How Technology Made David Fincher a Better Director

Has there ever been a movie director who has taken more advantage of new technology than David Fincher? We look back on how digital production benefitted his movies so much.

Julian Mitchell
November 28, 2022
The Beat (Premium Beat)

When digital cinematography was in its infancy, around 2005, it was like the Wild West; new cameras were appearing seemingly every week, whether from University’ concept’ programs or start-ups with a movie making a revolution on their minds.

In this white heat of technology, director David Fincher started to craft his movie-making skills. He was a risk taker with new technology but driven by the promise it gave him. As much as Fincher and his crew were proud of the films they made, they were also proud of how they made them.

Zodiac’s Digital Gamble

Fincher had already used digital cinematography for his commercials and decided to commit early to this technology for his movies. But his long-time producer Ceán Chaffin brought some hard business sense to brace against his pioneering creative decisions.

Ceán had been involved more in costing this digital workflow out and had looked at introducing digital for a feature before Zodiac but found that it wasn’t cost-efficient at that time; Zodiac was different. “At the moment of Zodiac, storage was so cheap that we could push it; it was also about the savings at that point. The sticking point was really about storage for us up to Zodiac.”

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Red Carpet Rookies: Lisa Beroud. VFX Producer

Eric Barba, VFX Supervisor, Lisa Beroud, VFX Producer, and Alex Wang, ILM VFX Supervisor, on the set of Terminator: Dark Fate.

Mike Battle
November 1, 2022
Red Carpet Rookies

Starting her career producing commercials Lisa Beroud transitioned to James Cameron‘s famous VFX house Digital Domain, where she worked on titles including TRON: Legacy, Oblivion, Her, 47 Ronin, and a multitude of David Fincher projects including Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl. Since leaving DD, she has been a VFX producer of hits such as Black Panther, Terminator: Dark Fate, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

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Soundstage Access: Gwen Yates Whittle, Supervising Sound Editor

Brando Benetton
June 6, 2022
Soundstage Access

For this masterclass on the Art of Sound in film and TV, we welcome on the show Gwen Yates Whittle, a 2-time Oscar-nominated sound professional whose credits include this summer’s Jurassic World: Dominion, Saving Private Ryan, Top Gun: Maverick and the upcoming Avatar: The Way of the Water.

In today’s conversation, the Skywalker Sound member and I break down some of Hollywood’s biggest sound moments. We discuss Gwen’s beginning in the industry and why the prospect of sound editing intrigued her in ways that sound mixing never did; her relationship with detail-oriented directors like Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and David Fincher (Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, Benjamin Button, Gone Girl); the process of layering animal sounds to create the dinosaur voices in the Jurassic World franchise—as well as how the pandemic suddenly impacted Gwen’s work. All of this… and much more!

Gwen’s newest movies Jurassic World: Dominion and Top Gun: Maverick are now in theaters across the world, with Avatar: The Way of the Water opening in December 2022.

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Conversations with Sound Artists: Dialogue Editing and ADR with Gwen Whittle

Glenn Kiser, Director of the Dolby Institute
September 21, 2015
SoundWorks Collection / The Dolby Institute

Editing dialog and working with the original recordings from the set is one of the most under-appreciated arts in cinema sound. In this episode of “Conversations with Sound Artists,” two-time Academy Award nominee Gwen Yates Whittle talks with the Dolby Institute’s Glenn Kiser about why George Lucas thinks dialog editing is one of the most important parts of the process, why she loves working on low-budget independent films (“They talk more,”), and why David Fincher and Meryl Streep love doing ADR.

Book Review: David Fincher’s Zodiac: Cinema of Investigation and (Mis)Interpretation

Thomas Puhr
April 21, 2022
Bright Lights Film Journal

David Fincher’s Zodiac: Cinema of Investigation and (Mis)Interpretation, edited by Matthew Sorrento and David Ryan. 259 pp. Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2022.

2007 was a good year for American film, with the likes of the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men and Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood earning heaps of critical and popular adoration. Coupled with their success at the Academy Awards (the former won four, including for Best Picture; the latter two), the films’ positions as “instant classics” are well cemented.

