IFH 532: David Fincher & The Art of Cinematography with Oscar® Nominee Jeff Cronenweth



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Today on the show we have Oscar® nominee Jeff Cronenweth A.S.C. 

Cronenweth worked as a loader and 2nd assistant before graduating high school, and then enrolled in film school at USC where he studied cinematography. Among his classmates were John Schwartzman and Robert Brinkmann, as well as [director] Philip Joanou.

After graduation, Cronenweth resumed working with his father, joining a core camera team that included operators John Toll and Dan Lerner, and 1st assistants Bing Sokolsky and Art Schwab.

Jeff worked with father Jordan Cronenweth (cinematographer most notable for Blade Runner) as a camera loader and second assistant camera during high school, working his way up to first assistant camera and then camera operator until the mid-1990s.

Moving up to first assistant, Cronenweth began working with Toll, who was just beginning his work as a cameraman, and veteran Sven Nykvist.

“I couldn’t have learned from better people than John, Sven and my father,”

Cronenweth relates.

“They were all soft-spoken, but very tenacious in achieving their goals. It was a great experience to watch them, learn set etiquette and see how they delegated responsibilities and dealt with producers and crews. I did six pictures with my father and eight pictures with Sven.” [From American Cinematographer Magazine.]

The first major motion picture where he acted as a DP was on David Fincher‘s masterpiece Fight Club. Other notable feature films on which he worked as a DP are One Hour Photo, K-19: The Widowmaker, Down With Love, The Social Network, Hitchcock, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl.

Enjoy my conversation with Jeff Cronenweth A.S.C.

Right-click here to download the MP3


Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show Jeff Cronenweth how're you doing, Jeff?

Jeff Cronenweth 0:14
I'm excellent. Alex, thanks for having me on.

Alex Ferrari 0:17
Thank you so much for being on the show. Man. I've, I've been a fan of yours for a long time because I am a lens geek. I am. I'm a DP geek, in the sense of how, look, things look and stuff like that. And I've studied your work as a director and as a colorist, for a long, long, long time. Especially the work you've done with music videos, your stuff with Fincher yourself with Romanic Romana grazer as Mark Romanek. I pronounce it right.

Jeff Cronenweth 0:50

Alex Ferrari 0:51
All that kind of stuff. So before we jump into the weeds with you, man, how did you get started in the business?

Jeff Cronenweth 0:58
Well, true nepotism, if you will, but longer story than that my great grandfather owned a camera store in Pittsburgh. My grandfather was a portrait still photographer for the studios on staff at Columbia Well, throughout his career, various studios, but they used to have an Oscar category for still photography, you have to put yourself in that era and realize like the technology prevented him to take it from taking pictures next to us on set, like, like people do nowadays. And so they had their own sets and directed the talent and built the sets. And that was the sole source of publicity for you know, the entire movie, so there was more weight on that and so he won an Oscar for action still photographer, the picture of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney and 1941 and, and then my father, who's Jordan Crona with shot Blade Runner amongst Blade Runner Peggy Sue Got Mallard altered state state of grace, you know. And then including, Oh, Father music video with with Fincher and Rattle and Hum with with Phil's Juana. And so I always had been around it from early age, you know, visiting the set and just loved the camaraderie and the kind of common goal of accomplishing or overcoming that day's complications. And it just seemed like a great team creative sport to me. And I didn't know what I wanted to do. But I knew I wanted to do something in it. You know, it's like, every morning, they went to war, and every day, at the end of the day, they came back and kind of celebrate the victory of that day. So it was intriguing to me. And so I followed in his footsteps, you know, I went to, I started a junior college, and there was an opportunity with the goal of going to USC film school, and there was an opportunity to get into the Union. So my dad called and said, stop going to school right now come join. It was very difficult in those days to get in. And so I went and worked for about two years as a staff loader at a commercial company in Hollywood. The debate at the moment, in our family at that time was he was about to start Blade Runner. I was 19 years old. It was a very high scrutinized movie. It was the only going on on in town. Ridley Scott's first movie in United States there was all kinds of tensions on the set. It was a lot of nights when wet, you know, and he thought that it was a crapshoot. If I if I went for that, that I would get into the IA instead he said, you're better chances are of going working at this stuff as a staff loader at this company. And if no one's available in 30 days, you get in and then you learn all about camera gear. And so I didn't do Blade Runner. But quite honestly, you know, at 19 That movie was really a handful. And I think i i Instead I ended up like prepping five camera shows a day for commercials have different packages and distributor ups. And you know, I, of course what I love to have had a blade runner on my resume. Instead, I just went after work every day and watched until I got tired and went home.

Alex Ferrari 4:27
So you actually weren't you were on the set. You were actually hanging out watching your father where

Jeff Cronenweth 4:30
I was on a set as much as I could. Yeah, oh, I was working in Studio City. And they were at Warner Brothers on the backlot. So it was quite close. And then and then after I got in and after work for a year, I went back to college and graduated from film school at USC and in my class was Phil's wanna Robert Brinkman. John Schwartzman. We can go on but there was a few of us that all stayed friends three of us became DPS. Phil went on to dreck and he directed a movie that you know my dad shot state of grace, amazing looking, authentic looking movie for that for that period. And and then I worked for Phil for years after that, you know shooting commercials and music videos and all kinds of things. So I kind of went that and then I went the Craftsman route, you know? Like it's a great segue because Robert and Robert Brinkman and John and John Schwartzman came out and music videos are just starting to materialize. And so they shot a lot of a corporate moving industrials, we call them sure and learned, learned by making their own mistakes, but actually shooting. I did it the other way. I was a film voter and then I was a second assistant. And then I was a first assistant and I was a camera operator. But the sets I was working on were the biggest sets going at the time, you know, and so I watched, or the idea was that I would watch master solve problems. I wish I paid more attention later. But

Alex Ferrari 6:02
An't that Ain't that the truth?

Jeff Cronenweth 6:05
Like, man, how would he have solved this problem? And so you know, I had a had a great like I worked with, with my dad, of course, and John tall, and Laszlo and Gordon Willis and high school, and Bill most and I did eight movies with spend Nyquist, and, and they all they all had different styles and different personalities. But they all had the same kind of low key, not insecure, listen to anybody that had a good idea wasn't threatened, great camaraderie on the set, great control and set management. And so I was very fortunate to learn and watch all them. Ironically, Schwartzman and brakeman probably beat me by a couple years, until I was shooting the same size movies that they were shooting. But but we all got to the same place. So you know, there, I guess at the end of that long story, there's not really one way better than the other way. For me, I think we're individuals for me. I needed to mature more and watch and learn slowly. And but there is no, there is no replacement for hands on doing it yourself. So it's a combination of both.

Alex Ferrari 7:20
Yeah, I think it's also there's a lost art of The Apprentice. I mean, the apprentice I mean, that's the only way when I was coming up in the 90s. I mean, that's how I learned I was on set, I was learning behind someone who had done it before. And there is still that obviously, in the camera department specifically. But it's not as is not the apprenticeship is not something that is as done as much as it used to be. It's kind of like a lost art almost like all this. I mean, you just did laid out years of work, you know, working a couple years in in a camera shop, the amount of knowledge you got about those film cameras back then. I mean, you when you finally got on set, you were like, Yeah, I know that. I know that I know how to do that, because you've done it all. But so many DPS nowadays. It's just like, well, I got a RED camera, I'm a DP.

