June 15, 2015

3 Ways Steven Spielberg Influenced the Look & Feel of David Fincher's Films

David Fincher is one of the most lauded directors of our time, with a style all his own. But his work, no matter how unique it is, is not without its influences.

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. 

Faces 

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.)

Information

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.

Shadows

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.     

Your Comment

14 Comments

They both show faces to convey emotion? Really? What do other filmmakers use, the backs of their character's balls?

June 15, 2015 at 4:48PM

17
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dave
115

Bloody funny.

June 16, 2015 at 3:06AM

10
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Spot on comment but it's not stated that they both use it to convey emotion, but that their way of treating faces in closeups is similar (ie crawling zoom in).

June 16, 2015 at 2:27PM, Edited June 16, 2:27PM

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Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
1116

Fincher actually didn't moved the camera that much. I think he said something like "I want to present in as wide and unloaded a situation as possible in a simple proscenium way" or something similar. So he actually try's not to move the camera as much as he can I guess.

June 15, 2015 at 5:10PM, Edited June 15, 5:11PM

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Yeah, uh, many filmmakers have used Spielberg's techniques before Spielberg. Hitchcock, for example, who I see in Fincher's work far more than Spielberg.

June 15, 2015 at 5:10PM

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Henry Barnill
Director of Photography
678

I only use wide shots, locked off shots and always strive for completely flat light to fill in the shadows. Maybe that's why no one makes video essays about my movies. :(

June 15, 2015 at 5:10PM

13
You voted '+1'.
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Lane McCall
Producer/Director
512

If anything inspired the Steadicam shot from fight club you show, it will be the cab stand in Taxi Driver above all else. Follow shot -> POV -> shot of protagonist. That's Scorsese definetly. The Spielberg shot you compare it was even shot years later than Fincher's...

June 15, 2015 at 6:00PM

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Marnix Ruben
Director
148

Such Great Critique
It's So Unique
Fillmaking Clique
Si Magnifique

...fucking hipsters, man

June 15, 2015 at 6:40PM

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Terma Louis
Photographer / Cinematographer / Editor
1659

going through buildings/items; those wide shots fincher used were cgi. spielberg didnt use any on his wides

June 15, 2015 at 6:46PM

0
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Hitchcock.

June 15, 2015 at 8:59PM, Edited June 15, 8:59PM

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Sathya Vijayendran
Writer/Director/Editor
294

This is kind of odd...Spielberg moves the camera a great deal but David Fincher is widely known to use many, many lock-downs and he never does unmotivated camera movement and rarely ever uses a Steadicam. There are, in my opinion, major differences between Spielberg and Fincher. Fincher's style seems to descend much more from Polanski and that crowd than from Spielberg. Fincher has also talked many times on his commentaries about avoiding close ups and preferring to show entire rooms or spaces. He only uses a close up if there's something very important he wants to point out...whereas Spielberg uses close ups a lot.

June 16, 2015 at 5:30PM

14
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Arlin Godwin
Filmmaker
81

yo this was awful. try again.

June 16, 2015 at 5:46PM

5
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This is obviously the work of someone who didn't research the fact that Spielberg didn't "invent" close-ups and dolly shots. Fincher learned his craft shooting TV commercials and Music videos where directors are encouraged to be more visually adventurous and creative. He worked side by side with Michael Bay at Propaganda films in the early 90's, and you can see it in their handling of the camera. Zooming in on a closeup for dramatic effect is as old as film itself. And, it's not a zoom, it's a dolly-in on a closeup, or, as we say on the set.....a Mickey Rooney.....a.k.a. a short creep.

June 17, 2015 at 11:08AM

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Steve chase
Director
172

The way the 'influences' are shown are pretty non-specific in filmlanguage. I think you can 'proof' influences by other directors by substituting some shots :-p

June 19, 2015 at 9:18AM, Edited June 19, 9:18AM

4
You voted '+1'.
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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8965