Fincher Moments: The Pure, Painstaking Romance in ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’

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.

Many describe David Fincher as cold, but the scene when Benjamin and Daisy meet in the middle is anything but

Manuela Lazic
September 23, 2020
The Ringer

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 students and 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.

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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

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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)

“I Had to Figure Out the True Latitude, Speed and Color Science”

DP Jeff Cronenweth On The Social Network Ten Years Later and the Mysterium X Sensor.

Aaron Hunt
May 4, 2020
Filmmaker

Film stills by Merrick Morton

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]

Read the full interview

Follow Jeff Cronenweth, ASC Archives on Twitter

“David F*cking Fincher” Awards Brad Pitt His Modern Master Award at SBIFF

Sasha Stone
January 23, 2020
AwardsDaily

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.

Here are the videos of the event (playlist):

January 22, 2020
officialSBIFF (YouTube)

Brad Pitt Looks Back on ‘Snatch’, ‘Oceans 12’, ‘Once Upon a Time…’ and More at SBIFF

Christina Radish
January 25, 2020
Collider

Read the highlights of the conversation

The Curious Development History of ‘Benjamin Button’

Adam Chitwood
January 3, 2019
Collider

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is, at first glance, a unique entry in director David Fincher’s filmography. It’s an epic romance of sorts; a sweeping love story told through the ages, one which would appear to be at odds with what many view as a cold and cynical worldview that permeates Fincher’s other films like Se7en, Fight Club, or Zodiac. But upon further inspection, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button fits right in with the rest of Fincher’s darker films, as it’s really the story of a man whose entire life is surrounded by the reminder of death.

Benjamin Button hit theaters on December 25, 2008—almost exactly a decade ago—and was the biggest hit of Fincher’s career until Gone Girl, grossing over $330 million worldwide. It received mostly positive reviews and was nominated for 13 Oscars, winning three for Art Direction, Makeup, and Visual Effects. It almost certainly paved the way for Fincher to next make The Social Network, another successful Oscar-winning film, but actually creating The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was arduous, and the road to getting the film off the ground in the first place was a decades-long journey.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button itself is based on a short story in an F. Scott Fitzgerald book published in 1922, and the central premise caught Hollywood’s attention in the late 1980s: the story of a man born old who ages backwards and dies young.

The first director attached to the project was Frank Oz, with Martin Short attached to star. But after working on the script for a few months for Universal Pictures, Oz left the project. He couldn’t quite crack how to turn this short story into a compelling drama, as the central premise lacked significant conflict.

So Universal’s president of production at the time, Casey Silver, next turned to screenwriter Robin Swicord, asking her to attempt an adaptation. She turned in a first draft in January 1990 and her contribution was so substantial that on the finished iteration of the film directed by Fincher, Swicord received a “Story by” co-credit.

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Frank W Ockenfels 3: David Bowie, Light, & Portrait Photography

The Hollywood Reporter (YouTube)
June 22, 2018

A craftsman with a camera and an artist with a vision. Frank W Ockenfels 3 takes us through his detailed story of his close relationship with the late David Bowie. A master of light and one of the industry’s most prolific photographers, this is ‘Magic Hour.’

Click for a full screen view:

Frank Ockenfels 3

Original Benjamin Button Model by Kazu Hiro

Click for a full screen view:

2006. Rick Baker's Cinovation Studios deliver the Brad Pitt heads by Kazu Hiro to Digital Domain

Rick Baker’s Cinovation Studios deliver the aged Brad Pitt silicone heads by Kazu Hiro to Digital Domain to be digitally scanned. Top center: Kazu Hiro and Rick Baker. Top right: Eric Barba, Visual Effects Supervisor for Digital Domain (Kazu Hiro, 2006)

2018-01. Make-Up Artist Magazine - Kazuhiro TsujiSculptor and Special Make-Up Effects Artist
Kazu Hiro (Make-Up Artist Magazine, 2018)

kazustudios.com

Exclusive: DP Claudio Miranda on ‘Only the Brave’, Shooting Fire, and David Fincher Stories

By Adam Chitwood
October 12, 2017
Collider

Claudio Miranda has had an interesting career thus far. After working as a gaffer on films like Se7en and Fight Club, filmmaker David Fincher (with whom he’d worked on a few commercials and music videos as a cinematographer) asked him to serve as the cinematographer for the wildly ambitious 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. That VFX-intensive effort scored Miranda an Oscar nomination and led to him then shooting visually breathtaking movies like Tron: Legacy and Oblivion, and of course Life of Pi, for which he won the Best Cinematography Oscar.

Miranda’s latest film reteams him with director Joseph Kosinski for the third time and also marks something of a departure—the true story drama Only the Brave. The film revolves around one unit of local firefighters who battled the Yarnell Hill wildfire in 2013 to tragic results. Josh Brolin leads a cast that includes Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, and Jennifer Connelly.

With Only the Brave hitting theaters on October 20th, I recently got the chance to have an extended conversation with Miranda about his work on the film. He talked about his working relationship with Kosinski, the challenges of capturing real fire onscreen, shooting on location, and his approach to shooting realistic visual effects.

But I’m also a big fan of Miranda’s work in general, so the conversation veered off into his early days working as a gaffer for Fincher, and we discussed his “trial by fire” experience shooting Benjamin Button as well as what it’s like to work with Fincher and how his gaffer work with other cinematographers like Harris Savides and Dariusz Wolski has shaped his approach. Finally, with Kosinski next set to direct the Top Gun sequel Top Gun: Maverick, I asked Miranda what the prep has been like on that movie so far.

It’s a wide-ranging and refreshingly candid conversation that hopefully admirers of Miranda’s work, or just those curious about cinematography in general, will find illuminating. I certainly had a great time chatting with the talented DP.

Read the full interview