Empire Magazine: David Fincher Opens His Personal Fight Club Archive

Ella Kemp
October 1, 2019
Empire

It’s been 20 years since David Fincher’s cult classic Fight Club first exploded onto screens. The film, based on Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel of the same name, repelled and excited audiences in equal measure when it was released, changing the optics of how political cinema could or should be – with the first worries of copycat rebels emerging from the gutters. Today, Fight Club boasts a loyal and fervent fanbase still full of praise, discomfort, conspiracy theories and fascination for the iconic relic of modern cinema.

Exclusively for Empire and Nev Pierce, David Fincher opened his personal photography archives in the 2020 Preview Issue, leafing through his memories on-set, and sharing insights on many of the film’s key ingredients – from the setting of Project Mayhem’s headquarters, to his stellar leading trio of Edward NortonBrad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter, to the mechanics of successfully shooting Edward Norton’s cheek off. Here’s a sneak preview of the feature, in which Fincher explains why the dynamic of his three stars, as the story’s mismatched trio of lonely and dangerous sociopaths, worked so well – with photos from Fincher’s own collection.

Fight Club archive material courtesy of David Fincher. Black and white photography by Merrick Morton. Special thanks to Ceán Chaffin and Andrea McKee.

David Fincher on his leading trio:

“They were a very playful and fun group. Brad is a kind of feline influence. He’s like, ‘Are all the instincts here aligned?’ and, ‘Can we now play and find an interesting mistake or a movement or a gesture?’ Edward is very much, ‘Tell me in advance all the things you want me to hit and let me blow your mind.’ And Helena is sort of a blend of the two. She’s disciplined and, ‘What is it you’re trying to get across? Let me work backwards from that a little bit.’

Edward had only made a few movies and I think he wanted to get it right. There’s a tendency for him to come across as somebody who’s trying to contain or control what’s happening. But really I think what he wants to know is, ‘Where is this thing headed? Let me try and help you get it there.’ He has a very different process than the other two. But when they were together, they were a lot of fun. As far as having an intensely watchable and charismatic triumvirate, they were a ball.”

Read the full interview with Fincher including more unseen photos in the December 2019 issue of Empire – on sale now.

Previous profiles and interviews with Fincher by Pierce at nevpierce.com

Mindhunter Season 2 VFX Breakdown by Territory Studio

November 1, 2019
Territory Studio

Charting the development of the FBI’s behavioural science unit in late 1970’s USA, and based on the true-crime book ‘Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit‘, Netflix‘s TV series required an effortless recreation of time and place.

We worked with the production team behind Netflix’s second season of Mindhunter, initially to produce a promo shot which was published across their social media channels, and then to create some stand-alone VFX shots. The scene shots ranged from creating CG backdrops, torches and microphones, to recreating authentic vehicles and helicopters for search scenes. This fascinating series allowed us to become part of legendary Director, David Fincher’s world.

From promo shots…

With microphones providing a pivotal accessory throughout both seasons, we were asked to create a teaser recreating their iconic first microphone, which also features in the opening credits, in CG. The teaser was used across their official Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels before the launch of season 2, garnering hundreds of thousands of views.

… to final scene shots…

Providing final shots in 6K meant working in the finest of detail, at the highest quality. Working closely with Fincher, and the producer, Peter Mavromates, feedback was precise and invaluable, making for a smooth and speedy process. From researching types of trees for the woodland car scene, to playing with atmospheric lighting and weather conditions, we enjoyed this project from start to finish.

Watch the VFX Breakdown reel videos

Thanks to Vincent Frei and The Art of VFX.

“Only Two Guys to a Fight”

Fight Club At Twenty.

Ray Pride
October 31, 2019
Newcity Film, Newcity

Fight Club” is twenty years old. In the decades since its release, box-office disappointment and reinvention through myriad DVD and Blu-ray releases (thirteen million DVDs by 2014), Brad Pitt established himself as a productive, adventurous film producer, with his Plan B productions involved with this summer’s “Ad Astra,” but also award-winning work like “Moonlight,” “Killing Them Softly,” “Tree of Life,” “Twelve Years A Slave,” “Okja” and “The Last Black Man In San Francisco.” Edward Norton, who has moved away from acting, directed and stars in his own adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel, “Motherless Brooklyn” in November.

