A Dreamer Walking

Jeff Cronenweth – Cinematographer – The Social Network

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 10, 2014

The Social Network

This comes from my favorite David Fincher film The Social Network (2010). The cinematographer of this film, Jeff Cronenweth, is probably one of the few cinematographers in Hollywood who can handle Fincher’s perfectionist style of directing. Fincher has worked with a handful of cinematographers through the years and only Cronenweth has lasted more then two movies with him. With this movie Fincher wanted to take away the glamor of the picture. He was very strict with the extra lights he allowed Cronenweth to use. He wouldn’t let him spend more then twenty minutes to get any one scene lit in fact (a very short time for Hollywood films). This is not to say The Social Network is a bland film. I believe it is quite beautiful. However, the beauty comes in the way Fincher and Cronenweth frame their shots and the way the camera moves. The films color scheme is subdued and most of the scenes have a dark atmosphere to them. There literally is only one handheld shot in the whole movie. For the most part Fincher and Cronenweth gave the film an almost technical smoothness. You could easily say the style of filming was a direct reflection of the main character Mark Zuckerberg. He is a genius who shows almost no emotion on the outside. His actions are almost more mechanical then human and their is a sort of darkness that is simmering in the background of his character. The main score used for the movie is also a reflection of Zuckerberg. It has a simple beautiful melody playing in the foreground while an unstable beat plays in the background. The farther we go in the story the more the beat overwhelms the simple melody.

The reason I am using this shot is because I think it perfectly expresses the key conflict in the movie. In the foreground we have Mark Zuckerberg. His head is turned away from the camera. As I said before, his emotion is deeply hidden inside himself so even if the camera was on him we would probably not get much more from him then we do now. The focus of this shot is Mark’s friend Eduardo. Usually when framing the main character of the shot the director places him to the left of right third of the frame. Rarely in a movie do you see a character framed directly in the middle. However, this is exactly what Fincher and Cronenweth do with Eduardo. This creates an uneasiness that goes perfectly with the way Eduardo is feeling. Also look at the strong light source being used. There is nothing lighting up the right side of Eduardo’s face. The light is doing the opposite of glamorizing, it is showing a character who is distraught and signifying Eduardo’s views on the other characters. The characters are not wearing any vibrant colors and the environment is subdued in order to allow the audience to easily focus on what Eduardo is saying. The last important peice of this shot is Sean in the background of the shot. There is a reason Sean is placed on the dark side of Eduardo’s face. He is looming over Eduardo just as he is in the context of the movie. The filmmakers could have placed Sean farther to the right of frame but they want to squeeze both Mark and Sean in on Eduardo to create an almost claustrophobic feel. It also looks like they went with a long focal lens in order to sandwich the background with the foreground.

Show Me The Light!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on October 22, 2011

In every film there should be a light. A light that attracts us to the material. That allows us to truly see the story being presented on screen. I would describe the light as some sort of warmth. Something that reminds us of humanity and gives us a reason to invest ourselves into the story. The light factor is what separates filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese in my mind. As sophisticated as some of Scorsese’s films are, I find few of them relatable and very seldom do I invest myself into the story he is telling. Maybe I neglect to understand the darkness factor. I have heard many people talk about how they are drawn to Scorsese movies such as Taxi Driver, because they relate to the loneliness and darkness in the main character Travis Bickle. However, if movies were about reflecting and highlighting the darkness in human nature I would not be interested in making them.

It is not like Steven Spielberg does not go into dark subject matter at times. You can’t get much darker then the holocaust. Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List just happens to be my favorite movie I have ever seen. I have had many friends tell me the film is too dark and too sad for them to really like. However, even though I think the main subject matter of Schindler’s List, the holocaust, is sad I do not consider the actual story sad. No, instead in the middle of one of the darkest chapters in world history Steven Spielberg shows us a light in Oskar Schindler. In Schindler’s List we are given a story about the redemption of a German citizen and his effort to save hundreds of Jews from almost curtain death in German death camps. This light amongst the darkness is what makes the film so powerful in my mind.

A frustrating thing about most critics in my opinion is that they seem to put more value on filmmakers who make movies that go into dark subject matter and end on tragic notes. People like Walt Disney, Frank Capra, and Steven Spielberg on the other hand are written off by some critics because their material is too full of “fluff” and not realistic enough to true life. In my opinion if you want to see something completely realistic to real life, just go outside. We are not supposed to just copy what we see in real life. Many filmmakers goals are to represent something to strive for and look up too. I am tired of critics downsizing a film because it had a predictable happy ending. The truth is there are only two ways to end a film, either with a happy ending or a tragic one. Each ending could easily become predictable. For example, the majority of Martin Scorsese’ films end in a tragic way. It is just as easy for me to predict the type of ending Scorsese is going to have as it is for me to predict Spielberg’s. What we should be concentrating on is whether we buy into the ending the movie has.

In film the director is showing the audience a new world. They are giving us a piece of art that hopefully entertains and impacts us. Directors like Martin Scorsese and Stanly Kubrick have never been known for being commercial artists. They never claimed to be making their films for the mass audience. They are more interested in exploring deep and usually dark ideas. Scorsese’s movies especially have a lot to do with violence and corruption. After watching a Scorsese or Kubrick film you usually begin to doubt humanity. The stars of their films are rapists, drug dealers, and murders. There is hardly any warmth in their films. Warmth is either something they feel they are beyond or something they just don’t want to incorporate into their film. Instead what we get is beautifully shot and visually stunning pieces of art that usually go unnoticed or uncared for because the audience doesn’t have a reason to invest.

I can’t say Scorsese and Kubrick are bad filmmakers. I personally respect almost all of what I have seen them develop. However I, unlike most critics, think Scorsese and Kubrick’ films are far less impacting then the ones of Steven Spielberg or Walt Disney. It is like inviting someone into a room. You can have a room full of wondrous material all presented in a superb way. Yet, if you do not have some sort of warmth in the room, most people will walk away or not be impacted. If you have no warmth in a film everything looks foreign. We need the characters in our films to be relatable. Even if you are making a movie about a villain, you need to show us something that makes him connect to the audience. There needs to be some sort of light expressed in that villain’s life that allows us to understand his or her perspective. It is not because Scorsese’s movies end tragically that they are not impacting to me. Scorsese usually has interesting characters in his films. But the characters are people who I never run into in real life, and Scorsese hardly does anything to shine a light on why they are so different from me. He keeps his characters in the darkness and thus when they are gone I don’t see much of a difference, I am not impacted.