Jeff Cronenweth 8:09
And there is truth to that. But I fear there's no history behind the choices being made. Do you need it? Um, no, I suppose you can just make pretty pictures. And that's fine. But there's a lot of logic about where where the industry came from why we compose or photograph things a certain way, in continuity, which is a hard thing to learn. Because it's really easy to shoot a pretty master, it's really hard to do two days of coverage of that master to make it look like that same two minutes of time, but make each shot stand out and be beautiful. And that's what separates the men from the boys or from the adults from the children, if you will. And so that's something that that's harder to deal with. And then, you know, managing a crew is a lot of have been successful on the set, and dealing with studios and figuring out how to navigate through the complexity of that and egos and personalities. And, you know, getting what you need to get to visually support the movie the way you want to support it. So those are all things that I would not trade for anything and that I see could be something that's more challenging for young filmmakers that don't go that route. Yeah, that said that said when I was a when I went to USC, there was no internet and there was no downloading cable and there was no DVDs. And there was no VHS I don't think let me know that. There had to be tested.

Alex Ferrari 9:37
When what year were they just started

Jeff Cronenweth 9:40
82. But what I'm what my point is, you had to go to a place like that in order to see all the classic movies and review them and talk about them and dissect them. You couldn't just click on something and watch a scene. It didn't exist. If you were lucky. There might be a midnight show and some off off You know, small Theater in Hollywood, you can go watch a classic film. And so learning that and that history and that knowledge was something that today, you can click on a movie, you can dissect that movie, you can look at a particular scene that you want, you can count the frames, you can analyze the train. And usually there's a whole lot of discussion from either the director or somebody else on the on the, on the show that describes what happened and why it happened in those things. So in a way, you know, it doesn't replace doing it yourself. That's the thing. Like no matter what you read, or write or learn, or watch, you still got to make films and you still got a photograph, and you still gotta try to cut things together and find out why it works and doesn't. But that was the reason that it was so important at that time. And nowadays, I think there's such a enormous amount of resources available to filmmakers, that it does shortcut at some degree. Right?

Alex Ferrari 10:54
Yeah. Because I mean, yeah, I remember, in the 80s, there's like, there was nothing about filmmaking like nothing. You couldn't even you had the occasional Star Wars making of or Raiders of the Lost Ark making of VHS. And then you had criterion laser discs. And that was,

Jeff Cronenweth 11:09
That was later than LaserDisc.

Alex Ferrari 11:11
I'm talking about like, 88 to 92. And that world is when those came out. But in the early 80s, there was you got to go to libraries, and go like find books about what you are you apprenticed or you're apprenticed.

Jeff Cronenweth 11:23
And if you remember, there was like, one bookstore in Hollywood, and bookstore

Alex Ferrari 11:28
Ohh god. Yeah. Or French, French, French, something French. Yeah, it was over in Studio City. They just shut that they shut down a little while ago.

Jeff Cronenweth 11:36
It was an old one I in Hollywood as well. There's the one in Studio City off of Lankershim was Laurel Canyon, which you're talking Exactly, yeah. And those had a plethora of, of dusty film books that you can go and, and learn about, you know, a director that you you know, you're like that Right, right. Now, now you either just you download the book on your iPad, or you order the book on Amazon, or whatever you do. And it's all right there at your fingertips. So it's different, but it's still doing it. Getting a camera in your hand and doing it is ultimately what it is. It doesn't matter what the camera is, whether it's your iPhone or a camera, it's still telling stories starts there. And that's what you got to do.

Alex Ferrari 12:18
Now, one of your great collaborators of your career is Mr. David Fincher, who I'm a huge, huge, huge fan of Mr. Fincher. And I yeah, he's, he's, he's our generations, Kubrick, in my opinion, and the way he makes his films, specifically Fight Club, is anytime anyone asked me my top three fight clubs, I was on the on the top of that list. I've had Jim rules on the show who wrote Fight Club. And I got to find out first of all, how did you meet David? And you've done a few things prior to your music? You did a bunch of music videos as well. How did you meet him? And what is the working relationship? Like how do you work with David Fincher in 1995 versus David Fincher Gone Girl?

Jeff Cronenweth 13:03
Yeah, those are all great questions. I met him fortunately, through my dad, we did a we did a music video called Oh, Father with Madonna. It was the last video on that that album. And it was a black and white video. I remember it kind of alluded to a not great relationship with a celebrity actor that we all know. And, and we met on that. And then we did a couple commercials. And one of them. was at&t all about the what to expect in the future. And

Alex Ferrari 13:40
I remember, I remember that campaign.

Jeff Cronenweth 13:42
Yeah. they just have like a 20 year or 30 years? Yeah, yeah, remember that? rewatching of it, because it was so accurate. You know, it had an iPad, a pad, which we had never seen before. We didn't we wouldn't come to fruition for another 20 years or 15 years. But we had a guy and I with an iPad on a beach and in St. Yes, yeah. And toll booths that were operator list, you just had a sensor and I remember all these Yeah, a shot of a baby monitor with a dad somewhere else looking at the baby, and classroom with a computer and a projector that had the kids are all working off of laptops. And it was really clever, as you would expect with David, and they wanted to shoot they could only afford to shoot it here in Santa Monica at the beach scene and he just felt like it didn't have the weight to support the concept. So he took me and, and the ad and his producer and we went to St. John. And, and, you know, he told me Well, me go back one step. After the Madonna video he gave he gives me a call and goes I need to shoot an insert of Madonna's teeth with stitches and pearls dropping on the floor. And Panavision said they let us do it and I go great, you guys Meet me at Patterson had to go good. And he goes, bring your meters. I'm like what? meters, I'm gonna focus baller. And so when he goes, this is what I want to do match your dad's light. And he left and I'm like, Oh, God, and I lit it, and it all cut in, you know, it was great. The way it all fit together, and, and then he asked me to shoot this thing in St. John with him. Then I shot second unit on the game. I shot second unit on seven. I was in London with my dad. And when we started aliens three, but the studio, my dad had Parkinson's disease, he was working right through it. And, you know, truth be told there was a lot of animosity about foreigners being there at the time, you know, the film industry was dead. They wanted it all, you know, crew from from London, not just not just the Brits, the production company wanted at Fox wanted it. Everybody wanted it all to be local. And so we went and they felt as the scale of the movie got bigger, he wouldn't be able to keep up. So we got let go. And David heartbroken said, Listen, if you guys aren't here, it's just me, it's an easier armwrestling match for me because they don't have you to hold over my head and, and it'll just be me up against them. And so it was his first show and stuff. So all those things, were building a relationship. And then, of course, the game. And then and then he caught me too. He called me when he had Fight Club, and said, Come come over, and I went over to his house. And he's like this, you know, Brad, Brad jumped the wall the other night and knocked on my door, said you got to read this book and then sat there while I while I read it, he wouldn't leave until I finish that. And so I think it's a these are his words, I think it might be the best movie, he gets to act, and it would probably be the best movie I direct. And it may not make any movie and may not make any money. Uh, but read this and tell me what you think. And if you're interested in shooting them like the answer before he finished the sentence. But of course, I played it like you wouldn't like okay, and, you know, danced all the way to my car. And then read it, of course and was in love with it. I didn't know how we were going to shoot it. It was very complicated script and so much going on, is quite overwhelming at first. And I think a lot of us weren't 100% confident in how it'd be received until it got closer to being finished. You know, because it was such an interesting story. And David had a really had, in his mind, the tempo and the cadence of B and, and the nuances that that were pushing boundaries that we were all like, kind of like, I mean, that's what you want, of course, because you want to ruffle some feathers along the way. Right.

