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How the director of The Social Network makes his movies look like games

David Fincher’s camera stays with you

David Fincher is a perfectionist when it comes to how he shoots his films. The director of Fight Club, The Social Network, Zodiac, Gone Girl and many more films and televisions shows not only knows exactly how he wants each shot to look, but his style has a strange way of taking over the way you see the world itself once the credits have rolled.

You can watch Nerdwriter1’s involved breakdown of the technique in the video above, but it has to do with how Fincher tracks character movement across a scene. The camera is always locked to the actions and reactions of Fincher’s subjects, which turn even subtle movements into camera actions that change how you look at the action.

This style of filming can’t be easy on the crew or the actor, because it leaves very little room for improvisation. Not only must the camera person know what the actor is going to do, everyone involved has to be ready to move at exactly the same time. Which means even actions that seem as if they come from a character’s hesitation is actually part of a carefully choreographed dance where everyone has to move at precisely the right moment.

It makes a huge difference. This is how a Fincher shot looks compared to a more traditional shot where the camera isn’t locked to the character.

What might be a subtle movement from an actor in the hands of another director becomes a motion that shifts the entire frame. It doesn’t just focus the action, it allows us to feel like we’re inside the head of each character. He’s not showing us what the character is doing, he’s showing us how the character is feeling.

What’s interesting about this technique is how much it emulates how most third-person games also present their world to the player. The camera is often locked to your avatar, with a narrow range of motion available before the scene shifts. What can look clinical and distant to fans of cinema may look natural and even effortless to those of us who grew up playing games.

The bad news is that you’ll now notice this every time you watch a David Fincher film, and these movements are somewhat more distracting than effective when you see them coming.

But this trick is part of the reason why Fincher’s films look so distinct, and why that feeling chases you around for a time after the movie or television show is over.

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