Pressure and Obsession in the Films of David Fincher

Piers McCarthy
February 2012 / November 15, 2018

This dissertation aims to show the recurring themes of pressure and obsession in the work of film director David Fincher. Looking specifically at Seven (David Fincher, New Line Cinema, 1995), Zodiac (David Fincher, Paramount Pictures, 2007) and The Social Network (David Fincher, Columbia Pictures, 2010), I will show the gradual change in style and subject matter while still highlighting the resonance of the two themes under analysis. Furthermore, it will be shown how obsession and pressure link to Fincher’s working method. I will be examining critical, journalistic and academic writings to assess the themes and Fincher’s directorial position. Whereas Seven has had a great deal written about it, Zodiac and The Social Network are more recent films and thus there is less literature on them. For this reason, study on both films should garner more original analysis.

The themes of pressure and obsession differ slightly in all three films, however, there is an overriding sense in each film that the workplace and environment has a pressurizing effect on the characters. What is more, pressure can at times define the notion of obsession. Obsession is mostly shown as a mutation of characters’ personal drive, or an extension of their duties for work. The two themes can at times separate themselves in terms of aesthetic and narrative presentation yet they are mainly one and the same; at times they can even be analyzed in the context of Fincher’s filmmaking practice.

Chapter one gives an overview of contemporary Hollywood, the role of the director, Fincher in relation to both of these, the two themes under analysis and deliberations on auteurist theory – this constitutes the literature review. The second chapter examines the impetus of investigative obsession, along with the presentation of morbidity and tension in Seven. Chapter three looks at the similarity in obsessive personalities along with suspense and drama in Zodiac. Chapter four focuses on The Social Network and obsession effecting status quo. The conclusion will draw on the comparisons and contrasts from chapters two to four. It will also give an overall account of how we may regard Fincher in contemporary Hollywood and in respect to auteur theory.

Read the full dissertation

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Fincherphilia & Beyond

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Just a small sample of all the precious filmic resources bestowed by Cinephilia & Beyond:

1993. Alien3 01

Alien3: “Take all of the responsibility, because you’re going to get all of the blame”

1995. Se7en

Se7en: A Rain-Drenched, Somber, Gut-Wrenching Thriller that Restored David Fincher’s Faith in Filmmaking

1995. The Game

Downwards Is the Only Way Forwards: Welcome to David Fincher’s The Game

1999. Fight Club

Fight Club: David Fincher’s Stylish Exploration of Modern-Day Man’s Estrangement and Disillusionment

2007. Zodiac

Fincher’s Zodiac As Easily One Of The Best Thrillers Of The Millennium So Far

1982. David Fincher at ILM

David Fincher’s Favorite Movies

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In Conversation with Jennifer Haley, Writer (Mindhunter)

Jennifer Haley (Peter Konerko)

 

Pop Culture Confidential. Episode 90: Jennifer Haley – Writer, Mindhunter

2018. Pop Culture Confidential (Podcast)

Christina Jeurling Birro
November 29, 2017
Pop Culture Confidential

Thrilling, dark, gripping and tense are just some of the words used to describe the hit Netflix series Mindhunter. Playwright Jennifer Haley is a writer and co-producer on the series, and joins us this week to share her experience getting into the minds of FBI agents and serial killers.

Mindhunter is a meticulously paced crime drama based on the writings of the pioneering serial killer profiler John E Douglas. Along with his team, they interviewed the likes of Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, and Ed Kemper during the seventies and eighties which resulted in a redefining of criminal profiling forever.

The series has wonderful casting, beautiful cinematography, and some of the creepiest conversations you will hear this year. Lead by David Fincher who is Executive Producer and director of four of the episodes, the writers on Mindhunter have delivered an amazing array of characters.

 

L.A. Not So Confidential. S1 Ep. 4: Writing Minds – Jennifer Haley Interview

2018. L.A. Not So Confidential (Podcast).jpg

Dr. Scott & Dr. Shiloh
December 3, 2017
L.A. Not So Confidential

Forensic psychologists, Dr. Scott and Dr. Shiloh, interview award-winning playwright Jennifer Haley who was a writer on Season 1 of Netflix‘s 2017 hit Mindhunter. In their first interview episode, they dive into the excitement and obstacles of bringing John Douglas‘ book to life and dish on several story arcs that leave us not-so-patiently waiting for Season 2! What’s with Wendy and that cat? Will there be a musical episode to see Jonathon Groff in action?

