David Fincher: film studios ‘don’t want to make anything that can’t make them a billion dollars’

Robbie Collin, Film Critic
November 14, 2020
The Telegraph

An hour or so into the 1999 premiere of Fight Club, David Fincher slipped outside for some air. The director hadn’t known exactly what to expect when his brutally violent black comedy was selected for the Venice Film Festival, but whatever the dream scenario had been, this wasn’t it. The walkouts had started early, and become a steady stream. The only audience members laughing were his leading men, Brad Pitt and Edward Norton – though in fairness, the two had shared a joint beforehand. The first review off the presses had described Fincher’s film as “an inadmissible assault on personal decency” with a fascist bent, and the festival crowd weren’t noticeably any more enthused.

“The resounding thuds every scene landed with just became too much,” Fincher, now 58, tells me from home via Zoom. He recalls sitting on the steps outside and watching half a dozen disgusted older women file past: “all wearing at least one item of leopard print, like six Anne Bancrofts in The Graduate.” One evidently recognised the American enfant terrible and hissed something to her companions, who looked across and shook their heads in sync. “It was then I knew that what we’d done was wrong,” he says, beaming with pride.

Fincher’s tremendous latest film – his first since Gone Girl in 2014 – is unlikely to cause many viewers to storm home, not least because they’ll already be there when they watch it. Mank is a Netflix production, filmed just before the pandemic struck, but edited, polished and due to be released under lockdown conditions. Set in the Golden Age of Hollywood and shot in silvery monochrome, it follows the political chicanery and personal vendettas that led to the writing of Citizen Kane: a film released in 1941, and still widely considered the greatest ever made. Mank’s hero isn’t Orson Welles, Kane’s startlingly young director and star (he was 25 when it was released), but Gary Oldman’s Herman J Mankiewicz – a wildly talented screenwriter and incorrigible gambler and drunk, whom Welles enlisted to ghostwrite the script.

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Mank: Interviews. Charles Dance

Charles Dance plays newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst in Mank.

Dance appeared as prison doctor Clemens in Fincher’s first film Alien3 (1992):

“First of all, I’m a huge fan of his. And I don’t say that about all directors that I’ve worked with. But when I first worked with David, the minute he walked onto the set and started to talk, I thought ‘right, this guy is clever'”.

CINEMA-Magazin (YouTube)
November 13, 2020

Pop Culture Confidential: Arliss Howard (“Mank”)

Christina Jeurling Birro
November 13, 2020
Pop Culture Confidential

Don’t miss this exclusive and compelling conversation with actor, writer, and director Arliss Howard (Full Metal Jacket, Natural Born Killers, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Amistad, Moneyball, Manhunt)

A journey into his process, his brilliant performance as MGM’s Louis B Mayer in David Fincher’s new epic feature ‘Mank’, working with Fincher, Kubrick, Spielberg and Stone and so much more!

Mank’ premieres theatrically in some territories on Nov 13th. On Netflix Dec 4.

Arliss Howard (2001, Evan Agostini)

Lensing Creativity Goes Remote

The pandemic has accelerated many technical trends that were already underway

David Heuring
November 11, 2020

Necessity is the mother of invention, and nothing proves this proverb more true than the evolution of film and television production technology in the age of COVID-19. While the field has always changed rapidly even in normal times, the pace of change and adaptation has accelerated over the past six months.

This adjustment has posed many questions. Beyond personal protective equipment, mandatory testing, on-set safety monitors, walking lunches and corona contingency fees, will the pandemic have enduring effects in the creative, collaborative endeavor that is filmmaking? The technology to work remotely has essentially been in place for some time, but will the pandemic finally push us over into a new normal?

Numerous existing technology trends are being suddenly supercharged by the necessities imposed by the coronavirus. Shooting close to home has never been more appealing, and that impulse aligns neatly with ongoing advancements in LED backings and virtual production. In the world of image processing, connectivity solutions such as those offered by Moxion, Frame.io and Sohonet were already bringing immediacy and super-high resolution to a wide variety of devices without regard to location — and now those virtues are suddenly in much higher demand. And remote collaboration solutions including PIX are looking positively prescient.

Director David Fincher’s team found that the PIX production backbone, a tool they’ve helped develop over the years, facilitated safe group creativity but also enhanced efficiency on the forthcoming Mank.