I don’t consider Steven Spielberg or Walt Disney’s films fluffy. I do not consider it a bad thing that most of their films end happily. What I care about is whether or not I can buy into the story they are telling. Movies are less about the final result and more about the journey. If you want your audience to participate on the journey you are taking them on you need to give them a reason to stay in their seat. Give them some sort of light that allows them to invest in your film. The light allows the audience in and it gives the darkness contrast. Even in the movies of David Fincher, where we go deeply into the worlds of serial killers, rape victims, and corrupt power seekers, we see some sort of light. Whether it is a detective who still believes in humanity, a comic artist who is devoted to justice, or a visionary devoted to revolutionizing the world, Fincher gives us reason to stay and invest into his films.

The tragic events in both Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg films are impacting because we all had something to lose when the events happened. The death of Bambi’s mother and the sacrifice Captain Miller makes to save private Ryan, hits us hard because we experienced the warmth of both those characters lives. The light is the reason why I will stay. The light needs to be the most important thing about your story. It allows us to understand and be impacted by the darkness. By no means am I telling you to make your movies end happily. It’s your choice. I am just saying that it’s the light that gives both happy and sad endings clarity.

Award Season Preview

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on October 5, 2011

Usually the beginning of October represents the beginning of the award season. Interestingly enough it seems the award season has started early this year because several critically acclaimed film have been released in the last month that will be hard to ignore come award time. Unlike past years I am planning on going to several movies in the theaters for this award season. It is slightly frustrating how much of a short term memory award shows seem to have. If you release a great movie at the beginning of the year your movie will most likely not be remembered by the end of it. So most studios hold on to the movies they think will compete award-wise until the end of the year. It looks however like there are two films particularly that might still be remembered during the award season which were released nationally several months ago. One is The Tree Of Life, directed by Terrence Malick. This movie opened everywhere in May and it won top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It has been on many Critics’ top five lists for the first half of the year and it stars some big name actors, such as Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. I am looking forward to watching this one when it comes out on Blu-Ray and DVD on October 31st. The second film that opened world wide earlier this year that I think has a good chance to win some awards during the award season is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2. The movie was highly critically acclaimed and is the last movie of the Harry Potter franchise. Honestly, I did not like the movie nearly as much as most people seemed to, but awards given for this movie will most likely represent what people think of the Harry Potter franchise in general, just like Lord of the Rings Return the of the King when it won 11 Academy Awards at the Oscars in 2004. Just like the Lord of the Rings franchise the Harry Potter franchise has created quality films from beginning to end and I think they deserve some recognition.

I wanted to use this post for previewing some of the movies I am most looking forward to watching this award season. After showing you the trailer of the film I will write briefly on why I am looking forward to the movie. I first want to preview three movies that came out last month.

I happened to have the pleasure of watching Warrior already. There are no good guy or bad guy in this film. Each character we get to know has his or her strengths and his and her weaknesses. Each one needs to fight his or her own demons. Mixed martial arts fighting in this movie is just used as a way to bring the characters together and a way for them to face the problems of their pasts and futures. The farther into the story you go the more the movie draws you in. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton do a fantastic job portraying the brothers and Nick Nolte makes the movie work as the brothers recovering alcoholic dad. The movie should still be in theaters everywhere. It was released September 9.

A few things attract me about Drive. Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan are two of the best young stars in Hollywood. The film has been highly critically acclaimed already, earning a 93% Tomatometer rating and a 83 on the MRQE Meter. I also like the idea that this movies is a thriller where the main protagonist doesn’t really have a gun. All he does is drive. My guess is that this movie will take us on a ride and won’t stop until the credits roll. The movie is in theaters everywhere. It was released on September 16.

Moneyball was a fantastic film. The movie is out everywhere right now and I highly recommend you go see it. The writers for the film are Arron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian. For a movie heavy in duologue Sorkin was a brilliant pick. He makes the endless conversations in the movie not only bearable but extremely entertaining. The humor he draws out from a bunch of old timers sitting around a table talking is unbelievable. Zaillian I believe brought a curtain depth to the story that Sorkin wouldn’t have gotten by himself.  The movie needed an actor like Brad Pitt to star in the role. Pitt gave his character a certain charm and allowed us to be on his side right from the very beginning. A movie about baseball stats doesn’t sound naturally interesting, but with the help of superior writers and a fantastic cast Moneyball gives you a story very much worth watching. The film was released in the US on September 23.

I am not quite sure about In Time. However, I preview it because the idea is extremely intriguing and the director/writer of the film Andrew Niccol has created some good stories in the past. He was the screenwriter for the very thought provoking movie The Truman Show and he seems to be slowly making a name for himself as a director. I also was impressed with the performance Justin Timberlake gave in last year’s The Social Network. Timberlake has a natural charm about him and his charm will be needed for us to buy into this sort of “diamond in the rough” type character. The film can be just another action flick that involves a bunch of gun shooting and sex scenes. However, the premise allows for the potential of something more thought provoking. Time is a cherished thing in our society. If someone has the potential to live forever I wonder what he or she would be willing to sacrifice for it. A lot of it has to do with how these young actors portray characters who are supposed to be in their 70’s and even 100’s. The film will be released in the US October 28th.

J. Edgar is directed by Clint Eastwood and I would be lying if I said this isn’t the main reason I want to see the movie. The reason I am excited the movie is directed by Clint Eastwood is because I know what comes when he leads the way. I know this story will be well told. I know Eastwood will allow the star of the film Leonardo DiCaprio to perform at the highest of his capabilities. And I know the movie will give us something to think about. Just through watching the trailer you get the feeling of the time period this film takes place in. Eastwood is extremely good at period pieces and the visual style you see in the trailer seems to really put us into the story he is telling. The film appears dark with a high contrast and a lot of color intentionally taken out. The subject matter seems very relevant for the time we live in now. How much power is too much power? What is the fine line between right and wrong? These questions and more are asked by Eastwood and though he might not bluntly give us answers he will make us think. The movie will be released in the US November 9th.

