It’s All True: A Conversation with David Fincher

Illustration by Rumbidzai Savanhu

The master filmmaker behind Mank on Orson Welles, Pauline Kael and realising a passion project after a 30-year wait.

David Jenkins
December 2, 2020
Little White Lies

From the pen of Jack Fincher comes Mank, the story of how perma-soused Hollywood hack Herman J Mankiewicz happened to write one of the greatest screenplays of all time. Sadly, Jack didn’t live long enough to see the words he had written transformed into sound and light, but it’s something that his son David had wanted to realise for close to three decades.

It’s been six years since Fincher Jr’s last feature film, 2014’s Gone Girl, and in the interim we’ve had two series of Rolls Royce TV drama in the form of Mindhunter. For someone who has already made a tech bro riff on Citizen Kane (2010’s The Social Network), and a melancholic homage to his late father (2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Mank combines these two career poles, while also posing such existential hypotheticals as, what makes a man? And not only that, what makes a writer, and what makes a director?

LWLies: Let’s go on a quick flashback to the early days and the creation of this amazing script by your father, Jack. He was a journalist and author by trade. Did he pivot to screenwriting later in life?

Fincher: I think he wrote a screenplay that was optioned and Rock Hudson wanted to do it – this was in the late ’60s. That fizzled out. Then he wrote spec screenplays in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and then when he retired in the ’90s, he came to me and said, ‘I’m going to have all this time on my hands, what do you want to read a script about?’ I said I had always been interested in ‘Raising Kane’ which I was exposed to in middle school. I had read Pauline Kael’s essay on microfiche in the school library, and then I noticed a copy of it in my father’s library, and we talked about it. Then, 12 years later, I was about to go off to do Alien3, and he was retiring and wanted a new challenge.

Read the full interview

More in Little White Lies 87: The Mank Issue

La Septième Obsession 31: David Fincher

La Septième Obsession

OBSESSION: David Fincher

1. Mank de David Fincher

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 3Se7enThe GameFight ClubPanic Room + les plans de Panic RoomZodiacL’Étrange histoire de Benjamin ButtonThe Social Network Millénium + la musique hantée de MilléniumGone Girl Mindhunter

3. Analyses

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

Sommaire complet

Commander

David Fincher’s Impossible Eye

David Fincher by Jack Davison

With ‘Mank,’ America’s most famously exacting director tackles the movie he’s been waiting his entire career to make.

Jonah Weiner
November 19, 2020
The New York Times

Six years ago, after I contacted David Fincher and told him I wanted to write an article about how he makes movies, he invited me to his office to present my case in person and, while I was there, watch him get some work done. On an April afternoon, I arrived at the Hollywood Art Deco building that has long served as Fincher’s base of operations, where he was about to look at footage from his 10th feature film, Gone Girl,” then in postproduction. We headed upstairs and found the editor Kirk Baxter assembling a scene. Fincher watched it once through, then asked Baxter to replay a five-second stretch. It was a seemingly simple tracking shot, the camera traveling alongside Ben Affleck as he entered a living room in violent disarray: overturned ottoman, shattered glass. The camera moved at the same speed as Affleck, gliding with unvarying smoothness, which is exactly how Fincher likes his shots to behave. Except that three seconds in, something was off. “There’s a bump,” he said.

Jack Fincher photographed by David Fincher in 1976, when he was 14.
“That’s why it’s out of focus”.

No living director surpasses Fincher’s reputation for exactitude. Any account of his methods invariably mentions how many takes he likes to shoot, which can annoy him, not because this is inaccurate but because it abets a vision of him as a dictatorially fussy artiste. Fincher, who is 58, argues that this caricature misses the point: If you want to build worlds as engrossing as those he seeks to construct, then you need actors to push their performances into zones of fecund uncertainty, to shed all traces of what he calls “presentation.” And then you need them to give you options, all while hitting the exact same marks (which goes for the camera operators too) to ensure there will be no continuity errors when you cut the scene together. Getting all these stars to align before, say, Take No. 9 is possible but unlikely. “I get, He’s a perfectionist,” Fincher volunteered. “No. There’s just a difference between mediocre and acceptable.”

Read the full profile

David Fincher: film studios ‘don’t want to make anything that can’t make them a billion dollars’

Robbie Collin, Film Critic
November 14, 2020
The Telegraph

An hour or so into the 1999 premiere of Fight Club, David Fincher slipped outside for some air. The director hadn’t known exactly what to expect when his brutally violent black comedy was selected for the Venice Film Festival, but whatever the dream scenario had been, this wasn’t it. The walkouts had started early, and become a steady stream. The only audience members laughing were his leading men, Brad Pitt and Edward Norton – though in fairness, the two had shared a joint beforehand. The first review off the presses had described Fincher’s film as “an inadmissible assault on personal decency” with a fascist bent, and the festival crowd weren’t noticeably any more enthused.

“The resounding thuds every scene landed with just became too much,” Fincher, now 58, tells me from home via Zoom. He recalls sitting on the steps outside and watching half a dozen disgusted older women file past: “all wearing at least one item of leopard print, like six Anne Bancrofts in The Graduate.” One evidently recognised the American enfant terrible and hissed something to her companions, who looked across and shook their heads in sync. “It was then I knew that what we’d done was wrong,” he says, beaming with pride.

