Empire Magazine: David Fincher Opens His Personal Fight Club Archive

Ella Kemp
October 1, 2019
Empire

It’s been 20 years since David Fincher’s cult classic Fight Club first exploded onto screens. The film, based on Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel of the same name, repelled and excited audiences in equal measure when it was released, changing the optics of how political cinema could or should be – with the first worries of copycat rebels emerging from the gutters. Today, Fight Club boasts a loyal and fervent fanbase still full of praise, discomfort, conspiracy theories and fascination for the iconic relic of modern cinema.

Exclusively for Empire and Nev Pierce, David Fincher opened his personal photography archives in the 2020 Preview Issue, leafing through his memories on-set, and sharing insights on many of the film’s key ingredients – from the setting of Project Mayhem’s headquarters, to his stellar leading trio of Edward NortonBrad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter, to the mechanics of successfully shooting Edward Norton’s cheek off. Here’s a sneak preview of the feature, in which Fincher explains why the dynamic of his three stars, as the story’s mismatched trio of lonely and dangerous sociopaths, worked so well – with photos from Fincher’s own collection.

Fight Club archive material courtesy of David Fincher. Black and white photography by Merrick Morton. Special thanks to Ceán Chaffin and Andrea McKee.

David Fincher on his leading trio:

“They were a very playful and fun group. Brad is a kind of feline influence. He’s like, ‘Are all the instincts here aligned?’ and, ‘Can we now play and find an interesting mistake or a movement or a gesture?’ Edward is very much, ‘Tell me in advance all the things you want me to hit and let me blow your mind.’ And Helena is sort of a blend of the two. She’s disciplined and, ‘What is it you’re trying to get across? Let me work backwards from that a little bit.’

Edward had only made a few movies and I think he wanted to get it right. There’s a tendency for him to come across as somebody who’s trying to contain or control what’s happening. But really I think what he wants to know is, ‘Where is this thing headed? Let me try and help you get it there.’ He has a very different process than the other two. But when they were together, they were a lot of fun. As far as having an intensely watchable and charismatic triumvirate, they were a ball.”

Read the full interview with Fincher including more unseen photos in the December 2019 issue of Empire – on sale now.

Previous profiles and interviews with Fincher by Pierce at nevpierce.com

“Only Two Guys to a Fight”

Fight Club At Twenty.

Ray Pride
October 31, 2019
Newcity Film, Newcity

Fight Club” is twenty years old. In the decades since its release, box-office disappointment and reinvention through myriad DVD and Blu-ray releases (thirteen million DVDs by 2014), Brad Pitt established himself as a productive, adventurous film producer, with his Plan B productions involved with this summer’s “Ad Astra,” but also award-winning work like “Moonlight,” “Killing Them Softly,” “Tree of Life,” “Twelve Years A Slave,” “Okja” and “The Last Black Man In San Francisco.” Edward Norton, who has moved away from acting, directed and stars in his own adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel, “Motherless Brooklyn” in November.

The world had not yet seen, or reacted, to David Fincher’s film at the time of this bantering interview with Pitt and Norton. (A review that includes my contemporaneous interview with Palahniuk is here.)

August 1999:

“Fight Club” is a ride, a sneaky mindfuck of a movie, and a thunderous journey into the darkest parts of one man’s mind. Within a few dozen seconds, we rush through someone’s brain and out onto a rooftop where another character holds a gun in his mouth. The ride begins.

Brad Pitt plays Tyler Durden, a trickster character who insurance agency flunky Edward Norton meets at a time when he’s been wishing for someone who could push him over the edge. By night, Norton’s unnamed narrator trolls support groups for the grievously ill, pretending to have illnesses in order to sob. That’s where he meets fellow grief-ghoul Helena Bonham Carter. But that’s set-up.   The impression is out there that “Fight Club” is about yuppies gathering in alleys to beat each other up. Uh-uh. There’s more to it.

Everyone’s stuck—in their jobs, their bodies or their heads. Except for Tyler, everyone’s a flunky, a waiter, a cop, solid blue-collar stock. “Fight Club” is one of the funniest, most piercing movies you’d hope for, a ferocious satire that builds on the madness of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, and in its many richly detailed scenes, exceeds even what David Fincher accomplished in “Seven.”

