The Santa Barbara International Film Festival annual Producers Panel moderated by the Los Angeles Times’ Glenn Whipp, assembles top producers to dig into the business and creative sides of producing the year’s top films. Panelists include multi-hyphenate Shaka King (“Judas and the Black Messiah“), Christina Oh (“Minari“), Ceán Chaffin (“Mank“), Dan Janvey (“Nomadland“), David Parfitt (“The Father“), Josey McNamara (“Promising Young Woman“), Marc Platt (“The Trial of the Chicago 7“), and Sacha Ben Harroche (“Sound of Metal“).
The Oscar-winning screenwriter discusses his work on David Fincher’s Netflix movie and shares some candid thoughts about a writer’s role in the craft of filmmaking.
Eric Roth knows a thing or two about screenwriters. And more specifically, the relationship between a screenwriter and a director. He’s been a working writer in Hollywood for decades, and has collaborated with directors as varied and accomplished as Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, and Bradley Cooper. He’s been nominated for six Oscars, and has won once (for Forrest Gump). He’s had massive hits and disappointing bombs. Plenty of ups and downs. And at 76 years of age, you can hear in his voice that he still has the enthusiasm and love for the craft of moviemaking of an up-and-coming screenwriter bowled over by the magic of Hollywood.
Which is why, when David Fincher got the chance to make the film Mank at Netflix, one of his first calls was to Roth, with whom he had worked on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and House of Cards. The story of Mank traverses well-worn territory – it chronicles the writing of the original screenplay for Citizen Kane by alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (played wonderfully by Gary Oldman). The film doesn’t delve into the credits debate that ensued after Mank finished the screenplay, but instead it’s a story about a talented writer who’s been slumming it in Hollywood as a script doctor and finally decides he’s going to shoot his shot with a controversial, thinly veiled story inspired by his real-life acquaintance William Randolph Hearst (played in the film by Charles Dance).
What made Mank extra tricky to pull off was the fact that the script was written by Fincher’s father Jack Fincher, who died in 2003. David and Jack had worked together to develop the screenplay throughout the 90s, but failed to find a studio willing to finance the film – at least the way Fincher wanted to make it (in black-and-white with a 1930s Old Hollywood feel). When Roth got the call from Fincher, he was asked not to rewrite the screenplay as is normally his task, but to instead come onboard the film as a producer and work with Fincher to make surgical changes here and there to get the script in tip-top shape as they headed into production.
It’s a somewhat extraordinary situation, as Roth was tasked with honoring what Jack Fincher had put together while also making small alterations here and there. And, of course, consulting with David to bring his decades of experience as a working screenwriter to the table, which would then inform what the movie has to say about Hollywood and the writer-director relationship.
So I jumped at the chance to speak with Roth about his involvement in Mank recently for an exclusive interview. While the discussion was pegged to Mank, it really went many different places as Roth elegantly and intelligently dove into the complicated relationship between a writer and a director, and why he believes a script can only take you so far and it’s up to the director to decide the direction it will take as it becomes a film. He talked about his relationship with Fincher, his specific role in bringing Mank to the screen, and why he feels it’s a true work of art.
We also talked about the craft of screenwriting in general and why Roth doesn’t feel like it’s an artform in and of itself, and he spoke enthusiastically about collaborating with Scorsese on Killers of the Flower Moon and Denis Villeneuve on Dune. It’s a wide-ranging conversation with a true Hollywood legend, and you’ll very quickly see that his passion for movies and moviemaking is infectious.
Join a who’s who of behind-the-scenes talent for a Women in Film discussion about their work on Netflix‘s Oscar®-nominated slate this year, including:
- Animated Short Producer Maryann Garger (If Anything Happens I Love You)
- Costume Designer Trish Summerville (Mank)
- Hair-and-Makeup Artisans Mia Neal, Matiki Anoff and Jamika Wilson (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)
- Songwriter Diane Warren (“Io Sí” from The Life Ahead)
- Supervising Sound Editor Renée Tondelli (The Trial of the Chicago 7)
March 22, 2021
Producers Guild of America
This illuminating roundtable features the 2021 nominees for the Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures.
Participants include: Monica Levinson (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm), Charles D. King (Judas and the Black Messiah), Todd Black (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Ceán Chaffin (Mank), Christina Oh (Minari), Dan Janvey (Nomadland), Jess Wu Calder (One Night in Miami…), Ashley Fox (Promising Young Woman), Sacha Ben Harroche (Sound of Metal) and Marc Platt (The Trial of the Chicago 7).
Moderated by PGA President Lucy Fisher.
Our nominated producers discuss how their films, whether long in development or securing financing on the cusp of production, were driven by a sense of authenticity to their subjects and in some cases, an urgency to reflect the current cultural and political climate.
Recorded live on Saturday, March 20, 2021 during ‘A Day with the PGA Awards Nominees.’
Presented by The Hollywood Reporter. Additional sponsors include: General Motors, Greenslate, Honolulu Film Office, Panavision, Light Iron and Produce Iowa.
The Producers Guild of America is a non-profit trade organization that represents, protects and promotes the interests of all members of the producing team in film, television and new media. The Guild invests in its core values that benefit the industry at large. These values are rooted in facilitating employment of its members, advocating for sustainable practices in production that minimize human and environmental harm, ensuring a set culture that advances safety and creates viable pathways into the guild for the next generation of producers, particularly those from populations under-represented in the industry. Year-round it hosts a number of educational, mentoring and professional networking programs.