Alex Ferrari 18:03
No, no question. But it's really interesting, because I mean, you know, talking to Jim, I mean, that is an that's an on mapable book. That's an it's an adaptable book, first of all, so that the script was even made is remarkable that the script is almost unfilmable. I mean, you read the Fight Club script. It's like, how, and then the you guys actually pulled it off in the way that you did. I mean, it was it was a it's a masterwork. And I remember when it came on to theater, I saw it in the theater. And it wasn't, it is aged very well. It was not as well received. And it didn't make a whole lot of cash. When it came out.

Jeff Cronenweth 18:41
It's funny. We shot all these great commercials that were as irreverent as the movie was, you know, like Brad standing in a movie theater. Going, in case of emergency. The lights will light up on either side of the roads, here are the two exits. And remember, don't let anybody touch you in the bathing suit area. And, you know, Columbine had happened that summer before and so everybody was quite aware of violence. And so the idea was not to market the film as a fighting film, but because it's really not those are metaphors and sure, different things. But uh they didn't do it, you know, he didn't have he didn't have the publicity control at that point in his career. And they, you know, they put out all this fight footage, and, you know, my parents went to see it, because I made it but they thought it was a boxing movie, you know, based off function.

Alex Ferrari 19:43
It's called Fight Club. Yeah, that's exactly the way they marketed it. Yeah.

Jeff Cronenweth 19:45
And that's what they that's what they showed in the in the trailers and stuff. And so that was unfortunate. It did not work. It was a flop. But ironically, in that first meeting, Fincher was like, I want this to be Our generations Blade Runner in that it describes what the 90s kind of what what it feels like to be in the 90s. And and in Blade Runner was a failure when it came out as well. You know, it wasn't until 10 years later, five years later that it blew up. And the same thing when when the DVDs for fightclub came out, oh my God, it was enormous. And then it became a cult film. And then both both, both Blade Runner and fight club are in the National Archives. Right? Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 20:31
So to go back for a second, that moment when David said, Hey, match your dad's lighting on this, these close ups. If you wouldn't have done a good job there. A lot of your career might have not gone the same way. Just that one is a possibility, right? Like if you would have screwed up that day, or didn't have the knowledge base to be able to do that, from all those years of working hard. Just for that one shot. And David, I think at that point, David, David was still I mean, David was David in the commercial world, like he propaganda was up and running. And you know, he was a big he was a big deal in the commercial world. So it's just it's fascinating that that one moment, I just, I just go back. I'm like, if he would have screwed up that, does he call him again? Does he does he ask him to do another video?

Jeff Cronenweth 21:21
He would call my dad so we would have worked together again, but I don't know that he would have had the trust in me to to do what later came, you know,

Alex Ferrari 21:28
Right. No, exactly. Can you can you explain to people what it's like, what was like shooting music videos and commercials in the 90s? Because that's my that's my sweet. That's my decade. I went to film school during that decade. And I actually had my one of my good friends was the vault operator propaganda. And he would send me VHS of David's reels. This is pre internet. You know, this is before everything was so I could watch him and Michael Bay and Spike Jones and Fuqua and all so he would send me these compilation reels of all this stuff. I saw like I saw the game promos, before anyone saw the game promos like that, with that, that moquette What is it the puppet flying in the air and all that stuff? So I was I was really deep into propaganda, specifically Fincher and like, how can you explain to people what is like, with those budgets? With that, I mean, it was an insane time for music videos.

Jeff Cronenweth 22:21
It was fantastic. Because there was a bunch of very young filmmakers that were unbridled, and you you each, each job, each song that came up, someone was trying to do something that hadn't been done before or a different perspective on it. And you would watch that you're like, Oh, my God, how do that or you know, like Jake Scott shooting entire video backwards in reverse. Yeah, or shooting on Super Eight or shooting, you know, Harris vetus baking film, for a whole video, you know, so that it all had all the kind of warping, textures too, and everything. So it was a it was a wild west of shooting and almost anything went but there was an enormous amount of competition. And people, very creative people, you know, competing against each other. And so the budgets at that time this is pre Napster. So the videos were generating enormous amount of income and sales, record sales. And so the budgets were enormous, you know, I I, Harris betas photograph screen, but I operated in shot second unit on screen. And the screen, you know, is at least if it's not the top, it's right there at 7.2 million. With Janet and Michael Feathers.

Alex Ferrari 23:40
It was I think the bitonal was expensive at the time, I think still is.

Jeff Cronenweth 23:44
It might be Yeah, I don't know. But the budgets were incredible, you know, 1,000,002 million 500,007 50. All all were reasonable budgets. But the quality of the work was really, really interesting. And the ideas were new and fresh and interpreting different musicians and, you know, rap was just coming in and, and so you had the hip hop, you had hip hop before rap, and then you had you know, Jana and Miko, and Madonna and Bowie and George Michael, and you just had a lot of interesting artists that were all blooming at the same time. And the good ones like Madonna and Michael and Jana, they took the videos very serious. You know, there was a lot artists that were young and, um, they'd be hungover that so five hours late and you're looking just going, you know, this isn't for me.

Alex Ferrari 24:43
Like, this is gonna be out there forever.

Jeff Cronenweth 24:46
So you do you run out of money if you show up or don't show up today. So, you know, so there was a big difference between like, people dedicated and you know, they always had interesting concepts with good stories. that were that that did the songs justice, but weren't just like a band playing on a pedestal somewhere, you know, looked it up. And so it was really quite amazing and exciting. You know, I, I think I shot maybe 350 music videos or something, something that degree that's insane.

Alex Ferrari 25:20
Like when you did something like, you know freedom with George Michael like, which was a revolutionary music video because he wasn't in it. Yeah. And David and you put that together. I mean that's I still Well, first of all, it's an amazing song. But like the explosions of the of the, like the explosions on the on the base hit and things like that with the guitars blowing up and the jacket blowing up. I mean, it's just it's just, it's for people that weren't around during that time. I mean, I was working in Miami in the Miami market. And you know, we're Gloria Estefan. And all those guys were and they they were getting million million and a half dollar budget. Second and third tier artists, were getting 250 to 500. And I was working on those. I was like, can you imagine that today? Doesn't make

Jeff Cronenweth 26:07
I still do maybe one or two a year? Yeah. I love them. But, you know, I don't go out and seek it out. But they come one or two a year. And so it's like the last couple have been the Taylor Swift, Terry, Maroon Five, and they always have a fair amount of money to do it. Right. Right. Now, what changed? What changed a few years ago, is they figured out how to monetize the videos, you think again, and and the videos and kids by downloads of the music videos. So the videos have, not only are they presenting the song, but they buy them to watch over and over again. And so, you know, it'll never be what it was, of course, but, you know, it could come back to some degree where where you have decent budgets to, to make, to make videos that make statements and really promote an artist.

