Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth Discusses His Work On “Gone Girl”

Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth on the set of “Gone Girl.” (photo credit: Merrick Morton)

BY: Marjorie Galas

Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth used the new Epic Dragon camera to shoot “Gone Girl.” It was shot in 6K – a format cinemas currently lack the ability to project. His visual and technical guidance was crucial to the development of a new workflow, created by Light Iron, which accommodated the advanced data and prepared a cut of the film for use in today’s theaters as well as preserving the complete image for a later date, when technology will catch up to the format. Despite utilizing this ground breaking technology, his shooting philosophy remained consistent to his earliest approach to cinematography which began nearly three decades ago.

“The script is based on a reality,” said Cronenweth. “Everything you do has to support the story.”

See Also:  Light Iron Takes “Gone Girl” Into The Future

“Gone Girl” marks Cronenweith’s sixth feature film collaboration with director David Fincher.His last two collaborations with  Fincher, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Social Network” resutled in  Best Cinematography nominations from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the American Society of Cinematographers.   The film opened at the top of the box office in October, 2014 and looks like it will have an active awards season run.

During the pre-production of “Gone Girl”, Fincher expressed the specific tempo he found in the script, and the two men discussed the shooting style that would best service Fincher’s vision. Highlighting the personalities of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), their marital discourse and the twists involved in Amy’s disappearance required shot infused tension and to highlight the couples increasingly sterile, cold relationship. Cronenweth built shots that incorporated the expanse of space with carefully choreographed camera movements to reinforce the building tension.

“There is a hell of a lot of camera movement in this film,” said Cronenweth “It’s very deliberate, like a ballet. Emotionally you know something is changing. We purposefully designed the one hand-held shot when Ben’s character is running from the town hall. The reality of that situation required the most energy.”

Fincher’s reason for using the Dragon was supported by Cronenweth’s carefully crafted camera moves. There’s a greater amount of image in the frame that can’t be projected current screens, allowing Fincher and the editing team to tighten the image to define specific movements. Having utilized Red cameras on Fincher’s last four films, Cronenweth felt comfortable with the camera’s limitations as well as its tricks. While technology is always changing, Cronenweth works to stay ahead of the latest camera innovations and was prepared for the margins that would occur in processing and timing. He also utilized the resolution to his advantage. Cronenweth used the latest Leica glass lenses (available in limited release) to provide a crisp sharpness to the background but were “kinder to the structure of the face.” After early tests he was able to find the perfect settings and smaller lenses that allowed for languid, fluid movements that he applied to the well rehearsed mechanics of his shots.

“It’s a litany of checks and balances,” said Cronenweth. “It’s imperative to know that, in the event something goes wrong, I’ll be to be able to whittle down the options to find where something could have happened (mechanically).”

Lighting and palette were essential elements to conveying the spiral decline of each character’s morality. The production’s 109 day shoot included important location work in Missouri and Illinois where capturing the warmth of the Midwest in summer was a priority of the creative team. The film begins with warm, bright overtones accented by the greens of the exteriors. The lighting is brighter and evenly balanced. As Nick becomes unhinged, the palette shifts to cooler tones. Cronenweth shifted the lighting, employing greater use of shadows to highlight “imperfections and the lose of his flawless quality.”

One of Cronenweth’s favorite shooting locations was the Dunne’s home. The physical house was a perfect embodiment of the couple’s shallow, impersonal relationship. “We used the exterior and some areas of the interior on location. It was so impersonal, so not home-like.  It was perfect,” said Cronenewet. Because the physical design would limit Cronenweth’s carefully manipulated camera movement between floors, the complete interior was reconstructed on a sound-stage, splitting the two levels. Shots were started on one set and completed on the other. Cronenweth strategically used curtains and drawn shades throughout location shooting to aid in creating imperfect lighting situations and crafting beautiful shadows. The scene he enjoyed lighting the most was Amy’s drowning scene. The scene required the CGI element of water, forcing Cronenweth to interpret his lighting in a different mind set, unlike the other major effect scene involving the sugar storm behind the bakery, which required very subtle lighting.

“We shot the sugar scene on the Universal back lot and had some sugar in the air and makeup to adjust the amount of sugar on the faces. Amy was backlit, the only big challenge was the space. In the water scene we were creating the illusion of drowning. It was a more interesting use of light,” said Cronenweth. “The actor was suspended on a crane and the movement was done by the crane. We were working on creating a magical body movement while projecting light that blended all the elements (light refracting through water and water movement). The CGI water was added later.”

Cronenweth has enjoyed employing completely different styles of coverage for all Fincher’s films and finds staying on top of the technology aids in delivering the coverage the director wants.

“David has a cadence while shooting. He knows the pace and the tempo of the film.  There is always a lot of style, we’re creating lyrical scenes,” said Cronenweth. “He is didactic about the performance of his actors and has specific set ups in mind, but we still over covered. He wants to have the full scene. The technology is principle, and becomes the responsibility of the cinematographer to capture the complete visual environment.”