From the infamous tales of his multi-take shooting style to the sheer technical precision consistently on display in his work, it is apparent that Fincher is methodical in his craft, a director who knows what he wants and sees very little point in doing the job if he is ever willing to settle for less than that.
Which is why, in a truly unique way, the opening intro to Fincher’s latest Netflix series, Mindhunter, is essentially a distillation of his entire filmmaking career into a single minute-and-a-half of unnervingly brilliant and precise cinematic craft.
Fincher’s first credit as a filmmaker may have technically been Alien 3, but his career didn’t really begin properly until 1995, with the release of Seven. The tale of a pair of detectives investigating the grisly murders of a serial killer, Seven is in many ways, in hindsight, the perfect introductory statement for Fincher’s body of work as a whole. On the surface, it’s a tightly-woven and meanly constructed narrative about a serial killer and the men trying to catch him. But just beneath the surface (and for our purposes, much more importantly) Fincher is using the narrative as a framework through which to explore themes such as the perverseness of mankind, the lasting wounds of grieving, and obsession.
That last one is important: obsession. Because it’s one he’s come back to again and again, and explored in increasingly interesting ways. Fight Club saw him creating a pop-cultural satire, one that delved deep into the depravity of its time and how the obsessions of a generation essentially derailed the concept of mental stability. Zodiac saw him confronting it in his most direct way yet, showing how Robert Graysmith’s and the nation-at-large’s obsession with the Zodiac murders came to engulf them.
What’s so intriguing about Mindhunter is that it tackles this thematic staple of Fincher’s work in a very similar way, yet it does so without even necessitating a single minute of footage from the series proper.
Every story, as movie trailers never tire of informing us, has a beginning. The story of the cover-song trend in movie trailers began nine years ago, when the veteran trailer editor Mark Woollen found himself grappling with a difficult assignment. This was not unusual for Woollen, who is known for producing iconic, inventive mood-piece trailers for tough-to-market, tougher-to-summarize films by such directors as Terrence Malick, Steven Soderbergh, Michel Gondry, and Alejandro González Iñárritu. The brilliantly odd trailer for the Coen brothers‘ “A Serious Man,” punctuated by a rhythmically recurring shot of Fred Melamed bouncing Michael Stuhlbarg’s head off a chalkboard? That was Woollen. The trailer for Todd Field‘s “Little Children,” which used the sound of an oncoming train in lieu of music? That was Woollen, too. There are some films that can’t be marketed by traditional means; Woollen is the trailer auteur to whom auteurs turn for a nontraditional solution.
In early 2010, Woollen’s company, Mark Woollen & Associates, was tapped to produce a trailer for David Fincher’s “The Social Network.” As Woollen remembers it, it was March or April; Fincher was still busy in the editing room, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross had not yet written the movie’s score (which would win an Academy Award). With the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the election of 2016 still years away, the Facebook story seemed like curiously dry material for Fincher, the director of “Fight Club.” “It was kind of getting beat up in the press,” Woollen said. “Like, ‘How can you make a movie about Facebook? Are you gonna make a movie about eBay or Amazon next?'”
At first, Woollen wasn’t sure how to cut a trailer for a Facebook movie, either. But the answer turned out to be sitting on his hard drive. A few years earlier, while searching for something else, he’d downloaded an MP3 file from what he described as “some GeoCities-looking kind of Web site.” The file was a 2001 live recording of the song “Creep“—the first hit single by the British art-rock band Radiohead—as performed by Scala and Kolacny Brothers, a two-hundred-member girls’ choir from Belgium. The recording had a lot of the things that a trailer editor looks for in a piece of music. “It has this gentle introduction, it has moments that build and swell and rise, and then it can come down and land nicely,” Woollen said. “I felt, like, Here’s a track I can build a piece around.”
