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How to get a grungy, gritty Fight Club look?


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#1 Chris Horvath

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Posted 21 October 2011 - 02:46 PM

I am DP for my digital cinematography class project in a couple weeks and was wondering if anyone had any advice on how to get that gritty, low key, contrasty look from Fight Club. I am specifically referring to the scenes in the basement of Lou's Tavern. I like the idea of using some uncorrected Kinos to give it a grungier look but am really unsure on what lights to use for a key or a kicker. Any advice would be helpful, thanks.
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#2 Justin W. King

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Posted 21 October 2011 - 07:12 PM

From the little that I read Kino Flos are not the type of fixture you would be looking for. Kino flos by their very nature are corrected for daylight or tungsten, although you could be regular fluorescent tubes and use them. This might have been what you meant before, but I think the fluorescents in use are actually practical fixtures fluorescents. Supposedly, Cronenwth used work lights and natural lighting as much as possible. I am sure someone else can talk more about what he might have used. This is according to wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt, but I leave you with a still from the film, notice the light pointed at Lou. A lot of the Look comes from how the negative was treated afterwords, and the colors used in the production design, in addition to what was done in camera.


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Wikipedia has the following information about the cinematography for Fight Club,

Cinematography
Fincher used the Super 35 format to film Fight Club since it gave him maximum flexibility in composing shots. He hired Jeff Cronenweth as cinematographer; Cronenweth's father Jordan Cronenweth was the cinematographer who worked for Fincher on the 1992 film Alien 3 but left midway through its production due to Parkinson's disease. Fincher explored visual styles in his previous films Seven and The Game, and he and Cronenweth drew elements from these styles for Fight Club.[36]
They applied a lurid style, choosing to make people "sort of shiny".[10] The appearance of the narrator's scenes without Tyler Durden were bland and realistic. The scenes with Tyler were described by Fincher as "more hyper-real in a torn-down, deconstructed senseā€”a visual metaphor of what [the narrator is] heading into". The filmmakers used heavily desaturated colors in the costuming, makeup, and art direction.[36] Helena Bonham Carter wore opalescent makeup to portray her romantic nihilistic character with a "smack-fiend patina". Fincher and Cronenweth drew influences from the 1973 film American Graffiti, which applied a mundane look to nighttime exteriors while simultaneously including a variety of colors.[10]
The crew took advantage of both natural and practical light at filming locations. The director sought various approaches to the lighting setups, for example choosing several urban locations for the city lights' effects on the shots' backgrounds. He and the crew also embraced fluorescent lighting at other practical locations to maintain an element of reality and to light the prostheses depicting the characters' injuries.[36] On the other hand, Fincher also ensured that scenes were not so strongly lit so the characters' eyes were less visible, citing cinematographer Gordon Willis's technique as the influence.[7]
Fight Club was filmed mostly at night and Fincher purposely filmed the daytime shots in shadowed locations. The crew equipped the bar's basement with inexpensive work lamps to create a background glow. Fincher avoided stylish camerawork when filming early fight scenes in the basement and instead placed the camera in a fixed position. In later fight scenes, Fincher moved the camera from the viewpoint of a distant observer to that of the fighter.[36]
The scenes with Tyler Durden were staged to conceal that the character was a mental projection of the nameless narrator. The character was not filmed in two shots with a group of people, nor was he shown in any over the shoulder shots in scenes where Tyler gives the narrator specific ideas to manipulate him. In scenes before the narrator meets Tyler, the filmmakers inserted Tyler's presence in single frames for subliminal effect.[10] Tyler appears in the background and out of focus, like a "little devil on the shoulder".[7] Fincher explained the subliminal frames: "Our hero is creating Tyler Durden in his own mind, so at this point he exists only on the periphery of the narrator's consciousness."[38]
While Cronenweth generally rated and exposed the Kodak film stock normally on Fight Club, several other techniques were applied to change its appearance. Flashing was implemented on much of the exterior night photography, the contrast was stretched to be purposely ugly, the print was adjusted to be underexposed, Technicolor's ENR silver retention was used on a select number of prints to increase the density of the film's blacks, and high-contrast print stocks were chosen to create a "stepped-on" look on the print with a dirty patina.[10]


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#3 Chris Horvath

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Posted 23 October 2011 - 09:56 AM

Thanks. I did mean using regular florescent tubes to get that green look.
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#4 Tom Jensen

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Posted 23 October 2011 - 04:03 PM

Keep in mind that production and set design had a lot to do with the look as well.
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#5 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 23 October 2011 - 09:01 PM

The flories are only green because it was shot on film.. you mention digital cinematography.. you could muck around with colour balance.. but easier just to get the green in post..
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#6 Tom Banks

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Posted 24 October 2011 - 01:05 AM

I think you're on the right track with the uncorrected fluorescent tubes! You could take advantage of using them as "practicals" (seeing them in frame) and using the simple 2bank fixtures that home depot sells. As for any supplementation, I think a lot of that gritty look can come from keeping the light source primarily overhead. But try picking up a few additional uncorrected fluorescent tubes that you can put in 4' Kino housings. Then you can diffuse and control much better for any additional lighting you need to do on CU's. I can't tell you how many times an overhead Kino setup has saved my ass!
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#7 michael street

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Posted 24 October 2011 - 11:01 AM

You should rent the Fight Club DVD. I'm not exactly sure which one, but one of the DVD's has a commentary by the cinematographer. He describes exactly how he lit that scene. Basically lots practicals and overhead lighting.
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#8 Chris Horvath

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Posted 24 October 2011 - 07:24 PM

Thank you for all the input, good base to start with.
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#9 Justin W. King

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Posted 25 October 2011 - 09:45 PM

Don't just use fluorescent lights though, if you want it to look like fight club, because he mixed fluorescents with tungsten.
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#10 James Compton

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Posted 27 October 2011 - 08:54 AM

Read the November 1999 issue of American Cinematographer, all the info is there. Use TUNGSTEN (non-flouresecent) lights, the flat and circular China-Hat type that you see in factory workshop areas. Do not make the light too soft. Pay attention to wardrobe and set design.
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#11 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 27 October 2011 - 01:50 PM

Didn't they also do an ACE or ENR process on the neg as well? I'm not 100%, but I seem to recall reading that.
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#12 James Compton

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Posted 27 October 2011 - 10:58 PM

Didn't they also do an ACE or ENR process on the neg as well? I'm not 100%, but I seem to recall reading that.



Ahh yes.. ENR. The good stuff. Yep. I remember seeing the film in the theater 4 times, then watching the DVD 6 months later. That ENR look still resonates in my mind. The same can be said for 'THE BEACH' (shot by Darius Khondji). That film also has the ENR processing on the prints.
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#13 Oli Williams

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 01:46 AM

I am DP for my digital cinematography class project in a couple weeks and was wondering if anyone had any advice on how to get that gritty, low key, contrasty look from Fight Club. I am specifically referring to the scenes in the basement of Lou's Tavern. I like the idea of using some uncorrected Kinos to give it a grungier look but am really unsure on what lights to use for a key or a kicker. Any advice would be helpful, thanks.


Be careful with flicker and shine if your using uncorrected fluorescence!
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#14 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 14 November 2011 - 01:21 AM

I think one of the things I will miss the most, when/if film ever dies out completly will be all the "mysticism" in printing and the silver retention processes. Perhaps this is too philosophical, but personally I find physical interactions far richer than electronic ones and I think as we move towards a digital dawn, such things as the "fight club look" will be lost to history. It's just not something that 'feels' right when done with bits instead of bobs.
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