The Descendents seems like a movie that concentrates on very real people who are going through some very real problems in life. Alexander Payne, director and co-writer of the film, doesn’t seem to be sugarcoating any of it. In seeing some of his other work Payne is very good at not Hollywoodizing things. He doesn’t have this unreasonable need to make his characters extra special in any way. They are real people we can easily run into in everyday life. This allows Payne’s characters to connect to the audience easier and it allows us to understand his characters’ dilemmas in a more comprehensive way. The Descendents stars George Clooney and I am sure he will bring a venerability to his role that gives us reason to root for him to get his life back in order. Payne is also known for his ability to balance humor and strong subject matter so both are working together to enhancing the story. The movie will be released in the US on November 18.

There are several reasons why I want to see Hugo. Like the last movie the director is what most excites me. Martin Scorsese is one of the most talented technical film directors not just for today but in the history of film. He knows how to use all the elements of cinema to tell a good story. However, this film represents a change in Scorsese’s usual subject matter. This is the first time Scorsese has chosen to jump into family entertainment. His movies are usually very dark and tragic. However, Hugo seems to be a movie about hope and friendship. I am actually really interested in seeing how Scorsese uses 3D in this film. I have not been a big fan of 3D so far but with a technical mind like Scorsese’ I am sure we will see 3D used in a unique and interesting way. The movie is released in the US on November 23rd.

 

First off, I want to point out that this is a brilliant trailer for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Too many trailers give too much information away. This one gives us the subject matter, introduces to us some of the main characters, but does not give the whole plot away. I am excited to be introduced to the director Tomas Alfredson. Alfredson is relatively new to the film business. His only other widely released film was Let the Right One In, which opened to tremendous critical acclaim. What excites me about this film is the all-star cast. The movie has established veterans such as Colin Firth and Gary Oldman and it has upcoming star actors such as Tom Hardy. The mystery aspect of the film draws us. Each suspect seems like a character we could get to like which will make the betrayal all the more captivating. The movie has already been released in the UK to many positive reviews. The story looks like one that will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way through. The movie will be released in the US on December 9th.

This trailer is a piece of art. David Fincher‘s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is sure to take us on a dark ride. Fincher has said that he wants to see how far he could push the R rating for this film. I not being a guy who loves dark movies didn’t think I would be too interested in the film. However, I think Fincher is a fantastic filmmaker and this trailer completely drew me in. Fincher usually has brilliant trailers for his films. They work extremely well with music because of his background in directing music videos and they hardly ever give too much plot away. We understand how this story is going to feel without needing to be told how the plot unfolds in this trailer. The music gets borderline uncomfortable in this trailer and I can guarantee you that is intentional. Fincher is telling us this will be a film that takes us out of our comfort zone and shows us something dark and hard to grasp. The movie concentrates on a rape victim. However, I think it might just be one of the best films of the year if not the best. As much as I liked The King’s Speech, I thought David Fincher’s The Social Network should have won top prize at the Oscars last year. I look forward to seeing how his new movie does. The film will be released in the US on December 21st.

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn is still a really big “?” in my mind. Steven Spielberg, the director of the film, is my most favorite director of all time. Yet, there are several reasons to be hesitant about the film. One, the movie is in motion capture, an experimental animation style that tends to feel stiff and unbelievable. The second reason I am hesitant is Spielberg has openly claimed that he has not been as hands on with the project as he is with his live action films. For some reason it seems Spielberg thinks animators don’t deserve or need as much attention as actual actors. Although the actors do the motion capture part of the film, it is the animators who bring the characters to life through the constant tweaking of the motion capture performance. However, I will be going to the film and think it will be at least an exciting story for the whole family to see. Some of the images, like the ship floating through the sand hills, seem very imaginative. I also want to see how Spielberg deals with this new art form. The movie will be released in the US on December 21st.

Okay, Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol is most likely not going to be an award contender. However, it is one I am really looking forward to seeing. Not because I loved the last three Mission Impossible films but rather because it represents Brad Bird‘s live action directorial debut. Brad Bird, director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille, is setting out to prove himself as a legitimate director with this movie. He has a chip on his shoulder that comes from the constant doubts he seems to get from studios who think animation is not a legitimate representation of good directing. You would have thought with two Oscars and three critically acclaimed films Bird would have the opportunity to get funding for his personal project in development 1906. Yet, nobody was willing to give him enough money for the project because of their lack of confidence in him as a live action film director. So, he signed on for the new Mission Impossible movie to prove his doubters wrong. If Bird’s film The Incredibles is any indication as to how Bird can handle action, I am sure Mission Impossible 4 will be a thrilling piece of entertainment that does not lose sight of the humanity needed to really draw in an audience. The movie will be released in US theaters everywhere on December 21st.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close will focus on some touchy subject matter. Yet, I like how the film doesn’t look like it will be just about the day of 9/11. Instead it will be a film that concentrates on a victim of 9/11 who needs to learn to move on without his father. The “key” aspect of the film seems very interesting and I am glad the trailer didn’t give too much of the mystery away. The child actor, Thomas Horn, also looks promising and the director, Stephen Daldry, has worked a few times already with young actors and had some great success. The thing that most excites me about this film is it’s written by Eric Roth. Eric is the writer of some magnificent screenplays such as Forrest Gump and The Insider. He is one of my personal favorites. His stories might be about grand adventures but the heart of his stories are never lost and the characters usually end up stealing the show. The movie only opens in select theaters on December 25. It’s wide US release is on January 20.

