Shooting Zodiac. By Robert Graysmith

Monkey’s Paw Publishing, Inc. (FacebookTwitterInstagram)

DAVID FINCHER WAS AFTER THE TRUTH.

WITHOUT IT, HE WOULD NOT SHOOT ZODIAC.

For nearly two decades, Hollywood had been trying to make a movie of Zodiac, and for nearly two decades, it had failed. In 2003, producer Brad Fischer, and screenwriter Jamie Vanderbilt attempted the undoable, and set their sights on the one filmmaker they felt unequalled for the helm: director David Fincher (Se7enFight Club). Fincher’s eye for detail, probing mind, and unrelenting quest for answers made him ideal. His personal connection to the case made him perfect.

Author Robert Graysmith, director David Fincher, producer Brad Fischer, and screenwriter James Vanderbilt: “The Untouchables”. Photo: Margot Graysmith

From Hollywood boardrooms to remote fog-shrouded crime scenes, they battle a huge script that refuses to be beaten, a case that refuses to be solved, and a running time and budget that threaten their film. Follow as they track down missing witnesses, gather the original investigators, visit the original crime scenes, discover boxes of Zodiac case files from an attic, unearth new clues, a videotape of the prime suspect’s police interrogation, and a surviving victim who doesn’t want to be found. To keep Fincher on board, and get their film greenlit, it will take cold leads, private eyes, new evidence, and most of all, perseverance.

About The Author

Robert Graysmith in 2012. Photo: Russell Yip / The Chronicle

Robert Graysmith (Facebook) is an author and illustrator. He was the political cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle when the letters and cryptograms from the infamous Zodiac killer began arriving to the paper. He was present when they were opened in the morning editorial meetings, and has been investigating & writing ever since. He lives in San Francisco where he continues to write and illustrate. He is best known for his books “Zodiac” and “Zodiac Unmasked”.

Edition

Imprint: Monkey’s Paw Publishing, Inc.
Editor: Aaron Smith
Publication Date: August 31, 2021

Formats

HARDCOVER
Dimensions: 6 x 9 x 1 inches
Weight: ‎ 1.59 pounds
ISBN-10: 1736580051
ISBN-13: 978-1736580059
Page Count: 375
Price: $29.99
BUY: Amazon (Worldwide: check your local Amazon), Barnes & Noble, Target

EBOOK
ISBN-10: 1736580035
ISBN-13: 9781736580035
Page Count: 354
Price: $12.99
BUY: Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & NobleKoboGoogle Play BooksSmashwords

“Zodiac in Costume at Lake Berryessa,” by former Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith. Surviving victim Bryan Hartnell personally described the costume in detail to Graysmith, after his, and Cecilia Shepherd’s, encounter with the Zodiac on Sept. 27, 1969. Photo: Robert Graysmith

Robert Graysmith, political cartoonist for The San Francisco Chronicle, in 1977. Photo: Gary Fong / The Chronicle

BOOKS

Robert Graysmith wrote the definitive Zodiac Killer book. He breaks decade-long silence to tell us about his upcoming projects

Kevin Fagan
September 20, 2021
Datebook (San Francisco Chronicle)

For a fairly famous guy, author Robert Graysmith doesn’t get out much. He hasn’t been heard from in public for about a decade, and he rarely leaves his San Francisco home.

The 78-year-old Graysmith has been crafting manuscripts at such an astonishing pace, printing them out as he goes along, that they now stand in a 5-foot-high stack that breaks down into what he says will be 34 books, ranging from children’s tales and historical explorations to true crime and fictional legends. Most just need a few final touches and editing, he said.

These days, Graysmith is working with a new publisher he knows well: his 50-year-old son, Aaron Smith.

An artist and CGI supervisor for dozens of movies, from “Monsters vs. Aliens” to “Cast Away,” Smith founded a publishing house in November that is producing his father’s books. The company is called Monkey’s Paw.

The first in this voluminous new string landed on online sites like Amazon at the end of August, the 383-page “Shooting Zodiac,” which documents the planning that went into making the movie “Zodiac.”

“It’s much more fun working with Aaron on these things, because he can put them out quickly,” Graysmith said. “I figured out you’re going to wait about three years to get a book done, and then you hand them the book, and they’re going to spend a lot of time and then they won’t do anything for another year or so. With Aaron, we can get the book edited and out there in a few months.”

