Some bodies are more than meet the eye, as seen in the “The Autopsy” installment of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities. Based on Michael Shea‘s short story of the same name, the episode sees a coroner brought in to do the autopsies of several miners who died when one of them set off an explosion with a mysterious object, only to learn of the surprising truth behind him.
F. Murray Abraham and Luke Roberts lead the cast of “The Autopsy“, which hails from The Empty Man writer-director David Prior. Primarily set in an isolated location, the episode is a chilling game of mental chess as Abraham’s Dr. Carl Winters grapples with the revelation of why the miners died, and how he may be next.
In anticipation of its premiere, Screen Rantspoke exclusively with director David Prior to discuss Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, his installment “The Autopsy,” his and del Toro’s shared love of reading, The Empty Man‘s mishandled release, and more.
[Editor’s Note: The following interview contains spoilers for “Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities” Episode 3, “The Autopsy.”]
A little while ago, director David Prior got an unexpected gift. A package showed up in the mail. Inside was a tiny figurine of a bearded man.
“I got it in the mail before I even knew what it was. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s nice. A little souvenir. Did Guillermo whittle this himself?’” Prior said. “I assumed it was Dr. Winters when I got it.”
Dr. Winters is the main character in “The Autopsy,” the episode of the Netflix series “Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities” that Prior directed. In this version of Michael Shea’s short story, adapted with the help of screenwriter David S. Goyer, Winters is called on to help an investigation into what local police believe is a tragic mining explosion. By the time he gets a chance to examine the bodies pulled from the wreckage, Winters discovers that something about those deaths wasn’t exactly natural.
But as Prior discovered when he watched the completed episode, the small statue was of him, not his protagonist. In each of the “Cabinet of Curiosities” installments, Del Toro continues in the tradition of past anthology hosts with a short introduction. Each ends with him tipping his hat to the director of the episode audiences are about to see, with their figurine likeness front and center.
That kind of onscreen salute is far from the support that Prior’s debut feature, “The Empty Man,” got when it was released almost exactly two years before. A victim of studio merger jockeying, a theatrical distribution model in chaos, and a whole host of marketing bungles, “The Empty Man” took a groundswell of devoted fan support to gradually reach the audience it deserved.
“The Autopsy” doesn’t have quite the immense and global scope of that debut feature, but the same meticulous, precise spirit of Prior’s visual storytelling comes through. It’s a detective story of a different kind, with Winters (played by F. Murray Abraham) bringing a key emotional match to the jargon-heavy work of his profession. What this doctor finds is beyond the anatomical puzzle he expected.
And it’s another story that marries the technical craft of unsettling audiences (split fingernails! corpses in bags covered in insects!) with heady thematic ideas about what life is worth and how to spend it. From the mine explosion set piece to the insert shot of whiskey splashing into a coffee mug, everything in “The Autopsy” serves a purpose. Prior spoke with IndieWire about the process of joining a horror playground in progress and adding another impressive tale to his own collection.
David Fincher: Mind Games is the definitive critical and visual survey of the Academy Award– and Golden Globe–nominated works of director David Fincher. From feature films Alien 3, Se7en, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, and Mank through his MTV clips for Madonna and the Rolling Stones and the Netflix series House of Cards and Mindhunter, each chapter weaves production history with original critical analysis, as well as with behind the scenes photography, still-frames, and original illustrations from Little White Lies‘ international team of artists and graphic designers. Mind Games also features interviews with Fincher’s frequent collaborators, including Jeff Cronenweth, Angus Wall, Laray Mayfield, Holt McCallany, Howard Shore and Erik Messerschmidt.
Grouping Fincher’s work around themes of procedure, imprisonment, paranoia, prestige and relationship dynamics, Mind Games is styled as an investigation into a filmmaker obsessed with investigation, and the design will shift to echo case files within a larger psychological profile.
We open this year’s column with a kind of meta reflection on cinematography itself, as contained in the recent Netflix series Voir.
Continentally savvy readers already know “voir” means “to see,” but this is a series about “seeing” movies, cinema, in the broadest sense, which is to say, what films mean, and what effect they have on both individuals, and the world at large. It’s done in a series of visual meditations, usually on the specific film in question which sent the various narrators into their respective futures as essayists, bloggers, reviewers, and makers of the medium.
From producers David Fincher and David Prior, Voir dropped with vastly less fanfare accorded to something like a new Cobra Kai or Witcher season, perhaps because it’s non-fiction, or more likely, because each episode averages about fifteen minutes. They are shorts in other words. About movies.