War Horse is about a boy who joins the army to find his horse during World War I. Steven Spielberg is the director of this film as well and the subject matter seems to be right up his ally. I am already blown away by some of the master shots I saw in this trailer. Spielberg doesn’t seem to be feeling the need to make this film with a bunch of handhelds and quick cutting shots. I think what we will get is a well told story about the relationship between a boy and a horse and a war that tries to tear them apart. Spielberg has always been good at taking the audience into different worlds and I have no doubt he will do so with this period piece. A lot of the film’s success relies on the performance of the lead boy and the horse and we see little of how good or bad those two things are in this trailer. However, I have confidence in Spielberg and this is one of the movies I am looking forward to the most this coming award season. The movie will be released in the US on December 25th.

Compromise

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 16, 2011

Compromise can be seen in two lights, negative and positive. Some people try to fight compromise as much as possible through being extremely detailed in their work and making sure they have the resources to stick to their original vision. However, even David Fincher, who takes much longer then the average filmmaker to shoot his films with usually a solid budget, has complained more then once about filmmaking being full of compromise and settling for imperfections.

Unlike David Fincher, Steven Spielberg has talked about compromise sometimes being a filmmakers best ally. He warned the students at Inside the Actors Studio to never let their vision or dream get in the way of making the movie better. Spielberg has shown his brilliant ability with compromise in movies like Jaws, E. T., and Jurassic Park. Originally Spielberg wanted to reveal the shark in Jaws at the very beginning of the film. The problem was that the mechanical shark they made for production wouldn’t work for the first half of production and it wasn’t too believable even when it did work. So, Steven needed to change his vision for the project. What he created instead was something that feels far more scary and malicious. Spielberg used the music and point of view shots to represent the presence of the shark. He waited until we were far into the second act of the film to reveal the shark. Yet, even then he only showed us a few seconds. He knew that if we saw the shark for too long it would look unbelievable and lose it’s maliciousness.

These days filmmakers have the ability to create whatever they want, the computer can literally bring anything to life. Yet, this unlimited ability to express whatever we want on screen is not always a good thing. Spielberg realized the power of limitation in the process of making Jaws. He found that compromise lead to a creativity that required limitations to work. Spielberg left a lot of the terror of the shark to the audience imagination. He knew the audience’s imagination could create a far more terrible creature then anything he could actually show on screen.

Filmmaking is a collaborative process and no matter if you are making a film independently or through a studio system, there are compromises. There are compromises made because you don’t have enough money, because you are trying to get a curtain rating, because you need to make decisions as a team, and the list goes on. What we need to do is run with the compromises. We need to learn how to use the compromises to stretch our thinking into creating something even more thought provoking and entertaining. The strict definition of compromise is settling for less then you wanted, however I think this does not need to be the case when it comes to filmmaking. If we are willing to work together as a team we can dream far greater visions then any one person could. If compromise is needed from one person in order to create a greater whole then the individual must be willing to sacrifice.

The time when compromise must be fought is when non-creative people try to influence your story. You will not always win, the budget will be cut and the story might be changed, however you must not let the business part of filmmaking destroy your creativity. If you feel your vision is being diminished you must know when to throw in the towel. Peter Weir (director of Dead Poets Society, Witness, and Master and Commander) worked on four projects from 2003 to 2010 and he only ended up making one. When asked about the projects he left Peter said he was glad he didn’t make them because he and the studios couldn’t come to agreement and share a vision together. Peter compared getting ready to write and direct a film to getting ready to fly a plan through a storm; if a bunch of red lights pop up before you even get into the storm that is a good sign to bail out. There is a huge difference between making compromises because of creative differences and budget/technical restraints, and needing to compromise because your financiers are not ambitious enough.

I am not telling you to ignore your convictions. However, filmmaking doesn’t work with just one person, it is a collaborative effort. It is impossible to have one man’s vision translated completely accurately onto screen. My suggestion is to embrace this fact and see if you can use the people around you to create a even greater vision. You are not exactly in a better position with a big budget or more time to shoot a film. Even though David Fincher usually has a greater budget and much more time to shoot a film then someone like Clint Eastwood, I do not consider him a better filmmaker. It all depends on what you do with the compromises that come with the medium of film. You can let compromises destroy your vision and your film, as I said sometimes you have to know when to bail out. However, most of the time you can take those compromises you encounter during the filmmaking process and let them boost your creativity and make something far greater then you could have imagined.

Foundations

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 28, 2011

Foundations consist of the core values in your films. They represent what you want your movie to be about. The stronger you make the foundations of your story the stronger of a film you will have. I have found my faith to be a help to me in understanding what is important in the stories I am developing. I want each one of my stories to reflect values that are important to my God. However, I am not saying you need to become a Christian to create strong foundations, but you do need to figure out where you stand and what you want to communicate before you embark on creating or telling a story.

David Fincher, who I mostly disagree with when it comes to political and moral issues, is very adamant on figuring out the reason for each word in the script he is about to shoot. He spends several weeks just talking to his screenwriter about what both of them feel are the foundations of the story and how the screenplay reflects those foundations. Because David has put a lot of thought into his movies, films like Se7en, Fight Club, and The Social Network make statements not easily ignored by society. They make you see dark truths about society. He has shown how we as society are inclined to sacrifice friendship for power, meaning for safety, and morality for comfort. It does not matter if I agree with his personal view of the world or not. I am forced to think about the statements his films make because they have conviction behind them.

I believe the foundations of a film should represent things you believe in your heart are true. The filmmaker needs to let these truths lead his or her way. Even though Fincher concentrates on the evils of society his foundations and the points he makes feel real and truthful because they are real and speak the truth to him. It is all about knowing you believe in what your film is saying and being committed to to that belief.

The bottom line is you need to know why you are making the film you are making. As Andrew Stanton (Writer/Director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E) says, you need to know the punchline of the joke in order to know how to set the joke up.  The foundations might not come right away. You can’t know everything you want to say in a film until you begin to make it. However, work from the parts of the film that seem to work the best for you, that stay the same all the way through development. Those parts are usually the parts that represent your films foundations.

I have written papers on the the foundations of each one of my stories I have been developing. Through figuring out what I feel is most important to my stories I began to realize what needs to stay and what needs to go. I think films should be more then just a piece of entertainment. I think they should be something that sticks with the audience far after they leave the movie theater. If you build your stories on strong foundations they will last far longer then any lifetime.

