David Fincher, Jeff Cronenweth with RED Camera on The Social Network

Jeff Cronenweth on Shooting ‘The Social Network’ with RED One Mysterium-X

On the supplemental disc of The Social Network blu-ray, there is a featurette titled "jeff cronenweth and david fincher on the visuals." In it, Cronenweth takes time to explain the decision behind shooting with the RED and the technical challenges it presented.

Awards season has been going strong for a couple of weeks now and one movie that is cleaning up some major awards is The Social Network. The film, shot on RED by Jeff Cronenweth, ASC and directed by David Fincher, has already been named the best picture of the year by the LA Times, the NY Times and the New Yorker — to name a few. With the release of the DVD/blu-ray earlier this week, the veil on how the film was made is started to be lifted, including what Cronenweth thought of working with the RED Camera. See his thoughts after the jump.

On the supplemental disc of The Social Network blu-ray, there is a featurette titled “jeff cronenweth and david fincher on the visuals.” In it, Cronenweth takes time to explain the decision behind shooting with the RED and the technical challenges it presented:

We chose to shoot on the RED One with the new Mysterium-X chip basically because David has always been very progressive in the HD world and new technology and this chip came about exactly when we were starting production, or pre-production on the show. So, doing experiments and testing different camera packages, as you know he shot Benjamin Button on the Vipir as well as Zodiac.

Justin Timberlake Camera Test The Social Network

And this camera allowed a much greater range and color spectrum, if you will, and its latitude was increased quite a bit so highlights didn’t quite clip as easily as in previous versions of this camera and all other HD systems. So, that was primarily the reason we chose this system.

That kind of logic is sound and lines up perfectly with what Peter Jackson was first saying when RED came out with the Mysterium-X chip. Although now, with options like Arri Alexa and RED Epic, the RED One should find its dynamic range and color software challenged more easily.

Camera Assistant Swapping Lenses The Social Network

Camera assistant swapping a Master Prime lens on the set of The Social Network

Cronenweth does note that achieving shallow depth-of-field was a priority for him and certainly influenced his lens choice:

Depth-of-field for an HD shoot has always been an interesting dilemma to overcome. I mean for a filmmaker and a storyteller, such as David, depth-of-field is one more tool that you allow yourself to utilize when you want people to look at certain places at certain times. So, because the HD world actually affords more depth-of-field it’s a battle all the time to keep that option open as a filmmaking technique. So, what we did is we used a series of prime lenses called Master Primes. They open up to 1.3. Unfortunately for the camera assistants it made their lives very, very difficult, but we shot the entire film at 1.3. And when we did go outside we used massive amounts of Neutral Density (ND) filters to keep the exposure wide open, allowing yourself, still, the depth-of-field choice.

It’s nothing new that depth-of-field has been one of the great hurdles of the digital revolution and so it would make sense that a cinematographer at the caliber of Cronenweth would want to keep it shallow to echo a film-style look. He even confirmed this in an issue of American Cinematographer back in October saying, “If filmmakers shooting digitally choose to use depth-of-field as a storytelling tool, then it’s imperative to control the exposure to control focus.”

Camera Assistant RED Camera The Social Network

Camera assistant pulling focus on The Social Network

I thought that The Social Network was a beautifully constructed film in almost every single way and that Fincher and Cronenweth really took a story with a lot of talking and managed to inject it with a unique visual gravitas. In short, I think I owe Fincher an apology about shooting digital. I highly suggest you pick up the DVD or Blu-ray if possible and watch some of the special features. There is even a feature length behind-the-scenes documentary that is revealing and very well-done. Usually I get annoyed with behind-the-scenes clips for always highlighting talent and the story, but this documentary really examines and exposes some of the deeper inner-workings of a production.

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    it’s good to see top-notch cinematographers embracing new technologies as TOOLS for a specific use, rather than their “coolness” factor. I really liked TSN, but I guess I would’ve liked it anyway even if it had been shot on film.

    from ICG magazine:

    “Cronenweth – who cut his feature filmmaking teeth on celluloid – has a more cautiously pragmatic view about the rapid march toward digital. “I think both film and HD are great,” he concludes. “They’re both tools that are separated by what kind of story we want to tell. I do have an application preference, however, and you don’t cut paper with a hammer and don’t hammer nails with scissors.”

    p.s. love your blog, Evan :-)

    F.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      First of all, thank you! Glad you enjoy what I’ve got going on here…

      I agree that it is important that cinematographers are picking cameras because they are useful not because they are new. I also think you are spot on with your evaluation of The Social Network.

      What Cronenweth said aligns so much with what Deakins had to say about the Alexa. Both cinematographers would probably be annoyed at how big of a deal people make about their shooting digital. To them it’s the same as choosing Master Primes or Superspeeds, the technical choices should serve the creativity of the craft or the practicality of the shoot.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/eli.friedmann Eli Friedmann

    the most interesting point of the article is that they shot the entire film at f1.3 ! pretty astounding if you think about it. i noticed the extremely shallow depth of field in the film but did not think it was constant 1.3. few lenses are at their sharpest wide open and i believe it when he mentions filters. outside shots must have been heavily filtered to achieve proper exposure. good stuff.