How will filmmaking adapt in the post-Covid era? A glimpse into the future is afforded by Mank, the forthcoming Netflix feature project directed by David Fincher and spearheaded by producer Ceán Chaffin. More than a love letter to a catalog title, Mank is a glimpse of the complex interplay of human creativity and the filmmaking process as practiced in Hollywood’s golden era.
December 9, 2020
Fincher is known for working in the vanguard of filmmaking technology. Examples include a very early digital intermediate on Panic Room – the first ever in a facility designed for the purpose – and Zodiac, one of the first major features to be shot almost entirely digitally. The remote collaboration envisioned by futurists at the dawn of the internet era was already common practice for his team long before the pandemic.
“Fortunately, we have not missed a beat,” says Chaffin. “We are working now exactly how we mostly could have been working the past ten years, which is working from home during post.”
But the virus and its requirement to remain physically apart may constitute a final push for the industry at large. All the attributes of true remote connectivity – reduced travel time and its attendant benefits in terms of stress, pollution and time savings, enhanced with rapid feedback, superior organization and a centralized database – will still be applicable when health concerns subside.
A canvas of the top pros on David Fincher’s team indicates that while the pandemic naturally raises stress levels, the need to work separately has been essentially a non-factor in terms of their ability to collaborate efficiently and keep the production on track.
Fincher came to the project with a mandate that the production work with the PIX production hub. Chaffin, who has made nine films with Fincher, says that the system is an essential tool for collaboration and input.
“This is how we have worked for a long time.” says Chaffin. “David feels the team is making the film with him, sharing in the problem-solving. Even when we were in the same building, David was often responding exclusively through PIX. His preferences and concerns are there for everyone to refer to. You don’t have to go find that one email, or remember a comment someone made on their way out the door.
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.
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.”
The pandemic has accelerated many technical trends that were already underway
Necessity is the mother of invention, and nothing proves this proverb more true than the evolution of film and television production technology in the age of COVID-19. While the field has always changed rapidly even in normal times, the pace of change and adaptation has accelerated over the past six months.
This adjustment has posed many questions. Beyond personal protective equipment, mandatory testing, on-set safety monitors, walking lunches and corona contingency fees, will the pandemic have enduring effects in the creative, collaborative endeavor that is filmmaking? The technology to work remotely has essentially been in place for some time, but will the pandemic finally push us over into a new normal?
Numerous existing technology trends are being suddenly supercharged by the necessities imposed by the coronavirus. Shooting close to home has never been more appealing, and that impulse aligns neatly with ongoing advancements in LED backings and virtual production. In the world of image processing, connectivity solutions such as those offered by Moxion, Frame.io and Sohonet were already bringing immediacy and super-high resolution to a wide variety of devices without regard to location — and now those virtues are suddenly in much higher demand. And remote collaboration solutions including PIX are looking positively prescient.
Director David Fincher’s team found that the PIX production backbone, a tool they’ve helped develop over the years, facilitated safe group creativity but also enhanced efficiency on the forthcoming Mank.
February 9, 2019
Technical Achievement Award (Academy Certificate): to Eric Dachs, Erik Bielefeldt, Craig Wood and Paul McReynolds for the design and development of the PIX System’s novel security mechanism for distributing media.
PIX System’s robust approach to secure media access has enabled wide adoption of their remotely collaborative dailies-review system by the motion picture industry.
February 10, 2019
PIX founder and CEO Eric Dachs thanked Ren Klyce, Ceán Chaffin and David Fincher (present at the ceremony): “your friendship, patience, and talents have had an enduring and measurable impact on our work, and more importantly, in filmmaking.”
Eric Dachs, Erik Bielefeldt, Craig Wood, and Paul McReynolds
(Amy Sussman/Getty Images)
February 9, 2019
The Hollywood Reporter
How David Fincher and ‘Panic Room’ Helped Launch a SciTech Award Recipient
Pix was initially developed to help ‘Panic Room‘s’ sound team.
February 9, 2019
The Hollywood Reporter
The familiar Pix app is one of the early tools with security features developed to improved communication and collaboration during production, which was initially conceived as filmmaking became more distributed geographically. After being used on more than 5,000 film and TV projects including Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody and Mindhunter, its developers will be among those honored Saturday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ annual Scientific and Technical Awards.
Pix founder/CEO Eric Dachs — who with director of R&D Erik Bielefeldt, technical director Craig Wood and Paul McReynolds will receive Technical Achievement Awards — started his career in sound and it was while working as an assistant to seven-time Oscar nominated sound designer Ren Klyce on David Fincher’s 2002 film Panic Room that the idea for Pix was born. “I got a look at how digital technology was changing motion picture postproduction, but I also saw the inefficiency from faxing notes when the work was distributed geographically,” Dachs tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I started writing a really simple prototype application for capturing David’s spotting notes and getting them distributed to the crew via a simple web application. So that [composer Howard Shore] could get the music notes in real time, and the different departments within sound were no longer having to wait for faxes.”
One afternoon during the final mix, Klyce showed Fincher the app and the technically-savvy director was impressed. In fact, he continues to use it today.
Dachs ’98 Receives Sci-Tech Oscar for PIX System
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) honored Eric Dachs ’98, the founder and CEO of PIX System, with a Technical Achievement Award at its Oscars 2019 Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation on Feb. 9, 2019.
Since its creation in 2003, PIX System has become the entertainment industry gold standard in providing secure communication and content management capabilities. Dachs, a theater major while at Wesleyan, designed and coded the initial software early in his career when he was an assistant to sound designer Ren Klyce for Panic Room. It was then that he saw the need for an easy, safe digital platform to share revisions and collaborate across locations.
“PIX, the only addiction I have left.”
— David Fincher