David Fincher – An Observation – The “B” Movies

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on May 25, 2011

David Fincher 1The movies which I would consider Fincher’s worst are The Game and Panic Room. Ironically both of these films have happy endings. There is nothing wrong with happy endings. However, in Fincher’s case there seemed to be no conviction behind the “happy ending”. The movies also happen to be the least critically successful movies Fincher has made up to this point. Both were basically considered entertaining “B” movies by critics.

Many critics probably would point to the unbelievability of The Game as the reason why it wasn’t a huge success. However, there are many movies that don’t make sense logically but still work. As I touched on in my last David Fincher post, the crucial part is to see the conviction behind the theme of the film. For a movie like It’s a Wonderful life, it does not make sense logically for the main character George Baily to run into an angel and go through life as though he was never born. However, because there was conviction behind the concept, we saw how the experience completely changed George Baily as a person and we were able to buy into the illogical concept. For The Game there seemed to be no conviction. There was just a bunch of illogical twists and turns without seeing any inner change in the main character.

Fincher seemed to be more interested in the suspense and twists of the film than he was in the arc of the main character, Nicholas (Micheal Douglas). He no doubt had fun working with the twists and suspense but in the end it was a movie he made to satisfy the audience, and there laid his greatest mistake. Fincher did not believe in the change of Nicholas, he just knew the audience wanted the character to change and have a “happy ending”. When you begin to stop relying on your own convictions and instead look to satisfy others, no matter who those others might be, you will fall flat and start to make a formulaic movie.

Both The Game and Panic Room were more like experimental films for Fincher. For The Game he wanted to see how far he could take the audience. How many twists can you make before something starts to not be believable? Some people totally bought into the many twists Fincher took the audience on. Some people, like myself, did not see the point and thus just did not care. But, I can guarantee you The Game helped prepare Fincher for his next movie Fight Club, where everything relied on Fincher getting the audience to buy into the big twist at the end of the movie.

Panic Room was more interesting to Fincher because of it’s barriers than it’s storyline. Fincher wanted to see if he could make an entire film in one location. Minus the very beginning of the film and very end, everything is shot in the house of the main character’s Meg and Sarah Altman (Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart). We see a tremendous display of set design, camera movements, and visual effects to make this one location keep us entertained all the way through the film. However, the goal for Panic Room just like The Game, went no farther than entertaining the audience with scenes full of suspense and action.

With Fincher there was no formal film school. He needed to learn through professional experience. He started out at Industrial Light and Magic as a teen and went on to do commercials and music video’s for people like Madonna and The Rolling Stones in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Fincher’s film school was the commercials and music video’s he worked on. It is no surprise he would continue the constant testing and learning process he used in his commercials and music videos and  also use it on some of his full length films. The Game and Panic Room are more accurately called experimental learning experiences than ambitious works of art. However, is a learning experience a good enough excuse for movies like The Game and Panic Room to be sub par or easily forgettable?

I have no problem with Fincher creating some average “B” movies because I can see how they have informed his other films. As I already pointed out, the sort of unbelievable twists we saw in The Game helped Fincher get ready for Fight Club. Working with limitations in Panic Room helped Fincher appreciate the great amount of locations he had at his disposal in movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. However, at the end of the day the movies which will stick out and are appreciated from generation to generation are not the ones with tons of twists and special effects. There will always be movies with those kind of things. What makes a movie unique is the individuality of the artists behind the film. When we make a film to satisfy someone else we begin to lose individuality. When we make a film to satisfy our own convictions, we make something which can not be copied and is truly unique.

(Here are the links to the other three Fincher Observation Posts. 1. Exploring the Scene 2. Finding the Meaning Behind the Movement 3. A Cynical Man)

David Fincher – An Observation – A Cynical Man

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on May 17, 2011

Maybe Fincher’s cynicism started after his first full length film experience, where he basically got screwed by executive producers on  Alien 3 and reportedly “swore he would rather have colon cancer then direct another picture”. Actually, the only David Fincher movie I have not seen is Alien 3 but it is no secret the directing experience was not a good one for Fincher. Honestly I am not interested in how David became so cynical. Although Alien 3 did not help, I am sure it is not the only reason why David is cynical about this world. It is obvious when studying David Fincher what stands out probably more then anything else about him is his cynicism and how it is expressed through his movies.

There are so many places I can point to in order to express Fincher’s cynical view of this world. Like any good director Fincher creates his best work when he follows his convictions, no matter how cynical they might be. Se7en is a good place to start. Se7en was Fincher’s second full length film and in it we see a world consumed with filth and sin. The main characters, Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt), both work in a profession where their job is to find the people who have committed the worst kind of crimes imaginable. They live in a world full of lies, violence, and murder. Fincher creates in Se7en a dark world where the screams of the city are never silenced and we are bore down by rain and darkness. At the end of Se7en it is not good that prevails but evil. The people who end up being right at the end are the old cop, who has all but given up on hoping the world will ever become better, and the serial killer, who does not think the world has any good left in it.

I consider Se7en to be one of David’s greatest films because I can see the conviction he had in the story he was telling. Every frame seemed to be supporting the theme of the film. I can understand why the old cop Somerset has given up on the world. I understand the serial killer John Doe’s explanation on how perverted it is to call anything in this world “innocent”. After about an hour of being immersed in the world of Se7en, the character who still believes in justice, Mr. Mills, starts to seem like the most naive person in the movie. Ironically at the end he is the one to express his naivety for what it really is.

Fincher’s career is full of cynical movies where we see some of the worst qualities of this world and humanity, prevail. His movie Fight Club, seems to give the finger to the concept of “The American Dream”. His movie Zodiac is full of frustrations and failures where we begin to think at the end nothing can be completely solved or brought to full resolution. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Fincher gives us a love story that concentrates more on the loss love creates then its benefits. Even when the main characters finally get together the music is not relishing in the moment but rather leading the audience to think the moment will soon end, as it does. Fincher’s last movie, The Social Network, might be his most cynical film to date. The film is full of deception and betrayal. We are given three different points of view which all try to twist and change what everyone else is saying to make themselves look spotless. It is the ultimate tale of narcissism where each character is consumed with themselves, all in their own unique ways.