Alex Ferrari 26:59
Yeah, because now I mean, you throw up, you throw it up on YouTube, and you just monetize it on YouTube and you got a billion views, that's a it's a pretty nice chunk of change that's gonna come into your pocket or to the studio or the the labels pocket, but whoever's paying, so there is way there are ways still now where some of these artists even just naming every time they've dropped a video, it's 100 200 500 million, billion, you know, watches. So it can it can't happen but, but like the the, I mean, nobody names like second third tier X, having half a million dollars, those days are gone. Those days are definitely gone. Now. Speaking of music videos, you also worked with another, you know Trailblazer with Mark Romanek, who I'm also a huge fan of and his work with him. What is what is the how you also shot his film, one hour photo, which I absolutely adored with, with the late great Robin Williams, how did you approach that film? Because the look of it is so Oh, God, it just feels like there's that that fluorescent light coming down on you. And you just feel off? Watching it? How did you approach that creatively with him?

Jeff Cronenweth 28:11
It was a, it was a baby movie, in in comparison to fight club, budget wise, you know? Sure. And so there was certain strategies and things that you had to do that because you had to be financially responsible, and you had limited resources. But the wonderful thing about that movie for me, and what what I loved about it is it had three worlds that he lived in, it had the store, which was his safe place, his ethereal place where he was God, and he could view these people's lives and make judgments and then react. And then there was their house, the family he was obsessed with, which is very warm and loving. And at least on the surface as we as we find out later. And then his his cold and industrial apartment that he lives in that was void of personality, except for the wall of other people's likes that he made, right. And so that gave me three distinct worlds to light differently, you know, within that budget, and that was really fun to do. And the thing that I love the most is, you know, you're going to be in a store. And Mark really wanted it to feel overlap in the sense that it's coming from the top and it's a you know, big, big big box store. And so I couldn't I couldn't I I'm not necessarily a fan of top light, just don't like what it does in general to people's faces, but we created these fixtures that you could look at and see a little bit of light, but they weren't they didn't really have an impact coming down, but they shot up and we painted the ceiling white, and so it all was bounced softlight off the ceiling, the gate kind of ethereal glow in there. And then you go back and you can analyze it. And that's like, that's his heaven. And that's his world. And this is this and the lights coming down from there. But it was really, this is this beautiful, I mean, that all fit into the story. But it was this beautiful, soft light. So you took this really industrial building and made it something that was prettier, but still had the personality that Mark wanted reflected and, you know, visually to match the story. And so that was, you know, we bought all these old fixtures in from the salvage company and then cut holes in them and put them up and, and made those work and then shot in that store. You know, what was rather trying? Was, we shot in there for the first two weeks, I think, or three weeks, right? And so you want to you know, it's okay, to have to have, you want a balance to the movie, you want up and downs, light and dark shadows and things that are that you can't see. And going to dailies for the first like 16 days, all that footage was in that store. And it was all this white, low contrast thing. I was losing my mind. I'm like, What am I shooting this is like, there's nothing to balance again. But then of course, once we got out, we started getting into the other worlds and I was able to manipulate contrast and light and have direction now as opposed to top and stuff. It really like it really balanced out the movie, and it has a really cool look for it. And I definitely serve the story.

Alex Ferrari 31:36
No, you just brought something to my to my mind when you said contrast. I mean a movie like Fight Club, and seven that you did second unit. But on Fight Club. The contrast is so big. I mean, it's just beautiful. And that was kind of like a telltale Fincher ask thing. He loves blacks. He loves to go deep into the blacks. How much of that was? Was that all in camera? And then you tweaked it a little bit in the lab? Because in 99 Did they the I wasn't di hadn't come out yet. Oh, Brother Where Art then come out. Yeah, right. Right. That was lab. So that was shot that was in camera and lab work that got that insanely crisp and just pristine look, right?

Jeff Cronenweth 32:19
Yeah, yeah. Then that was straight up. There was no cross processing or any of the things that they had done on seven. Right, it was straight up. So the way we shot it, it's terrifying.

Alex Ferrari 32:31
Oh, yeah. Because you're on the edge. And that's the thing. Yeah. When you work with David, I'm assuming you're always on the edge. On a lot of things. I mean, the same thing with a girl with a dragon tattoo and social network.

Jeff Cronenweth 32:42
I'll tell you a little story. Yeah, but don't, don't lose your train of thought. It was my first feature as the as the main DP, right. So it was a big,

Alex Ferrari 32:51
Not a bad one to start with

Jeff Cronenweth 32:52
Not a bad one. I put more pressure on myself then then David or the studio did, because I was so I didn't want to fail him, I had so much respect for him that I didn't want to be the one loose like, you know, the bolt in the entire ship. So we were shooting a scene of Ed Norton with insomnia, laying in bed wide awake, overhead shot. And we had had the sheets tea stained. In other words, they took the white some of the bright white off the sheets. But it wasn't, it wasn't the level we wanted it to. And so we were really struggling with, like, making it feel like nighttime, being dark enough, still seeing him but not having these glowing white sheets. And he kept going. It's too bright. I'm like, David, it's not to write anymore. It's we're getting really close to not going to be an image there. He's like, it's two rights to write. And we shot it and it was too dark. And I was like, I was already like, oh, okay, that's it. Well, when they come looking for the guy to blame all I'm done, and I'm out of here and all that. And the next day is like, Well, you're right, we push too hard, we'll shoot it again tomorrow. And, and he looked at me, he goes, Listen, if we're not making mistakes every once in a while, then we're not pushing boundaries, we were in a safe zone that nobody wants to be in and we're not that's not what we're here to do. We're here to change things and push things and break boundaries and, and not repeat ourselves. And so it's only money. It's a big movie, we've scheduled time for things that don't work out and we'll shoot it again another day. And that was that kind of has served me to this day because you put it in perspective. You know, if you're doing something where it doesn't have a lot of money and you're risking losing a scene, that that's being irresponsible, but if you're pushing the boundaries and you're taking advantage of everything that you have and you and you are going for it it's okay to make that mistake now and then

Alex Ferrari 34:48
No question I mean because I mean looking at fightclub You know, I saw it in the theater and then seeing it on Blu ray and 4k and all that kind of stuff. Maybe you are on the edge because a lot of people don't understand like they look I'm like, Oh, they just fixed that in the computer. I'm like, no, no, this is old school. This is lab work. And like, craft, you know, because now you could choose something down the middle and gain a really crisp and crush the blacks and all that stuff in di much easier than you could back back then. So you actually were You were playing with stops? You were like, Am I Am I too far gone. Because you can only push a pole in the lab so much before the image is gone, and you don't have anything?

Jeff Cronenweth 35:32
Well, the thing that everybody has to appreciate is, in those days, you, when you went to the lab, when you're when you're color correcting a movie, you had red, green, and blue, and you had light and dark. That's it. No contrast, no other color

Alex Ferrari 35:47
No power windows, no power windows,

Jeff Cronenweth 35:49
And no stopping it, you know, there's a footage counter at the bottom of the screen. And you're sitting in there with you know, a guy that's been working in the lab for 40 years, he's got a piece of paper and a pencil, and you're going, okay 524, it's two points to green and 1.2 bright, and he writes it down and two other shots go by. And now you got to watch it over again and go, okay, and you have to keep doing this and keep doing this and keep doing this, you know, it's not like, stop, look at it. Bring up the shot before it. Let's look at those side by side do that. Yeah, let's add contrast, let's have 1000 shades of pink that we can now add or take away. Let's do this, and this and this. So it's a different world. Now, in all fairness, audiences are far more mature or educated than they were then than they were eight years ago. And so the expectations and the critical eye is all that much stronger. So I kind of feel like the technologies kept up with the audiences and the audiences expect a certain amount. And this technology affords us to go that much more in that direction. You know, it's really hard to to get away with something rudimentary when kids grew up watching Game of Thrones.

