This post is based on an excellent podcast by Ben Consoli who interviewed Jeff Cronenweth – the DP of Gone Girl movie. Jeff is best known for his role as the director of photography on the David Fincher films Fight Club, The Social Network, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. In this post, I would like to focus on the Light in Gone Girl.
The whole movie is shot beautifully, the light creates outstanding mood and supports the story in the most complementary way.
In the podcast, Jeff explains how the location played a major role in the movie. Most of the scenes are shot in Nick's and Amy's house which is actually not a real house, but a set built on stage.
It's big, even too big and impersonal. The characters find their own spaces and they hide out. It creates this special environment that compliments the story nicely.
If you want to have a look at the house and its real interiors here's a nice article covering that.
His character hides in a house, like in a cave. Huge spaces box him in. He becomes isolated. Throughout the film, his character is portrayed little by camera height and camera distance. All these director and DP's choices play a big role in the way the movie is perceived by the audience.
At the end of the film Nick's face is lit a bit differently, the key to fill ratio is lower and definitely appears brighter:
Rosamund's character sort of morphs from one character to another and then morphs back again, and so we needed that to be a different world when she was off on her own. Her demise had to be unflattering, it had to have some harsher lensing and makeup and style and locations. A little bit more reality based and less theatrical.
Throughout most of the movie Amy wants to be present, we don't want her to get away. She is always lit and her face is never in the shadow:
When Amy loses control we see more flaws. She gains weight, camera shows closer look at her face using less appealing angles and lenses:
When she crashes home with bloody shirt the scenery is harsh full of deep black shadows and bright daylight highlights:
By the end of the movie, when we already know what Amy did, she is depicted differently, unlike at the beginning of the film when her face is covered in the shadow:
The killing scene
One of the most memorable scenes in the whole film happens when Amy commits a murder. It's even scarier because of the way it was shot.
In the scene where Amy commits a murder the actors are front lit from the bed side like a fashion shoot. It's not the light that makes it scary. It's the performance – we can see all the details clearly.
The most challenging shot
Jeff explained that the most challenging part of the movie was the scene at the abandoned mall. It was a real mall with no access to electricity. The challenge was to light huge spaces with no manpower to light it up. They chose to have a lot of tiny light sources to backlight all the elements and use flashlights for closeups.
Again, lit mostly with practicals – a lot of them.
Here's a tiny BTS picture showing there is some sort of diffused key light above the crowd (Kino Flo?).
To avoid rolling-shutter artifacts they used modified LED lights that allowed them to flash a panel for a 100-millisecond duration.
From the interview we also know how the sister's apartment was lit – LEDs hanging from the ceiling. Here are a few screen-grabs:
We can see the soft quality of light with a low contrast.
The movie was shot digital on a Red Dragon. Jeff mentions that one of the biggest advantages of using it is consistency. Every screen in every theater will project the colors the same way.
Additionally, it delivers the majority of elements that film has without all the hassle.
Almost the whole film was shot using lenses in 21-40mm range creating a specific field of view. Using 40mm lens for closeups helps the audience imagine being in the same place with the characters.
In the interview, we also hear that they didn't rely on post production too much. They wanted to create the look in-camera and do as much as possible on set.
Post production team dealt with blemishes, occasional feet in the frame, and crew reflections.
Camera movement was very precise and calculated. It's almost expected from David Fincher. Only one scene was shot handheld – running away in the park from the newsman.
By looking closely at every scene in the movie, following the story and comparing the lighting choices, we can learn quite a lot how David Fincher and Jeff Cronenweth achieved the style and supported the emotions using cinematic language.