More important, the music seemed to work on a thematic level. Woollen, who was not a Facebook user, had been kicking around ideas about connectivity and loneliness. He played the choir recording on repeat while driving to work and thought about “lost, lonely voices that felt like they were speaking from the depths of the Internet.” In his business, Woollen said, “You’re always talking about trailers that invite you in, saying, ‘Come and see us, come and see us.'” He liked the counterintuitive notion of building a trailer around a song whose refrain is “What the hell am I doing here / I don’t belong here.” “The irresistible ingredient,” Woollen said, “was one hundred Belgian girls singing ‘You’re so fucking special’ in full voice.”
The finished trailer is an unsettling masterpiece. For fifty seconds, it plays like an ad for Facebook—a montage of photos, status updates, and unseen hands confirming friendships with the click of a blue-and-white button. Then, at the one-minute mark, a pixelated image of Jesse Eisenberg’s alarmingly dead-eyed Mark Zuckerberg fades into view. Woollen said that he was nervous about showing Fincher a cut that held back the director’s own footage in favor of stock photos and family pictures supplied by the staff of Mark Woollen & Associates. But Fincher liked it; the first time he screened “The Social Network” for the studio, he played Woollen’s trailer first.
There is a short list of films I consider to be perfect; that is, I’ve watched them over and over again and they not only work every single time, but they have no weak spots and just get better and better with each viewing. Casablanca is one of those. Psycho is one of those. Jaws is one of those. Fargo is one of those. Taxi Driver is one of those. The Social Network is one of those and, of course, Citizen Kane is one of those. You can’t imagine anything making the film better, and if you removed one tiny piece of it you would ruin the whole thing. From the writing to the directing to the acting to the producing, everything just works. Even time can’t break them down. You probably have your own ideas about which movies you consider perfect, but for me it’s a short list as even most of my favorite films of all time I would not call perfect. And indeed, perfection is never a goal any artist should seek to attain – it’s just that every so often a film arrives there.
The myth about Citizen Kane is legendary – the young Orson Welles with his Mercury Theater players, a keen eye, and a whole lot of ambition made what is not-arguably the greatest film ever made. Welles has always been credited with the whole thing because in America we are beholden to the hero’s journey. That he pulled off such a brilliant hat trick at 24 is part of the myth. When you have a more honest conversation about Citizen Kane, you start talking about Gregg Toland and you eventually get to (because you must) Herman Mankiewicz.
Variety reports that David Fincher will team up with Gary Oldman for Mank, a biopic about the Oscar winning co-screenwriter on Kane for Netflix. The script was written by Fincher’s late father and will be filmed in black and white!
Although no plot details have been released about Mank, one can only assume it will have something to do with Mank’s writing of Citizen Kane, or co-writing with Orson Welles. Mank had famously spent time at William Randolph Hearst’s castle in San Simeon with Hearst’s wife, Marion Davies, which gave him such close and personal access that, it is rumored, Mank knew that Hearst had a pet name for Davies’ golden clam, Rosebud, and trolled Hearst by putting it in Kane.
What is great about the story of Kane is what it says about William Randolph Hearst directly and indirectly and what a fit Hearst had about it. He thwarted the film’s release, hurting its box office significantly. He somehow turned the film industry against Orson Welles, who was booed at the Oscars, and easily handed the Best Picture/Best Director win over to John Ford and How Green Was my Valley.
David Fincher has reportedly signed on to direct his first feature film since Gone Girl in 2014, a biopic about the contentious development of the script for Citizen Kane, one of Fincher’s favorite films, by the brilliant and prolific but troubled screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewiczand legendary director Orson Welles. They both shared the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
Master Actor Gary Oldman will play the titular role, Mankiewicz, or “Mank“, as he was nicknamed.
The film project inception dates back to 1993 and is based on a script by Fincher’s late father, Howard “Jack” Fincher. Jack Fincher was a journalist, writer and essayist specialized in science, a former San Francisco bureau chief for LIFE magazine, and a devoted cinephile. In 1997, he was commissioned to draft a screenplay for a Howard Hughes biopic, with Kevin Spacey attached to direct. But this project was later absorbed by The Aviator project scripted by John Logan, which ended up being directed by Martin Scorsese.