Fincher’s tremendous latest film – his first since Gone Girl in 2014 – is unlikely to cause many viewers to storm home, not least because they’ll already be there when they watch it. Mank is a Netflix production, filmed just before the pandemic struck, but edited, polished and due to be released under lockdown conditions. Set in the Golden Age of Hollywood and shot in silvery monochrome, it follows the political chicanery and personal vendettas that led to the writing of Citizen Kane: a film released in 1941, and still widely considered the greatest ever made. Mank’s hero isn’t Orson Welles, Kane’s startlingly young director and star (he was 25 when it was released), but Gary Oldman’s Herman J Mankiewicz – a wildly talented screenwriter and incorrigible gambler and drunk, whom Welles enlisted to ghostwrite the script.

Read the full interview [Only for subscribers – 1-month free trial]

From Madonna to Mank: Why David Fincher’s Greatest Film is an Erotic Pop Music Video

The Gone Girl director is known for the psychological depth, visual symbolism and pulpy thrills of his films but all roads lead back to his tempestuous – and mysterious – collaborations with Madge.

Adam White
November 6, 2020
Independent

It was in the winter of 1993 that David Fincher murdered Madonna. The crime scene: a music video for one of the latter’s greatest singles, “Bad Girl”, and what would be the last of the pair’s four collaborations. In its wake, Fincher would become one of cinema’s most revered directors, the prickly genius behind Se7en (1995), The Social Network (2010), Gone Girl (2014) and the forthcoming Mank. But it’s “Bad Girl” that remains Fincher’s most important venture. It is a short, stylish erotic thriller that begins and ends with Madonna’s lifeless corpse; a video that nods toward the filmmaker Fincher would become, and a final act of artistic symbiosis between two titans of pop culture.

Back in the Nineties, Fincher was coming to the end of a luminous eight years as a music video visionary. The likes of Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got a Gun” and George Michael’s supermodel-filled “Freedom ‘90” were gorgeous exercises in style and short-form storytelling. Little was more thrilling, though, than his work with Madonna – from the grandiose myth-making of “Vogue” and “Express Yourself” to the richly personal “Oh Father”. They both recognised the cinematic potential of the form, even if it came at a cost – all of their collaborations rank among the most expensive videos ever made.

That trilogy of music videos – which came before “Bad Girl” and were shot over the course of 10 months between 1989 and 1990 – would reflect a fruitful creative tussle between the pair. Despite Fincher’s relative lack of clout in the industry at the time, and especially compared to Madonna’s cultural ubiquity, they would approach their work as somewhat begrudging – and almost flirtatious – equals.

In interviews, Fincher recalled expressing mock outrage when Madonna asked him if he had heard of Metropolis, the landmark sci-fi film she wanted to replicate for “Express Yourself”. Madonna sneered at his idea to have her crawl across the floor, lick milk from a bowl, and then pour it over herself in the same video, assuming it might look like a student film. It turned out to be one of the video’s most memorable set pieces. The visual for “Oh Father”, meanwhile, a psychological wormhole into Madonna’s childhood and the emotional toll of her mother’s death, only came about at Fincher’s insistence. Madonna had been unsure it would even work as a single. Fincher, though, saw it as ripe for visual accompaniment, and captured her vulnerability like no other.

Read the full article

Premiere: Pourquoi David Fincher n’a pas tourné de film depuis six ans ?

“Que voulez-vous, je suis lent”, répond le réalisateur avec humour dans Première.

Léonard Haddad
Octobre 28, 2020
Premiere

Mank, le prochain film de David Fincher sortira le 4 décembre sur Netflix. Au cours d’un long entretien, le réalisateur détaille dans le nouveau numéro de Première (n°512 – novembre 2020) la création de ce film en noir et blanc qui plonge les spectateurs dans le Hollywood des années 1930, plus précisément au coeur de la fabrication de Citizen Kane, le premier film d’Orson Welles réalisé à partir d’un scénario de Herman J. Mankiewicz.

Gone Girl, le dernier film de David Fincher, était sorti en France le 8 octobre 2014. Six ans se sont donc écoulés depuis cette adaptation du thriller de Gillian Flynn avec Rosamund Pike et Ben Affleck. Soit la plus longue pause de la carrière de David Fincher, un an de plus que la période déjà interminable qui avait séparé Panic Room (2002) de Zodiac (2007). Le cinéaste n’a pas bullé pour autant, travaillant sur une série sur les serial killers pour NetflixMindhunter, et produisant, toujours pour la plateforme, l’anthologie animée de Tim MillerLove, Death + Robots. Il voulait aussi tourner la suite de World War Z avec Brad Pitt, son acteur de Seven (1995), Fight Club (1999) et L’Etrange histoire de Benjamin Button (2008), mais ce projet a fini par tomber à l’eau. Dans Première, le réalisateur détaille pourquoi son retour à la mise en scène d’un long métrage a mis autant de temps.

Extrait:

Première : Gone Girl date de 2014, ça commençait à faire long, non ?

