Filming a Scene from David Fincher’s Se7en
We all have our favorite movie directors.
Mine are easy to choose.
Nolan. Villeneuve. Cuarón. Waititi. And Fincher.
So when a fellow filmmaker asked me if I’d want to DP a short film inspired by a scene from David Fincher’s Se7en and test some new lights with him, it was a no brainer.
So I drove up to Burbank for a one day shoot with Rubidium Wu, who you might recognize from his YouTube channel Crimson Engine.
The goal was to recreate the style, lighting, and multi camera setup of this scene in Se7en. Brad Pitt. Morgan Freeman. 3 detectives having a verbal stand off about a potential serial killer case and who should work it.
In the video above I broke down how we planned our version, lit the scene, where we placed cameras to match Fincher’s style, whether using the C700 over the C200 was really worth it, and I’ll show you the final short film scene at end.
Re-creating an Iconic Movie’s Look
Instead of trying to recreate this iconic movie, Rubidium instead used it as inspiration for writing an original script. He then casted three actors and set designed a small corner of his home office.
When you’re making short films on a budget, three things you don’t usually have are space, time, or a large crew. You’re in the only cramped room you could find, always in a hurry, and don’t have extra hands to help.
What tends to go out the window when you don’t have those luxuries is great lighting, which if you want to make something feel cinematic, is a must have.
So with those same limitations on this shoot, for lighting we used these lightweight, high power, but incredibly versatile LED lights from Intellytech, who also sponsored this project.
We used three of their Lite Cloth products.
I’ve use a few of these kinds of flexible LED panels in the past and here’s what I specifically liked about the Intellytech ones.
They are bi-color, foldable, remote controlled, and use a V-mount battery.
They are twice as bright and around half the cost as other mats that are the same size.
They communicate and connect with each other so you can scale up to using more lights on bigger jobs.
They pack down really small into their lightweight cases.
They come with a small soft box skirt and diffusion, so you don’t need a grip truck full of diffusion and light modifiers.
To match the lighting setup from the scene in Se7en, we put one actor at a desk with a large window behind him. To light the scene, we started with creating a constant light source outside the window. We used the 2 foot by 4 foot Lite Cloth Mega at full power. It is a massive & powerful light source. We set it to daylight balanced at 5600 Kelvin. We also placed a grid just outside the window to direct the light more.
Inside, since Fincher likes to use a lot of practical lights, we used a few lamps with tungsten bulbs in them. These were going to be seen in camera and would help motivate any other lights we used off-camera. For the interior lights we used both a 100 and 50 sized Lite Cloth, set to tungsten at 3200 Kelvin, to match the practicals.
In between changing camera angles we would move the lights if they were now in the background of the shot or to provide better hair lights. We also would easily dim or brighten each light depending on the actor’s blocking or the aperture we were using.
Camera Placement & Lens Selections
In the two and half minute scene from Se7en we were using as an inspiration, there are no less than 12 different camera angles David Fincher used. (Not counting any they shot that didn’t make the final cut.)
So when it came to planning out the 4-page scene, all three actors had key lines or sections of the script that we knew we’d probably want the final edit to show them, but running through the whole scene with each angle allowed us to capture reactions, side glances, and get more options from each actor in both wide angle and close up shots. Plus it let them act out the scene in full each time.
Here is the original plan Rubidium made for the 7 angles we needed to film from and we ended up using 6 total.
We filmed using Canon Cinema Prime lenses on both a Canon C700 and Canon C200. I was manually pulled focus on every shot. No relying on any face tracking auto focus like I usually can. Darn.
My biggest lesson learned from this shoot is that it is way harder than it may seem to both pull focus AND frame your shot using longer lenses like a 50mm or 85mm. Luckily we were using Canon Cinema Primes which fed dual pixel focus information to the screen on the C200 so I could get manual focus confirmation, which was clutch for filming with such a shallow depth of field.
And since our crew was just 3 people, we didn’t have an audio person, so we just lav’d all three actors up and I monitored audio while I DP’d. On a future shoot that is this complex, I’d definitely have a person there to only focus on audio capture to get an even cleaner mix.
Special thanks to Rubidium Wu for having me involved in this project and thank you to Intellytech for providing lights for us to use on this project.
If you want to learn more about the lights we used on this project, you can watch Rubidium’s video.