The Social Network: Henley Sequence

Fincherfanatic has finally seen The Social Network last night! I was blown away, yet I am far from able to say how I would rate this movie. Sure to see it again very soon. In this post, I am not reviewing the film, I want to share another online discovery: The film's most striking visual moment. And some trivia along with it.

The Social Network, now that I have seen it, is Fincher's least flashy film. It certainly is beautiful and more; it is perfectly precise in it's editing, framing, camera movement, etc – as usual for Fincher. I have never seen Fincher miss a shot, and he doesn't in The Social Network. What's notable, however, is that The Social Network doesn't have any scenes or sequences that are in the tradition of the Zodiac killings, the San Francisco highrise time-lapse, the bird's eye view of the taxi crawling through S.F. and pretty much Panic Room and Fight Club in their entirety – all but this one sequence.

The Henley sequence is a row-crew racing sequence (and fantastically I have added a link for you to watch it online, below. It isn't essential to the plot; not a spoiler, so you can watch this even if you haven't seen the film). This sequence stands out against the rest of the movie, by its cinematography as well as its scoring. Musically, Reznor and Ross decided not to write original music for the sequence but adapt Edvard Grieg's infamous Peer Gynt Op. 49, "In The Hall Of The Mountain King". Cronenweth and Fincher chose to shoot the sequence with a special camera technique, tilt shift isolated focus.

In a recent interview, Fincher mentions why:

We could only shoot 3 races at the Henley Royal Regatta; We had to shoot 4 days of boat inserts in Eton. The only way to make the date for release was to make the backgrounds as soft as humanly possible. I decided it might be more “subjective” if the world around the races fell away in focus, leaving the rowers to move into and out of planes of focus to accentuate their piston-like effort.

David Fincher

And if you have ever wondered where Mark Romanek's snapshot of Fincher was coming from: That came about when David Fincher was shooting inserts for this very sequence in July. Hence the water in the background.

Effects house A52 did effects work on the sequence, although I am not sure, what exactly they were doing replacing backgrounds and creating some of the tilt shift effect. Anway, they are the ones, who did put it on their website. So you can watch it online and see what all this fuzz is about!

Enjoy:
The Social Network: Henley Sequence
Additional info about the shooting of the sequence

29 comments:

  1. A friend of mine said the Henley sequence felt like an artist adding his signature to the bottom of a painting. I completely agreed with him. And I mean that in a good way. Great scene. Beautifully shot.

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  2. I love that scene! It was an awesome moment of...whimsy? Beautiful.

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  3. To be honest, I don't like the scene at all. Tilt-Shift Focus looks so cheesy and not worthy of this scene. Anyone with a program can make tilt-shift focus, so it's nothing special or noteworthy - they used it to save money and time. Looks like a third-rate music video director made this scene.

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  4. ... and the music in this scene is JUST HORRIBLE!!! Sounds like someone took a Windows 95 MIDI to score this scene... ridiculous!

    You can make tilt shift focus online, it's that easy: http://tiltshiftmaker.com/

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  5. What's with the POLAROID product placement in this scene? Did Fincher get paid by them to stick to a rowing boat and place it prominently in one shot?

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  6. I agree the music is horrible! And it doesn't look like Fincher's style one bit. Apart from some of the isolated focus shots of the rowers this could have been shot by any hack director out there.

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  7. I agree! Useless sequence. Felt like Fincher had a new toy to play with. And that music is so ridiculous.

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  8. it's a matter of taste.

    they didn't have 100 mil.
    but creative/financial reasons come and go.
    fincher made a decision.
    it was a brilliant one.

    five years from now, you'll get it.

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  9. Yeah, right. We're all so stupid not to get it right now, we'll have to wait five years until we understand and appreciate it... like a dumb blonde who laughs 48 hours after she's heard a joke.

    Thanks for the condescending judgement of our intelligence, anonymous. I'm glad at least you are smart enough to see its brilliance.

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  10. Calm down, whimsy. It's all just opinion.

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  11. i'm glad that you're glad, whimsy.
    post a link to prove your... intell-something.

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  12. ...otherwise you just say words.
    don't be afraid to be like us, hombre.
    a blonde.

    to put it simply: trust fincher.

    when a great mind chooses something that seems clearly/obviously/definitely wrong... there's a catch. it always is.

    i hope you don't admire fincher purely for his visual techno-sensibility & surgical aesthetics.
    trust his guts. enjoy his choices.

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  13. nice
    http://moviesblog.mtv.com/2010/10/11/morgan-freeman-rendezvous-with-rama-david-fincher/

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  14. Polaroid is on the side of the Harvard boat as they sponsored the Harvard VIII back when they raced at Henley in 2004. In fact, Harvard store that same boat in the UK and use it whenever they come over to compete. It was a case of Fincher & Co re-creating the the race on film as best they could

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  15. I thought the clip was great, but they should have had the crews racing as though they were charging for the finish, I understand the slow mo effect emphasises the tension but they looked like they were not trying - which they weren't they really were rowing that slowly! and why was i reduced to a smudge in the crowds at the finish? I was there!! My chance of fame gone... still, thought it was an exciting edit. bravo

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  16. Oh, tell us more about your work as a background actor! How did you get the job on TSN? What was it like on set? Did you meet the man himself?