In the commentary on Se7en Fincher said, “I am so not interested in what people say. As far as I’m concerned language was invented so people could lie to one another”. This is a very important concept to understand about Fincher if you want to understand most of his movies. A movie like The Social Network, which is full of heavy dialogue, is all about the ways people say what they say and how they react to what is being said. Dialogue should never be taken at face value in a Fincher film. We are always seeing hidden motives and double standards. In Se7en we see detective Mills claim he believes in justice but betray himself at the end of the film. In Fight Club we see the main character express his need for fulfillment through possessions but get more depressed the more things he tries to hold onto. In The Social Network everyone has an agenda for why they say what they say. During the testimonies Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) says he was Mark’s (Jesse Eisenberg) only friend because he knew it would give him sympathy in the case. Shaun Parker (Justin Timberlake) tries to convince Mark it is in his best interest to get rid of Eduardo because he knows he would become more important to Mark that way. Mark goes through the film making fun of final clubs because he wants to be in them. Mark tries to demean the other people’s contributions to Facebook because he wants to see himself as the site’s sole creator.

Thankfully there are only two movies of Fincher’s I would call formulaic. When he begins to go down the road of trying to satisfy the audience rather then himself, he runs into problems. The two movies I consider Fincher’s worst are The Game and Panic Room, both of which ironically have a happy ending. The fact is Fincher relishes in the deceptiveness of humanity. He is at his best when concentrating on the cruelties of this world. “Happy Endings” at the moment just do not seem to be something Fincher really believes in.

In some ways I find Fincher’s situation to be a very sad place to be. I personally can not imagine finding much happiness in a view that hardly believed in the goodness of human nature. However, Fincher’s view I believe is more realistic of the times we live in. I also believe his point of view needs to be expressed. I am glad there is a David Fincher who is able to concentrate on how many of us are consumed with the evils of this world, so I do not have to.

Although movies like Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network are cynical at heart, I see glimpses of light. The creativity of Mark in The Social Network is inspiring. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an absolutely beautiful movie. The movie has characters that express to us some of the simple beauties of life. The freedom we see come to the members of Fight Club is also exciting and in some ways even hopeful.

Fincher’s movies make statements about society which are quite legitimate and worth conversation and debate. It is easy for me to learn from his films. He gives me motivation even through his darkest of movies, to be creative and push for what I want to show no matter what the world might think.

Fincher has had many battles with Hollywood studios and executives because of his cynical points of view. Typical Hollywood is just fine with the formulaic “happy ending”. Fincher has enough skill, he can create cliche’ stories that people will go in droves to see. I have yet to run across a movie of Fincher’s where I was bored. Fincher is an absolutely gifted filmmaker. He knows how to use the camera and the rest of the elements of cinema to create a stimulating picture. However, the movies which will last the longest are the ones which were the most risky for him to make. These days Fincher’s goal seems to be less and less about making the audiences and studios happy and more about following the convictions for what he thinks his films should be. For this I applaud him. His goal is not to make us feel safe. His goal is to have us realize the reality of evil in this world. He does not believe in a right side and wrong side. Fincher’s films are more about the grays of life.

The most important thing for a filmmaker to have is conviction. The director needs to follow his heart. Fincher said several years ago in a Esquire interview conducted by Brian Mockenhaupt, “Some people go to the movies to be reminded that everything’s okay. I don’t make those kinds of movies. That, to me, is a lie. Everything’s not okay.”  This I believe shows exactly where Fincher’s heart is at the moment.  He said in the interview that he did not consider himself a cynic; just a realistic. His goal is to express to the world that even in Hollywood everything is not okay. “Entertainment has to come hand in hand with a little bit of medicine“, he says.

Fincher’s heart goes to some dark places. I can’t say I like all those dark places but at least they encourages me to think. At least his passion for what he does is something to look up to. I am far from being a cynical man, however that does not stop me from being inspired by David Fincher’s films. My greatest hope is for Fincher to keep on following his heart. And, maybe someday his heart might break from the depressing view of mankind and see something worth making a film about that gives us hope for the future… At least that is this optimist’s point of view of this brilliant cynic 😉

(Here are links to my other two Fincher Observation posts. 1. Exploring the Scene 2. Finding the Meaning Behind the Movement 4. The “B” Movie)

Invisible Ink- Don’t tell me, SHOW ME!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 3, 2011

Seeing is different from being told
— African Proverb

This is how Brian McDonald opened up the topic of “What It Means to Dramatize an Idea”. This post is actually concentrating on the second part of Chapter 3 in his book Invisible Ink. I think in chapter three Brian hits on several different storytelling points, so I have decided to write four posts on the chapter (HERE is the link to the first post).

In storytelling our job is not to bluntly give our audience all the answers. Creating a story where you tell the audience exactly how and what to think is a quick way to get them to walk out on you. If the audience has been given all the answers there will be no drama. Drama comes from the uncertainty and questions the audience has. The drama comes from the audience figuring out the answers for themselves. Our job as filmmakers is to give the audience the equation and let them come up with the answer.

Let me go back to the example of The Incredibles to explain myself. The main theme in The Incredibles is “family is most important”. The reason why The Incredibles works so well is we are never told family is most important but rather we are shown. There are several scenes in which it is visually expressed how important family is to Mr. Incredible. One of the greatest examples would be the scene where his wife and children are flying to the island where he is being held capture. Syndrome, the villain of the movie, shoots missiles at the plane. We see Mr. Incredible at his most vulnerable. He begs Syndrome to call off the missiles, but sadly with no avail. He is forced to watch helplessly while the rockets hit and destroys the plane. He thinks right then his family is dead. We don’t need him to say, “my family is important to me”, we literally feel their importance through his emotions.

