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.
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.
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 3 – Se7en – The Game – Fight Club – Panic Room + les plans de Panic Room – Zodiac – L’Étrange histoire de Benjamin Button – The Social Network – Millénium + la musique hantée de Millénium – Gone Girl – Mindhunter
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
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Se7en and the 10th anniversary of The Social Network, The 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.
Many describe David Fincher as cold, but the scene when Benjamin and Daisy meet in the middle is anything but
Romance isn’t the first thing that the name David Fincher brings to mind. His work is more often characterized as dark, ingeniously twisted, even cold-hearted. What made Zodiac so striking was its almost neutral approach to its sinister topic, in line with the serious detective work that its protagonists engage in to try to catch the infamous serial killer. No surprise that the director eventually gave his take on the Scandinavian crime saga The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. But this calm and collected approach belies a genuine sensitivity and emotional intelligence. Even in Se7en, love was present and essential to the story’s darkness, hidden in a box that was much more than a simple piece of evidence. Some kind of love is also what drives Amy Dunne to trap her husband in an increasingly loveless marriage in Gone Girl. Although the director revels in humanity’s natural bend toward perversion, he understands that deviance isn’t all that interesting without the passion that often spawns it.
Sometimes, however, love remains pure and impervious to the corruption all around. 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fincher’s most romantic film, isn’t about some guy insulting his girlfriend and then trying desperately to add her on Facebook like a 14-year-old; its hero isn’t a washed-up teacher who can’t help but sleep with one of his young studentsand ruin his wife and life, nor does he need a little push off a rooftop to feel alive again. Benjamin Button (played by a peak Brad Pitt, if you ask me) is a very nice guy who knows how to love a woman well; with his good manners and big heart, he couldn’t be further from a pervert. It’s his genetic makeup that’s gone wrong—a fact that makes Benjamin Button, as lovely as it is, Fincher’s most disturbing film, albeit in an unusual way for the director.
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.
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.
Interview with David Fincher at the TAI University School of Arts (Madrid), hosted by Carlos Reviriego.
In English, with Spanish subtitles.
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.
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?
On October 1, The Social Network turns ten. The RED Mysterium X sensor (also turning ten) that rendered the film is now outmoded, but The Social Network thrives due to, not in spite of, the marks of its time. The limited latitude of the once cutting-edge camera sensor pushed David Fincher and DP Jeff Cronenweth—who also shot Fincher’s Fight Club, The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl—into the darker bends of The Social Network’s imitation Harvard dorms. The camera struggled with highlights, so they avoided hot windows and sunny exteriors. It also strained to digest warm tones, so they chose a cooler palette that was easier for the RED to chew on. The sensor’s limitations had implicit limitations with the story of Facebook’s origin, the first of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s two tech mogul reprimands (Fincher’s Zuckerberg was follow by Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs)—individuals he believes pioneered our doom out of spite, envy, inceldom.
When The Social Network initially released, an anecdote about Fincher hiring a mime to distract Harvard campus security was often iterated in the press. Fincher and Cronenweth stitched three shots captured by three REDs on a roof across the street and did a “pan and scan” in post to get a move they couldn’t have otherwise. But they needed light on some of the dark arches, so Fincher hired a mime to push a battery cart full of lights behind them, the impetus being that “by the time [security] got him out of there we would have already accomplished our shot.” Fincher adopted digital in its nascent stages to limit the compromises caused by the erratic nature of the film set. What remained to be compromised on he’d have more ways of fixing in post on digital than on film.
Filmmaker: What have you been watching?
Cronenweth: Eh, I don’t know. Mostly movies. I tried to do the Ozark series, which I like, but it starts to get redundant: same bad guys doing the same things. The only problem I find is that the first week we watched maybe 50 movies, so now we can’t separate the good scenes and shots from the others because we’ve watched so many in a row. That can be a handicap. I’m 58. This is the longest I’ve had off since I graduated from college. So, there are a lot of things I’ve been putting off for twenty years that have been good to get done with.
Filmmaker: Have you rewatched The Social Network recently?
Cronenweth: No, I tend not to. You see them so many times when you’re making them, in the edit, the color correct and the screenings. I would like to, though. It’s such a cleverly written script and Fincher did such a great job at bringing Aaron’s dialogue across. Everytime I watch it, regardless of how tied into it I was, it always amuses me how quickly it feels like it went by. You never have a chance to get off the rollercoaster, which is one of [Fincher’s] mottos. But by the end you go “Really? That’s the whole movie?” It feels like it just started.
Filmmaker: You guys were the first feature film to use RED’s Mysterium X sensor.
Cronenweth: It was my first experience shooting something long form with a digital camera. I had shot music videos and commercials on an array of different formats and cameras. Obviously Fincher had done Zodiac and Benjamin Button digitally. I can’t remember what they shot that on?
Filmmaker: I think they were both shot on the Viper. [Benjamin was a combination of the Viper, Sony F23 and some 35mm on the Arriflex 435]
Roger Durling’s wildly successful Santa Barbara International Film Festival is underway with tributes and with honors being handed out for the next week or so. Last night, Brad Pitt was honored with the Leonard Maltin Modern Master award.
After a lengthy interview with Maltin, which covered all of Pitt’s work with directors like both Ridley and Tony Scott, the Coen brothers, Tarantino, and beyond, Pitt’s frequent collaborator David Fincher made a rare appearance to hand Pitt his Modern Master award. They have made three films together, if you didn’t know (which of course would be insane to not know). Pitt is a muse of sorts for Fincher, starting with Se7en (1995), then Fight Club (1999), and finally Benjamin Button (2008). Pitt said when accepting his award that he hoped the two get to do five more collaborations together. Wouldn’t that be something?
Brad Pitt is having quite a season. It’s as though we’ve never seen a movie star. Movie stars of his stature are “as rare as albino pandas, and here’s one of them,” said Fincher. What that means is that it’s rare indeed for an actor to possess that thing — that movie star thing. Charisma that could power an entire planet. You can’t teach it. You can’t learn it. It’s there or it isn’t. And with Pitt, it was there from his first appearance onscreen.