The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents January 2012 Return to Table of Contents
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
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Presidents Desk
Production Slate
DVD Playback
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“We had short nights when we got there and really long nights when we left,” adds Fincher. “It can be very disconcerting if you’re not used to a six-hour day. You can start work in the morning and then find the sun going down at lunch.” 

“We set out to embrace the Swedish winter,” says Cronenweth. “It’s a strong element in the story, almost a character of its own, and we spent a lot of time out in the snow with those very unique light tonalities. We embraced all of the idiosyncrasies of the locations.” 

The biting cold of winter gave rise to one of the production’s few equipment problems: the low temps caused some of the floating elements in the Arri/Zeiss Master Primes to misalign, so the lens’s witness marks were off. “The Master Primes have seven floating elements, and in extreme temperatures that can create obstacles,” says Cronenweth. “The first assistants ended up having to pull focus more off of monitors, by eye. They’re phenomenal lenses, and I would definitely use them again; they probably held up as well as any equipment does in that kind of environment. But it’s something to be aware of when you’re working in extreme weather conditions.” 

Some of the movie’s large exterior setups posed other challenges. Salander’s main mode of transportation is her motorcycle, and she is not a timid driver. Many sequences show her zipping around dangerously icy roads, and Cronenweth had to tackle one of these scenes, a 5-mile run through a forest at night, on his second day on set. 

“I thought, ‘How are we gonna do this?!’” he recalls. “We ended up tackling it very simply, actually, and it looks quite believable. We used an insert car to either chase or lead the motorcycle. When we were chasing her, we simply increased the strength of the headlight on her motorcycle by adding some headlight fixtures with quartz globes and wide-angle lenses so the light would fan out and hit the trees in front of her on both sides of the road.  

“We then put a small bounce on the front of the camera car, about 2 stops underexposed, to get some detail on her and the motorcycle. Lastly, we used narrow-beam HMIs to softly project ahead of and above her to illuminate the forest. When we were leading her, we used the same bounce idea on the truck and the same narrow HMIs, and let the motorcycle’s headlight bounce and light her with just soft return.” 

Making night exteriors like this even tougher was the moisture from nearby bodies of water, which created mist that often froze to the lenses on moving shots. The filmmakers used standard rain spinners to keep moisture off the lenses, but the mist would freeze on the spinners and transform them into rotating diffusion filters. To combat this, the camera assistants mounted hair dryers below the spinners and kept a constant flow of warm air on the spinning blades.  

Driving sequences involving cars were shot onstage in Sweden using what Cronenweth and gaffer Harold Skinner laughingly describe as “Rich-Man’s Process.” Skinner explains, “It was your typical greenscreen stage, but we built this rig with LED media panels around the car so that we could play QuickTime movies of the background plates through the panels and project the reflections and interactive light directly from the background plates onto the car and the actors. The LED panels were 3 feet high by 14 feet long on both sides of the car, and we added another for the back and front windows. Using this system, we got real interactive lighting from the actual background plates, so it feels much more authentic.” 

To reduce spill and reflections from the greenscreen, Skinner hung Duvetyn on curtain tracks so he could mask off any area of green that wasn’t directly behind the actors.  

One pivotal scene that was reshot because of script changes shows young Harriet outside a cottage and boathouse on a waterfront Vanger property. The scene was originally shot on location in Stockholm, but when the filmmakers returned for reshoots, they discovered the property had new owners who had torn down both buildings. In addition, a winter storm had killed two large trees that helped make the location unique. Fincher and production designer Donald Graham Burt decided to reconstruct the cottage onstage at Paramount Studios and the boathouse and dock at Red’s studio.  

“It was a huge set, and I wasn’t really sure how to approach it,” confesses Cronenweth. “There were some practical lights on the dock that gave us a base look, especially when we added atmosphere. We decided to use a single 2K out from the cabin to the water and hillside — we hung blacks and added some sky augmentation in post — and it was perfect.” 

“We slipped a bare 2K globe inside a Big Eye 10K housing with no lens, just to protect the globe and create a very large open-face source,” says Skinner. “The dock lights were all clear 25-watt practical globes, so we added some 1/4 CTO to the 2K to match their warmth. We augmented with a single 1K Baby Fresnel to help when we were doing turnarounds and the 2K got a little too garish and flat, but that was it. It’s very simply lit and very beautiful.” 

A night scene that shows Salander meeting Blomkvist at his Stockholm apartment required a massive shot that encompassed several blocks of cobblestone streets. “It’s an old part of Stockholm on this grand hill, and David wanted the coverage to encompass all four directions at night for about two blocks,” recalls Cronenweth. “In and of itself, that’s not such a bad thing, but in April in Sweden, you only have four hours of darkness! So the challenge was to light two blocks in each direction and have the ability to quickly do turnarounds, to move into any direction and switch our backlight and whatever keys we had on the fly. Our rigging crew spent an entire night setting it up.” 

“We had eight construction cranes, four generators and 20 electricians, and the special-effects team was making snow at the same time — it was quite the expansive setup,” adds Skinner. 

“In the end, we got it in our four hours, and everything worked fantastically,” says Cronenweth. “David’s final establishing shot was done just as the sky was starting to change colors, but we got it in under the wire.”

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