Primo lenses wide-open, but exposure-wise, shooting at a T2.3 was very comfortable, and I liked what it did to the practicals."
To light the massive house interiors, Cronenweth had Miranda and his pre-rigging crew surround the two-story structure with an array of 5K Skypans to illuminate the set's numerous newspaper- and grime-covered windows. "We were originally going to use Image 80 Kino Flos outside the windows, but unfortunately, with a set that largeeven on a film with a budget as big as Fight Club's there were financial constraints," says Cronenweth. "The Skypans worked out well, and because the window dressing was quite substantial, they had more of the punch we needed. All of the Skypans were on dimmers, so we could move fairly quickly from room to room and instantly have ambient daylight coming through the windows.
"Inside the set," he elaborates, "we'd continue our 'daylight' with specific units lighting the actors. Since we used a lot of wide-angle lenses that were usually down low to the ground, we often ended up having smaller units just out of the frame, or having to walk back larger units. Fortunately, the walls were so dark that the light would fall off nicely. We also added some specific units to help model the actors on a shot-by-shot basis. In those instances, we'd usually screw a baby plate into a wallthat [damage] only helped add to the 'aging' of the house."
A good percentage of Fight Club occurs at night, often in menacingly dark locales. In fact, even during daylight scenes, the frame was often weighted with deeply shadowed areas. For nighttime scenes set inside the house, Cronenweth kept the light from the Skypans outside the windows, but he notes that he "knocked them way down and added some blue and diffusion to them." An added visual motif of the night scenes was the home's faulty electricity, which is caused by numerous leaks and water damage. "For the greater part of the film, you'll notice practicals that flicker every once in a while. The only time you really see a drastic change is during a storm sequence, when there's a big power failure. That created an interesting lighting dilemma since there was very little 'moonlight' coming through windows. In some instances, we had the actors lit by candles, and I shot wide-open at a T1.9 to get as much interactive candlelight as possible."
The basement set of Lou's Tavern, also constructed on Stage 15 at Fox, serves as the Fight Club's ramshackle brawling ring. The set was designed with a low, pipe-laced ceiling and cement floors littered with junk in the corners. Fincher and Cronenweth wanted to lend the set a bit of a boxing-ring vibe, and "played the fights in the center of the room, using four China-hat practicals hanging from the ceiling to create a ring-like setting," the cinematographer notes. "The China hats were specifically styled lamps that had a kind of submarine-style cage around a PH-212 bulb that we dimmed down. We also had additional Kino Flo tubes, wrapped in muslin and 1/4 CTO, hidden up in the ceiling studs. We knocked those tubes way down with some black paper tape to provide just enough of an ambience over the crowd, which we kept about 1 3/4 to 2 stops under, so the viewers would just barely see them. We wanted to read the crowd in the background, but we didn't necessarily want to see who they were. We also had an array of practicals placed on various parts of the walls about 20 feet behind the crowd, which helped separate them as well."
"We lit a lot of Lou's basement with what we called 'Budget Busters,'" adds Miranda. "They were basically small, clamp-on aluminum work lamps that you can get from Home Depot for $2. We had the art department age them down and make them ugly; then we'd just throw one of them up to create a glow in the background, which really added a lot of dimension and texture. We put those all over the place in the film, using standard 60-watt household lightbulbs, and Jeff absolutely loved them."
The film's fight scenes also adhered to Fincher's realistic aesthetic. Deliberately avoiding flashy camerawork and refusing to stylize the skirmishes, the director elected to take a more objective view of the fights, often locking the camera down to a fixed position. However, the filmmakers did want the fights to become increasingly brutal as the story developed. "We come back to the fights several times," reveals Cronenweth. "The blocking depended on the specific fight and how violent it was supposed to be. At first, the camera was more of an observer. As the fights progressed, the camera took more of the point of view of the fighter. In fact, the last fight in the movie is quite gruesome. There wasn't a lot of handheld camerawork at shoulder height. A lot of the fights were covered from low angles, from between shoulders or through feet with either a dolly or a static camera.
"We used two cameras on the fights almost all of the time, and we mapped out specific shots for each sequence," he continues. "The fights were pretty shorta minute at most. We also went with the idea that the fighters would play in and out of the light sources. Occasionally, they'd pop into full lighting when they were directly beneath a practical, but if they were out of the light, they were out of the light. Either way, there was always something in the foreground or the background that provided enough exposure."
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