Mank will be shot in black and white, as Fincher always intended. This caused the project to stall in the past, but Alfonso Cuarón’s recent success with Roma, also for Netflix, has reinforced the limited commercial appeal of this aesthetic option.
The film will be produced by the traditional power couple David Fincher & producer Ceán Chaffin, this time alongside Oldman’s business partner and producer Douglas Urbanski. Urbanski is an occasional actor who played President of Harvard University Lawrence Summers in The Social Network.
Production is scheduled to begin on October 28 in Los Angeles.
As far back as 1997, this biographical story of Herman J. Mankiewicz, the writer of Orson Welles‘ epic motion picture Citizen Kane, was rumored as a pet project for David Fincher. From a script written by his father, Howard Fincher, the director’s black and white biopic targeted Seven star Kevin Spacey as the lead, with Panic Room‘s Jodie Foster in a co-starring role as movie actress Marion Davies. In production at the same time was HBO‘s telemovie RKO 281, which also covered the backstory of Citizen Kane (casting John Malkovich in the Mankiewicz role and Melanie Griffith as Davies). Still, the true story behind the creation of this mould-shattering movie and the writer behind it has enough scope for the production of a further feature by Fincher and his father.
Mankiewicz was a cynical but extremely talented scriptwriter, a former theatre critic for the New Yorker and the New York Times who left his job for the glitter of early Hollywood. Dropping out of the elite circle of New York’s high society, specifically the so-called “Algonquin Round Table“, Mankiewicz began with scripts for silent films, starting with The Road to Mandalay in 1926, working on more than 70 features during his lifetime. He once famously described Hollywood to a fellow writer in NYC by saying: “Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around”. As film technology evolved in the late twenties, Mankiewicz changed gears and moved seamlessly into talkies, continuing to write stories or dialogue for films like Man of the World (1942), The Lost Squadron (1932), Dinner at Eight (1933) and It’s a Wonderful World (1939), as well as an uncredited rewrite on The Wizard of Oz; he also worked with the Marx Brothers as an executive producer on movies like Horse Feathers (1932) and Duck Soup (1933).
With his career flagging as the thirties ended and with his comedic hits behind him, Mankiewicz’s Oscar-winning success with Welles’ Citizen Kane in 1942 gave him a brief respite. However, his alcoholism and large gambling debts eventually got the better of him and he died, penniless, of uremic poisoning in 1953. Remembered for Welles’ powerfully directed feature about a ruthless newspaper mogul, Mankiewicz no doubt drew on his personal experiences as a former associate of real-life magnate William Randolph Hearst and as a partygoer at Hearst’s huge Hollywood mansion. Although Mankiewicz was forced to share Citizen Kane‘s Academy Award for Best Writing with Welles, the great majority of the script was the writer’s own work, and it was not only a source of friction between the two men but of debate among film critics to this day.
Last mooted as a Propaganda Films movie, Howard and David Fincher’s Mank may yet be produced as a project at Indelible Pictures. Fincher has previously spoken of his intent to use a special film stock to shoot Mank, a black and white negative type no longer used in the contemporary industry that would have to be recreated from the original “recipe”. For the director, this feature represents an opportunity to produce a fundamentally different film from his earlier works in a genre he has yet to explore; at the same time, the life of Herman J Mankiewicz retains the streak of darkness that has always appealed to Fincher’s sensibilities. “Mank is a script that I’ve been working to get exactly right for ten years”, said Fincher, “and I hope, some day, to make it as one of the definitive ‘writer in Hollywood’ stories”.
Pierce: Your dad was a journalist and a writer. He wrote a script called Mank, about the Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. Did you consider making that?