Alex Ferrari 37:04
Right, like you've watched it, that's a TV show, what TV shows that we have different strokes.

Jeff Cronenweth 37:11
Hill Street Blues isn't, you know, they were really Three's Company.

Alex Ferrari 37:15
Right! Like we were raised in television in the 80s. And you still Game of Thrones? Like are you kidding? So yeah, now, now that everyone's expecting so much more. So the game has, you have to take your game up to that to that level,

Jeff Cronenweth 37:31
You can stop a frame on your computer and analyze it. You know, shots have to match because they can go back and forth and look where before there was reciprocity, which is our human brain processing the image going by that you know, you think you match that to that shot, but God forbid you ever put them side by side? I bet they're, you know, the master. I bet Godfather doesn't have as many shots that are perfect as we all think it does.

Alex Ferrari 37:54
Oh my god. I mean, he did that the prince of darkness. Mr. Willis. I mean,

Jeff Cronenweth 37:58
No, no disrespect. I'm just saying like they didn't

Alex Ferrari 38:00
No I mean, I mean that in a good way. I mean, in a good way, like keep talking about pushing

Jeff Cronenweth 38:04
Did with that. Jesus. Unbelievable.

Alex Ferrari 38:08
Oh my God, you look at godfather to you just like how did you have the balls to expose our Pachino on a Francis for a couple of movie on the sequel? The Godfather? That frickin low like you could barely see him and the mastery to get to that. I mean, he's literally a cough away from it not being exposed. It was it's just it's mashed. It's a masterwork. It's a it's a Master,

Jeff Cronenweth 38:35
I tell you what's missing from that, that that that was so great about it, my father and all and Conrad and all of them did it is they shot to a degree where there was no turning back. So that's what the movie is going to look like. arbitrator coming in, hey, you know what that's too too bright or too dark, or I need to open it up. You can open it up, it's it's gonna go milky, and it's gonna look really bad. So you have to live with what they did you know. And that's the drawback from the technology today is, you know, I can color correct a movie for three weeks. And when I walk away, there's nothing stopping someone from going in and dialing a knob. And all of a sudden, that's not what I thought it was. Now, most studios don't do that. But I've had occasions where I've left and people have made changes, which is a problem.

Alex Ferrari 39:21
Yeah, and exactly. There's when I was a colorist for 15 years, so I know, oh, I know, my friend. Listen, I, I sit there and I always try to work with the DP and the DP. You'd be in the room. But then when he left the producer who's paying me he's like, Okay, I need you to open this up a little bit more. It's just a little too dark. I'm like, Oh, God, what do I do? Like you're like, This is the dude that's paying me like, What do I What do I do? So there is there's this weird place but you're absolutely right. Nowadays you as as as the DP you don't have nearly the control that you did back then like when when your dad shot Blade Runner it was what it was, like they weren't going to tweak it.

Jeff Cronenweth 39:58
That's it. Like, you got what you got?

Alex Ferrari 40:01
So So going back, you know, we were talking about, you know, working on other films like social network and grow with the Dragon Tattoo. Social Network is interesting because first of all is is a masterwork man. Seriously, it is. so beautifully shot and you were using a red one.

Jeff Cronenweth 40:21
Red one, but we had the mysterium X chip, which was the new chip, you know, right. He had a SATA burghead taught Fincher into checking out red he had used among che, right? Yeah. And, and we were David and I were looking at, you know, we went through testing all the different cameras and stuff. And read was, you know, Soderbergh says, Let's try these new cameras. Try this new sensor, I think you'll love it. And we went and met Jim Dennard and Jared land, you know, they were down in Orange County at that time. And so we went down there and looked at the cameras and the footage, and then the new set, sir, and it was absolutely beautiful. And then they started asking what we want to change on those cameras, or what we need on this movie that isn't available. And we had all those rowing scenes, you know, on those years. What are they called mocker boats, I think there's something like they're super fragile, lightweight, and you can't overload them, you know, they're not met Matt to carry anything other than the guys rowing and stuff. And so they made us a carbon fiber camera body that weighed like, six pounds, red red one with a chip. And they made this and they made that and it started this relationship that Fincher and I have enjoyed, you know, since that film, were on social network. That was a that was the mystery max on Dragon Tattoo. That was the epic Sure. All prototypes, like you know, wires hanging out and open backs but Gone Girl was the dragon. I think so. Yeah. And so on, you know, and then he had the Xenomorph on Mindhunter, which was was meant to be handheld. But they ended up not not utilizing that style. But those were those ergonomic cameras that kind of looked like a little bit like Alien.

Alex Ferrari 42:21
I saw that. Yeah, they made that special for him. They call that

Jeff Cronenweth 42:24
Yeah, and everything was like the motors that drive the lenses you had to pick you know, is meant for like a glass. So the like Similac C's all have the same size. And so the motors were attached and no cables and all all these kind of nuances that over the years have evolved. And now you know, last year they did manque and that was monochrome which he had asked for originally for commercial

Alex Ferrari 42:50
It was I didn't he did the Justin Timberlake music video with that too.

Jeff Cronenweth 42:53
Before that he did. He did I know he did a black and white oh god what's it for? You did one with Rooney Mara. That was for some free?

Alex Ferrari 43:04
Oh yeah. I remember that. Yeah, that that

Jeff Cronenweth 43:09
Even before that there was something and then I had shot I did these Levi spots with them that are you know, all with the monochrome. And so he got they made Rangers which was the newest sensor but made the monochrome for Mank. And, and now

Alex Ferrari 43:28
So as a cinematographer, this is heaven you basically go into the toy shop and you go out with like this, I would like that, can you make this for me and they literally custom build the need for your projects

Jeff Cronenweth 43:41
Extremely supportive and helpful. And so yeah, and so i i The last film that I shot, it was on the Ranger but I use the Aerie DNA glass and I you know they tell me that I'm the first person to do that for the day because they had tried to keep it mostly restricted to using with the Aerie cameras and stuff, but then they open the doors a little bit and so I shot being the Ricardos with the 70 mil DNA primes that you know like from the Joker and different things and then the Red Ranger with the full sensor AK so

Alex Ferrari 44:19
I want to talk well I want to talk about the Ricardos because ya know it's it's it's stunning. On social network. There's two shots I have to ask you about the one is if you can and they're they're pretty they're pretty well known shot so I'm sure you can get them on the on the is it was it in? I'm thinking is the overhead shot on top of the buildings is that social network or am I confusing that with Matt

Jeff Cronenweth 44:48
Is with Jesse Eisenberg running through the heart.

Alex Ferrari 44:51
Yeah, and it's just like stays there and that the camera fought like it's attached to him almost it looks like and how the hell do you do that?