Listen to the full interview

L.A. Not So Confidential: S1 Ep. 3: Hunting Minds

Dr. Shiloh and Dr. Scott dissect their new favorite show, Netflix’s Mindhunter, and compare their own first experiences interviewing and working with the criminal population.

 

2012. Jennifer Haley - The NetherJennifer Haley .com

In Conversation with Mindhunter’s Cotter Smith

Davina Baynes
September 14, 2018
Absolute Music Chat

Cotter Smith was born in Washington DC, the son of a federal judge. He is an actor with a stage and screen presence spanning over 40 years. Most recently he can be seen on our screens as Unit Chief Shepard in David Fincher’s Mindhunter and as the Deputy Attorney General in The Americans but his on-screen career stretches back to Hill Street Blues (1982) and Blood Feud (1983) when he played Robert F. Kennedy. I was recently very privileged to talk with Cotter about his life and career in both acting and teaching, working with David Fincher and Steven Spielberg and much, much more.

[…]

DB: When you actually got the call from David Fincher: how did that come about?

CS: It was a call from my agent, initially, saying, ‘There’s interest. Would you be willing to read for David Fincher, for this series?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely. I’m a big fan.’ They said, ‘Well, first of all, let me tell you, it’s a guaranteed ten episodes already ordered for Netflix, but it would be a required eight months, in Pittsburgh.’ So I called my wife and said, ‘So here’s the deal, there’s this possibility, it’s not an offer but they’re interested in me, to come in and audition and we would be eight months in Pittsburgh.’ And she said, ‘Cotter, go get it, and get me out of here!’ (Laughs)

DB: She was packing her bags!

CS: She was so keen to leave New York. (Both laugh) So I auditioned. Then the wonderful casting agent, Julie Schubert, who was so helpful to me – she is really lovely, a casting agent who really loves actors and believes in the whole process – we had prepared, I think it was, these three or four scenes (I never met David) it was all on tape, that third one went off to him. She said, ‘You know, he takes a very long time to cast, so just relax. Everything he does he takes a very, very long time: from casting to shooting.’ So I said, ‘Okay,’ and a week later my agent called and said, ‘You got the job.’ I said, ‘What?’, ‘Yeah, you got the job!’ That was the first time it was ‘real’. I didn’t honestly believe I was going to get the job: I knew many, many, many people would want this job and, as an actor, you do these auditions and you don’t actually put much on them because it’s too heartbreaking if you don’t get them. I was so thrilled, and stunned. It’s exactly the kind of work that I want to do, with a kind of director that I want to work with: I love serious drama; he’s a master, master filmmaker. Just knowing he had cast me made me realize: ‘He knows what he’s doing, so this is going to be good.’ And it was. He’s so fun to work with. He’s challenging. He’s tough. He’s fast. He’s improvisational and you’ve really got to come with your A-game – which I like. He does endless takes: 30, 40, 50. My record was 64 takes on one scene. Endless shooting: we took eight months to shoot ten episodes. That’s a long time! Usually a director will be given eight days for an episode so that’ll be three months – he had eight months. But he’s David Fincher.

DB: And aiming as near to perfection as you can get?

CS: He’s a perfectionist. When you look at his work the proof is in the pudding.

DB: What about marks for the camerawork, are they really rigid?

CS: They’re necessarily rigid, at times, but it changes. On the spot, he will change things, change intention, change everything. It was fun.

DB: You don’t have to smoke as a character, do you?

CS: Thank God no! They sent out notices and said: ‘It’s the ‘70s, so who among you would be willing to smoke?’ And I just wrote back and said: ‘Absolutely no.’ And poor Holt McCallany said ‘yes’ and I think he regrets it to this day. This season he’s going to taper off. He really smokes.

Read the full interview

Read the other Absolute Music Chat conversations with the Cast of Mindhunter (more to come):

In Conversation with Mindhunter’s Jonathan Groff
An Interview with Mindhunter’s Holt McCallany
Jack Erdie: Actor (MindhunterBanshee) & writer
In Conversation With Alex Morf: Actor (MindhunterDaredevil)
In Conversation With Tobias Segal: Actor (MindhunterSneaky Pete)
Spotlight Interview. Chris Dettone: Actor (Mindhunter), Stuntman/Coordinator

David Fincher in Conversation with Mark Romanek

Illustrations by Tony Millionaire

“The screenwriter has given you the greatest gift, which is he’s given you something that inspires somebody to make the right mistake.”

