A disillusioned screenwriter in old Hollywood gets a shot at redemption in Director David Fincher’s biographical comedy-drama, Mank.
Fincher’s film takes place as film 24-year-old wunderkind Orson Welles hires scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz to write the screenplay for his masterpiece, Citizen Kane.
On February 6, Fincher discussed the making of Mank in a DGA Virtual Q&A moderated by Director Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7).
During their conversation, Fincher spoke about his love for “the altar of cinema,” the communal aspect that can come through film. “For me, what I love about cinema is going into a big dark room with 700 people and through their laughter and through their surprise and through their shock and through their reactions you realize, I’m not alone. I’m the same. I’m wired into this group in the same way just organically and I’m picking up on all these other cues. That is what makes the cinema, or a great grand theater, an almost cathedral-like experience.”
Fincher’s other directorial credits include the feature films Se7en, The Game, Panic Room, Zodiac, Gone Girl; episodes of the television series House of Cards and Mindhunter; and countless commercials and music videos. He has been nominated for the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Theatrical Feature Film for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In 2013, he was nominated for the DGA Award for Dramatic Series for House of Cards, “Chapter 1” and has twice been nominated for the DGA Award for his Commercial work with Anonymous Content in 2003 and 2008, winning the Award in 2003 for Beauty for Sale (Xelibri Phones), Gamebreakers (Nikegridiron.Com) and Speed Chain (Nike).
The counterculture movement of the 1960s clashes with the hostile Nixon administration in Director Aaron Sorkin’s historical drama, The Trial of the Chicago 7.
Set in the aftermath of what happened after a peaceful protest turned into a violent encounter with the police at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Sorkin’s film recounts the infamous 1969 trial of seven political activists – that included moderate Students for a Democratic Society led by Tom Hayden, militant Yippies led by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers – who were all charged with conspiracy in an unfair trial that transfixed the nation and sparked a conversation about mayhem intended to undermine the U.S. government.
On January 23, Sorkin discussed the making of The Trial of the Chicago 7 in a DGA Virtual Q&A session moderated by Director David Fincher (Mank).
During the conversation, Sorkin spoke about how he came up with a plan to shoot the riot scenes despite his budgetary limitations.
“I find a constraint like that forces you to get creative,” said Sorkin. “It forces you to have an idea. So we came up with this plan, we were going to get a few wide shots and we were going to take advantage of the tear gas. We got smoke everywhere. I discovered what happens when you shoot light through smoke so I wanted smoke in every scene. I could not get enough smoke. It didn’t matter where we were.”
In addition to his directing work on The Trial of the Chicago 7, Sorkin was nominated for the 2017 DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in First-Time Feature for his debut film, Molly’s Game. He was also part of the producing team (which includes DGA President Thomas Schlamme) that won multiple Emmy awards for “Outstanding Drama Series” for their work on the series The West Wing. Sorkin also took home an Academy Award for “Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay” for David Fincher’s feature The Social Network.
That’s how the actor-director framed his duty of leading a conversation with longtime friend and “Gone Girl” boss David Fincher, the esteemed director whose Netflix film “Mank” has emerged as a top awards contender for 2021.
“This is a real role reversal from having to just be Fincher bitch, having to go over and over again,” Affleck teased the director, alluding to Fincher’s notorious preference for many consecutive takes of the same scene.
Appearing in Variety‘s “Directors on Directors” conversation series, the pair recently held a virtual reunion where Affleck dug into the decades-long process of bringing the story of famed screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz to screen.
In perhaps the broadest conversation Fincher has had about the film’s themes, Affleck gets to the heart of the original script from the director’s father, the value of creative credit at the dawn of Hollywood’s golden age, and the rare glimmer of heart and hope in a David Fincher film.
When David Fincher sat down with Netflix executives in the spring of 2019, he did not expect to be handed the equivalent of a blank check. Sure, the 58-year-old filmmaker — a former music-video wunderkind best known for pushing the envelope with baroque serial-killer thrillers (Seven), toxic-masculinity satires (Fight Club) and social-media origin stories (The Social Network) — was a name-brand director, and had helped kick off the golden age of streaming with the outlet’s first original series, House of Cards. But Fincher was used to resistance. You can’t have this budget. You can’t tell that story. What do you mean, you’re doing a TV show, for a mail-order DVD company, and all the episodes come out at once?!
So when Fincher was told by his patrons at the company that they were interested in helping him make anything he wanted, he thought of a long-dormant labor of love: a script his late father, Jack Fincher, had written about the making of Citizen Kane. Not the tale of the brilliant director, producer, star and co-writer who, at a precociously young age, took Hollywood by storm with his rise-and-fall drama. This was the story of the alcoholic screenwriter who was hired to pen the script, originally titled American, and then inserted a personal grudge against the powers that be into the greatest movie of all time.
Fincher wanted to shoot it in black-and-white. He wanted to use a lot of old-fashioned stylistic nods to Hollywood movies of the ‘40s, as if the film had just been discovered in a vault after 80 years of gathering dust. Also it would involve an obscure chapter in California’s political history concerning Upton Sinclair’s 1934 run for governor and a disinformation campaign allegedly masterminded by studio execs. It was a shot in the dark. By his own admission, Fincher couldn’t believe it when Netflix said yes.
To see Mank, Fincher’s throwback ode to the Golden Age of Tinseltown USA, however, is to know why they did. Chronicling how the broken-down writer Herman J. Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) helped permanently change film as an art form, his movie is an audacious, complicated, stylistically daring and thoroughly entertaining yarn — the kind of retro nod to a bygone era that makes you feel like you’ve injected a day’s worth of TCM programming into your veins. But it’s also a challenging drama about complicity, the price of speaking truth to power and the manipulation of modern media, which couldn’t make the film feel more urgent.
Over a two separate two-hour conversations from his home in Los Angeles, Fincher discussed bringing this tribute to his father (who died in 2003) to the screen, his reputation as a taskmaster on set, why he’s sorry Fight Club pissed off a fellow filmmaker, and more.
Culture Pop is a look at pop culture through the mind of Steve Mason, co-host of the #1-rated sports talk show in Los Angeles. Joined by stand-up comic Sue Kolinsky, they hear from their friends, plus comics, actors, filmmakers and celebrities talking about movies, television, technology, trends and completely random stuff.
Arliss Howard joins Steve and Sue to talk about his work with David Fincher in Mank playing Louis B. Mayer, with Stanley Kubrick in Full Metal Jacket, his directorial debut Big Bad Love, and the future of film theaters.
One of the big surprises of David Fincher’s Mankis that it turns out to be just as much about Upton Sinclair as it is about Herman Mankiewicz. In this version of Hollywood history, Mankiewicz was spurred to write Citizen Kane due to his guilt over the Hollywood dirty-tricks campaign that sank Sinclair’s 1934 campaign for governor of California. The Jungle author makes a brief appearance at a rally in Mank, at which point we get another of the film’s big surprises: Sinclair is played by none other than Bill Nye. Yes, the Science Guy. It’s unconventional casting, but it works. Stripped of his lab coat and bow tie, Nye is a little hard to place. He comes off as an avuncular, trustworthy orator; it’s only afterward when you realize, Wait, was that Bill Nye?
We naturally had some questions about how the whole thing came out. Luckily, Nye was happy to jump on a Zoom call and discuss the story behind his cameo.