David Fincher is one of my favorite filmmakers and a huge inspiration to me. I have always loved how he does not shy away from dark characters and protagonists, who turn bad or stay bad. It is a very brave choice to make as a filmmaker, and is also very hard to pull of successfully so the audience loves to hate the anti-hero. Only few filmmakers accomplish this, and David Fincher is a master at it.
David Fincher uses many wonderful tools to create these epic films and one of them is the way he lights his films, which is a reflection of the inner life of his characters - dark and moody.
I just found this great article on http://bhushanmahadani.com/ on Fincher's unique lighting style and I wanted to repost it:
David Fincher’s Dark Lighting
David Fincher is a hotshot producer and director who has not only made Oscar nominated films like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network but made them with a unique visual style and that is his dark visual style, dark in tone and especially dark in visual aesthetics. He followed his dark visual style in his next films The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl. David Fincher is very good with color tones and the darkness.
I was going through Vashi Nedomansky’s blog who is a professional film/video editor and I stumbled upon this topic which he has described in great detail…
David Fincher is well known for his striking visual style and the immersive worlds he creates. I’ve been lucky enough to work in his offices and speak with Academy Award winning editors Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter who cut The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Their attention to detail and level of absolute perfection is second to none. Nothing that ends up on the screen is accidental or arbitrary…every frame is dissected and decided upon. In my view…Fincher’s visuals have leaned towards a more natural, realistic yet absolutely visceral feel over his last 3 projects.
So what makes this darkness so important to David Fincher? Well lets go back to 1972 film ‘The Godfather‘ which is known as one of the visually dark on purpose film. Gordon Hugh Willis, Jr. the cinematographer of the film decided to go from light to dark, dark to light, small to big and big to small. Francis Ford Coppola was worried about making a film visually dark, putting soft overhead soft lights but he gave free hand to Gordon Willis and the result was a milestone in visual storytelling and Gordon Willis was named as “The Prince of Darkness”. Watch the opening of the Godfather with overhead lights of the characters and most of the background dark.
David Fincher took this visual dark side to the next level in his last four films. Just like The Godfather, David Fincher’s last two films are also crime thriller and that’s where the dark visual style fits his last two films. This darkness not only gave intensity to the scenes it also gave them depth. In an interview with Empire magazine in 2008, David Fincher named the Godfather as one of the films as his favourite films.David Fincher’s visuals have leaned towards a more natural, realistic yet absolutely visceral feel in his last three projects.
Vashi Nedomansky has very interesting breakdown of all the three films from an editor’s point of view.
The Social Network
From the first scene in a bar…a new aesthetic was displayed in The Social Network. It’s dark…but not with crushed blacks. As a viewer, there is a difference between crushed blacks and compressed dynamics of light. There is clear detail in the shadows but the highlights are lowered and colored. If 100% is pure white light…many of the whites in Fincher’s last 3 projects are at 90% (roughly) which constricts the perceived latitude of the image. These whites are also tinted towards the overall color of the scene. Orange is infused into both day and night scenes in The Social Network. Often blue is the go to night-time color but not so in The Social Network. There are no rules…it’s what feels right and I found it extremely effective here.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Here Vashi describes
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo display a continuation of this visual palette. In the winter setting of ambiguous sunlight and endless night…Fincher again compresses the whites and keeps clean and legible blacks. Even though so much occurs at night…the viewer never struggles to see what is occurring or gets lost in the visuals. From glass-lined offices to night-time exterior excursions…everything is pristine and clearly visible even when the light levels are extremely low. This can attributed to the ample latitude of the RED camera, the careful cinematography of Jeff Cronenweth and the color grade itself. The tinting of both orange and blue to entire scenes further blends the color palette of scenes and delivers a very hyper-real look. It’s set in the real world but pushes the boundaries to enhance the drama of the story.
About Gone Girl, Vashi says
Most recently, GONE GIRL (2014) continues and expands upon the darkness and shrouds the characters within world of buried secrets and impenetrable blackness. Make no mistake…the visual depiction is not murky or muddy…it is a dismal, colorful bleakness that infuses and envelops the film. It matches the tone of the tale.