Fincher: We tried. It was too expensive. Because if you’re going to make a Hollywood insider movie—it’s nothing to do with Hollywood really, it’s Hollywood in the late thirties, early forties—you’ve got to make it really cheaply. We had a chance to make the movie for, like, $13 million, back in 1998 and, um, [guiltily] I wanted to make it in black and white. [Laughs] And that fucked up all those home video and video sellthrough and cable deals. I haven’t read it in a while. I probably should.
Pierce: Did your dad write a few screenplays?
Fincher: Yeah, he wrote a couple. That was the best of them, I think. He wrote a screenplay once about a divorce case. It was kind of based on the Keanes. Remember in the sixties, the guy who painted those pictures of the children with the giant eyes? They were in this bitter divorce. It was a very, very sardonic screenplay about two parents trying to prove what bad parents they are, so the other will get stuck with the kids! It was pretty funny! [Laughs] But it had an awful sentiment! But it was funny. It was a good script.
Pierce: There’s an element of your work—in Se7en, The Game, Zodiac— that is about professionalism and obsession. Is that something you think you got from your dad?
Fincher: My dad wasn’t very obsessive. Slightly compulsive, but not obsessive. You know, my dad did used to say, “Learn your craft; it will never stop you from being a genius.” It’s like, “Do the hard work, figure out how it works…” My dad worked a lot, but he paced himself. He paced himself a lot more than I think I probably do. […] My dad… he was an intellect and sort of a Monday-morning quarterback.
PIX has worked closely with David Fincher and his No. 13 production company since Panic Room in 2001, developing tools and services that have fundamentally changed how feature films and television shows are made. One of the first directors to embrace digital cameras with his use of the Thomson Viper on Zodiac, Fincher and his team are constantly redefining technology as they seek to blur the line between production and post production and strive to automate the mundane and more clearly communicate their creative vision.
On Netflix’s Mindhunter, Fincher again used the latest digital capture technology – custom RED Xenomorph cameras designed to his specifications, integrating all the usual camera components (wireless video transmitters, focus controls etc.) into the camera for a much more ergonomic design. But Fincher’s desire for innovation extended far beyond the camera, so he again turned to PIX.
Working on his current project, the second season of Mindhunter, David Fincher was looking for a way to better convey the thoughts and ideas he came up with during production via annotations attached to the image captured by the camera. In the past, a thought about the grading required for a particular shot might have been conveyed via a phone call to the dailies colorist much later in the day after shooting wrapped. David Fincher required a real-time telestration solution, rather than a delayed response later in the evening or next day. And it absolutely could not delay shooting or increase the footprint or complexity of production.
PIX has built a system that makes the often-used term “Connected Set” real. PIX OnSet creates a clip of the take and immediately presents this clip to the director via a tablet, so that he or she can make annotations and notes on the image right after it has been captured. These notes are then securely uploaded via PIX to all the approved members of the production who can review them along with image files. Other approved production crew – for example, DP Erik Messerschmidt – can also add their own notes. These notes are securely conveyed through to editorial and post production along with the image files and other metadata.
PRODUCTS DEPLOYED ON MINDHUNTER
– PIX for Desktop, Web, iOS – PIX OnSet – The series also utilized the PIX Developer Program for custom integrations.
Real-Time Creative Capture – The thoughts and ideas of the creative team are recorded in real-time immediately after the take. This ensures that their vision and ideas are communicated clearly and without change through the many lines of communication to the rest of the production team, reducing the potential for misunderstanding. For example, the editorial team can easily see any notes the director or DP have made without relying on paper, phone calls or emails sent later in the day. This might be a note that a take needs to be printed down half a stop or a note that something in the frame needs to be removed in post. Having the note linked to the image vastly reduces the opportunity for error and saves valuable time.
Patented Content Security – Along with the rest of the industry-leading PIX platform, PIX OnSet is extremely secure, built on PIX’s patented DRM with dynamic and forensic watermarking and meets the exacting standards of the MPAA.