Things David Fincher enjoys about filmmaking:

Reading a good script
Casting
Rehearsal
Pre-production meetings

Things he hates about filmmaking:

Every single additional thing about it

Mark Romanek
October 1, 2010
The Believer

David Fincher’s film career began at the age of nineteen as an assistant cameraman at Industrial Light & Magic. In 1983, he relocated to Los Angeles to direct TV commercials and music videos. His commercial clients include Adidas, AT&T, Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Pepsi, and Nike. David has directed music videos for various artists including Madonna, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, and A Perfect Circle. In 1987 he cofounded Propaganda Films with Dominic Sena, Greg Gold, and Nigel Dick, and has since become a motion-picture director with Panic Room, Fight Club, The Game, Se7en, Zodiac, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button among his credits. His next film, The Social Network, is slated to be released this month.

Mark Romanek was born in Chicago. Romanek has directed numerous award-winning music videos for many artists including Fiona Apple, Beck, David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Coldplay, R.E.M., and Sonic Youth. Romanek wrote and directed the feature film One Hour Photo starring Robin Williams. The film had its world premiere at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, and received the Prix du Public, Prix Premiere, and the Prix du Jury at the 2002 Deauville American Film Festival. His new film, Never Let Me Go, will be released this month.

Fincher and Romanek first met in 1990, when Romanek was signed to Satellite Films. Satellite was a “boutique” division of Propaganda Films, where Fincher was a director, and a music-video legend. The two directors spoke by phone for The Believer in early August 2010.

Read the full conversation

2010-10-01. The Believer - An Interview with David Fincher 01a

Thanks to Joe Frady

In Conversation with Mindhunter’s Jonathan Groff

Paula Courtney
July 29, 2018
Absolute Music Chat

Actor Jonathan Groff has already enjoyed a huge degree of respect and recognition for his previous roles in theatre (Hamilton and Spring Awakening), on TV (Looking and Glee) and also in film with the hugely successful Frozen. Lately however he has found a whole new audience, who are singing his praises for his outstanding performance as Holden Ford on Mindhunter. In my extended interview with Jonathan we talk about his early years, his first roles, working on Mindhunter, his thoughts on David Fincher’s directing technique and so much more.

[…]

PC: Tell me more about working with David Fincher. Obviously his name is on everyone’s lips nowadays and we know his style of directing – we all know he may shoot the same scene 70 times – but there’s much more to him than that. I always like to get information first hand, if I can. What kind of impression has he made on you?

JG: Well it’s just the whole idea, for me at least, [of] having complete faith and trust in someone and knowing that they are going to take you somewhere that is interesting, and working with him is different to working with anyone else. One of the reasons being that you go, ‘Okay, I will just do whatever you want,’ because I so believe in him and in his brain and in his vision, and his point of view, because he’s just proven time and time and time and time again – with all of his films and projects – that he’s one of the most interesting, creative people working today. So just to get the opportunity to be a part of his world is exciting and especially with this TV experience, particularly right now, in this very moment, it’s the first time he’s ever come back to a television show. He directed the first two episodes of House of Cards and he was Creative and Executive Producer on that show, but he never came back to direct it again. He very much had his hand in every episode on the first season of Mindhunter. We weren’t sure if he would come back and do the second season or not, because he has never done that before and now here he is, and we are working on the second season. Just to get that extended time with him and to see how… I guess the thing that is so inspirational about him is that he doesn’t sit back and go, ‘Okay, we know what we are doing. We know who these characters are. Let’s just continue comfortably down the road we were going down before.’

We came back to the second season and obviously some of the sets are the same, and we actually basically know who the characters are, where before we didn’t know what the show was yet – we were still making it. So there’s that element, which is great. But it’s still the same process as it was the first time around: it’s not laid back and comfortable; it’s not pressing the same notes; he’s really trying to move things forward and make things different, evolve it and grow it and change it as it goes along – that’s just an artist that is always searching, always changing and always asking the questions. He’s just always trying to get to a better version of the truth: in the writing, then in the shooting and in the editing, he just never stops working and never stops asking questions, and it’s just so rare to find someone like that.

Read the full interview

Read the other Absolute Music Chat conversations with the Cast of Mindhunter (more to come):

An Interview with Mindhunter’s Holt McCallany
Jack Erdie: Actor (Mindhunter, Banshee) & Writer
In Conversation With Alex Morf: Actor (Mindhunter, Daredevil)
In Conversation With Tobias Segal: Actor (Mindhunter, Sneaky Pete)
Spotlight Interview. Chris Dettone: Actor (Mindhunter), Stuntman/Coordinator