Words can easily be deceptive. David Fincher said, in his commentary on the movie Se7en, he believed the verbal language was invented so people could lie. Granted, David Fincher is one of the most cynical people I have ever come across, but what he said has some truth. We have the ability to deceive people through our words, but our our actions and emotions give us away.  We as filmmakers are measured based on how much we can get the audience to buy into the story we are telling. If we are told someone is in danger but don’t have it expressed well through the powers of cinema– through sound effects, music, cutting, lighting, and good acting– the audience won’t care. If an actor does not believe in what he is saying the audience won’t believe it. When I watch a movie I do not care whether I have seen the same type of story before. What I care about is whether or not the visuals and characters are believable. Do the performances feel authentic? Do the visuals demand my attention?

The message of “family being most important” has been told before. What makes The Incredibles work is the way the creators are able to get us to buy into the message. At the end of the movie Mr. Incredible wants to fight Syndrome and his evil robot alone. Mrs. Incredible is angry Mr. Incredible doesn’t want her help and demands to know why. Mr. Incredible breaks down and says, “I can’t lose you again”. Right there we are shown how important family has become to Mr. Incredible. His words are validated through the scene before where we saw the emotions he went through when he thought he lost them. His words are also backed up by a great performance. Mr. Incredible can barely look at his wife while he expresses his fear.

Cinema is all about dramatization. Brian McDonald puts it this way in his book, “Dramatization is a way to get your intellectual ideas across to your audience emotionally”. Drama is built entirely on emotions. When we connect an idea emotionally to our audience we have effected them in a way that will last much longer then a two hour theater experience. Facts are meaningless unless they have an emotion behind them. Being told guns are dangerous does not impact us nearly as much as seeing exactly how guns are dangerous. One of my mentors used to take his children to the garage after he killed a deer hunting and show them exactly how the bullet killed the animal. He would show them the insert wound, the blood, and how the bullet effected the deers insides. It is a fact guns are dangerous. However, the fact meant very little to the children until their dad expressed the fact through a dramatic example.

When we as filmmakers don’t give the audience all the answers but rather let them come to their own conclusions a satisfaction is created which could never have been achieved if we just came out and told them what to think. There are movies such as The Social Network that intentionally try to not take sides. In the movie The Social Network there is no obvious villain or obvious hero. This is actually one of the film’s strengths. We are shown plenty of details and have plenty of emotions about each one of the characters. The fun part is how we end up dealing with the emotions we experience. In The Social Network for example, depending on who you ask, the good guy may be different because we each interpret the situations differently. We end up leaving the movie thinking, debating with one another. We do not have a clear opinion but rather a curiosity and interest in hearing what others think. We may even want to see the movie again.

Whether it is to make a point or just get someone to think, you will get much farther through showing rather then telling. The goal should never be to come up with a clear cut answer. Rather, it should be to express something from your own unique point of view. You must have an idea behind what you are showing. You must give me a reason to keep watching and even come back again. But, you need to realize the power is in the image not the word. The goal is to show me something that doesn’t just give me information but rather stimulates the imagination.


David Fincher – An Observation – Finding the Meaning Behind the Movement

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on April 24, 2011

One thing you have to admire about David Fincher’s directing style is his constant dedication to finding the meaning behind everything that is seen or heard on screen. It is why, as I talked about in my last Fincher Observation post, he so thoroughly explores his scenes. Fincher wants to talk about every little detail of his films with all the key crew he works with. Everything needs to have a reason behind it. The acting,  props, visual effects, composition, lighting, sound, and cutting all are in efforts for something greater.

For the movie The Social Network Fincher held a three week rehearsal session with some of his key actors and his screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. You would think there would be a lot of staging and going over lines in a rehearsal, not the case with Fincher. Andrew Garfield (key actor in The Social Network) said they only read over each scene once, the rest of the time was spent going into depth on what they thought of the story. Fincher debated with Aaron and the actors about every key movement and every key piece of dialogue.  Because the movie was so heavy in dialogue, the actors needed to know why they were saying what they were saying. Fincher said The Social Network was just as much about the reactions as it was about what was verbally being said. Fincher wanted to have a clear idea of what the characters thought of each other and how the dialogue and movement would enforce the meaning behind those things.

Jesse Eisenberg, the star of The Social Network, talked about his first meeting with David Fincher. He said he was extremely nervous about meeting Fincher so he memorized about half the script in just a few days. He arrived to his meeting only to find out Fincher didn’t want to hear anything he had memorized. What Fincher wanted to talk about was what Jesse thought of his character and the overall story. They spent four hours just talking about the arc and qualities they saw in Jesse’ character and how they could best express those things visually on screen.

One key documentary to watch in order to observe David Fincher’s directing process would be the one and a half hour documentary on the making of The Social Network (here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4). There are many people who do not understand why Fincher’s production time is so much longer then normal directors and why he makes his actors go about even the smallest of scenes several dozens times before moving on. One thing to realize is Fincher has a very precise idea of what he wants and thus he will work his actors and the rest of his crew until he gets it. Everything has a purpose for Fincher thus everything is scrutinized by him.

David once compared directing to painting. However, rather then being able to hold the brush and paint on the canvas himself he needs to rely on his crew to do the actual painting. He said to imagine the canvas as the size of a football field. Then he said to imagine the crew holding the brush while he stood several dozen yards away shouting out extremely specific directions. It is a long tedious process, but if done correctly he and the crew will create something that will last much longer then any one of them.

It is important for us all to know why we want to see what we want to see on screen. There are directors out there who are very talented in many areas of film. They know how to create excitement through camera moves and cutting. They know how to use special effects in order to give the audience an immediate thrill. However the excitement and thrill goes away quickly and the audience usually goes away unsatisfied because the directors had no meaning behind what they were showing on screen.

Fincher’s goal is not to make us feel happy all the way through the film. He doesn’t even like giving us happy endings in his films. In Fincher’s films there seems to be something that goes beyond the immediate  feeling of happy or sad. His films often have characters that provoke thought. His camera movements and special effects are often subtle but have a purpose. The relentless conversation and debate he has with his film crew is in order for him to figure out what the overall meaning of his film will be. As a director Fincher needs to know exactly what he wants so he can clearly express to his crew how they should handle the brush. His goal is to create something with meaning, which makes us think, and encourages us to come back again.

