David Fincher, the Unhappiest Auteur

The director makes beautiful bummers in an industry that prefers happy endings. Perhaps that’s why his movies seem like an endangered species.

Manohla Dargis
January 1, 2021
The New York Times

For nearly three decades, David Fincher has been making gorgeous bummer movies that — in defiance of Hollywood’s first principle — insist that happy endings are a lie. Filled with virtuosic images of terrible deeds and violence, his movies entertain almost begrudgingly. Even when good somewhat triumphs, the victories come at a brutal cost. No one, Fincher warns, is going to save us. You will hurt and you will die, and sometimes your pretty wife’s severed head will end up in a box.

Long a specialized taste, Fincher in recent years started to feel like an endangered species: a commercial director who makes studio movies for adult audiences, in an industry in thrall to cartoons and comic books. His latest, “Mank,” a drama about the film industry, was made for Netflix, though. It’s an outlier in his filmography. Its violence is emotional and psychological, and there’s only one corpse, even if its self-destructive protagonist, Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), can look alarmingly cadaverous. Set in Hollywood’s golden age, it revisits his tenure in one of the most reliably bitter and underappreciated Hollywood tribes, a.k.a. screenwriters.

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It’s All True: A Conversation with David Fincher

Illustration by Rumbidzai Savanhu

The master filmmaker behind Mank on Orson Welles, Pauline Kael and realising a passion project after a 30-year wait.

David Jenkins
December 2, 2020
Little White Lies

From the pen of Jack Fincher comes Mank, the story of how perma-soused Hollywood hack Herman J Mankiewicz happened to write one of the greatest screenplays of all time. Sadly, Jack didn’t live long enough to see the words he had written transformed into sound and light, but it’s something that his son David had wanted to realise for close to three decades.

It’s been six years since Fincher Jr’s last feature film, 2014’s Gone Girl, and in the interim we’ve had two series of Rolls Royce TV drama in the form of Mindhunter. For someone who has already made a tech bro riff on Citizen Kane (2010’s The Social Network), and a melancholic homage to his late father (2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Mank combines these two career poles, while also posing such existential hypotheticals as, what makes a man? And not only that, what makes a writer, and what makes a director?

LWLies: Let’s go on a quick flashback to the early days and the creation of this amazing script by your father, Jack. He was a journalist and author by trade. Did he pivot to screenwriting later in life?

Fincher: I think he wrote a screenplay that was optioned and Rock Hudson wanted to do it – this was in the late ’60s. That fizzled out. Then he wrote spec screenplays in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and then when he retired in the ’90s, he came to me and said, ‘I’m going to have all this time on my hands, what do you want to read a script about?’ I said I had always been interested in ‘Raising Kane’ which I was exposed to in middle school. I had read Pauline Kael’s essay on microfiche in the school library, and then I noticed a copy of it in my father’s library, and we talked about it. Then, 12 years later, I was about to go off to do Alien3, and he was retiring and wanted a new challenge.

Read the full interview

More in Little White Lies 87: The Mank Issue

La Septième Obsession 31: David Fincher

La Septième Obsession

OBSESSION: David Fincher

1. Mank de David Fincher

Le grand film de Fincher débarque sur Netflix le 4 décembre. L’occasion d’un entretien avec le cinéaste, mais aussi avec ses collaborateurs les plus proches. 16 pages spéciales.

Scénario pour une critique par Nicolas Tellop

Filmopathe entretien avec David Fincher – par Nev Pierce

Collaborer avec Fincher entretiens avec Erik Messerschmidt (chef opérateur) – Donald Graham Burt (chef décorateur) – Trish Summerville (costumière) – Kirk Baxter (monteur)

2. Revisiter Fincher

Plongée exceptionnelle dans l’oeuvre de l’un des plus grands cinéastes contemporains. Filmographie commentée, analyses… 50 pages à lire.

4 nuances de Fincher par Jean-Sébastien Massart et Fabrice Fuentes

David Fincher en 14 titres Propaganda Films (clips) – Alien 3Se7enThe GameFight ClubPanic Room + les plans de Panic RoomZodiacL’Étrange histoire de Benjamin ButtonThe Social Network Millénium + la musique hantée de MilléniumGone Girl Mindhunter

3. Analyses

Démoniaque – la perfection du crime par Nathan Reneaud
Fantômes et paranoïa par Jérôme d’Estais
Solitude & obsession – Fincher Dogma par Alexandre Jourdain
Poétique du suicide par Aurélien Lemant
Le système des objets – design finchérien par Dick Tomasovic

Sommaire complet

Commander

Before ‘The Last Jedi,’ There Was ‘Alien 3’

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Se7en and the 10th anniversary of The Social NetworkThe Ringer hereby dubs September 21-25 David Fincher Week. Join us all throughout the week as we celebrate and examine the man, the myth, and his impeccable body of work.