David Fincher : J’ai fait les deux saisons de Mindhunter et… Au départ, je devais juste aider à mettre la série sur des rails, il n’était pas prévu que je sois showrunner. Et puis, par défaut, je le suis devenu, avec deux autres personnes. Et disons qu’il est possible que ce ne soit pas mon point fort, finalement. Je dois être trop obsessionnel et tatillon pour tenir ce rôle

Au final, ça fait quand même très peu de films signés David Fincher…

Que voulez-vous, je suis lent. Quand j’ai le sentiment qu’un truc est prêt à être tourné, ça peut aller très vite. The Social Network, tout était en place, on n’avait plus qu’à choisir les acteurs. Mais ces situations-là sont rares, les cas où tu lis un script et où tu dis : « OK, les gars, écartez-vous, on s’y met. » Vers 2007-2008 puis 2010-2011, j’ai enchaîné relativement vite, en tout cas selon mes standards habituels : Zodiac et Benjamin Button puis The Social Network et Millénium. Mais je ne suis pas certain que cela ait été une si bonne chose que ça au final. En tout cas, j’avais besoin de recharger mes batteries. Maintenant, si j’ai signé ce deal Netflix, c’est aussi parce que j’aimerais travailler comme Picasso peignait, essayer des choses très différentes, tenter de briser la forme ou de changer de mode de fonctionnement. J’aime l’idée d’avoir une « œuvre ». Eh oui, j’admets que ça me fait bizarre, après quarante ans dans ce métier, de n’avoir que dix films à mon actif. Enfin onze, mais dix dont je peux dire qu’ils sont à moi. Oui, objectivement, c’est un constat assez terrifiant

Propos recueillis par Léonard Haddad

L’interview complète de David Fincher est à retrouver dans le nouveau numéro de Première. Voici son sommaire:

Mank : David Fincher a un contrat d’exclusivité de 4 ans avec Netflix

François Léger
Novembre 11, 2020
Premiere

The David Fincher You Meet in His Movies

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.

The protagonists of everything from ‘Fight Club’ to ‘Zodiac’ to ‘Gone Girl’ have something in common: they’re all cut from the same cloth as their director

Adam Nayman
September 23, 2020
The Ringer

No filmmaker has ever put himself into his work like Alfred Hitchcock. In movie after movie, the director made blink-or-miss-them appearances located at the edge of the frame—crossing a street walking a dog; appearing in a photo for a weight loss clinic—that prompted audiences to play a game of spot-the-auteur. These slyly miniaturized acts of showmanship were simultaneously sight gags and wry reminders of who was really in charge: The so-called “master of suspense” mixed in among the actors he infamously referred to as “cattle.”

David Fincher has not appeared in any of his own films: the closest thing to a cameo comes in 2014’s Gone Girl, a positively Hitchcockian thriller right down to its shower scene featuring a bloody blond. Midway through the film, suspected wife killer Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is being coached on an upcoming television appearance by his high-priced lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), who’s determined that his client makes just the right impression. During their dressing room prep session, the attorney pelts Nick with gummy bears to sharpen his posture and line readings. Perry supposedly didn’t know who Fincher was before being cast in the part, but that doesn’t preclude the fact that in this scene, he’s doing an indirect impression of his director—a control freak who once said there are only two ways to shoot any given scene, and that one of them is always wrong.

Read the full article

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

Follow Jeff Cronenweth, ASC Archives on Twitter

DP/30: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross. “Watchmen”, “Mank”

“All in ‘Mank’ is orchestra or big band. There’s no one synth or one note played by us on the whole score.”

David Poland
August 10, 2020
DP/30: The Oral History Of Hollywood (YouTube)

They both took different roads to film scoring, which they have mostly (and most famously) done together. From 9 Inch Nails to Fincher to Watchmen, they have a unique one-off approach to every project. They took some time to chat with David Poland to chat about their work on The Social Network, Watchmen, Mank, and Pixar‘s Soul.

Shot via Zoom, August 2020.

Earlier DP/30 with Trent Reznor: Gone Girl

Through The Frame: Re-Animating Camera Moves For Live Action

Jesse Korosi
May 7, 2020
Through The Frame (HPA)

Learn how the new movement toward reanimating camera movement, stabilizing, and reframing shots in post is taking shape! Chad Peter and Tai Logsdon have been on the forefront of this change and will discuss how it all began and how it’s being done today, with lots of details and examples from Mind Hunter, Bird Man, Homecoming & Mr. Robot.

Writer / Director (DGA) / VFX Supervisor originally from Colorado – Chad Peter has worked as VFX supervisor & additional director (inserts) on the final season of “Mr. Robot”, as well as VFX Super on Amazon’s “Homecoming” season 1.  Previously, Chad had served as an in-house VFX on “Mindhunter” s1 & s2, “House of Cards” s2 thru s4, “Gone Girl” and more.

Tai Logsdon grew up in the Central Valley of California, graduated from Chapman University in 2006, and has worked as in-House VFX Manager for shows such as Amazon’s “Homecoming” and USA’s “Mr.Robot” (the final season).

Listen to the podcast