When we talked, no one knew yet if “Fight Club” could be the first epic audience movie of the new millennium, or whether it would tank. Pitt, thirty-five, has a reputation as a reluctant interview, but after talking with him, it seems it may be more out of modesty than ego or fear. Norton, thirty, was his customary talkative self.

Does the actor Brad Pitt exist in the universe of “Fight Club”?

Pitt: [shaking his head] What does that mean, what does that mean, what does that mean?

There are in-jokes throughout the movie, marquees showing “Seven Years in Tibet,” “Wings of the Dove” and “Larry Flynt.” And Tyler tells the narrator at one point, “I’m what you want to be like.” If you ask guys what they want to be like, a typical guy would be happy to be you.

Norton: I thought that was a great perversion of Bradley’s baggage.

Pitt: Yeah. Perverting the baggage. That was dealing more with the projection and the image, y’know, that’s out there. Good and bad. Myself, I’ve certainly never felt a part of that.

You talk about good-looking guys in the movies, a few names come up: Mel Gibson, Brad Pitt…

Norton: Edward Norton.

Pitt: Edward Norton. You sexy fool!

Norton: He never hurts my feelings.

There’s a lot of yelling in the movie, it seems cathartic, especially in the bedroom scenes with Helena.

Pitt. [whispers] Sex. You look through the crack and you just see all these crazy gymnastics going. Doing gymnastics. Yeah, we’re just jumping on the bed.

You’ve worked with David Fincher before…

Pitt: He’s one of the guys leading the pack. There are a lot of interesting guys out there, who are pushing the medium, but I’ve said this before, I think Finch is picking up where Kubrick left off.

Norton: If anyone can do it, he can.

Pitt: This thing he created here is extraordinary. It’s beyond all our hopes and he always set out with an image of what this thing could be. This thing just roars.

Norton: I don’t feel like I’ve seen a film—

Pitt: It’s a monster.

Norton: —That’s that far out there in terms of its technique, its use of style to enhance the emotional themes of a narrative. When you work with Fincher, you slowly absorb that he is the complete filmmaker. He is the most comprehensive modern filmmaker. He has a complete command of all the tools that are available to a filmmaker now. He’s as good a DP as his DP, he’s as good at sound—

Pitt: —all his tweaking—

Norton: —his technical tweaking as the guys who work for him. He’s an excellent script doctor—

Pitt:—A storyteller.

Norton: He’ll even come in and give you a good line reading at times. And yet he’s dealing in f/stops. He knows more about CGI as anyone.

Pitt: And not only that, ideas. He takes whatever groundbreaking technology is available, like the Rolling Stones video in Central Park where they’re giants. There was this technique meant for something else, and Fincher goes, “Can’t I take this and actually make them people?” He’s inventive that way. But on a directorial level, this thing is one to be studied. There are so many things that are fine-tuned, from sound on. All the way from opening up coming out of a brain to the product placement. Any product placement you see, like Pepsi machines, it’s always put in a somewhat violent scene. It’s just these little, little comments that are more subliminal than anything.

Read the full interview

The First Rule of Making ‘Fight Club’: Talk About ‘Fight Club’

Dan Evans (The Ringer)

In an excerpt from the new book ‘Best. Movie. Year. Ever.,” David Fincher, Edward Norton, and the minds behind ‘Fight Club’ talk about the bare-knuckled, bloody battle to bring Chuck Palahniuk’s book to the big screen

Brian Raftery
March 26, 2019
The Ringer

Sometimes, during their breaks, the men who worked alongside Chuck Palahniuk would gather to talk about where their lives had gone wrong. It was the early nineties, and Palahniuk was employed at a Portland, Oregon, truck-manufacturing company called Freightliner. Many of his colleagues were well-educated, underutilized guys who felt out of sorts in the world—and they put the blame on the men who’d raised them. “Everybody griped about what skills their fathers hadn’t taught them,” says Palahniuk. “And they griped that their fathers were too busy establishing new relationships and new families all the time and had just written off their previous children.”

