Six directors on the illusion of control and ‘the pitiless exposure of your weaknesses’

David Fincher (Frank Ockenfels/Netflix)

“The notion that any one person has control over 90 people who are playing dress-up is the greatest fallacy of our profession.”

Mark Olsen
January 26, 2021
Los Angeles Times

Control. When six film directors got together virtually for The Envelope Roundtable in December, the issue of control — both when you have it and when you don’t — came up again and again.

Regina King, the Oscar-, Emmy– and Golden Globe-winning actress who makes her feature debut as director with One Night In Miami,” a fictional telling of the real-life night that Malcom X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke spent together in a motel room, described herself as “a control enthusiast.”

In explaining how she moved from making Nomadland,” a stripped-down road movie starring Frances McDormand, to the upcoming Marvel action ensemble “Eternals,” Chloé Zhao said she reflected on an older interview with David Fincher, where he spoke about balancing between having a plan and allowing things to happen on set.

For his part, the notoriously exacting Fincher, director of Mank,” the story of how Herman J. Mankiewicz came to write the script that would become “Citizen Kane,” spoke candidly about how control is an illusion, “the greatest fallacy of our profession,” whereas Aaron Sorkin, director of the 1960s historical drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and an Oscar winner for his screenplay to Fincher’s own “The Social Network,” admitted how intimidated he was to be on a panel as a director alongside his former collaborator.

The British Paul Greengrass, who made the elegiac post-Civil War-set western News of the World,” added that for him, “the pitiless exposure of your weaknesses is the essence of directing.”

When asked how he came to a particularly bold creative decision in making Da 5 Bloods,” his drama about Black soldiers who fought in Vietnam, Oscar winner Spike Lee simply referred to trusting his four decades of moviemaking experience.

All six filmmakers also shared their thoughts on the future of the film industry and how they can’t wait for audiences to return to movie theaters.

Watch and read the full roundtable

Six directors tackle the idea (or is it a myth?) of controlling a film set

Oscar nominated director David Fincher on resurrecting his late father’s screenplay for “Mank.”

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