Monday, December 21, 2015

Cold Case of A Girl with Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher has tackled some twisted tales over the course of his career, notably Seven (AC Oct. ’95), Fight Club (AC Nov. ’97) and Zodiac (AC April ’06), but his latest picture, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, could be his most complicated narrative yet. Adapted from the first book in Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular trilogy, the film follows Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a renowned investigative journalist who accepts an unusual job offer after his journalism career is derailed by accusations of libel.

Wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) asks Blomkvist to solve a 40-year-old cold case, the disappearance of Vanger’s niece, Harriet, and in return Vanger will not only pay handsomely, but also help disprove the libel accusations against Blomkvist. During his investigation, which reveals a number of sordid family secrets, Blomkvist teams with young, eccentric hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), whose eye-catching tattoo gives the story its title.
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Larsson’s trilogy — The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was brought to the silver screen by Swedish filmmakers in 2009, and when Fincher began prepping his version of Dragon Tattoo, he was keen to retain its native elements by
shooting extensively in Sweden and using a Swedish crew. “It was an aesthetic choice,” says Fincher. “We wanted it to look and feel like a Swedish film, and I think it does. We were already getting flak for doing a Hollywood version of the story, so we made a commitment to doing as much of the movie as
possible in Sweden, with a Swedish crew.”
That crew initially included a Swedish cinematographer, but after a few weeks of shooting, Fincher decided to make a change. He called Jeff Cronenweth, ASC, one of his longtime collaborators, and asked him to take over. Cronenweth recalls, “I got a call at 6 in the morning, and it was Bob Wagner, David’s assistant director, asking how I was doing. I said, ‘I’m fine, Bob, but it’s 6 a.m., so this obviously isn’t a social call. What’s up?’ He said David and the cinematographer weren’t seeing eye-to-eye, and he asked if I was available to take over. “I gave it a lot of thought because it was a tough situation,” continues the
cinematographer. “One doesn’t want to replace someone else. It’s always unfortunate. I hadn’t been involved in the prep, and I was worried about communication with the crew, thinking they might resent me because I was replacing one of their own. But David and I go way back, we’ve worked together many times, and, luckily, we had discussed the movie before he embarked on it. Ultimately, the decision was not that hard, and it was really smooth sailing. The crew welcomed me with open arms.”

It’s a difficult thing to walk onto someone else’s film, and Jeff didn’t agree to it overnight,” says Fincher. “In retrospect, I would have done it a different way and not been so committed to the idea of an entirely Swedish production; I would have started with Jeff from the beginning. I was really lucky he was able to bail us out and that we got a chance to work together again.” The production was using the Pix system, an online project-management platform that facilitates instant access to reports, script changes and dailies, and with it Cronenweth was able to view all of the footage that had been shot before he arrived in Europe. He met with the key production team in Zurich on a Saturday morning, and by the following Tuesday he was shooting in Stockholm.

Short Takes through A Glass Brightly part I

Steve Romano’s cinematography jobs have taken him to many far-flung locales, but for String Theory, the grand-prize winner at the International Cinematographers Guild’s 2011 Emerging Cinematographer
Awards, he and director Zach Gold never left Gold’s studio in Brooklyn in their quest to capture the big ideas surrounding a girl (Evelina Mambetova) who experiences rifts in her reality. String Theory is the latest in a series of fashion-focused shorts by Gold, and it uses A.F. Vandervorst’s 2010 collection as its springboard.

According to Romano, Gold and producer/stylist David Dumas, who also served as art director, wanted a film that was beautiful and haunting, with serene moments interrupted by jarring images. “My job as a director of photography is to act according to the vision of the directors, including the art director,” Romano observes. “You’re enhancing what they created, and you have to make them feel welcome in the process.” Romano, who also works as a Phantom camera technician, supplied the production with a Phantom HD Gold camera, Leica prime lenses (re-housed by Van Diemen Broadcast) and most of the
small lighting package, including a couple of 2x2 Kino Flos, a 10K Fresnel, a 5K Fresnel and a handful of 2K scoops.

The girl is introduced in a dusty, windowless room lit by dozens of warm practical lamps. She kneels, motionless, on a pedestal, covered in what looks like a fine layer of silt; a soft toplight (a diffused 1K) separates her from the background. In the next shot, she comes to life and shakes off the silt, which cascades off her skin in slow motion. The filmmakers shot Mambetova’s movements at 1,000 fps,
recording to 512 GB CineMags. “We had to match the light for the rest of the scene, but with something like 5 times more light,” says Romano. “We made sure the light was coming from the same angles as in the previous shot, but we concentrated the light on her instead of the whole set.”

To boost the light level for the slow-motion shot, a Mole 10K gelled with 12 CTO, Opal and 216 was positioned above the actress. “There are no super-wide high-speed shots in the film,” notes Romano, who used tighter compositions to hide the limited amount of light available at advanced frame rates. “Having a really good gaffer helps. Christian Ern was our gaffer and lighting director, sides were actual mirrors. The top and the other three sides were panes of two-way glass. Romano pointed his camera through one of the two-way mirrors and lit the box through the other two-way mirrors with a 5K Fresnel.
Romano shot the box at a T1.6, but it was still difficult to get enough light. "The Phantom HD Gold is rated at 250 ASA, which I estimate to be less, and each pane of two-way glass blocked as much as 1½ stops of light from both the lens and the lamps," he says. "Further complicating matters, hot lamps can have an adverse effect on butterflies, so I didn’t shoot above 30 fps. On the tighter shots, we removed the top glass, moved the light in a bit closer and were able to shoot at 200 fps. “If we’d shot it on the [Phantom] Flex, we would have had 2½ more stops of light sensitivity,” he reflects. “I could also get a lot more light [without heat] from some of the newer LED lights we have today.

Doing a lot of bug photography, I’ve learned there are things you can do to get bugs to move, but heat will make them stop,” he continues. “We had to turn the lights off, cool them down and keep the top of the box off for a while. Once the butterflies get over it, you put the top back on, crank the lights up and shoot. No butterflies were harmed in the making of this picture, by the way.” In one of the film’s most stylized
sequences, Mambetova stands in a Plexiglas tank that covers her torso, and it’s full of butterflies.

Shooting against a white background, Romano toplit the actress with a heavily diffused 10K Fresnel and aimed two Nine-light Maxi-Brutes at the background. Once the butterflies were in the tank, the filmmakers sat back and waited for something to happen. “Bugs, puppies and little kids are arduous to photograph because there’s no way you can corral them,” says the cinematographer. “The beauty of the Phantom
is its circular buffer. When you shoot anything above 450 fps at 1920x1080 on the Phantom HD Gold, as long as the camera is on, you’re always recording into its internal circular memory buffer. If you use what’s called a ‘post-trigger,’ you can hit the record button after the action is done, and you’ve got the shot. At 1,000 fps, you get 4.4 seconds of data [in the internal memory], approximately 2.7 minutes of footage.”