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Total Film: Mank cast on working with David Fincher

“It does feel like Groundhog Day”

Matt MaytumJack Shepherd
November 11, 2020
Total Film (GamesRadar+)

There are few directors as infamously meticulous as David Fincher. Amanda Seyfried – who appears in Fincher’s upcoming movie Mank, about the writing of Citizen Kane – previously revealed that one scene took around 200 takes to capture properly. For the latest issue of the magazine, Total Film asked the team behind Mank about working with Fincher, with the director himself being the first to admit that he can be quite demanding. 

“It was exhausting in the beginning, I think, for him,” Fincher says of leading actor Gary Oldman. “Because I’m fairly didactic about, ‘These are the things that the scene needs to accomplish for me, and we will continue to play, to look for ways to underline these ideas that are as subtle as we can make them.’

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Total Film: David Fincher discusses the state of play in Hollywood

“There’s really only two seasons for movies: ‘spandex summer’ and ‘affliction winter'”

Matt Maytum, Jack Shepherd
November 10, 2020
Total Film (GamesRadar+)

David Fincher’s Mank was a long time coming. The director has been drumming up interest in the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz, the screenwriter behind Citizen Kane, since 1997 – as soon as his writer father Jack Fincher (a journalist and author) had finished the script.

“Unless you’re making a tentpole movie that has a Happy Meal component to it, no one’s interested,” Fincher tells Total Film for the latest issue of the magazine, headlined by Mank. However, after many years fighting for Mank to get made, the perfect opportunity presented itself when Netflix asked what Fincher would like to make next (the filmmaker had worked with the streamer on House Of Cards, Love, Death & Robots, and Mindhunter).

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Total Film: Gary Oldman goes back to Hollywood’s Golden Age in this exclusive look at David Fincher’s Mank

A new look at the Netflix awards contender.

Matt Maytum
November 10, 2020
Total Film (GamesRadar+)

On paper, David Fincher’s Mank is a movie about the making of Orson Welles’ 1941 classic, Citizen Kane. But, in reality, it’s much more than that – as our five-star review indicates.

It tells the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz: the ‘Mank’ of the title. A self-sabotaging screenwriter, he’s a genius wit and knows the industry inside out, but his heavy drinking and reckless gambling scupper his chances to get ahead. An opportunity comes calling when Welles offers him the opportunity to collaborate on a screenplay with the working title, American… 

The movie – which is a 30-years-in-the-making passion project for Fight Club and The Social Network director Fincher – stars Oscar-winner Gary Oldman as Mank. You can take an exclusive look at Oldman in the film below, courtesy of our sister publication Total Film magazine. Plus, a new look at Oldman behind the scenes shooting an old-school driving scene, and hanging about between takes with Fincher.

Read the full preview and pick up a copy of the new issue of Total Film

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Behind the Scenes: Mank

Erik Messerschmidt, ASC, reveals the techniques behind Mank, David Fincher’s digitally dexterous emulation of Hollywood’s classic era.

Adrian Pennington
November 9, 2020

David Fincher’s passion project about the Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz looks, as intended, like a love letter to 1930s cinema. The filmmakers employ sophisticated digital techniques to pay homage to the cinematic bravura that helps Orson Welles’ masterpiece regularly top the list of all-time classics. 

It’s a film the director originally intended as the follow-up to his 1997 thriller The Game, shortly after his father Howard, a journalist at LIFE magazine, wrote the script. For one reason and another, and reports suggest it was Fincher’s insistence on shooting in black and white, Mank was delayed until Netflix greenlit production late last year. Principal photography finished in February, just days before California went into lockdown. 

Fincher of course kickstarted the streamer’s original content by masterminding House of Cards. He has subsequently made two series of serial killer investigation Mindhunter, all sixteen episodes shot by Erik Messerschmidt ASC who is Fincher’s collaborator here.

Mank follows the ‘scathing social critic and alcoholic’, played by Gary Oldman as he races to finish the Kane screenplay for Welles. It also stars Charles Dance as newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and Amanda Seyfried as Heart’s girlfriend Marion Davies, satirized by Welles and Mankiewicz as Charles Foster Kane and mistress Susan Alexander. The connection with Hearst is strengthened by the fact that Mankiewicz was a frequent guest of Davies at Hearst’s fabulous California castle, dubbed Xanadu in Kane. 

As a homage to WWII-era Hollywood the decision to emulate the look pioneered by cinematographers like Gregg Toland in digital format is a bold one.

“For this movie we wanted to shoot very deep focus photography for most of the film and then be very specific about where we used shallow focus,” says Messerschmidt. “Shooting on film would have significantly limited our creative choices, particularly with focus and depth of field.”

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