Somewhat neglected among discussions of this banner year, on the other hand, is David Fincher’s true-crime epic Zodiac; though initially left in its contemporaries’ shadows (as a point of comparison, it received zero nominations), it may very well have aged better than either of them. If Anderson’s and the Coens’ outings were dirges on late capitalism, then Fincher’s was something of a prophecy – one that anticipated the post-truth morass of our digital age. Given this unexpected prescience, Zodiac is ripe for critical reassessment.

Enter David Fincher’s Zodiac: Cinema of Investigation and (Mis)Interpretation, courtesy of editors Matthew Sorrento and David Ryan. What makes this particular film so alluring is its unique position as a literary adaptation, a piece of narrative nonfiction (one based on a still-unsolved case, no less), a self-reflective critique of news and multimedia, and a relatively early exemplar of what digital cameras can do in the right hands. The book mines these and many other critical avenues – from game theory, to death metal – with somewhat inconsistent, but never dull, results. While reading it, I was reminded more than once of Robert Graysmith’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) climactic, fevered conversation with investigator David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) in the diner: “This is a case that’s covered both Northern and Southern California, with victims and suspects spread over hundreds of miles,” he tells Toschi as he struggles to connect the case’s overwhelming number of dots. Like the film itself, this collection has its fingers in many pots, is borderline obsessive, and makes some ambitious connections that may or may not actually be there. But, of course, that’s part of the fun.

Read the full book review

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The Enneagram in a Movie: David Fincher and Enneagram Type 5

Mario Sikora and TJ Dawe
March 21, 2022
Awareness to Action

The Enneagram in a Movie Podcast is a fun and informative way to take a deep dive into understanding the Enneagram.

Join your Season 2 hosts, Mario Sikora and TJ Dawe, as well as their special guest hosts throughout the season, as they discuss how the themes of the Enneagram are reflected in the work of great film directors such as Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson, Michael Mann, and others.

Mario and TJ analyze the films of David Fincher in two episodes to explore Enneagram Type 5, “Striving to Feel Detached.” They discuss “Seven”, “Fight Club”, The Social Network” and “Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.”

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Listen to the Part 2 podcast:

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SBIFF 2016. Cinema Vanguard – Rooney Mara Talks David Fincher

… and the Enneagram.

Zodiac Screenwriter on His Overlong Spec Script and Convos with David Fincher on the ‘Passage of Time’

Author Robert Graysmith, director David Fincher, producer Brad Fischer, and screenwriter James Vanderbilt (Photo: Margot Graysmith)

Caleb Hammond
March 2, 2022
MovieMaker

James Vanderbilt wrote the screenplay for 2007’s Zodiac on spec — meaning he wasn’t commissioned to write it. So he began cutting it down before he sent it out to studios.

“I was just like, ‘This script is too fucking long. No one is going to read it.’ And I think the original script they sent out was 150 pages. It’s the thing you shouldn’t do, is write a 150-page script,” Vanderbilt tells MovieMaker about the film, released 15 years ago today.

Even when David Fincher agreed to direct the project, Vanderbilt was still concerned about its length. But much to his surprise, scenes were often added in development, not removed.

“In the spec, I had written the whole sequence with Brian Cox, and the morning show where Zodiac calls in, and then I cut it before sending the script out,” Vanderbilt says.

“And then one day Fincher was like, ‘You know, Zodiac might have called this morning show?’

“I was like, ‘Oh, I wrote it.’”

Fincher, who had spent months doing his own research on Zodiac, was impressed.

“You did?” he replied.

So Vanderbilt sent him the previously-cut 15 minute sequence.

“And he goes, ‘Well, this has got to go back in,’” Vanderbilt says. “And so it just kind of kept growing.”

Eventually Fincher sat Vanderbilt down and told him to “stop worrying about the length. I’m going to just make everyone talk very fast,” Vanderbilt says.

True to his word, “if you watch the movie, it is very bip, bip, bip, bip — everyone is talking very fast,” he adds.

Read the full profile

‘Zodiac’ Turns 15: Behind-the-Scenes Facts You Didn’t Know About the David Fincher Movie

David Fincher’s legendary attention to detail on the serial killer film inspired plenty of on-set drama.

