Jeff Cronenweth on ‘The Social Network’

Cinematographer talks about his work on the drama

For “The Social Network — David Fincher’s intricate drama about the creation of Facebook and the social misfit at the heart of the Internet giant — d.p. Jeff Cronenweth says “it was very important to the story and the whole vision David had for the movie that we established the fast pace, tone and look in the first few scenes.”

Cronenweth, a frequent Fincher collaborator who is currently shooting “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” for the director, adds that “The Social Network’s” rapid-fire dialogue and murky moral center “often dictated how we shot and how it looked.” The film, he says, set out to capture “the dark claustrophobia and isolation of old college dormitories, which in turn reined in the color palette.”

“We wanted to get a dark look, and when it was possible and unforced, we used as much contrast and sense of mystery as we could in key scenes. So dark wood, dark brick buildings, small, dark dorm rooms — all these elements informed the look and feel David and I went for, a sort of hyper-reality that heightens normal tones and perceptions.”

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This approach — “to create something that’s contemporary but feels slightly nostalgic” — was mapped out well in advance of shooting, explains the d.p.

Cronenweth learned his craft working with his father, renowned d.p. Jordan Cronenweth, whose work on “Blade Runner” influenced a generation as well as his son’s aesthetic sense.

“He taught me how to shoot classically, how to compose a shot for maximum dramatic effect, and how to work with light and depth of field,” recalls the younger Cronenweth.

As for “Social Network,” the d.p. says Fincher “wanted to stay as close to reality as possible, but still get that sense of elitism and isolation of some of these old Ivy League colleges, and then contrast that with the San Francisco scenes of nightclubs and party houses and the bright deposition rooms, which take up most of the story.”

Oscar pedigree: “The Social Network” reps Cronenweth’s first nom.

2010 awards to date: N/A

Camera and film used: “We ended up going with the RED, and we were the first shoot to get it with the new Mysterium X chip.”

Key scene: Cronenweth cites the opening bar scene where Jessie Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg gets dumped by his girlfriend: “It sets up the whole story and the relentless pacing,” he says, “it introduces us to the main character, and it puts them in this college bar, dark and beautifully lit, which also sets the look of the film. More importantly, it lets you intimately relate to the characters and tells you how to watch and experience the rest of the movie… It sets up the whole roller-coaster ride.”

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The nominees:
Danny Cohen | Jeff Cronenweth | Roger Deakins | Matthew Libatique | Wally Pfister