On this episode of VFX Notes, Hugo Guerra from Hugo’s Desk and Ian Failes from befores & afters are joined by Craig Barron. Barron is creative director at Magnopus, and previously worked as a matte painter at ILM and co-founder and visual effects supervisor at Matte World Digital. Barron won a VFX Oscar for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and was also nominated for a VFX Oscar for Batman Returns.
They talk about his amazing career and his work in Zodiac, Casino, Empire Strikes Back, Batman Returns, and so much more, what those original days of matte painting in the optical era were like, and how the transition to digital happened. Matte World Digital’s work on Zodiac, amongst other films, was also discussed in a previous episode.
This episode is sponsored by ActionVFX Black Friday sale. It begins November 25th at 8 PM EST and will end on December 3rd at 11:59 PM EST. All VFX elements in the library will be 55% off the first 24 hours, & 50% off the remaining days of the sale. All Annual Subscription Plans (Individual & Studio Plans) purchased during the sale will receive 2x the amount of monthly elements. Learn more here.
Chapters: 00:00:00 – Intro 00:04:30 – David Fincher and DVD extras 00:05:35 – Craig’s career 00:08:16 – Ray Harryhausen and influences 00:12:08 – Matte paintings in Empire Strikes Back 00:18:13 – Physical correct vs artistic direction 00:32:07 – Matte paintings in Batman Returns 00:34:12 – Casino and the first radiosity render 00:43:37 – 3D projections in Zodiac 00:55:02 – Blade Runner VR 00:59:48 – The Criterion Collection and history 01:07:05 – Patreon, Twitch Subs and YouTube members credits
This week’s conversation focuses in on David Fincher—a director whose decade-spanning body of gritty Americana—from the grim moral drama of Se7en to the revisionist Hollywood tale of the recent Mank—has inspired both obsessive fandom and derisive dismissal.
A new book by Adam Nayman, David Fincher: Mind Games (out November 23 from Abrams Books), offers a canny and timely appraisal of the director’s filmography. Adam writes that, “Over the past thirty years, Fincher has cultivated and maintained a reputation that precedes him of formal rigor and technocratic exactitude, of moviemaking as a game of inches.” Film Comment editors Devika Girish and Clinton Krute invited Adam and critic, filmmaker, and former NYFF director, Kent Jones—who’s written about Fincher many times over the years in FC—for an illuminating deep-dive into the Fincherverse.
Few film books in recent memory made waves like Adam Nayman’s Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks, a too-rare melange of authorial talent, topical interest, and opulent presentation. Last year Nayman and I spoke at length about the tome that no doubt you’ve seen in bookstores (big and small alike) since.
Nayman has returned with David Fincher: Mind Games, another Abrams-published doorstop on another double-capital-A American Auteur, lined again with essays that surprise in their capacity to find new perspectives and provocative readings on films for which there seemed no more room. Finally able to talk in person—thus, you’ll (please) read, at greater length—we sat down for a talk on writing thousands of words on someone for whom a consistent critical standing is tougher than meets the eye.
Adam Nyman is a fellow film critic and the author of several books about films and filmmakers, including but not limited to The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together (2018) and Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks (2020). (Though we’ve never crossed paths in person, he also teaches in the department where I did my Master’s program.) He opens Mind Games with a dedicated discussion of the decade or so before Fincher ever made his narrative feature debut with ALIEN³ (1992), but then continues to come back to his commercial and music video work for the remainder of it, wisely treating his adman past as, well, more of an adman present. A few weeks back, Adam and I chatted for an hour about Fincher’s short-form oeuvre, but also his features because—again—the two aren’t as discrete as a lot of people believe. Our conversation has been edited for clarity, but not really so much for length.
Today, I sit down with legendary screenwriter Eric Roth.
We talk about his life and his craft and why we should all be more generous of spirit. Truth be told, Eric has been involved in creating so many iconic films that it would have been impossible to try… so I asked him about the films of his that meant the most to me, and he held court and digressed in the loveliest of ways. I hope you have as much fun listening as I did recording this interview. Enjoy!
Eric’s credits include: The Nickel Ride, The Drowning Pool, The Onion Field, Forrest Gump (for which he won an Oscar), The Postman (for which he won a Razzie), The Horse Whisperer, and then one of my favorite films ever, The Insider, followed by Ali, Munich, The Good Shepherd, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. He’s also worked in Television, and seen not one but two sea changes, first with HBO, and then with Netflix and House of Cards. And much more recently he wrote A Star Is Born, Dune, and the new Western being Directed by Martin Scorsese, Killers of the Flower Moon. He was also a producer on the Oscar nominated Mank, directed by David Fincher, from a script by Fincher’s father.
Today we welcome back the legendary Eric Roth. An Oscar-Winning Screenwriter & Producer.
We talk about how he writes, and blends craft with pure inspiration. He talks about working with Robert Redford. We re-visit Munich & The Good Shepherd. He talks about being re-written, and his unique creative partnership with Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga on A Star Is Born. And last but not least, we talk about writing the new Dune film which he thinks just might be something very special.
It’s a wonderful conversation with one of the very best working in Hollywood today, whose generous not only with his talent, but his spirit. Dig it!
Recommended Viewing: The Horse Whisperer, Munich, The Good Shepherd, A Star Is Born (2018), and Dune (See it in IMAX on October 22, 2021)
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 00:04:20 – Zodiac 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
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
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.
“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.”
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.
The new David Fincher movie, Mank, released on Netflix on December 4th of this year, was originally scheduled to be produced in 1999 but didn’t happen due to a number of factors. In 2007 Fincher released Zodiac which was one of the first major theatrical features to be shot in a digital environment around a completely new file-based workflow that would revolutionize the industry over the next decade.
Peter Mavromates, the post production supervisor on Zodiac and a number of other Fincher projects over the years, including a co-Producer credit on Mank, joins Critical Conversations to discuss how digital workflows have grown and evolved over the last 15 years. Peter will talk about helping to design the early workflows on Zodiac, continuing to build it with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the ongoing developments created for Mank, and what’s next for the future.
Peter Mavromates has worked in post production for more than 35 years. He saw the future of “film” when he walked into a high-end video facility in New York called Charlex. Working at Charlex while still in “film” school in the NYU Grad Film Program, he saw the beauty of film (read ACETATE) and the power of electronic (read ANALOG VIDEO transitioning to DIGITAL) and watched as those two processes merged and mutated throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Peter produced his first DI on Panic Room in 2002, and his first DI of a digitally acquired movie on Zodiac in 2007. Most of the last 25 years have been spent working on projects with David Fincher, but he has also worked with Quentin Tarantino, Stephen Gaghan, and George Clooney.