June 14, 2016

Watch: How David Fincher's Long Shots Create Critical Distance

This video essay shows how Fincher harnesses the power of the long shot.

Earlier this year, we brought you video essayist Jacob T. Swinney's take on David Fincher's use of the extreme close-up. Now, Swinney has examined the other end of the spectrum: the director's use of long shots. 

While the ECU (extreme close-up) lends weight to the minutiae of a scene, the long shot functions as a vehicle for critical distance. It firmly orients the viewer in the cinematic world—whether it's the depraved city streets in Se7en, the cold, clinical campus in The Social Network, or the gritty underworld of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—while also allowing us to objectively assess the scene. Removed from the action, we have a chance to make connections and form opinions. We see the big picture. 

As evidenced by the shots in the video essay, the two most important elements of the long shot are landscape and architecture. Long shots dwarf characters into mere pawns; the geometric elements of their environments seem to engulf them. 

Films featured: 

  • Alien 3 (1992)
  • Se7en (1995)
  • The Game (1997)
  • Fight Club (1999)
  • Panic Room (2002)
  • Zodiac (2007)
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
  • The Social Network (2010)
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
  • Gone Girl (2014)

Your Comment

12 Comments

Gotta love some great cinematography & directing!

June 14, 2016 at 6:30PM

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Robert Zinke
Blogger / DP / VFX Artist
167

I get Swinney's videos, but does anyone really get anything from these?? Fincher does wide shots, Fincher does close ups, like every other directer ever. Wouldn't we learn more by seeing these shots in context to the edit of the scene? Wouldn't that tell us more about how and why he uses them? Can this video be called an essay if there isn't any sort of educational word written about it?

What I get from this is that Fincher has wide shots that are really cool, and that this kid can mash them all together and put his name on the end of it like it was some sort of accomplishment. Am I missing something here?

June 14, 2016 at 7:21PM, Edited June 14, 7:21PM

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bp
445

Nope. You're not missing anything.

June 14, 2016 at 9:30PM

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Michael Markham
Actor/Filmmaker
989

Agree man this just gives you a "cool panorama" nothing else, no analysis no context, it´s just a mash up it´s not an essay.

November 18, 2018 at 7:51PM

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Filmmakers are already deathly scared of wide shots and articles like this makes it seem like using wide's are some kind of trick to enhance your film. Wide shots should be embraced more as a way of letting viewers into your world and have their eyes be able to move around the frame without cutting two seconds after. Our taste for TV dramas have made us look for talking faces more than a visually designed movie that makes creative use of environment, blocking and movement. And obviously, Fincher isn't the only filmmaker who's shooting wide scenes but more movies in general should use widescreen in a way that can be unique to the size of the theatrical screen. Widescreen movies today are no longer 'widescreen' and bear no difference in experience whether it be on TV or on your phone. Even IMAX has lost its purpose and already seems pretty bland and ineffective as a large format experience.

June 14, 2016 at 7:46PM

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m.lee
director of photography
81

I think for a lot of low budget indie film budget is a factor as well. Wide shots mean controlling a much larger environment to get the shot you want, and that takes resources.

Also Fincher uses tons of CGI in his long shots even on things that you might not think need them, just so he can control every single aspect of the image. That takes lots of resources, in this case really, money.

June 14, 2016 at 9:33PM

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Michael Markham
Actor/Filmmaker
989

Yep, NFS article on some green screen shots here: http://nofilmschool.com/2014/12/david-fincher-gone-girl-vfx-reel-artemple

June 18, 2016 at 10:35PM

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Adrian Tan
Videographer
877

You cawl thet ah lawng shawt?

This is a lawng shawt:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30v22buXaY8

June 15, 2016 at 12:54PM

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WARNING SE7EN SPOILER!!!!!!!!!

June 16, 2016 at 1:21AM, Edited June 16, 1:21AM

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When DSLRs first came out and everyone was obsessed by shallow depth, I think overuse of close-ups was definitely a temptation. If shallow depth = cool, well, it's a lot easier to get shallow from longer focal lengths. Add to this other biases: you often have to exclude clutter when taking a shot, especially with a low budget; it's easier to compose an ordered close-up than a wide angle (for instance, you can control colours and lines more easily); going closer allows you to refine an image to the key things that are interesting about it and to make these more emphatic; and it's also very easy to think to yourself, "I want to take a shot of this object. Therefore I shall frame for this object." Emotion, especially, can draw you in: the temptation can be to go closer and closer.

Well, that's one aesthetic direction, but you can also think along the lines of, "The richer an image, the better." The more detail you can cram in, the more life you bring to the world of the movie, and the more complex the meaning -- with the caveat that it's still got to be clear what the point of the image is, what the audience should be looking at.

A year or two back there was a profile piece on Roger Deakins in ASC, and he talks about how he's interested in things in context. So, the example given was a close-up of a wrist watch in No Country: you see the landscape behind it as well.

In terms of how to achieve a "rich" wide angle, I'd love to hear some ideas. Three thoughts I have are: high angles and low angles relative to character height are your friends (shoot square on, and often your background is blocked by your foreground); shooting deep rather than shallow obviously helps; shooting anamorphic might help, because when you frame a close-up to occupy the screen vertically, you often get horizontal "spillage"; shoot with a more square frame, and a close-up is more likely to fill the frame, losing context.

June 18, 2016 at 10:12PM, Edited June 18, 10:23PM

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Adrian Tan
Videographer
877

Great stuff.
Thanks.
So beautiful.

June 19, 2016 at 5:00AM

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Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
893

Apart from seeing a bunch of shots cut to music... what is actually the whole thing about these "supercuts" ... I always sit there. Click play. Wait. Ok, cool shot. Cool shot. Cool shot. Is anything being said? No? No discussion, or contrast. No analytical work is presented. All I am seeing is a bunch of shots.

It just feels... lazy...

Apart from being a collage of cool shots... what is it you are trying to convey when you do these supercuts? I say "you" in a general way. I mean not just this video. But all makers of SuperCut videos... What am I loosing out on when I get tired of it 30 seconds in that was supposed to be delivered in 3-10 minutes of cool shots?

I really do not get the prevalence of this format... What am I supposed to gain from watching it?

June 26, 2016 at 3:51PM

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Johan Malmsten
Movie-Worker
89