(Here is a link to my other Fincher Observation posts. 1.Exploring the Scene 3. A Cynical Man 4. The “B” Movies)

Perfectionist Vs. Naturalist

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on March 30, 2011

David Fincher and Clint Eastwood are examples of two very successful filmmakers with two extremely different ways of going about directing a film. I have spent several weeks researching both Fincher and Eastwood and I have studied many of their films. It is striking to me how differently these two go about creating a film. It is also exciting. Studying these two has made me realize how truly open the medium of film is. Personally I think it is wise for any up coming filmmaker to do a extensive study on both these filmmakers.

I would describe David Fincher (top of the picture) as a perfectionist who goes into every little detail of the filmmaking process and is absolutely set on bring out the images and ideas he has in his head onto the screen. Fincher is known for doing two to three times the amount of takes for a scene as a normal director does. He also is known for giving extremely specific directions on everything from what is written in the journal of a characters prop that is never opened on screen to the marks he wants not only his main actors to hit but also the dozens of extras that might be inhabiting a small fraction of the background to hit.

Clint Eastwood (bottom of the picture) is what I would call a naturalist. He treats film like his favorite type of music, jazz. He wants to create an environment where the creativity can naturally flow. Jazz is never completely planned out but rather just a reaction of the mood and feelings of the musician at the time. A big motto of Eastwood’s is “go with your gut”. You can see this motto applied to Eastwood’s filmmaking process again and again over the decades. He wants to create an environment that produces very natural reactions from his actors. This means that the set is always quite and the crew is never allowed to bring anything onto the set that would distract from the piece he is working on. Eastwood is known for being a actors director, he wants them to create a performance that comes from the heart.

It is not like Fincher and Eastwood completely counter each other. However, I believe that both would be very uncomfortable with each others film style. A good place to begin would be in regards to the directors way of dealing with the Camera. One is very natural and one is very mechanical. One creates a perfection that is incapable of being achieved by actual human hands and one tends to use imperfections to comfort the audience into falling deeper into the story.

David Fincher is known for his use of motion control in film. Ever since his movie Panic Room David Fincher has been a big fan of using cameras controlled by a computer to create a more sophisticated shot. This technique known as motion control, allows the filmmaker to create complex movements with the camera that would be impossible for a human camera man to achieve. The smoothness and preciseness we see in movies like Panic Room, Zodiac, and The Social Network is usually the result of motion control.

Clint Eastwood is much more simple in the way he goes about shooting a film. His idea is to create something that is done professionally but still has the inherent flaws that come with being human. Clint’s belief is we as humans resonate more with these types of flaws because of our inherent realization that nothing is perfect. Making things too perfect takes us out of the picture because the material stops resonating to us as human beings. This is one of the reasons Eastwood does so few takes. He does not need the movement to be perfect just well thought out and executed.

The amount of takes Fincher and Eastwood do is Another key difference between these filmmakers styles. As I said before, Fincher is known for doing two to three times the amount of takes as regular directors. Eastwood is known for doing very few takes. This is one of the many reasons why Eastwood shoots his films so quickly. He shot the film Million Dollar Baby in less then 40 days. Fincher on the other hand shot the film Panic Room, which basically was all shot in one location, in 100+ days.

Eastwood would probably say Fincher’s extreme amount of takes and excessive amount of coverage he has on his scenes is due to a lack of confidence. Eastwood has explained in interviews on Charlie Rose that he believes a filmmaker and actor can often talk themselves out of something that was good in the first place. Instead of talking himself out of anything, Eastwood has learned to trust his gut and go with what resonates with him at the time. Because of the simplistic way Eastwood shoots a scene he is usually done quickly. His style of filmmaking does not exhaust his actors but rather invigorates them through the realization that they will only have a few takes to perfect their performance.

Fincher seems to want to exhaust his actors in curtain ways while shooting. He wants to get rid of any pre-conceived ideas the actors might have had coming in and he wants them to rediscover the performance at the energy and pace he feels would serve the story best. It does not matter whether the acting has to do with small details like the way an actor looks down the stairs or reaches up his hand, Fincher will question the performance and ask for them to do the action very specifically to the vision he has in his head. The actors in Fincher’s movies are able to try a scene many more times then they would with Eastwood however the freedom is often taken away to a point because of the control Fincher demands as director.

From studying both Eastwood and Fincher it seems that the two concentrate on two very different things. Eastwood is all about creating a mood on set that helps everyone function to their highest potential. Fincher wants his crew to function to the highest potential as well, but he usually does this through questioning them and pushing them to be better then they originally thought they were capable of. He demands perfection and he will tell you exactly what he thinks no matter how it might feel. It does not matter if a Cinematographer has spent hours setting up a curtain lighting for a scene, it does not matter if a set decorator has spent days working on a curtain prop, and it does not matter if an actor feels like he came in with a well planned performance, if Fincher does not agree with it he will have you change it.

Both these filmmakers are masters at their art. Both have had a tremendous amount of success through the way they go about making films. However we need to pause to understand why they are so good at their techniques. Clint Eastwood would not be good at following his gut if he hadn’t spent several decades learning to develop a natural feel for directing. David Fincher would not be much of a perfectionist is he had not spent literally hundreds of hours figuring out exactly why he wanted the specific shots, acting, and environments for his films. Eastwood can not go with his gut with no clue to where it will take him. Fincher can not insist on a detail without understanding how the details fit into the whole of the film.

These artists have mastered their art by being completely dedicated to one mutual goal, story. It all comes down to story and how you as a filmmaker can serve that story best. Some try to bring it out very naturally through years of experience and learning to trust their fellow filmmakers. Some do it through developing an idea that absolutely must come out and demanding the perfection needed from the fellow filmmakers to make that idea a reality. To be honest I think most of us need a little bit of both. Clint Eastwood and David Fincher represent two extremes. However, it is not like Eastwood does not have details that he wants see expressed on screen and it is not like Fincher takes complete control away from his crew. It all comes down to what works for you and finding that happy medium. The film medium is open to a vast range of talent, it does not demand for you go one rout more then another. The key is finding how you can best serve the story.