The world had not yet seen, or reacted, to David Fincher’s film at the time of this bantering interview with Pitt and Norton. (A review that includes my contemporaneous interview with Palahniuk is here.)

August 1999:

“Fight Club” is a ride, a sneaky mindfuck of a movie, and a thunderous journey into the darkest parts of one man’s mind. Within a few dozen seconds, we rush through someone’s brain and out onto a rooftop where another character holds a gun in his mouth. The ride begins.

Brad Pitt plays Tyler Durden, a trickster character who insurance agency flunky Edward Norton meets at a time when he’s been wishing for someone who could push him over the edge. By night, Norton’s unnamed narrator trolls support groups for the grievously ill, pretending to have illnesses in order to sob. That’s where he meets fellow grief-ghoul Helena Bonham Carter. But that’s set-up.   The impression is out there that “Fight Club” is about yuppies gathering in alleys to beat each other up. Uh-uh. There’s more to it.

Everyone’s stuck—in their jobs, their bodies or their heads. Except for Tyler, everyone’s a flunky, a waiter, a cop, solid blue-collar stock. “Fight Club” is one of the funniest, most piercing movies you’d hope for, a ferocious satire that builds on the madness of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, and in its many richly detailed scenes, exceeds even what David Fincher accomplished in “Seven.”

When we talked, no one knew yet if “Fight Club” could be the first epic audience movie of the new millennium, or whether it would tank. Pitt, thirty-five, has a reputation as a reluctant interview, but after talking with him, it seems it may be more out of modesty than ego or fear. Norton, thirty, was his customary talkative self.

Does the actor Brad Pitt exist in the universe of “Fight Club”?

Pitt: [shaking his head] What does that mean, what does that mean, what does that mean?

There are in-jokes throughout the movie, marquees showing “Seven Years in Tibet,” “Wings of the Dove” and “Larry Flynt.” And Tyler tells the narrator at one point, “I’m what you want to be like.” If you ask guys what they want to be like, a typical guy would be happy to be you.

Norton: I thought that was a great perversion of Bradley’s baggage.

Pitt: Yeah. Perverting the baggage. That was dealing more with the projection and the image, y’know, that’s out there. Good and bad. Myself, I’ve certainly never felt a part of that.

You talk about good-looking guys in the movies, a few names come up: Mel Gibson, Brad Pitt…

Norton: Edward Norton.

Pitt: Edward Norton. You sexy fool!

Norton: He never hurts my feelings.

There’s a lot of yelling in the movie, it seems cathartic, especially in the bedroom scenes with Helena.

Pitt. [whispers] Sex. You look through the crack and you just see all these crazy gymnastics going. Doing gymnastics. Yeah, we’re just jumping on the bed.

You’ve worked with David Fincher before…

Pitt: He’s one of the guys leading the pack. There are a lot of interesting guys out there, who are pushing the medium, but I’ve said this before, I think Finch is picking up where Kubrick left off.

Norton: If anyone can do it, he can.

Pitt: This thing he created here is extraordinary. It’s beyond all our hopes and he always set out with an image of what this thing could be. This thing just roars.

Norton: I don’t feel like I’ve seen a film—

Pitt: It’s a monster.

Norton: —That’s that far out there in terms of its technique, its use of style to enhance the emotional themes of a narrative. When you work with Fincher, you slowly absorb that he is the complete filmmaker. He is the most comprehensive modern filmmaker. He has a complete command of all the tools that are available to a filmmaker now. He’s as good a DP as his DP, he’s as good at sound—

Pitt: —all his tweaking—

Norton: —his technical tweaking as the guys who work for him. He’s an excellent script doctor—

Pitt:—A storyteller.

Norton: He’ll even come in and give you a good line reading at times. And yet he’s dealing in f/stops. He knows more about CGI as anyone.