Minimal Footprint On Set – Rather than adding to the on-set production infrastructure, PIX OnSet actually reduces it by providing immediate playback of takes to authorized devices as they are captured by the camera
No Production Delays – As authorized members of the creative team can annotate the file immediately and easily on their own tablet, there is absolutely no slowdown in the pace of production.
The manic 1997 thriller “The Game” doesn’t appear on many “best San Francisco films” compilations. And that apparently includes director David Fincher’s list.
The filmmaker, who directed “Zodiac” and “The Game” in the city, told an Indiewire reporter in 2014 that he probably shouldn’t have made the latter movie.
“We didn’t figure out the third act,” Fincher told Indiewire. “And it was my fault, because I thought if you could just keep your foot on the throttle it would be liberating and funny.”
Perhaps Fincher, like many of us, needs to give the movie another chance. “The Game” isn’t quite a masterpiece, a label applied to just a handful of San Francisco films, including “Vertigo” and “The Conversation.” But it’s one of the most nakedly entertaining pieces of cinema that has been shot in San Francisco. And it has aged incredibly well. Time has vaulted the movie to must-see status.
I’ve been Mark Zuckerberg—there are times in my life where I’ve acted that way. There are times in my life where I’ve been Eduardo Saverin—where I’ve gone and made a scene and regretted it and where I’ve been emotional and felt silly and stupid. And there are times when I’ve felt self-righteous and I’ve acted out in this other way… Look, what Mark does is no different than directing a movie—it’s what I do for a living every day. You grow something, and your job is to grow it well and to make sure it gets enhanced and to take care of it. That’s the subject of the movie. And if you have to hurt people’s feelings in order to protect that thing, that’s what you have to do. It’s a responsibility. You want to love every character in the movie. You want to be able to understand them. You want to be able to relate to them. But, as a director, the characters’ behaviors are inevitably related to facets of moments in your own life. You look at the work and say, Maybe I do know what that is. I’ve been the angry young man. I’ve been Elvis Costello. I know what that’s like. The anger is certainly something I felt that I could relate to—the notion of being twenty-one and having a fairly clear notion of what it is you want to do or what it is you want to say and having all these people go, well, we’d love to, we’d love you to try. Show us what it is that you want to do. It’s that whole condescending thing of having to ask adults for permission because the perception is that you’re too young to do it for yourself. And that’s why I understood Mark’s frustration. You have a vision of what this thing should be. And everyone wants to tell you, Oh, well, you’re young. You’ll see soon enough. —David Fincher
The 21st century computer-scribes who work behind the scenes behind the screens, creating culture and beauty with code, got an anti-hero to remember on the silver-screen in 2010 with David Fincher’s 8th feature film. From a once-in-a-generation, “holy shit” screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network is a movie about a 19-year-old Harvard student creating Facebook while losing the relationships in his life. It is an examination of a social outsider who built one of the biggest “clubs” the world’s ever seen, and it’s about the new age zooming past the old. It’s about ignorance in high places, that awkward moment when powerful hired officials prove they have no concept of what simple features on Facebook are in a hearing on Facebook security. It’s about a new language of coding that’s sweeping and running the globe, and about treating coding with the respect it deserves. It’s about coders being taken as seriously as writers, musicians, filmmakers, film producers, painters, costume-designers, photographers, and all other artists and creators. It’s about attaining power even though you’re socially anxious or awkward, and about finding that inner drive that helps you accomplish your goals. It’s about what happens when you lose your humility in your thirst for greatness, and about the fragility of the line between “passionate” and “ass-hole.” The Social Network is simultaneously about a seismic shift in the zeitgeist and your best friend getting your company in trouble for feeding his fraternity chicken a piece of chicken. It’s about creating and solidifying one’s identity, and everything and anything else that goes with what Fincher once jokingly referred to as “the Citizen Kane of John Hughes movies.”