David Fincher’s entry in the ‘Alien’ franchise was particularly dark and divergent from the tone of its two predecessors. The director has disavowed it. But, in retrospect, the film may not have deserved all the flak it received.

Miles Surrey
September 25, 2020
The Ringer

Here’s my lukewarm take about the Alien franchise: Every single film is good in its own unique way. (Like most Alien fans, I’m going to pretend that the two spinoffs in which Xenomorphs fight Predators do not actually exist—those are quite bad.) Instead of following a regimented franchise blueprint like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the series has given blank slates to its talented filmmakers. But what the franchise has lost in continuity, it’s gained in the creation of some of the most ambitious projects conceived at a blockbuster scale.

For the first Alien, and his second feature film, Ridley Scott crafted a tense, claustrophobic, existential horror movie—one frequently likened to a haunted house in space. Alien remains, to this day, scary as all hell; the chestburster scene is an all-timer. The follow-up, Aliens, directed by up-and-comer James Cameron after his success with The Terminator, is a loud, chaotic action film inspired by the Vietnam War. What Aliens lacks in scares, it makes up for in firepower and iconic one-liners. The fourth movie in the franchise, Alien: Resurrection, is a campy romp from the director of Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet) in which an eccentric space general holds a chunk of his own brain after a Xenomorph takes a chunk out of his skull, Winona Ryder is a robot, and Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley dunks a basketball. When the franchise returned to Scott for the prequels Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, Scott used the Alien mythos to ponder the origins of mankind and what happens when an android that looks like Michael Fassbender tries to play God—and wherein Michael Fassbender becomes scarier than the actual Xenomorphs.

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David Fincher’s Longtime DP Jeff Cronenweth Has Advice, Insight, and Stories

25th Annual American Society Of Cinematographers (ASC) Awards (2011)

A podcast about how to build a career in filmmaking. No Film School shares the latest opportunities and trends for anyone working in film and TV. We break news on cameras, lighting, and apps. We interview leaders in screenwriting, directing, cinematography, editing, and producing. And we answer your questions! We are dedicated to sharing knowledge with filmmakers around the globe, “no film school” required.

Jeffrey Reeser
August 28, 2020
No Film School

Oscar-nominated camera wizard Jeff Cronenweth sat down with us to talk about his origins in the film industry.

As a young man, Cronenweth spent time on the set of Blade Runner as his father, Jordan Cronenweth shot it. He walks us through the next chapter of his career, starting out as an AC for legendary DP Sven Nykvist and how his longtime working relationship with David Fincher began when shooting pickups for a Madonna music video.

We discuss his experiences crafting the look of Fight Club, The Social Network, and Gone Girl, among other great films. Now in 2020, he is up for an Emmy for his work on the Amazon series Tales From The Loop.

Listen to the podcast:

No Film School
Apple Podcasts

Follow Jeff Cronenweth, ASC Archives on Twitter

Master Class with David Fincher / Master Class de David Fincher

Carlos Reviriego
September 15, 2014 (May 8, 2020)
TAI Escuela Universitaria de Artes

Interview with David Fincher at the TAI University School of Arts (Madrid), hosted by Carlos Reviriego.

In English, with Spanish subtitles.

Questions:

0:00:33 – What did the book ‘Gone Girl‘ is based on had that made you want to film a movie about it?
0:02:33 – Talk about your first years in the movie industry.
0:06:38 – You once said ‘No one hates Alien3 more than me’. Can you talk about it?
0:09:31 – David Lynch was here last year, and he said that the most important advice was to always fight for the final cut of your film. Do you think the same?
0:15:03 – Some critics think that ‘Fight Club‘ and movies on your filmography celebrate violence and anarchy. What do you have to say about it?
0:18:39 – Do you see yourself as a perfectionist?
0:22:17 – What’s more important, talent or hard work?
0:25:40 – What changes with digital cinema?
0:28:09 – How do you work with the Cinematographer and the Art Department?
0:34:31 – Can you talk about your work for TV and House of Cards?
0:36:37 – How do you feel about Amy’s character in Gone Girl?
0:37:53 – Do you get involved in the writing process?
0:39:08 – Why do you tend to use green and yellow colours in your cinema?
0:41:12 – Do you see a certain similarity between Brad Pitt’s character in ‘Twelve Monkeys‘ and ‘Seven‘?
0:43:02 – What do you look for in an actor?
0:48:38 – Is it more complicated to do fiction or documentary?


Encuentro con David Fincher en la Escuela Universitaria de Artes TAI (Madrid), conducido por Carlos Reviriego.

En inglés, con subtítulos en español.