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  17. I think the whole scene is just an ad for polaroid.

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  18. Agree. And a bad commercial to boot. I understand Polaroid sponsored the event, but that doesn't mean Fincher HAS to feature it so prominently. If he was going for facts, he could also have shown other details. To me it seems clear that this is product placement.

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  19. And, honestly, this sequence is not typical Fincher, or him putting his signature on a painting. He's not the first director to do this, and he's not even doing it better than other directors. There's a cheap Allstate insurance commercial that does the exact same thing, so don't blush over Fincher's genius or whatever over this scene. Here's the ad with the same tilt-shift effect, and better music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oK4nCqddc18

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  20. Someone even did a tilt-shift scene with a normal camera (Canon Eos 5d Mark II) and put it on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBbKVtXWWQQ&feature=fvw

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  21. R. Lee Ermey from Se7en (the police commander) as a therapist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhlWddAXSRA

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  22. Leaving the Poloraid ad on the Harvard boats seems like neither a mistake nor product placement. How better to illustrate what was then happening to the world of the Winklevii then to slap the name "Polaroid" on their boat? Polaroid was once a huge donor to Harvard, its fortune made in applying Harvard-bred technology to a widely used consumer product (the Polaroid Land Camera). By 2004, Polaroid was bankrupt, its breakthrough technology obsolete, its influence at Harvard and in the world long-ago eclipsed by upstarts.

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  23. It's not a useless scene. It accentuates the struggle of the plaintiffs in the case. This is prefaced earlier in the film when one of the brothers is accused of not understanding how important it is to come in first. It was an analogy to their fight and struggle. These guys were determined competitors and ambitious men. Losing just one race was devastating to them. All the more so when they lose millions of dollars.

    Lots of films these days do have throw away scenes, but narrators don't. You don't put that much effort and time and work into a throw away scene unless it contributes to the narrative. Michael Bay would, but someone like Fincher would not.

    And it doesn't matter if it's easy to accomplish tilt shift photography. That's beside the point. Difficulty does not equal brilliance. And yes the music is jaunting and odd, but put it together with the shots and the editing, and it's amazing. He created a dialogue-free drama driven by emotion and music. It's almost operatic to a lesser extent.

    The tilt shift is just one of the tools used for the scene, and even if it served a practical purpose, it contributed to the scene as a whole.

    If some of you are so good at filmmaking, then get out there and do it yourself and blow Fincher out of the water. It takes guts to create something, and just a keyboard and a jealousy to bitch and moan about someone else's creation.

    Save the vitriol for the countless number of filmmakers who don't give a crap about story, narrative, or the audience. There are plenty of them. The real auteurs out there like Fincher are doing a hell of a lot more for filmmaking than them, or quite honestly, any of us right now.

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  24. Why so serious? Have you eaten an English literature professor for breakfast?

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  25. i really liked the tilt shift choice in this scene especially in the opening shot, it gives the whole landscape a real 'toy land' feel that i think works well for the story line, here are these little toy people bustling about in their little toy race and how inconsequential it all seems compared to where the main character is headed.

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  26. The narrow depth of field the tilt shift creates also works really well for the rowers. In a race, your focus is only one thing, winning and the moment, everything else gets blurred out and doesn't matter, even if just for that short period of time. The camera parallels this, we see the rowers in sharp focus and anything just a few feet away is already blurred out. This along with the slow motion I think works really well to show the intensity of the race.

    Now that somebody's mentioned it the music does kind of sound like it was made with a cheap midi keyboard, but I think it still works pretty well: the melody and build up are intense but the cheesyness of the midi like tymbres is almost mocking the brothers saying as intense as your efforts are they are silly and you will lose in the end. Also the jarring break down at the end effectively emphasizes the frustration of their loss in the race just like I was frustrated the tune wasn't able to reach the regular triumphant conclusion classical peaces usually reach.

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  27. I'm amazed at how polarized the opinions are on this sequence and I will continue to polarize them because this sequence was freaking awesome!

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  28. I find it amazing that not even a single commenter chose to mention the purpose of the scene itself - a metaphor for the Winklevii losing an "excruciatingly close" race. It seems that in celebrating Fincher's visual genius, people have forgotten that every single frame of every shot of every single scene he directs has a purpose. We see only what he chooses to show us. As for the sequence itself, my personal interpretation is that the tilt-shift effect (which inherently creates a sensation of miniaturization) was to emphasize how small-minded and tiny the Winklevii's world and intentions are. Here they are in this tiny little bubble of their own, while Zuckerberg takes Facebook across the UK. And a lot more too...please let me know if I'm making sense, I'd love to discuss/ debate this sequence further. I personally felt it was the icing on the cake in the film, and yes, it is also David Fincher's little indulgence in a mid-budget production. I think he's earned that right.

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