Jeff Cronenweth 45:00
That was a solution to the problem that Harvard generally doesn't allow you to shoot movies on their campuses, especially a movie that's doesn't put them in great light, because the infighting between all the students and then of course, the chancellor or the chairman. At So, we had to figure out a way that we could shoot a shot without moving the camera, but we wanted to do a pan and scan within the camera, because we had to leave the cameras locked off so that we could shoot when the sky changed, we could get the depth of the campus, we could get all the detail of the buildings in the background. And then we would tie all that together into a move. And so we put three cameras up there Frame to Frame to Frame and let Jesse Jesse run it, it was the only it's like the only building in Cambridge that's not part owned by the university. So we picked that point in the corner and had him run by he ran by the oldest arch going into the campus, which is you know, if you know anything about Harvard is a famous archway that goes into the campus. And it's pitch black, you know, there's like, I changed like I, I had the city fix all the streetlights on both both streets that you see. And then I put light bulbs on the back of the poles that you couldn't see that made down like the he could run in and out of these pools of light. And then we had this dilemma of not like the archway needed to be backlit for us to see it when he runs by it. And so we kept coming up with scenarios like I was like, let's rent like a fake power truck, go on campus, like we're fixing something and just use the bright headlights and stuff and a little thing on and, and no one will bother us because they'll think that, you know, you're fixing something with the power company. Fincher came up with this idea of making a battery cart light that was all self contained, and hiring a mind. And so the mind would take the cart onto campus behind the RTA turn on the light, and then start mining. The idea is that anybody would come around with think that he's lying to himself, they'd watch for 10 minutes, even if the cops came, he would do his whole thing where he's like, I can't hear you. And, and so we did that. Got the shot, we you know, we lit the archway from on campus with a mind and then tiled that shot, to get him to run through.

Alex Ferrari 47:34
So you so so basically, you I don't like to use the word stole the shot, but you stole the shot. Essentially,

Jeff Cronenweth 47:41
You stole the light source, light source,

Alex Ferrari 47:45
Which is amazing that a film, and the people involved with the film like social network would need to pull those kinds of indie moves to get the shot. But that's but that's the reality of the world.

Jeff Cronenweth 47:58
That's the way it works. You know, that's the great thing about film school is you're always borrowing and stealing and trying to whatever you can, you know, into it. And honestly, that kind of happens on commercials and music videos and everything. You have to kind of like go out and be aggressive to make sure you you get everything that you all the parts that you need to make the story.

Alex Ferrari 48:20
That's amazing. Now the other shot that I love, and it's is the rowing, the rowing sequence, the one with Trent's amazing score. What is the technique to make everything look so small? I know there's it's a photographic technique, but can you explain it to the audience how you got that shot? Because when I saw it, I was just like, wow, that's I haven't seen this in a film before.

Jeff Cronenweth 48:43
Yeah, two things. One, we were only given like an hour and a half to shoot in the area where the regard actually happens. And so we had to shoot some finish line stuff, and this and that, and then we had to get out of there. And so we were up river more from that, and it didn't look exactly the same. And so to avoid any of the matching issues, the idea of this shallow depth of field, super dramatic. And we had seen it on YouTube, where they done like shipyards, miniatures, and you see it moving, you're like, is that a model? Or is that real? It's gorgeous. It's just a matter of lenzing and shallow depth of field and perspective. And so we did that and it solved a lot of problems for us and and super energetic in the in the sense that it adds tension and kind of confusion to this race. So you don't know who's winning when or where and the energy keeps up. And I love the notion of locking the focus and letting the guys row in and out because, you know, on those boats, the boat slides underneath the guy kind of the guy stays and then the boat slides and then he catches up in a slot again. And so that that just was so dramatic to me really what

Alex Ferrari 50:05
It was. So basically, it was a workaround to, to solve a problem. It was not as much of a creative decision, but then it turned into a creative decision and how you worked with it.

Jeff Cronenweth 50:15
Yeah, I mean, we might have done it anyways. Because it was such a cool effect. We talked about it before we did those scenes, but then it became assault as well.

Alex Ferrari 50:24
That's, that's, that's amazing. Now, you've been you've been, you know, you've obviously been in the business for a long time, you've been around a lot of different cinematographers, young cinematographers, what are some of the biggest mistakes you see young DPS make, when they first come out.

Jeff Cronenweth 50:40
I'm not trusting their first thought to an image or problem being talked out of it. letting fear debilitate you, as opposed to embracing it so that you can stay on edge and fresh and push boundaries, you know, I think, I think, God, I've seen some people so hungry to get that opportunity, and so focused on films that they cherished, they tried to emulate them on their first time out. And that's a risky business, because you don't have the kind of support on set to back up those choices if they don't work out. And if you take too long and you don't accomplish your day's work, then all of a sudden, you know, you're you're sprinting through stuff and making mistakes and dropping shots. And, and you've not only have you not achieved your goal, you've you've kind of like undermined yourself. And so I think you have to keep perspective of of the task at hand and know your audience in the sense of like, How much money do you have? How much time do I have? How much sport am I going to get? And sometimes you want to paint with old brushes, sometimes you want to paint with a big fat brush, because that's the way to get through that.

Alex Ferrari 52:07
Right. And so it's the equivalent of me trying to go on shoot fight a scene from Fight Club with, you know, $5,000, and it's six hours for a scene that took you maybe two or three days and you had a much bigger support staff than I would.

Jeff Cronenweth 52:21
That's yeah, exactly. So

Alex Ferrari 52:23
And that is a mistake. Yeah. I can imagine that a lot of them with our trim, like I'm gonna go shoot like Blade Runner. I'm like, Well, he was a bigger budget.

Jeff Cronenweth 52:32
When I was an assistant, I saw guys light for two hours and have like, very specific like, after Husted here after I see him here, or that little Tiguan, but it looked great. The actor comes in as I'm not going to that mark. I'm going here and here. And now it's either a redo for another two hours, or they're dark and not in the light. Or no, you know, it, that's all part of that relationship thing to like, if you once there's a trust and a relationship with the with the cast, and then everybody knows that everyone's on the same team, then we all help each other out. But when someone feels like they're being manipulated, then that's kind of you know, that can be problematic for sure.

Alex Ferrari 53:14
Now, let's talk about your newest film being the Ricardos which I had the pleasure of watching that I absolutely loved it. I think it's one of the best films of the year is I mean, beautifully lit and when I was watching I'm like, Oh my God, these guys must had so much fun shooting it because you're like, you know, it's Lucy and Desi and you know, it's it's obviously Aaron Sorkin directing in wrote this remarkable script. And, you know, you were we were kind of talking about beforehand, the tightness of the script and how tight you know, Aaron writes his scripts. What was it like working with Aaron Sorkin on an Aaron Sorkin script? And playing in this you know, the golden age of television?