Palahniuk’s Freightliner duties included researching and writing up repair procedures—tasks that required him to keep a notebook with him at all times. At work, when no one was looking, he’d jot down ideas for a story he was working on. He’d continue writing whenever he could find the time: between loads at the laundromat or reps at the gym or while waiting for his unreliable 1985 Toyota pickup truck to be fixed at the auto shop. The result was a series of “small little snippets” about an unnamed auto company employee who’s so spiritually inert, so unsatisfied, that he finds himself attending various cancer support groups, just to unnumb himself. He soon succumbs to the atomic charisma of Tyler Durden, a mysterious figure whose name had been partly inspired by the 1960 Disney movie Toby Tyler. “I grew up in a town of six hundred people,” says the Washington-born Palahniuk, “and a kid in my second-grade class said he’d been the actor in that movie. Even though he looked nothing like him, I believed him. So ‘Tyler’ became synonymous with a lying trickster.”

After meeting Tyler Durden, Palahniuk’s narrator begins attending Fight Club, a guerrilla late-night gathering in which men voluntarily beat each other bloody. Fight Club comes with a set of fixed rules, the most important of which is that, no matter what, you do not talk about Fight Club. Many of the book’s brawlers are working-class guys with the same dispiriting jobs—mechanics, waiters, bartenders—held by some of Palahniuk’s friends. “My peers were conflict averse,” says Palahniuk. “They shied away from any confrontation or tension, and their lives were being lived in this very tepid way. I thought if there was some way to introduce them to conflict in a very structured, safe way, it would be a form of therapy—a way that they could discover a self beyond this frightened self.”

Palahniuk would bring work-in-progress chapters to writing classes and workshops around Portland, holding one successful early reading at a lesbian bookstore. “They wanted to know ‘Is there a women’s version of this?’ he says. “They just assumed Fight Clubs existed in the world and wanted to participate.” Palahniuk, then in his early thirties, had recently seen his first novel get rejected. “I was thinking ‘I’m never getting published, so I might as well just write something for the fun of it.’ It was that kind of freedom, but also that kind of anger, that went into Fight Club.” He’d wind up selling the book to publisher W. W. Norton for a mere $6,000.

Fight Club’s quiet 1996 release came just a few years after the arrival of the so-called men’s movement, in which dissatisfied dudes looking to reclaim their masculinity would gather for all-male retreats in the woods. They’d bang drums and lock arms in the hope of escaping what had become a “deep national malaise,” noted Newsweek. “What teenagers were to the 1960s, what women were to the 1970s, middle-aged men may well be to the 1990s: American culture’s sanctioned grievance carriers, diligently rolling their ball of pain from talk show to talk show.”

Palahniuk’s Fight Club characters, though, were younger and angrier than their aggrieved elders. A few primal scream sessions in the woods weren’t going to cut it. “We are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday we’ll be millionaires and movie stars and rock stars, but we won’t,” Tyler says of his peers, adding “Don’t fuck with us.” It was one of many briskly written yet impactful mission statements in Palahniuk’s book, which earned positive reviews from a few major critics—the Washington Post called it “a volatile, brilliantly creepy satire”—as well as the author’s own father. “He loved it,” Palahniuk says. “Just like my boss thought I was writing about his boss, my dad thought I was writing about his dad. It was the first time we really connected. He’d go into these small-town bookstores, make sure it was there, and brag that it was his son’s book.”

Fight Club wasn’t an especially big performer in its original hardcover run, selling just under 5,000 copies. But before it even hit shelves, an early galley copy reached producers Ross Grayson Bell and Joshua Donen, the latter of whom had produced such films as Steven Soderbergh’s noir The Underneath. Bell was put off by some of the book’s violence, but as he read further, he arrived at Fight Club’s big revelation: the insomniac narrator, it turns out, really is Tyler Durden, and at night he’s been unknowingly leading the Fight Club army raiding liposuction clinics for human fat—first to turn into soap, and then to use for explosives. Eventually Tyler’s hordes of followers begin engaging in a series of increasingly violent acts. “You get to the twist, and it makes you reassess everything you’ve just read,” says Bell. “I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep that night.” Looking to make Fight Club his first produced feature, Bell hired a group of unknown actors to read the book aloud, slowly stripping it down and rearranging parts of its structure. He sent a recording of their efforts to Laura Ziskin, who’d produced Pretty Woman and was now heading Fox 2000, a division that focused on (relatively) midbudget films. According to Bell, after listening to his Fight Club reading during a fifty-minute drive to Santa Barbara, Ziskin hired him as one of Fight Club’s producers. “I didn’t know how to make a movie out of it,” said Ziskin, who optioned the book for $10,000. “But I thought someone might.”