Pitt: And not only that, ideas. He takes whatever groundbreaking technology is available, like the Rolling Stones video in Central Park where they’re giants. There was this technique meant for something else, and Fincher goes, “Can’t I take this and actually make them people?” He’s inventive that way. But on a directorial level, this thing is one to be studied. There are so many things that are fine-tuned, from sound on. All the way from opening up coming out of a brain to the product placement. Any product placement you see, like Pepsi machines, it’s always put in a somewhat violent scene. It’s just these little, little comments that are more subliminal than anything.

Read the full interview

Shot on RED: MINDHUNTER

Michele K. Short / Netflix

The show’s look is as meticulous as the mechanics of police work it depicts.

October 21, 2019
RED Digital Cinema

Going inside Mindhunter Season 2: there’s a contradiction at the heart of Mindhunter, the highly rated Netflix drama. For all the efforts of creator David Fincher and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt to craft a minimalist aesthetic for this ripped-from-the headlines chronicle of the modern serial killer and its FBI profilers, the show itself continues to win plaudits for how it stylistically marries editorial with subject.

Season 1 was lauded for shining a light onto this particularly murky corner of the criminal psyche with its desaturated cinematography. “David and I continued with what we had put together for the first season,” Messerschmidt explains. “If anything, Season 2 is even more structured and formalist. That classical aesthetic is driven a lot by the content. The show is very measured in its approach to a story about serial killers so we felt the photography should be restrained and simple.”

Miles Crist / Netflix

Messerschmidt photographed all nine episodes of the new season which returned to Netflix after a two-year hiatus. Directors Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), Carl Franklin (House of Cards) and Fincher took charge of blocks of three. Before taking responsibility to shape the look of Mindhunter’s first run, Messerschmidt had worked as a gaffer on shows like Mad Men and Bones, and then the feature film Gone Girl where he first came into contact with Fincher.

Definitive if subtle changes were made for Mindhunter’s latest season, the most notable of which was shooting with the custom XENOMORPH with HELIUM 8K S35 sensor and being able to monitor HDR on set.

Read the full profile

Fight Club Turns 20: Interview with the Film’s Screenwriter Jim Uhls

The fight cannot be a lie.

October 7, 2019
Storius Magazine

This month, Fight Club turns twenty. David Fincher’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, written for the screen by Jim Uhls and starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter, became a movie classic that has generated every form of cultural reference, from memes to research papers. Ranking #10 on IMDb’s Top 250 best-movie list and lending “The first rule of Fight Club” catchphrase to teen chats and corporate meetings alike, the film has come to occupy a unique niche in modern culture.

On the anniversary of the movie’s release, Fight Club’s screenwriter Jim Uhls spoke with Storius, reflecting on the film’s journey and lasting influence, adaptation challenges, fan theories, and his screenwriting techniques.

STORIUS: Today, twenty years after its release, Fight Club seems surprisingly contemporary, especially considering how many changes our society has gone through since 1999. It has entered the cultural lexicon, is often referenced even by people who haven’t seen it, and doesn’t seem to age much. What do you attribute the movie’s endurance to?

It hits a nerve with each generation that discovers it, seemingly because the basic life circumstances of the viewer, whether in 1999 or 2019, are the same. Part of that nerve is the idea of how self-worth is defined — both by society and in one’s mind — which are usually the same.

But, in this film, they become different. Men in their twenties, still puzzled about what they should do with their lives, are discovering a different way to define self-worth. A group of them meet to experience something that is outside the parameters of civilization. Each fight is one-on-one violence between two men who have no animosity towards each other, might not even know each other. They’re doing it because it’s a ritual, a primal ritual, in which they take part both by doing it and by watching others do it. It’s physical combat, wordless, and true — i.e., the fights are actually happening, so they are true. Other things all around these men can be lies, with or without words, but the fight cannot be a lie.