Jeff Cronenweth 53:57
Yeah, no, it's fantastic. I it's probably as much fun as I've ever had on the set and I think everybody that was involved in it would tell you that not not because it was happy go lucky joking around just because it was a joy every day to shoot the material to shoot Javier and, and Nicole and JK, you know, and actually the entire cast the sets were beautiful. The atmosphere is very supportive. And it just it just was the the chemistry was so good amongst all the departments and everybody cuz I think we all knew how good the script was. And and it's something that we all have, you know, I don't care where you're from there's everybody has a little piece of I Love Lucy and them. My girlfriend is me is and has been in the country for about 15 years now. And she knows every episode, you know from from Vietnam, Trent so yeah, so you know, it's it's, it has a little something for everybody. And then it's a period piece and it's the 50s And, and, and so it was very, very exciting. I had, you know, worked with Aaron in a different capacity on social network, right, wrote, he wrote that script. And funny enough, the last shot of that movie, I think Fincher wanted to avoid the emotional goodbyes. And I told Aaron to shoot the last shot, which was an insert of a letter coming underneath the door. So of course, I'm still the DP, we I stuff. So that was our first director, DP relationship was that insert on social network. And then, you know, he, he's, he's, his dialogue is so amazing, and his tempo. So exciting. And like I said earlier, he, he makes a complete story, it's tight. And within that, it just opens the door for creativity for all of us to contribute. And, and he's very open minded about it. And he's very, like, embellished as us to bring more to it. And for me, you know, he had done a couple movies as a director before, including, you know, Fagin shot Chicago seven got nominated last year for it. And that, but that movie was like structured in it, you know, is half the movie takes place in a courtroom, which is so, so difficult. And So Aaron, you know, being a guy that wants to progress wanted me to bring some of like the light choices and styles and stuff that Fincher and I had had used over the past. Now, of course, this is different kind of movie. And so you have to adjust your adjust your, your kind of style to whatever the subject matter of the story is that you're telling, but it did open the door for me to really play a lot and to you know, capture the era capture the romance and the magic. And then I have to, to play with black and white, I got to play with flashbacks, like in the 40s which I I tipped my hat to hurl and some of the Mount in my grandfather to the starlight kind of lights and I lights that came through, like barter. And so that was really fun. And, and then, you know, staying true to the era, but but modernizing it a little bit. You know, it's it's, it's, it's one of those dilemmas that you you don't want to be a parrot parody of an era. You want to bring that era to what it is. But you also have a responsibility to entertain a modern audience, right. So you know, if you're doing a picture in 1910, you wouldn't use glass from 1910. They only used glass from 1910 because they had to they didn't have 1980s or 2020 glass, right. So I felt like in exploring some of the choices and cameras and lenses and light sources and all that, that we would stay true as much as we could. But then I would, I would bring it to the future a little bit. You know, like, for example, the black and white footage of the television show I Love Lucy, you know, a DP named Karl Freund photographed I Love Lucy. He was a feature guy. He was an inventor. He was known throughout the industry as a really like a technical technological wizard and a master someone Darfur he won an Oscar in 1937. He invented the incident meter, which read reads the, you know, direct light spot meter that, you know, reflected light. And so Desi and Lucy knew this. And so they asked him to shoot this TV show with that with the idea of trying to solve this dilemma of shooting a three camera show, but shooting it as if it were a live show, but shooting on film, and shooting it in front of a live audience. So all things that had not been done before. You know, in that time, or that era, they you know, if you lived in New York, you could watch a show live. If you didn't live in New York, then they were they filmed a TV monitor. Right, right, yeah. And then sent that around and then rebroadcast it. So the quality went way down. And Desi and Lucy didn't want they didn't want to work on the East Coast, they wanted to live on the West Coast. And two, they didn't want they wanted everybody to see the same image quality at the same time. So they decided to shoot on film, which was an extra cost, which they absorbed, which they also got the rights to after it aired the first time, which was kind of the dawning of syndication, right. So so the idea was to light something from overhead light, something that create a lighting scenario that where you wouldn't have to move lights between setups, that you could move fast and that you didn't block the audience from being able to see the talent and the idea behind that was that Ricky thought that our Desi thought that Lucy performed better in front of a live audience and the rest of the cast did as well. When they interacted, so those things were were the kind of the tasks that girlfriend was given. And then when he solved it all, you know, it was such a hit show and technological kind of accomplishment that people would come from all over the world to watch them do this and then more or less, that's what uh, you know, the three camera sitcoms became forever after that, you know, to this day to this day to this day they had headphones they had a wide shot to close ups they had they talk to each other the super script supervisor Congo kind of regulated the the cameras, you know, and so and then and then Desi you know, he they would cut it take a week to cut. And he he didn't understand why you had to watch just one camera one reel on a movie Ola. And so he asked me Viola to make one where he could run all three reel so he could see all three images at the same time and know where the cuts were based on the tempo and performance as in so now you know, you do split screens, or you have seven monitors, you have whatever it is, but he had them build a movie Oh, where you could run all three cameras at the same time. And so there was a lot of innovation going on. On that set

Alex Ferrari 1:01:12
That show Yeah, people don't realize it. They just look at us like oh, it's a sitcom I'm like, but that's it kind of changed so much about everything on a technological sense on the story sense with her being pregnant for the first time. They they still never said the word pregnant but you know that there was a pregnant woman on a national television was like a thing, you know, and even having Desi as a Cuban lead. Well, that was a biggie. I'm Cuban. So you know, I was Desi was one of the only Cuban people I knew that were in the business. Or Latinos in general. When I was growing up, and I just every every Cuban on the planet knows who Desi Arnaz. It's like he's a patron saint of American Cubans. But it was such a revolutionary and it must have just been such a ball to go back in there and play you were playing. It just seemed when I was watching the movie. I was watching it and it seemed like everybody was playing and having a good time from from the performances, which all four of the leads, all of all should get nominated. But there's no question about it because they were so good. Javier nailed Nicola JK, and the actress who plays ETHEL. Nina, Nina. Oh my god, I love her and Goliath. She's wonderful and Goliath. So when I saw her pop up there, I was like, she held her home.

Jeff Cronenweth 1:02:34
Or even Jay Karen Goliath together, right?

Alex Ferrari 1:02:37
Yeah, JK. No, it was Billy Bob. Billy Bob's in July.

Jeff Cronenweth 1:02:41
But also. JK has a part in it. Because right here, and I think

Alex Ferrari 1:02:47
That's right. They weren't Yeah. So. And she held her own with these. I mean, those three are

Jeff Cronenweth 1:02:52
Oh, yeah, she, she did, she does, I'm a huge fan of those. And then it's a funny thing, because you have a built in audience per se, because everybody holds that show close to their chest. But within that, and because of that, everybody is very critical about how it's been done and who represents who. And so I have so much admiration for Nicole to put herself in that position and take that risk. Because there was a lot of animosity before it ever, you know, long before we ever started shooting when they announced who was being cast in what parts and whatnot. And I'm really, really pleased to see as people take in that movie. More and more people are just like, blown away by how good she is in it. How much of Lucile character she embraces and the true spirit of her. And that's yeah, she's gonna get nominated.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:51
There's no There's no question she's gonna get nominated. She almost like she was channeling Lucy. Yeah, it's what

Jeff Cronenweth 1:03:57
That's what Lucy's daughter said. Wow, she was Lucie. arnaz was extremely, extremely happy and moved to tears when she finally watched the final version.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:08
Oh, God, I can I can only imagine. Yeah, and Javier was just remarkable. And, I mean, I mean, that the lighting of the film, I remember the one shot that uh, it's not a spoiler, but there's a scene where Lucy calls everybody in to the studio late at night. That that scene, and when that door opens, and it's raining outside and light shafts come in. I'm like, Oh, they had fun shooting that.

