Thematically, the film bounces back and forth in time between university dorms and deposition rooms. Flashbacks show the audience what really happened or how a specific situation came to unfold. In essence, it’s a courtroom drama without courtrooms.
“It’s a masterful, magical word game,” adds Cronenweth. “A chess game of words between people and the energy that’s created through situation and language. We needed to figure out the best way to shoot the story.”
The production used the RED ONE system with its new Mysterium-X sensor. Cronenweth was familiar with the system, having shot spots and promos, but it also was the first film testing the new Mysterium-X sensor at 2:40 aspect ratio and 4K resolution.
Every decision we made visually and lighting-wise was based on the environment with logical motivation for light sources that allowed everything to be as rich and contrasty as possible.“I’ve worked on commercials and one-day music videos using the RED system, but you don’t get to push the camera,” notes Cronenweth. “You lock in your goals to get it done. With David, we started using look-up tables for every environment to be sure we had what we needed and shot RAW throughout. We also didn’t have a DIT on set. The images that came off the sensor were beautiful.”
—Jeff Cronenweth, ASC
—Jeff Cronenweth, ASC
Six weeks of prep led to a 70-day shoot where Fincher and Cronenweth created a pragmatic approach to filming the story. “A combination of elements dictated the final look,” notes Cronenweth. “Shallow depth of field on [ARRI] Master Primes was a big storytelling element. We’d shoot everything as wide open as possible and favored Pancro IR ND filters on exteriors to keep exposure wide open and minimize depth of field. The IRs were a necessity because of the warmth inherent in ND filters and the sensitivity of the sensor. It was difficult for the camera assistants at times, but the film really shines. It looks good and doesn’t look HD at all.”
Cronenweth notes that the dorms felt like a modern-day computer lab that nicely juxtaposed the wooded surroundings of the university. “The university surroundings add a classical touch to the image,” he says. “Every decision we made visually and lighting-wise was based on the environment with logical motivation for light sources that allowed everything to be as rich and contrasty as possible.”