Graysmith’s son — who uses the last name his dad used before he merged Gray and Smith — said he wasn’t really surprised when he realized how many pages his dad had in the hopper.

“Writing is pretty much all he does,” Smith said by phone from his home in Southern California, “and the illustrations.”

Graysmith said he started working on his engagingly told “Shooting Zodiac” before the movie came out, as he was being bowled over by the dedication director David Fincher, producer Brad Fischer and screenwriter Jamie Vanderbilt put into the project. They combed over the same material Graysmith had in his books “Zodiac” and “Zodiac Unmasked” to rebuild and advance his narrative around the only suspect ever named by police, Arthur Leigh Allen of Vallejo.

Watching them work was “a marvelous adventure,” Graysmith said.

The new book is as much about greenlighting the movie and hiring actors like Jake Gyllenhaal, who played Graysmith, as it is about how the three filmmakers did their research. It’s also probably the last thing Graysmith will write about the Zodiac, he and his son said.

Read the full profile

A young Aaron Graysmith (Smith), played by Zachary Sauers, already helping Dad with his “special project”. (Zodiac, 2007)

VFX Notes: David Fincher and the rise of invisible VFX

Hugo Guerra (Twitter) & Ian Failes (Twitter)
October 2, 2021
Hugo’s Desk (YouTube, Patreon, Twitter, Facebook) / befores & afters

On this episode of VFX Notes, Hugo Guerra from Hugo’s Desk and Ian Failes from befores & afters dive deep into the visual effects in David Fincher films. We take an especially close look at Digital Domain‘s work for Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Chapters:
00:00:00 – Intro
00:04:20Zodiac and the rise of invisible VFX
00:09:09 – The rise of D2 and Foundry‘s Nuke
00:18:31 – David Fincher’s methods and Zodiac‘s murder scenes
00:30:03 – Environments by DD and Matte World
00:43:41 – The VFX of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
00:57:27 – The VFX of The Social Network
01:03:15 – The VFX of Mindhunter
01:09:51 – Wrap up
01:12:45 – Patreon, YouTube members and Twitch Subs Credits

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Zodiac: The Hidden Meaning of Yellow

Adam Tinius
September 20, 2021
Entertain The Elk (PatreonYouTubeTwitterInstagram)

In this video, I explore David Fincher‘s 2007 film Zodiac, and how yellow is secretly used to help tell the story.

MUSIC IN THIS VIDEO: Astral ProjectionAstronomyUnsolved Mystery – by White Bat Audio

Team Deakins: Donald Burt, Production Designer

Roger Deakins and James Deakins
September 5, 2021
Team Deakins (rogerdeakins.com)

The Team Deakins podcast is an ongoing conversation between acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins and James Deakins, his collaborator, about cinematography, the film business and whatever other questions are submitted. We start with a specific question and end….who knows where! We are joined by guests periodically. Followup questions can be posted in the forums at rogerdeakins.com.

Team Deakins delves into the craft of production design with the great production designer, Donald Burt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Hostiles, Mank). We loved hearing about his path to the film business! We talk about his first movie as production designer, Joy Luck Club – quite a film to start on! He shares his methods of working with a director and how he doesn’t want to draw attention to what he is doing and that he wants to be supportive and serve the story first. We also touch on how restrictions and limitations breed imagination, his approach to sets vs locations, and how you can’t be afraid of articulating a stupid idea. And, we also speak about the making of Mank, The Outlaw King, and Zodiac. As well as much, much more!

Listen to the podcast

The Director’s Chair: David Fincher

Fincher on Fincher — How David Fincher Directs a Movie

August 9, 2021
StudioBinder (YouTube)

Director David Fincher explains his personal approach to film directing.

Special thanks to:

Variety’s David Fincher Interview
Escuela Universitaria de Artes TAI
BAFTA Guru
FilmIsNow Movie Bloopers & Extras
Moog Music Inc
Akai Pro Video

Chapters:
00:00 Intro — How David Fincher became a Filmmaker
02:01 Early Career & Return of the Jedi
03:18 Shot Composition and Blocking
06:19 “Relentless” Number of Takes
11:02 Directing with Precision
13:43 Color Theory & Creating the Look
15:48 Create a Feeling (Production Design & Music)
19:35 Final Takeaways

David Fincher is a director’s director. His reputation for having complete control over his work is well-known but many directors have had similar power. So, what makes his approach to film directing so captivating? In this David Fincher video essay, we’ll let the man speak for himself. Through a collection of interviews from throughout his career, Fincher guides us through some of the strongest characteristics of his directing style.