Preguntas:

0:00:33 – ¿Qué te atrajo de la obra literaria en la que se inspira ‘Gone Girl‘?
0:02:33 – Háblanos de tus comienzos
0:06:38 – Una vez dijiste que nadie odió Alien3 más que tu. ¿Puedes hablar sobre ello?
0:09:31 – David Lynch estuvo aquí el año pasado y dijo que lo más importante era tener el corte final de la película. ¿Opinas lo mismo?
0:15:03 – Algunos críticos opinan que ‘Fight Club‘ y otras de tus películas ensalzan la violencia y el caos. ¿Qué tienes que decir al respecto?
0:18:39 – ¿Te consideras un perfeccionista?
0:22:17 – ¿Qué es más importante, el talento o el trabajo duro?
0:25:40 – ¿Qué añade la conversión al digital del cine a tu obra?
0:28:09 – Tu estética tiene una firma o un sello personal. ¿Cómo trabajas con el Director de Fotografía?
0:34:31 – ¿Puedes hablar sobre tu participación en televisión y en House of Cards?
0:36:37 – ¿Qué piensas del personaje de Amy en Gone Girl?
0:37:53 – ¿Cómo te involucras en el proceso de escritura del guión?
0:39:08 – ¿Por qué tu cine tiene cierta tendencia a usar verdes y amarillos?
0:41:12 – ¿Crees que hay cierta similitud entre la forma de actuar del personaje de Brad Pitt en ‘Twelve Monkeys‘ y ‘Seven‘, que fueron rodadas en la misma época?
0:43:02 – ¿Qué buscas de un actor a la hora de trabajar con él?
0:48:38 – ¿Es más complicado rodar ficción o documental?

Magaly Briand / TAI (2014)

Alien3: In Space, They’re Still Screaming

Ron Magid
Unit Photography by Rolf Konow and Bob Penn, courtesy of 20th Century Fox
July, 1992
American Cinematographer

Alex Thomson, BSC — one of Britain’s premier cinematographers — creates images of dazzling perfection, richness and clarity, images which have graced some of the most exquisite-looking films in recent memory: Legend, Ridley Scott‘s epic fairytale; Eureka, Nicholas Roeg‘s influential retelling of Citizen Kane; and Excalibur, John Boorman‘s visually magnificent approach to the King Arthur legend.

Though Alien3 is ideal subject matter for Thomson’s rich photographic style, he might never have lent his expertise to the project had it not been for one of the greatest triumphs and tragedies of his career. Late in 1990, Thomson had been chosen by one of the world’s undisputed filmic masters to photograph what promised to be his final masterpiece: the director was David Lean; the project was Joseph Conrad‘s Nostromo

Unfortunately, Lean took ill and died, Nostromo shut down and a saddened Alex Thomson returned to London, wondering what he would do next. “I came back from France on a weekend and they called me on Monday to see if I could take over on Alien3,” Thomson recollects. “I started work on Tuesday, which was about a week and a half into production. I was happy to do it; it kept my mind off what might have been.” (There is a certain karmic irony to Thomson’s twist of fate. As fans of the first Alien film will recall, the spaceship in that picture was dubbed the Nostromo.)

Behind the camera, Alex Thomson, BSC watches intently as operator David Worley lines up a shot on Charles Dance as Sigorney Weaver stands by.

The production history of Alien3 is a troubled one. Before Thomson joined the film, its first director, New Zealander Vincent Ward — one of a slew of directors who had been attached to the project during its lengthy pre-production phase — had been replaced by rock video director David Fincher. Thomson was hired when the film’s original cinematographer, Jordan Cronenweth, ASC (Blade Runner) left the production.

Many cinematographers might feel stifled by a production where the original look had already been determined, but not Thomson. “I had no problem with following in Jordan’s footsteps because his approach was so right,” he enthuses. “It was marvelous to be pointed in the right direction by a man of his caliber.” 

First-time feature director Fincher, for his part, is an award-winning rock video director with a background in visual effects storyboarding at ILM. “To take something over like this at 28 must’ve been quite awe-inspiring, but he handled it as if he’d done 20 pictures,” Thomson relates.

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NetWorkWise: Holt McCallany, Bringing Hollywood Down to Earth

Adam Connors
July 10, 2019
NetWorkWise

Audio version:
NetWorkWise Presents: Conversations with Connors (PodBean)
Holt McCallany: Bringing Hollywood Down to Earth

Original Post

Fincherphilia & Beyond

Cinephilia & Beyond - Logo

Just a small sample of all the precious filmic resources bestowed by Cinephilia & Beyond:

1993. Alien3 01

Alien3: “Take all of the responsibility, because you’re going to get all of the blame”

1995. Se7en

Se7en: A Rain-Drenched, Somber, Gut-Wrenching Thriller that Restored David Fincher’s Faith in Filmmaking

1995. The Game

Downwards Is the Only Way Forwards: Welcome to David Fincher’s The Game

1999. Fight Club

Fight Club: David Fincher’s Stylish Exploration of Modern-Day Man’s Estrangement and Disillusionment

2007. Zodiac

Fincher’s Zodiac As Easily One Of The Best Thrillers Of The Millennium So Far

1982. David Fincher at ILM