You might think that DP Jeff Cronenweth, having worked with director David Fincher on Fight Club, and garnering Oscar and ASC nods with the same director for his work on The Social Network was automatically set to shoot the American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo.
But Fincher was going for a “Swedish feel,” on the film, as Cronenweth recounts, and using a lot of cast and crew from that country.
Which, he thought, meant that he’d be on other projects until such time as he and Fincher met again. That turned out to be more or less right away, as Cronenweth found himself shooting in Miami, after the director was a week or two into work on his new film. But then he saw he had a call from Tattoo’s assistant A.D., and “I knew what was up.”
He flew over to meet the director and found himself the new D.P. It was his “first time taking over for someone,” which he acknowledges isn’t really a situation you “want to see.” But everyone “was supportive, and David and I had a long-standing relationship.”
But the Swedish influences were still profound – not only were director and DP both consciously aware of the influences of the great Scandinavian cinematographer Sven Nykvist, but “the weather and winters of Sweden are secondary characters in the movie.”
Which allowed additional faithfulness to the source material, as Fincher was “determined to stay true to the book as much as he could.”
That faithfulness included spending time shooting in Stockholm and (Swedish) Lapland, as well as scenes in Zurich, London, Norway and sound stages in L.A. But of the Swedish locations, Cronenweth notes Nykvist’s trademark “Swedish soft lights” are the results of limited sunlight and lots of winter haze. “You’re surrounded by so much water – the moisture adds to it,” he said.
It also adds to tricky shooting conditions, as he recalled one night-set motorcycle chase requiring constant de-icing of the roads. And yet for all the days of short sun and plunging temperatures, there was much given back, visually. “The country has a long history,” he said, and all the interiors – the “stone, wood and fireplaces” – evoked that richness and history on film.
And by “film,” of course, we mean digits. Shooting began on a Red One, but during production “the (Red) Epic had just been released,” so that was worked into production, especially once Sony’s Spiderman reboot wrapped, and “we got all their (data) cards!”
Cronenweth thinks the digital era in cinematography has pretty much fully arrived, citing his fellow nominee (and “one of the masters”) from last year, Roger Deakins, who shot the recent In Time on an Arri Alexa and announced, “there’s no reason to go back.”
Of course, not going back has its complications. As Cronenweth says of his craft, “it’s important to be around for color correction.” But of course, much of that happens in post, when most DPs aren’t paid to stick around
In Cronenweth’s case, his steady commercial work allowed him the flexibility to stay involved and make sure not only the tattoos in Tattoo looked like they were supposed to, a strategy which he describes as “trying to earn a living while being available.”
Whether this same team reunites for an English-language adaptation of the second of Larsson’s books remains to be seen, but Fincher, meanwhile, is prepping a Captain Nemo tentpole at Disney (along with the TV series House of Cards), and Cronenweth is putatively involved in a different kind of international thriller for another director – where terrain is likely to be a character, too, just not the snowy/misty kind.
That geography waits to be explored in a subsequent “contender” season.