To date, over the past four decades, David Fincher has directed a plethora of music videos, commercials, and 11 feature films. Along the way, he has refined his directing style which can be summed up in two words: precise and purposeful. When watching any David Fincher movies, you would be hard-pressed to find an out-of-place camera movement, or a lazy frame composition. One lesson we learned from Fincher is how he balanced and imbalanced the frame during Nick and Amy’s first meeting in Gone Girl to show the “push and pull” of their flirting.

Another well-known staple of the David Fincher directing style is his predilection for shooting multiple takes. He famously shot 99 takes of the opening scene in The Social Network, for example. But there’s a method to his madness — he wants the actors to move “beyond muscle memory” especially in their domestic environments. In Fincher’s logic, when the actor sits on their couch, they need to have sat in it a hundred times to make it look like they’ve sat in it a hundred times.

Fincher also explains how he creates mood and tone with lighting, color, and music. With a darker frame, desaturated color, and the brooding tones of Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor, there certainly is a distinct experience watching David Fincher films. While all of this sounds extreme, the proof that he’s doing something right is visible on-screen.

♬ Songs used:

“Father / Son” — Makeup and Vanity Set
“Subdivide” — Stanley Gurvich
“Switchback” — Nu Alkemi$t
“Battle in the Forest” — Charles Gerhardt – National Philharmonic Orchestra
“Chasing Time” – David A. Molina
“Sugar Storm” – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
“Soul Sacrifice” – Santana
“Graysmith Obsessed” – David Shire
“Intriguing Possibilities” – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
“Wendy Suite” – Jason Hill
“Under the Midnight Sun” — Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
“14 – Ghosts II” – Nine Inch Nails
“Corporate World” – The Dust Brothers
“Appearances” – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
“With Suspicion” – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
“What Have We Done to Each Other” – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
“Cowboys and Indians” – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
“San Simeon Waltz” – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
“Fool” – Ryan Taubert
“Where Is My Mind” – The Pixies

David Fincher Interviews & Quotes on His Filmmaking Process

Chris Heckmann
August 8, 2021
StudioBinder

Zodiac (2007): The Human Narratives That Emerge From the Data

What starts out as a collection of data fragments in a murder case builds into a fascinating story of human and philosophical dimensions…

Andrew Sidhom
June 22, 2021

Warning: This article discusses many of the ending scenes

In my previous piece, focused on Mank (2020), I wrote about the idea that a story is essentially a lens on truth, as it joins together distinct pieces of information and events into a connected whole, and inevitably does so through the storyteller’s lens (their particular way of joining the pieces). That film, the latest in David Fincher’s filmography, was more specifically about the truth of people, and about how a storyteller gets to their truth without locking it and owning the keys to it.

Thirteen years back in the director’s work, Zodiac dived in not-too-dissimilar waters, but expanded them in many directions of its own. It remains Fincher’s top work to date.

Zodiac is the story of a time and a place in which Fincher spent much of his childhood — the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 60’s and early 70’s — marked by public alertness to a murderer who used to write cryptic letters to the police and to newspapers. From the opening scene, this enigma of a man is slowly drawn.

It’s natural that any story that features at its center a mysterious serial killer who goes uncaught will always have a special aura reserved for that character. But even if Zodiac doesn’t exactly play against that idea, it’s also clear enough that the film is not in the business of drawing the archetypical picture of a God-like criminal mastermind. The titular character, who may or may not be among the ones we see onscreen at different times, can by turns come across as weak, child-like, in need of help and/or largely insignificant. He may be responsible for a small handful of crimes, but the fact is that he repeatedly claims to be much deadlier than he really is, at one point taking responsibility for as many as 37 victims without there being the least bit of evidence for it. He is a case of enigmatic broken humanity that remains beyond grasp.

But the mystery draws people in. In one sense limited by statements such as “Do you know that more people die in the East Bay commute every three months than that idiot ever killed?” and in another sense taking on a life of its own, the Zodiac enigma becomes huge in public consciousness.

Read the full essay

How the Horror Flop ‘The Empty Man’ Became the Great Cult Movie of 2020

Director David Prior’s cosmic thriller got buried in theaters last year, but the film is already on the path to resurrection.

