The Social Network:
The Social Network is one of my favourite films. It's shot by the Master of precision, Jeff Cronenweth. Jeff has worked on many of David Finchers projects including Fight Club, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl.
When it comes to precise camera movement, Hand wheels/ geared heads are a necessity on set. Generally speaking, it was a tool of the past that was used to wrangle large cameras.
Cronenweth uses it to force a precise perspective onto our character and nail camera moves over and over. Fincher is known for wanting many takes for every scene. Not just for a variety in framing and movement, but to get different dialogue pitches and speeds to get the point across efficiently. The repeatability of those frames is important for that reason in this case, but it applies to all shoots regardless. If you end up in a situation where the director is a one take wonder, you have nail the moves and framing you want the first time.
In the above short sequence (pardon the quality) Mark Zuckerberg played by Jesse Eisenberg makes his way through the campus at Harvard after going out to get a drink with Erica Albright played by Rooney Mara.
This brings me to my title, Didactic movement.
- intended to teach, particularly in having moral instruction as an ulterior motive.
Didactic is a term used by Fincher to describe what the frames should be doing. They are crafted to teach the viewer precisely what to focus on and teach them what this character is about. Jeff spoke about Finchers' use of the term in an interview in 2009 and elaborated that each camera movement served the purpose to teach and forward the ideas within the script in a creative way.
"The first scene in a movie should teach the audience how to watch it." - David Fincher
Of course other aspects in film such as music and art direction are important to the story being told, but the way the camera moves is paramount to directing the attention of viewers subtly towards the narrative. Each movement suggests more than the last and directs the attention properly.
The camera moves precisely follow Eisenberg and almost premeditate all of his moves. You can see the pan from right to left repeats multiple times as we set the stage for the films first location. The pans are clinical in how they begin and end, never falling out of an eye pleasing frame. The shots all start framed on a local landmark to give the audience a feel for where they are, while keeping Marks lazy run towards the camera still clearly the main focus. The 2:15 sequence gives us time to digest the wild dialogue that just ensued, and a solid base to understand where we are in this world. For me, this scene plus the dialogue with Rooney Mara prior was the ultimate hook into the film.
The whole point of this is to prove a point, movement is important and needs to suit the content being captured. Wether using a classic fluid head or an expensive geared head, make sure all your movements serve the story, are practiced, precise and not haphazard.
Side note - while researching for this post I read a couple David Fincher interviews and that man is intense. I'll leave you with this final quote on what he wants you to feel at the start of his film 'The Social Network'
"It’s shut-the-fuck-up-time: pay attention, or you’re going to miss a lot." - David Fincher
Netflix: The Social Network