When Netflix made a recent deal to bring Disney movies to its streaming service, it was hailed as a "game changer." But the February debut of its new original series House of Cards looks to be an even more important development, as it positions Netflix to directly compete with the likes of HBO and AMC on their own turf. Although the company’s first move into original programming, Steven Van Zandt’s Lilyhammer, failed to make much of an impact, Netflix didn’t blink and has committed a reported $100 million for two seasons of House of Cards. The political drama, based on the acclaimed BBC series of the same name, was developed for American TV by Kevin Spacey (who stars alongside such high-profile names as Robin Wright and Kate Mara), David Fincher and Beau Willimon. Netflix, which premieres the show in February 2013, has given complete creative freedom to Fincher and his team.
That team includes Danish DP Eigil Bryld, a 2010 Emmy® nominee (for Barry Levinson’s You Don’t Know Jack) who has built a reputation for nailing stylish, atmospheric visuals thanks to his work on such varied projects as In Bruges, Kinky Boots, Becoming Jane and the recent Paramount feature Not Fade Away for director David Chase.
"I’m not sure how I ended up on Fincher’s radar, but when I got the call to meet him for this, it was very exciting," reports the New York-based Bryld. "So I went to L.A. to discuss the show and how he wanted to deal with the visuals, and the first thing David said was, ‘We’re going to shoot this on RED with minimal equipment and really fast,’ because everyone was concerned with the sheer amount of material we had to cover in a very short schedule—just 10 days for each episode."
Ultimately, Fincher and his team were given extra time to do the first two episodes. "Still only 28 days, but even so, we had to develop a style we could execute very quickly," reveals Bryld, who shot with two RED EPICs simultaneously. "David works very closely with RED, and the ambition was to create a completely wireless camera setup." In the end, the team didn’t quite achieve that goal. "But the idea was that we could walk into any location or set and basically start shooting within 20 minutes, so everything had to be prelit and highly organized."
The plan included no Steadicam, handheld or zoom lenses whatsoever. "David had gone through several concepts, and one early idea had been the use of handheld, but he rejected that," explains Bryld. "And he had never really used Steadicam, which I also have reservations about. I think it’s a great tool, but it’s also very easy to overuse it and, like he said, you end up painting the walls."
The final plan was far more specific, with a lot of camera movement. "But we didn’t want to over-cover things in close-ups," notes Bryld, "so if someone walks down a corridor, we wanted to use that space to really give a sense of space, power and drama. So very often, as people walk down a corridor, they will grow in frame. So the style is very composed with very specific moves. We move the camera quite a bit, but really use the movement in the frame itself, so people grow and shrink all the time."