Dan Jackson
March 23, 2021
Thrillist

“We transmit. You receive.” —The Empty Man

When the twist-filled cosmic horror mind-bender The Empty Man was unceremoniously dumped in theaters last October, its writer and director David Prior wasn’t even sent a link to the final version of the film by the studio. More than four years before, he’d pitched the movie to 20th Century Fox, a perhaps unconventional home for such a strange project, and, after the company was acquired by Disney in 2019, Prior’s debut feature slipped through the corporate cracks. In the middle of a global pandemic, The Empty Man was released with one misleading trailer, which marketed the two-hour-plus saga as another urban legend-inspired teen thriller, and minimal promotional fanfare. Unsurprisingly, it bombed, grossing just over $4 million worldwide. Prior transmitted and almost no one received.

Adapted from a Boom! Studios comic by the writer Cullen Bunn and artist Vanesa R. Del ReyThe Empty Man was initially sold to Fox in 2016 as a stylish horror mystery infused with thematic ambiguity, existential dread, and a dash of Lovecraftian terror. James Badge Dale plays ex-detective James Lasombra, a grief-stricken widower whose friend Nora (Marin Ireland) enlists him to help find her daughter Amanda (Sasha Frolova) after she disappears. Amanda and her teenage friends may or may not have summoned the Empty Man, a mystical entity with an odd connection to a cult-like organization called the Pontifex Institute, led by a charismatic leader played by Stephen Root of Office Space and Barry. (I’ve been describing it to friends as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets The Ring.) In his early conversations with executives, Prior compared it to Mulholland Drive rather than something in The Conjuring universe or the Blumhouse arsenal. In the writing stage, executives even encouraged him to expand the film’s lengthy opening, a snowbound tale of hikers in Bhutan’s Ura Valley who stumble upon a sinister cave.

The Empty Man‘s journey to the big screen quickly unraveled. In some ways, the story has all the hallmarks of classic Hollywood fiasco: a shoot plagued by bad weather, disastrous test screenings, fights over runtime, studio meddling, a breakdown in communication, and an ambitious first-time director threading potentially alienating material into familiar genre fare. (Not many horror movies have a prominent shot of a high school named after a famous French philosopher.) In other ways, it’s a uniquely modern tale of mounting corporate neglect, expiring tax rebates, confusing IP mismanagement, and slow-building social media advocacy.

Are audiences hungry for movies like The Empty Man? The movie’s box office performance would suggest a definitive no, but, since becoming available as a digital rental in 2021, the film has taken on a second life online, where podcast hosts and viewers on platforms like Twitter and Letterboxd have sung its praises, turning it into the rare 21st century studio project that earns the over-used descriptor of “cult movie.”

Prior, who began his career working on a DVD of the 1999 horror movie Ravenous and later directed special features for David Fincher films like Zodiac and The Social Network, has a keen awareness of how his movie plays into certain narratives. Over a Google Hangout, he spoke with the combination of weary cynicism and wounded pride that often accompanies someone who has been through an ordeal. “It’s amazing how trenchant Barton Fink is about the way the Hollywood system really works,” he noted early in the conversation.

As the Coen Brothers screenwriter protagonist knows, the “life of the mind” can be painful. While unpacking the jargon-heavy mythology of his debut and the turmoil-packed narrative of its production, Prior repeatedly emphasized how grateful he was that the movie has found an audience and often laughed at the absurdity of its fate. Who can be blamed for what happened to The Empty Man? As one of the movie’s grizzled detectives remarks in the film, “We can’t indict the cosmos.”

Read the full interview

The Pontifex Society

The Hamster Factor Segment

Watch The Empty Man

“Mank” Production Designer Donald Graham Burt. Exclusive Interview

Gary Collinson
March 12, 2021
Flickering Myth

You would be forgiven for thinking production designer Donald Graham Burt works exclusively with David Fincher. His talents are visible in confirmed classics including ZodiacThe Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, for which he received an Oscar. Beyond that his work can also be appreciated in Donnie Brasco, Christian Bale headliner Hostiles and most recently Outlaw King featuring Chris Pine.

In conversation Donald is self-deprecating, effortlessly engaging and eloquent on his process. Mank appears to be the culmination of a professional relationship spanning more than a decade, which uses Citizen Kane as its backbone to explore broader issues. Adorned in the garb of a Thirties film noir, Mank is masterful at evoking a bygone era. Much of that success comes through the pitch perfect production design, which would have been impossible without Donald Burt.