Ziskin gave a copy of Palahniuk’s book to David O. Russell, who declined. “I read it, and I didn’t get it,” Russell says. “I obviously didn’t do a good job reading it.” There was one filmmaker, though, who definitely got Fight Club. He was the perfect match—a guy who viewed the world through the same slightly corroded View-Master as Palahniuk; who could attract desirable actors; who could make all of Fight Club’s bodily fluids splatter beautifully across the screen. And he wasn’t afraid of drawing a little blood himself.

Read the full excerpt

The Ringer: The 50 Best Movies of 1999, Part 1

The Ringer: The 50 Best Movies of 1999, Part 2

The Ringer: Make the Case: ‘Being John Malkovich’ Was a Head Trip Masterpiece—and the Best Film of 1999

Order Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen, by Brian Raftery (Simon & Schuster). On sale: April 16, 2019

Paramount Pulls The Plug On David Fincher’s ‘World War Z’ Sequel

Rodrigo Perez
February 6, 2019
The Playlist

“Movement is life,” Brad Pitt‘s Gerry Lane famously said, advising survivors in Paramount‘s 2013 zombie/outbreak movie “World War Z.” Momentum is everything in Hollywood, and perhaps a lack of it hurt “World War Z”‘s chances for a sequel, because it’s now curtains for the followup film. Sources close to the project for years tell us that Paramount Pictures pulled the plug on director David Fincher‘s film last night.

The film’s budget was definitely an issue but only to a degree. Fincher and his team were proposing something less than the budget of the original ($190 million according to Box Office Mojo, before the costly reshoots). However, Paramount’s known about this figure since at least last year and had hemmed and hawed about the project for months. One might think it not entirely coincidental that Paramount, which makes far fewer films than the average studio, just designated a lot of money for two significant blockbusters: “Mission Impossible 7” & ‘8‘ which will arrive in the summer of 2021 and 2022, according to their official release dates.

Paramount simply dragged their heels, at one point eyeing a 2018 or 2019 summer release, but never feeling bold enough to put it back on the schedule. Pitt, who has worked with Fincher several times, began to court Fincher for the job back in August of 2016 and a few months later the director agreed and started to look for writers to develop a new script. Dennis Kelly, the creator and writer of the original U.K. “Utopia” series—which Fincher almost adapted himself for HBO— was hired to rewrite the script from Steven Knight.

The officially untitled “World War Z 2” was roughly aiming for a summer shoot—Fincher is currently still busy editing “Mindhunter” season two for Netflix—but the writing might have been on the wall given how tentative Paramount was with the project.

Read the full article

Paramount Scraps David Fincher’s ‘World War Z 2’ over Budget Concerns

Adam Chitwood
February 6, 2019
Collider

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.

Read the full article

David and Brad seem impressed by the latest toy from RED

Jarred Land (Facebook)
Jarred Land (Instagram)
July 7, 2017

Crazy. Last night it seems the entire the world was arguing over how insane we were (again) and how the Hydrogen display we are promising is just simply impossible. […]

Read the full announcement:

Facebook
Instagram

Order here: http://www.red.com/hydrogen
Link to PDF: http://www.red.com/hydrogen.pdf

More details by Jim Jannard, founder of RED, on the RED User forums.

Thanks to mikez

Is David Fincher About to Make the Biggest Movie of His Career?

The director is in talks to helm a major sequel with longtime collaborator Brad Pitt.

by Yohana Desta
April 27, 2017
Vanity Fair

David Fincher may be circling his biggest project yet. Though the filmmaker has worked on plenty of big-budget pictures, he has yet to step into the franchise ring—preferring to make glossy adaptations of thrilling best-sellers, like Gone Girl and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. […]

Read the full article