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.

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.