Following on from his nomination at the British Academy Film Awards, he took time out to talk to Flickering Myth’s Martin Carr about what was required to bring Mank to life, as well as what a collaboration with David Fincher really involves.

Watch the full interview

How David Prior’s ‘The Empty Man’ Survived the Perfect Hollywood Storm

We talk to the filmmaker about the unfortunate fate of his ambitious horror fIlm.

Matthew Monagle
March 2, 2021
Film School Rejects

Last October, a horror movie came and went. It wasn’t the first time a Hollywood studio dumped a horror movie in the middle of Halloween; given the ongoing pandemic, few films with a theatrical release could have moved the needle in 2020. But in the case of David Prior’s The Empty Man, this release was just the tip of the iceberg, the near-final act in a first-time filmmaker’s multi-year struggle to bring his vision to the screen.

In this conversation, Prior explains how he went from being David Fincher’s protégé to the director of 2020’s most ambitious — and most abandoned — horror film. We also explore how a perfect storm of production problems and studio politics nearly killed the film, and how a passionate audience has already started to turn The Empty Man into a future cult classic.

From DVDs to David Fincher

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. If The Empty Man survives its troubled production and halfhearted theatrical release to become a household name for genre fans, then perhaps this story will serve as a fitting beginning to Prior’s career as a feature filmmaker. For years, Prior worked as a production documentarian for filmmakers such as David Fincher and Peter Weir, but one of his big breaks came with Antonia Bird’s Ravenous, itself a studio disaster that took years to find a passionate audience.

In the years before Ravenous’s theatrical release, Prior had built relationships in 20th Century Fox’s home video department thanks to his contributions to the isolated score track on the Alien DVD release. So when Prior stumbled across Ravenous in theaters — despite a trailer that he describes as a “piss-poor representation of the movie” — he saw an opportunity to build on those connections and bring some much-deserved love to Bird’s film.

His gamble worked. According to Prior, the special-edition release of Ravenous sold three times its initial projections, forcing 20th Century Fox to rush extra copies of the film into production. With his credentials established, Prior was given his pick of future home video releases, and his decision resulted in one of the most influential relationships of Prior’s professional career. “I said, ‘I don’t know what Fight Club is, but I really want to meet David Fincher, so I’ll do that one. And that led to a relationship with Fincher that goes on to this day.”

Over the next decade, Prior became a powerhouse in behind-the-scenes documentaries, shooting features for such films as Master and Commander, Zodiac, and The Social Network. It proved to be a successful and stable career, just not the one that Prior had in mind when he went to Hollywood. “I remember at the time thinking, ‘This is gonna be something where if I’m not careful, ten, fifteen years of my life is going to go by doing this instead of what I’d rather be doing,’” the director says. So Prior took another gamble, this time using some of his own money to produce the short film that would eventually land him his role with The Empty Man.

Read the full profile

“The Empty Man” Clip

Watch The Empty Man

Watch AM1200 (2008)

David Fincher:

“In 40 short minutes, David Prior shows why he is one of the most promising directors I’ve ever seen. People always ask me what to do for a ‘calling card’ in Hollywood. Well do something like this, and try to do it half as well.”

Cinematographer Interview: Shooting Darkness for “The Empty Man”

PremiumBeat chats with director of photography Anastas Michos about shooting with the RED Monstro 8K on his latest feature. Dive in.

Jourdan Aldredge
November 13, 2020
The Beat (PremiumBeat by shutterstock)

Because We Love Making Movies: Production Designer Donald Graham Burt

Eren Celeboglu
January 22, 2021
Because We Love Making Movies (Instagram, Facebook)

Because We Love Making Movies is an ongoing conversation with filmmakers who work behind the scenes to make the movies we love. These are the invisible warriors we don’t think of: Production & Costume Designers, Cinematographers, Editors, Producers, and the whole family of artists who make movies with their hands and hearts.

In the very first episode of my podcast, I sit down with Production Designer Donald Graham Burt. We explore the role of the Production Designer, a life in the arts, working with David Fincher, and learn to talk less and listen more.

Recommended Viewing: The Joy Luck Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Gone Girl, The Girl with Dragon Tattoo, and Mank.

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