Direction, Cinematography, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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Out of everything I’ve learned when it comes to photography, what strengthened my work the most was watching movies. Much of how I shoot my pictures today came from observing and comparing different directors and cinematographers. It’s why I started writing about film at all here in the first place – We’re not No Film School, but it’s still never a bad thing to learn from a good looking movie. Most of us are familiar with the concepts covering film direction and cinematography in general – but considering this is at heart a “DIY” blog, I thought it’d be cool to give a visual presentation on just how much both factor into the end result of a film. So let’s compare two relatively recent films that adapt the same source material: Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

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The Cinematography of House of Cards

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Last year, House of Cards received an Emmy Award in recognition for its cinematography, beating out Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and Mad Men.

Making its first appearance in 2013, House of Cards is the show that proved what Netflix is truly capable of, and its production was as different from everything else out there as Netflix was to other studios itself. I started watching this show a bit late, but right from the first scene of the pilot episode, I could point out how much David Fincher this show was running on; to my surprise, the director’s name greeted me twice in the opening credits.

So at the time of at release, this was almost downright unusual. Who could have guessed that a guy like David Fincher would be working as a producer and director for a show by a streaming service? Not only did this project have fincher on board, but it reunited him and Kevin Spacey, who served as a producer for the show as well as the leading role.

Whatever grabbed both of their attention was no big surprise. House of Cards has a story that’s right up Fincher and Spacey’s alley, and it’s exactly the kind of show that fans of Fincher’s past work could get into. Going into the cinematography of the show, I mention David Fincher for a reason: although he was mainly an executive producer, directing only the first two episodes, the tone that he set with them basically became the precedent for how the rest of the series would end up being filmed. The first person hired as the show’s cinematographer was Eigil Bryld, who filmed eleven episodes from the show’s first season.

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The Cinematography of Harris Savides

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“He was a complete rule-breaker. He’d light anything to make a scene work, never paid attention to conventional wisdom and did not know from self-doubt.” – Scott Rudin, New York Times

“He liked the blacks to be not fully black, to have a milky, filmy quality, and he liked the light part of an image not to be fully blown out, not just gone complete white, so if someone was wearing a white dress in a window, there would still be details in the dress. He would say the word ‘creamy.’ He liked a creamy image. Otherwise there was no way to tell whether it was Harris.” – Van Sant, New York Times

Harris Savides was only 55 years old when he passed away from brain cancer. Above are a few quotes from the people he’s worked with over the years. Along with the tragedy of leaving at such a young age, he time sadly came when he was at arguably the highest point of his career.

I’ve kept a habit of starting off every one of these posts stating that you might not know this cinematographer, but that you know the films they made. But Harris Savides was someone who never even got nominated for an Academy Award. Admittedly, the Oscars aren’t something that determines the quality of a film (…Crash.), but the resume Harris had on him will make make you wonder why not either way.

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The Cinematography of Jeff Cronenweth

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Last week, I kicked off something I thought would be incredibly fun to do, and that was to showcase a cinematographer and his work every week. I started off with Roger Deakins, and I may have to apologize now- that guy is such a legend that I’m afraid the next few posts I do won’t gain as much interest. But I can say that today’s cinematographer is one of my absolute favorites. His name is Jeff Cronenweth, and you definitely know his array of work.

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