Christian Zilko
March 03, 2022
IndieWire

This week marks 15 years since “Zodiac” was released in theaters, and save for the actors looking 15 years younger than they do now, the film still feels like it could be released today. If anything, “Zodiac” feels more like a product of 2022 than 2007. The country is more obsessed with serial killers than ever before, with true crime podcasts and documentaries continuing to draw massive ratings, Zodiac killer memes being used in presidential primaries, and the latest Batman movie taking the form of a serial killer drama.

That makes it a great time to revisit “Zodiac,” as well as a good opportunity to take a deep dive into the making of the film. “Zodiac” attracted as much attention for its painstaking production process as it did for the finished product, as the always detail-oriented David Fincher went above and beyond to make sure everything in his film was historically accurate. Sometimes his methodical process hurt his relationships with the cast, but one thing is for certain: They made a great movie.

Read the 15 facts about the making of “Zodiac” that you may not have known.

85 Queen: Adam Nayman on David Fincher

Mallory Andrews
January 31, 2022
Kitchener Public Library (YouTube)

Author and Film Critic Adam Nayman returns to Kitchener Public Library to discuss his latest book David Fincher: Mind Games.

David Fincher: Mind Games is the definitive critical and visual survey of the Academy Award– and Golden Globe–nominated works of director David Fincher. From feature films Alien 3, Se7en, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, and Mank through his MTV clips for Madonna and the Rolling Stones and the Netflix series House of Cards and Mindhunter, each chapter weaves production history with original critical analysis, as well as with behind the scenes photography, still-frames, and original illustrations from Little White Lies‘ international team of artists and graphic designers. Mind Games also features interviews with Fincher’s frequent collaborators, including Jeff Cronenweth, Angus Wall, Laray Mayfield, Holt McCallany, Howard Shore and Erik Messerschmidt.

Grouping Fincher’s work around themes of procedure, imprisonment, paranoia, prestige and relationship dynamics, Mind Games is styled as an investigation into a filmmaker obsessed with investigation, and the design will shift to echo case files within a larger psychological profile.

David Fincher and the Cinema of Doomscrolling

A conversation with Adam Nayman about the filmmaker’s style and obsessions.

Alex Shephard
January 18, 2022
Critical Mass (The New Republic)

David Fincher’s films are full of doubles, puzzles, and tantalizing glimpses of the director himself. As Adam Nayman writes in his new book about Fincher’s films, Mind Games, “Fincher imposes his presence through the actions and psychologies of thinly veiled proxies: Clockmakers and safecrackers; hackers and terrorists; detectives and serial killers.” These are films that are, like their director, obsessed with procedure and appearance—and intent on puncturing both.

These films are, perhaps because of their complexity or their (at least outward) coldness—or perhaps because of Fincher’s own past as a director of music videos and advertisements—misunderstood or even dismissed. In the past decade alone, Fincher’s The Social Network and, especially, Gone Girl have received radical reappraisals, while Zodiac has been seen by many as one of the best films of the twenty-first century. Mind Games is particularly valuable in its willingness to critically engage with much of Fincher’s less-appreciated output—from his work in advertising to films like Benjamin Button and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. But Nayman, the author of similar studies of the Coen brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson, also deepens the understanding of films by situating them in an oeuvre that has been obsessively looking at many of the same themes for decades.

Read the full interview

Riverside Chats with Tom Knoblauch: Adam Nayman on “David Fincher: Mind Games”

Tom Knoblauch
January 16, 2022
Riverside Chats with Tom Knoblauch (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)

Riverside Chats is a series of conversations hosted by Tom Knoblauch exploring culture of all kinds, broadcast from the Heartland. Listen on KIOS 91.5 Omaha Public Radio on Mondays and Saturdays or on your favorite podcast app.

Adam Nayman is a critic at The Ringer and Cinema Scope and he is also the author of The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Room Together and Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks, which he discussed in an earlier episode of this show.

His latest book, David Fincher: Mind Games is a critical and visual survey of the filmmaker behind incredibly influential works include Seven, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl, and more. Nayman gives context, analysis, links themes, and conducts interviews with various people involved across Fincher’s career, grouping Fincher’s work around themes of procedure, imprisonment, paranoia, prestige, and relationship dynamics. Today he talks about Fincher’s career and shifting place in the cinematic landscape.

Check out David Fincher: Mind Games wherever you get books.

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