His affinity for close-ups and faces, sweeping dolly shots, and use of silhouettes and shadows, Fincher has clearly been (and continues to be) influenced by one of modern cinema's great pioneers, Steven Spielberg. Despite the fact that these two doesn't seem to have a whole lot in common when it comes to how they make films, this video essay by Southern Oregon University student Michael Bryant explores the connections between the directors' work.

Even though a lot of credit goes to the DPs they work with, Spielberg and Fincher certainly utilize a lot of interesting techniques when it comes to cinematography. 


The close-up, which was invented around the turn of the 19th century, started out a technique to show an action in more detail. D.W. Griffith was one of its pioneers, but Carl T. Dreyer turned the close-up into a tool to show the expressiveness of the human face, namely in The Passion of Joan of Arc.

So, it's definitely fair to say that Fincher was influenced by Spielberg when it comes to how he treats the human face in a close-up, but it's also fair to say that they were both influenced by Dreyer -- we all are -- even if we don't know it. It's easy to take it for granted, but capturing the emotions in someone's face was unheard in the early days of cinema, even as late as the 20s.

(Here's a cool piece of trivia: Dreyer allegedly made Renee Falconetti, the actress who played Joan of Arc, kneel on cement for hours and told her to show the pain in her eyes only as she performed her scenes.)


We've talked about the way Spielberg reveals information to his audience through the use of camera movement before, and Fincher certainly uses the same technique in his films. Instead of a static wide shot of a room with two stationary characters, both directors like to make things kinetic and dynamic, amping up the aesthetic energy of the scene, making it that much more interesting to look at. It's rare to see a shot in either Spielberg's or Fincher's films that isn't moving.


The use of silhouettes and shadows is a cinematic convention as old as Nosferatu (okay, even older than that), and Spielberg and Fincher both use them, albeit in different ways. Spielberg is more of a classic filmmaker; his work is reminiscent of the early days of cinema, and his use of shadows show that: silhouettes of soldiers marching against the setting sun in Saving Private Ryan, for example, is vintage. Fincher, on the other hand, is more of a maverick. He uses shadows in stylistic ways to set a mood and communicate information to his audience without having to use dialog, like the shot of the silhouette outside of Somerset's office door in Se7en.

What do you think about the comparison between Spielberg and Fincher? Which director do you think seems more influential to Fincher's work? Let us know down in the comments.

Source: Michael Bryant