We caught up with cinematographer Martim Vian, who shot four of the series’ six episodes. The one we wanted to really talk to him about though, was the first one (if simultaneously dropped episodes can be said to have an order), called Summer of the Shark.
David Fincher and David Prior are producers on Netflix‘s latest upcoming series Voir— a series of visual essays celebrating Cinema and the personal connection we each have to the stories we see on the big screen.
Each episode celebrates various aspects of cinema through interviews and personal anecdotes from historians and filmmakers. The series’ cinematographer, Martim Vian, spoke exclusively to ProductionHUB about his specific vision for the series, the importance of personal and historical anecdotes, and the impact of Vior on the viewer.
Drew McWeeny explained that he almost missed out on David Fincher’s emails and calls after he thought someone was pranking him and was using a very weird, full of movie references email address (and yes, I really need to know what were these references now…):
“He emailed me in the middle of the night. I didn’t know him, we hadn’t spoken before (…) and the email just said “Hi, this is David Fincher. Call me.”
He ignored the email. David Fincher emailed him again the next day, but Drew didn’t want to believe it.:
“And it’s the third day when he actually called me and said ‘Hi, this is David Fincher, what’s your problem?!’ And I went ‘Oh my god! Hi, how are you?”
VOIR: 03. But I Don’t Like Him. Written and narrated by Drew McWeeny
Drew McWeeney declared that creating Voir started with David Fincher having “the vaguest notion that he wanted to celebrate movies”.
But when Drew McWeeney decided to make his episode of Voir centered on unlikeable characters, it was because he felt that a conversation needed to be had:
“I think ‘likeability’ has become this weird, weird buzzword, we hang a lot of other issues about movies on it. When people don’t like a movie, they immediately go to ‘I didn’t like the character’. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And all I wanted to do is reframe that conversation”. (…) Art is not about endorsement.”
Sasha Stone’s episode of Voir, Summer of the Shark, directed by David Prior, is now streaming on Netflix, along with five other film essays: The Ethics of Revenge, The Duality of Appeal, Film vs. Television, by Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos, But I Don’t Like Him by Drew McWeeney, and Profane and Profound by Walter Chaw.
David Fincher and David Prior’s anthology essay series “Voir” is only six episodes, but fully half of those came from Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou. Their skill with the form comes as no surprise to fans of their YouTube channel “Every Frame a Painting,” which almost served as a proof of concept for a show like “Voir” — and that millions of people would be interested in videos exploring just how the grammar of filmmaking impacts its meaning. When done well, video essays combine the thrill of knowing a secret and the joy of learning more about a long-held passion. Zhou and Ramos spoke to IndieWire about how the process of creating that joyful learning shifted and expanded when working on “Voir.”
“YouTube was very constricting because of things like copyright and DMC,” Ramos said. “The license that Netflix and [David Fincher] gave us, it was very, ‘Oh, we can do anything and everything!’ And [that] was, I don’t want to say daunting, but —”
I had a dream that I got to work with the director David Fincher. Turns out, it wasn’t a dream.
How did this good fortune ever shine upon me, you might wonder? Most of you know me as an Oscar watcher, or one of the bad seeds that birthed this industry back in 1999. Really, writing about the Oscars was a way to write about movies. I’d grown up living in movies and practically living in movie theaters. But it wasn’t just in theaters or at drive-ins. I would watch movies on our rabbit-eared TVs whenever they came on. Back in the day you had to watch them when they aired because we did not have VCRs. We did not have cable. In the early days, we didn’t even have remote controls. But we had movies and we had movies that played on television. Usually these were black-and-whites, but they were as great as movies always have been and always will be.
I had dropped out of film school in 1993, landed online in 1994, and spent the next five years thinking and writing about movies in a Usenet group intensely devoted to cinema. That was where I first got into David Fincher’s films. I started this site as a way to fuse my own love of movies with whatever the Oscars were. I came from a place of loving MOVIES, not loving the Oscars.
Of course, I had not yet met David Fincher when I first started writing about his work. And he would have had no way of knowing that I’d made much of my own reputation online by writing about him, specifically The Social Network. We finally met after he read my review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. When I told him I’d seen The Social Network 30 times and declared it a perfect film, he told me I was insane.
Since 2011, a lot has changed about movies and the way they are covered. There’s been an ongoing lament that film criticism, such as it is, had supplanted the pure love of film. The Oscar business, my business, seemed to directly impact that trajectory. Does the Oscar industry do more harm than good? If everyone is aiming for those nominations, and in order to get those nominations the movies must deliver what the Oscar voters want — does that create a kind of chokehold that empties out LOVE of movies?