Magazine article American Cinematographer

Dark Secrets

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Dark Secrets

Article excerpt

Eric Kress, DFF digs to the roots of a twisted family tree in the Swedish thriller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson's crime novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo took Scandinavia by stomi when it was published in 2005, and in bringing the book to the screen, the filmmakers were well aware that "creating a look that respected the source material was crucial," according to director of photography Eric Kress, DFF. Equally important, however, was crafting a style that would help viewers absorb the details of the narrative, which spans six decades and features several key characters. "[Director] Niels Arden Oplev and I worried that giving the film too strong a look might somehow [overshadow] the intricacies of the plot," says Kress. "So we opted for a very natural style, with a subtle color palette based upon the cold light of a Swedish winter."

Dragon Tattoo concerns disgraced investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), who is hired by a wealthy industrialist, Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), to find out what happened to Vanger's niece, Harriet, who disappeared 40 years before, when she was a teenager. Vanger believes Harriet was murdered by a member of his own family. Mikael teams up with an expert hacker, Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace), the "girl" of the story's tide, to solve the case.

Oplev recalls that his initial ideas about a visual approach were quite different from the path he and Kress eventually took. "I was leaning toward a wild, handheld camera, like in The Bourne Ultimatum? recalls the director. "Eric, on the other hand, advocated a slow-burning style with constant movement. His intuition about material is one of his great strengths and one of the reasons I hired him, so I went with his recommendation."

Born in Zurich and raised in Copenhagen, Kress grew up on a diet of Hitchcock and French NewWave films thanks to his parents, who ran a cinema club. Wanting to get practical experience before he enrolled in film school, he volunteered as a lighting and dolly grip assistant on whatever projects he could find. After attending film school in Copenhagen, he worked as a gaffer and dolly grip before working his way up the camera ranks. After he became a director of photography, in 1994, one of his first jobs was Lars von Trier's The Kingdom (Riget). "I was very fortunate to work on that - it was entirely handheld, which was extremely rare back then," he notes. "We watched the American TV show Homicide to study the camerawork"

Kress, who does his own operating, worked primarily from a dolly on Dragon Tattoo, using it to achieve subtle moves. An early scene finds Vanger sitting at his desk, gazing at a photo of his missing niece until he is overcome with emotion. Rather than starting wide and pushing in on him, Kress starts on a medium close-up of Vanger and slowly tracks back as the distraught man begins to weep. "I think tracking back is a way of emphasizing feelings," the cinematographer offers.

Kress says he is a stickler for very accurate blocking before cameras roll, even if the actors plan to improvise during the take. "The best films are those in which the cinematographer pays attention to the psychology between the characters," he remarks. "To do that, you need to know [the precise movements of the actors], but you also have to have the ability to act on impulse, to push in slighdy to catch an emotional moment or to subtly adjust the frame during a take."

A single Arricam Lite was employed for most of the shoot. For a few scenes, a second camera was brought in for Steadicam work Kress shot most of the picture with Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses, but when a dolly wasn't practical, he often put an Angenieux Optimo 24-290mm zoom on the camera so he could ride the framing. (The camera and lighting packages were provided by Dagsljus AB in Stockholm.)

Dragon Tattoo contains two especially harrowing scenes that Kress shot handheld. …

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