Jeff Cronenweth 1:04:34
I couldn't wait to do that. From the time I read that book. I had that in the back of my mind. And it's so fun when it comes to fruition, you know? Yeah. You're waiting. You're like, okay, tonight's the night.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:44
It's funny, because sometimes I can watch this. I can watch a movie. I'll go that's the that's the that's the one. That's the shot that got the DVD to do what to get on this project.

Jeff Cronenweth 1:04:55
You're still right

Alex Ferrari 1:04:56
Isn't it true that like someone you read a script, you're like, oh, Okay, I'm gonna I mean, unless obviously, it's just like with David or someone you've worked with before, but if you're working with them for the first time, you look at the scripting like what's in this? Can I, first of all, can I tell the story? But what's in it for me? What, Where's My Challenge? Where can I have some fun is that basically like, Oh, I haven't done that before.

Jeff Cronenweth 1:05:16
It's the good and bad, like, you're like, Oh, this is gonna be amazing, like, and then you get to like, oh my god, a boat in the middle of the lake at night? How am I going to do that? So you know, you go back and forth the whole time, and then you settle down, and then you start to analyze it and solve all the problems and, and then, you know, make the story work. And

Alex Ferrari 1:05:32
Being at being a cinematographer is basically solving problems 24/7 all the time. Like you're, there's things that are coming up constantly, that you have no understanding of like, okay, alright, give me a second here. Let's figure this out here. Let's figure it out that they're in the Oh, the actor doesn't want to stand there. Okay, so let's do this. It's like it's constant with you. It's constant, like on the set?

Jeff Cronenweth 1:05:56
I feel. Yeah, I think I think it is, but it's also the same for the director. Yeah. Like, it doesn't matter who you are, how much money you have, or how many days you have to shoot. problems happen, you know. Rather, weather changes, things break. Someone doesn't come out in time, something's wrong with something else. And whoever makes the best creative compromises at that moment wins, you know. So that's what these masters and they solve the problems. You because you haven't, you don't have a choice,

Alex Ferrari 1:06:33
Right! You got to go through because there's like you watch, watch,

Jeff Cronenweth 1:06:37
Watch storming of Normandy and Saving Private Ryan. And you know, they shot there for a week, two weeks, obviously, the weather is gonna change every single day. And that's supposed to take place in a few hours, and it's sunny, and then it's cloudy. And then it's this and then it's that but there was enough smoke and enough action, and it's color corrected so beautifully. And it's like you're caught in the moment of the energy and another, you know, it doesn't matter.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:00
Yeah. And there's one other film that you did with Sacha Gervasi Hitchcock, Sasha, Sasha is a good friend. And he's, we've talked a lot about, I've talked a lot a lot with him about Hitchcock, and how he did it, how fun was it to go back and like, tread over Hitchcock's like, walk the path of Hitchcock walk sometimes, like recreating some of those scenes, man,

Jeff Cronenweth 1:07:27
Very exciting, you know, again, it's, it's not so different than then being the Ricardos. Right? Good. Go down one of the paths of your idols, and you get to capture the great Anthony Hopkins playing, playing Hitchcock and Helen Mirren playing his wife, and you know, you're so familiar with all of his movies, you know, all the shots. It's a little bit like being put back in that place. And so it's, it's a, it's like a little kid going to Disneyland for the first time. But it's a it's the magical movie worlds that we get to go visit, you know. And so it was really, really fun to shoot that pay homage to, and then try to, you know, Hitchcock was always an innovator. And he was always pushing boundaries. And he was doing the single take movies, and he was using this, he was using that. And we had this debate at the beginning of the movie about whether we should shoot it on film, or whether we should shoot it digitally. And ultimately, you know, it's like, is it sacrilegious to shoot a Hitchcock movie digitally, and ultimately, it became down a financial problem and the producers realize the cost savings and pushed us towards a digital world. But when you go back and you think about it, like if Hitchcock was around today, he would be the first guy using the newest technology so in a way you know, I didn't have that same kind of like, feel like I down the world by not shooting it on film.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:55
No, I don't think I don't think Hitchcock would be dying on the mantle there on the on the top of the hill going film forever. Like he's not that he had been like when he took he would have grabbed an iPhone and shot. Oh, could you imagine him? Like I always wonder is like what would Kubrick to today oh my god what would what would Stanley do with today's technology? Oh god the stuff that they you know the Masters if you would have given these the tools to those masters? What would have happened now

Jeff Cronenweth 1:09:23
Look how good the stories were that they told already.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:26
They were they and in a time when you really needed to know your stuff like like when you shot Fight Club and when you shot when you shot film. You needed to know how to expose properly how did you need it, there's so much more knowledge you need as a cinematographer. Whereas in the digital world, you you have a lot more leeway. There is more leeway. So I'm gonna ask you a few questions as my guest What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Jeff Cronenweth 1:09:55
Watch a lot of movies, study directors and shoot as much as you possibly can.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:01
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Jeff Cronenweth 1:10:09
That's a good question. I would I just think, you know, I kind of mentioned it earlier is to embrace your fears and utilize that, you know, because I look, I've done a lot of a lot of phones, but when you walk on that, to that elephant stage door the first time or even every day, that morning, or even before that, when you're driving up on a street, and there's you go past 22 trucks before you get to the they drop you off in front of the set, you start, you know, the insulation, and you're like, oh my god, this is the day that I'm gonna get discovered that I don't know what I'm doing. And, and you walk through that stage door, or into that set or onto that house, and you look around, it's all overwhelming, and people are coming up, like, whatever, you know, 1000 questions start happening, and you just gotta sit in process and you watch the scene, you block it out, you know, obviously, you've been there before and you have a plan and stuff, but utilizing it, making it come together. You got to trust yourself. And and know that it'll come and you'll solve the problems and, and embrace all that all that insecurity you know, don't let it get the best of you because that's when you make mistakes or in questioning yourself. And again, I said that before is like, go with what you thought the first time that's usually the right choice, whatever your guts telling you, you know, and if it doesn't feel right, you'll you'll realize it by first time you're watching the monitor and looking through the eyepiece and go, you know, I got something's not working out here. I got it. Change this and stuff.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:40
And three of your favorite films of all time.

Jeff Cronenweth 1:11:43
A Blade Runner, a godfather stuck between like No Country for Old Man or Shawshank?

Alex Ferrari 1:11:57
Oh, yeah. Nice. All good, all good choices. And one last question specifically to you. Was there a lesson? Or what was the biggest lesson you took away from your father when it comes to lighting and being a cinematographer?

Jeff Cronenweth 1:12:13
It's not what you liked. It's what you don't like that has the most impact.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:17
That's, that's great advice. Great, great advice. And where can people watch being the being the Ricardos? And when?

Jeff Cronenweth 1:12:26
I remember 10th and theaters, you know, I, I kind of looked around and see where it was going to be playing. So I think it's a limited release. And then on December 21, it's on Amazon.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:38
That's amazing. Jeff, man, thank you so much for being on the show, bro. I really appreciate it. I can geek out a little bit more with you, I'm sure. But I appreciate your time, my friend. Thank you again for being on the show and continued success and please keep making movies my friend.

Jeff Cronenweth 1:12:53
Oh, well. Thanks, Alex.


  • Jeff Cronenweth – IMDB


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