Another part of that nerve is Tyler Durden’s contempt for materialism, consumerism, the impossible ideals invented by advertising, and in effect — everything that is fake, or a lie, or a pathway to soullessness — all constantly bombarding us, in our “civilized” world. I’ve been repeatedly surprised by females, from teenage to senior citizens, telling me they love the film. It’s clearly aimed at a form of emancipation for young men, but part of the nerve it hits must resonate for women.

STORIUS: It’s hard to believe now that the movie was considered a failure when it was released, and that it took a few years and a DVD release to turn it into a financial success and a cultural phenomenon. Why do you think the film had such a bumpy road to recognition?

The bumpy road, the period of initial domestic release, was largely due to the vexing challenge of how to make a trailer for the film that promotes what the film is. It wasn’t an easy task. And it wasn’t achieved.

I ran into a friend about two weeks after the initial release, and he said he hadn’t gotten to the film yet, but he would; he just wasn’t a big fan of boxing movies.

“Boxing movies.” That’s a solid example of someone not having any idea of what the film was about during the time when it was vital to get that across to the public.

Read the full interview

It’s in his blood! Jeff Cronenweth, ASC Tells His Story

Jeff Cronenweth on the set of Gone Girl (2014, Merrick Morton)

Christine Bunish
October 11, 2019
Creative Content Wire

Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, ASC lensed his first feature, “Fight Club,” in 1998.  He earned Best Cinematography nominations from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the American Society of Cinematographers for two more collaborations with director David Fincher, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011) and “The Social Network” (2010).  Cronenweth also shot Fincher’s “Gone Girl” (2014), Kathryn Bigelow’s “K-19: The Widowmaker” (2002) and Sasha Gervasi’s “Hitchcock” (2012).  He recently completed director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s “A Million Little Pieces,” based on the literary hit.

In addition to his feature career, Cronenweth is known for his stylish and CLIO Award-winning music videos and commercials.  In the last two years he shot music videos for Katie Perry, Jennifer Lopez, Pink, Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift.  A native Angelino, Cronenweth studied filmmaking at the University of Southern California (USC) and began his professional career apprenticing to some of the industry’s greatest cinematographers, including Sven Nykvist, ASC, John Toll, ASC, Conrad Hall, ASC and his father, the late Jordan Cronenweth, ASC.

Cronenweth, behind the camera A on left, and his crew set up double coverage for a scene between Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and the film’s nameless narrator (Edward Norton). On the right, B camera operator (and future Panic Room cinematographer) Conrad W. Hall. (1999, Merrick Morton)

What was your pathway into this field? 

“My great-grandfather owned a photo store in Pennsylvania.  My dad’s dad won the last Oscar given for portrait photography: He was a staff photographer for Columbia [Pictures]. My grandmother was a Ziegfeld Follies dancer.  My dad [Jordan Cronenweth, ASC] won a BAFTA for ‘Blade Runner’ (1983) and got an Oscar nomination for ‘Peggy Sue Go Married’ (1987).  So as a child I often visited sets and went on location for extended stays.  I felt like I wanted to be part of that great experience, that camaraderie.  Each day was like a military unit battling to bring back great images.

“I knew I wanted to do something in the industry: I had been around it all and found it all so exciting.  I made many Super 8 films in high school and decided USC (the University of Southern California) was where I wanted to attend film school.  But two years into school Film Fair, a commercial production company my father had collaborated with, had a position open for a staff loader and that job offered the opportunity to get into the union.  I visited my dad as often as I could when he was shooting ‘Blade Runner’ and assisted him on other movies as a camera operator and on second unit.  A lot of relationships I formed then carried over when my dad retired.

“I met [director] David Fincher on a Madonna video my father photographed and I shot second unit for in the heyday of music videos – it was a very creative and innovative time, and I was grateful to be there.  I was his camera assistant on the documentary ‘U2: Rattle & Hum’ (1988) and the film ‘State of Grace’ (1990), both directed by Phil Joanou, a former USC film school classmate.  Then I got my first feature as a cinematographer, ‘Fight Club,’ with Fincher.  Not a bad credit for the first time out of the gate!”

Read the full interview