Crew finds innovative ways to beat ban on filming on campus

Harvard didn’t exactly lay out the welcome mat for helmer David Fincher and his cast and crew when they shot “The Social Network” in fall 2009. The university blocked access to its campus, where the action takes place.

“They weren’t particularly helpful,” said d.p. Jeff Cronenweth, a veteran of multiple Fincher projects. “A film about student infighting and the lawsuits that followed was not a great subject for them.”

This led to some ingenious filmmaking. Cronenweth recalled how they were able to shoot one sequence with the help of a hired mime.

Early in the film, Jesse Eisenberg, playing Mark Zuckerberg, runs across Harvard Square — which isn’t on campus — at night. To get that shot right, the filmmakers needed to backlight some nearby arches, which happen to be on the campus.

“David came up with the idea of a battery cart with some lights on it,” Cronenweth said. “Then he got a street performer to take the cart onto the campus, light the arches while he mimed — until Jesse ran by. Then he’d turn off the lights and leave.”

Why a mime? “If security were to stop him, the mime wouldn’t talk. By the time they got him out of there, we would have accomplished our shot.”

Ironically, there was more physical action in the mime’s running around than in the film itself. Unlike many of Fincher’s pics, “Network” involves no aliens, serial killers or physical violence. Courtroom drama is muted to the level of depositions, and character development is hemmed by the social norms of the Ivy League and Silicon Valley.

More than ever, Fincher depended on his crew for the rich visual and auditory framework that carries the story. Cronenweth enhanced the film’s texture by contrasting the looks of its various settings, using, for example, low light levels and dampened colors in the dorm room scenes.

Fincher, a fan of digital cameras who used the Viper on earlier films, tested the Red One on “Network” following strong endorsements from longtime Red user Steven Soderbergh and d.p. Emmanuel Lubezki. Cronenweth and Fincher decided to go with a version equipped with a new image sensor that could capture the greater color range required by the film.

Just as Fincher picked a trusted d.p. for his latest film, he also reached out to a pair of editors, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, who have cut several of his pictures, either as a team or individually.

The duo worked interchangeably on “Network,” on which they alternated as they also cut TV commercials at editing house Rock Paper Scissors. “I’d take one scene, he’d take the next,” Baxter said.

Between them they managed to distribute the workload evenly. The talky opening scene, said Wall, “had 100-plus takes and landed on Angus. It’s really dense and he stayed with it all the way through. The huge Andy Garfield blowup at the Facebook office ended up with me.”

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ music informed much of the editing. The composers were hired early on, so the editors had the luxury of being able to cut several scenes to an existing score. “Having that to work with, we kind of knew what the final shape of the movie was going to be,” Wall said.

Bookings & Signings

Mirisch Agency signings: editor Jake York (“Area 51″) and production designer Tom Duffield (“The Kingdom”). Bookings: producer Joe Iberti on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”; costume designer Richard Owings on Alfredo De Villa’s “Fugly!”; production designers Drew Boughton on Rza’s “The Man With the Iron Fists” and Richard Hudolin on CBS’ “Chaos”; and second unit d.p. Chris Duskin on McG’s “This Means War.”

Mirisch has also booked editors Tod Feuerman on HBO’s “Luck,” Matthew Friedman on Roel Reine’s “Scorpion King: Rise of the Dead,” Margie Goodspeed on Lifetime’s “Unanswered Prayers,” Virginia Katz on Bill Condon’s “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Parts 1 and 2,” Andrew Marcus on Mary Harron’s “The Moth Diaries,” Martin Nicholson on HBO’s “A Game of Thrones,” Eric Strand on Eric Small’s “10,000 Days,” Barbara Tulliver on Curtis Hanson’s “Too Big to Fail” and Ed Warschilka on ABC’s “Castle.”

Dattner Dispoto bookings: d.p.’s Paul Cameron on Asger Leth’s “Man on a Ledge,” Russell Lee Fine on USA’s “White Collar,” Bob Gantz on NBC’s “Chase,” Xavier Grobet on HBO’s “Enlightened,” Jon Joffin on Nickelodeon’s “Fairly Odd Parents” and David Moxness on History’s “The Kennedys” and Fox’s “Fringe”; and production designer Eve Stewart on NBC’s “Upstairs/Downstairs.”

Innovative Artists has booked line producers Connie Dolphin on Michael Damian’s “Marley and Me: The Terrible 2s” and Kelly Manners on BBC/Starz’s “Torchwood”; d.p.’s Zoran Popovic on Alexander Tavitian’s “All Together Now” and David Armstrong on Pascal Laugier’s “Hellraiser.”

peter.caranicas@variety.com

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