David Fincher: The Rolling Stone Interview

The boundary-pushing filmmaker behind ‘Mank’ reflects on his career, his journey into Hollywood’s past and the industry’s uncertain future

David Fear
January 12, 2021
Rolling Stone

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.

Read the full interview

Wet plate ptotograph by Gary Oldman

Making of ‘Mank’: How David Fincher Pulled Off a Modern Movie Invoking Old Hollywood

The director had to employ digital advances to achieve a vintage aesthetic in telling the tale of ‘Citizen Kane’ screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz: “If we had done it 30  years ago, it might’ve been truly a bloodletting.”

Rebecca Keegan
January 11, 2021
The Hollywood Reporter

Screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz never sought credit for conceiving one of the all-time great ideas in the history of cinema — the notion that the Kansas scenes in The Wizard of Oz should be shot in black and white and the Oz scenes in color. In fact, for much of his career in Hollywood from the late 1920s to the early ’50s, Mankiewicz seemed to view his scripts with about as much a sense of ownership as a good zinger he had landed at a cocktail party.

But what fascinated David Fincher was that when it came time to assign credit on the screenplay for Citizen Kane, which Mankiewicz wrote with Orson Welles in 1940 (or without, depending on your perspective), the journeyman screenwriter suddenly and inexplicably began to care. Precisely why that happened is the subject of Fincher’s 11th feature film, Mank.

“I wasn’t interested in a posthumous guild arbitration,” Fincher says of Mank, which takes up the Citizen Kane authorship question reinvigorated by a 1971 Pauline Kael essay in The New Yorker. “What was of interest to me was, here’s a guy who had seemingly nothing but contempt for what he did for a living. And, on almost his way out the door, having burned most of the bridges that he could … something changed.”

Shot in black and white and in the style of a 1930s movie, Mank toggles between Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) writing the first draft of Citizen Kane from a remote house in the desert and flashback sequences of his life in Hollywood in the ’30s, including his friendship with newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), who inspired Citizen Kane, and Hearst’s mistress, actress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried).

A filmmaker known for his compulsive attention to detail, Fincher had even more reason than usual to treat every decision with care on Mank, as he was working from a screenplay written by his father, journalist Jack Fincher, who died in 2003. Jack had taken up the subject in retirement in 1990, just as David was on the eve of directing his first feature, Alien 3, and the two would try throughout the 1990s to get the film made, with potential financiers put off by their insistence on shooting in black and white.

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Red Carpet Rookies: Tim Miller

Mike Battle
September 23, 2020
Red Carpet Rookies

Tim discusses his beginnings in animation, his journey to directing his first live action movie at 50 and why he’s glad that for all the challenges that came along the way. If that wasn’t enough, he shares thoughts on why his Netflix collaboration with David Fincher works, why film studios will be ‘fossils’ if they don’t keep up with the streamers, and what to expect from Love, Death & Robots Series 2!

Red Carpet Rookies guests are recorded over Zoom. All efforts are made to get the best quality possible but we are victim to the connection!

Tim’s ‘book that everyone must read’: ‘The Sea Wolf’ by Jack London

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Video excerpt. Tim Miller Talks Love Death + Robots Season 2 & Collaboration With David Fincher:

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Netflix Playlist: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross “Anatomy of a Score”

Netflix
December 9, 2020

𝙸𝚗 𝚜𝚎𝚕𝚎𝚌𝚝 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚊𝚝𝚎𝚛𝚜 𝙽𝚘𝚟𝚎𝚖𝚋𝚎𝚛 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚘𝚗 Netflix 𝙳𝚎𝚌𝚎𝚖𝚋𝚎𝚛 𝟺

David Fincher Has Had Plenty of Hugs. Thank You

David Fincher (Frank Ockenfels / Netflix)

Glenn Whipp, Entertainment Columnist
December 4, 2020
Los Angeles Times

Jack Fincher retired from journalism right around the time his son, David, was moving from directing music videos for the likes of Madonna and George Michael to making his first feature film, “Alien 3.” Jack, a lifelong movie fan, told David he’d like to try writing a screenplay. David encouraged him to delve into the story of Herman Mankiewicz, the co-writer (or, perhaps, sole writer) of Orson Welles’ 1941 landmark “Citizen Kane.” Jack wrote eight drafts of the screenplay, homing in on the journey of the self-sabotaging Mankiewicz as he stops betraying his talents and paints his one masterpiece (relatively) late in life.

Father and son could never quite crack the script, and Jack died in 2003 of pancreatic cancer. Those eight drafts of “Mank” sat on a shelf in David’s office for years until Netflix executives Ted Sarandos and Cindy Holland asked Fincher about his dream unmade project. That was two years ago, and “Mank” has consumed most of Fincher’s waking hours since.

The black-and-white movie, starring Gary Oldman in the title role, premiered in a handful of theaters last month and arrives on Netflix today. It figures to be a force in this year’s awards season, such as it is. It’s certainly the warmest movie Fincher has made in a career founded on the notion that “people are perverts.”

Fincher called the other morning. He was disarmingly polite, by turns generous and evasive, and full of the sardonic humor that courses through his films. “I’m a little groggy,” he said, noting that he didn’t get much sleep the previous night, “but hopefully I know the answers to these questions.”

Read the full interview

Mank: Final Trailer

Netflix

Starring Academy Award Winner Gary OldmanAmanda SeyfriedLily CollinsArliss HowardTom PelphreySam TroughtonFerdinand KingsleyTuppence MiddletonTom Burke, and Charles Dance.

Directed by David Fincher.

𝙸𝚗 𝚜𝚎𝚕𝚎𝚌𝚝 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚊𝚝𝚎𝚛𝚜 𝙽𝚘𝚟𝚎𝚖𝚋𝚎𝚛 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚘𝚗 Netflix 𝙳𝚎𝚌𝚎𝚖𝚋𝚎𝚛 𝟺

David Fincher’s Impossible Eye

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.

Jonah Weiner
November 19, 2020
The New York Times

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.”

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Magnificent Obsession: David Fincher on His Three-Decade Quest to Bring ‘Mank’ to Life

Brent Lang
November 18, 2020
Variety

Mank” is the gripping story of the brilliant but troubled artist behind “Citizen Kane,” often considered to be the greatest movie ever made.

No, it’s not about director Orson Welles. Instead, it pushes Herman J. Mankiewicz, the alcoholic writer for hire who is responsible for bringing the film’s revolutionary, non-linear narrative structure and corrosive portrait of wealth and power, to the center of the frame.

“He was one of those voices that charted the way,” says David Fincher, the director who labored for nearly 30 years to bring “Mank” to life. “My hope is that people will be entertained watching a generational wit, who is in some ways forgotten and never got his due.”

Gatefold print cover designed by Dan Benesch

Mank,” which Netflix will debut Dec. 4, is also likely to reignite a fierce debate around the concept of auteurism. If film is truly a director’s medium, then who gets the credit for a masterpiece? It’s an argument about authorship that has swirled around “Citizen Kane” almost from the time it hit theaters in 1941. That’s largely due to the fact that Welles not only starred in the movie: He also directed, produced and co-wrote it while still just a 24-year-old wunderkind.

Others disagree about the extent of Welles’ contributions. As Pauline Kael’s controversial 1971 essay “Raising Kane” and now “Mank” make clear, “Citizen Kane” was greatly informed by Mankiewicz’s friendship with William Randolph Hearst (the newspaper baron who inspired Kane), as well his personal experience with media and politics.

You might think that Fincher, a revered visual stylist, whose perfectionism can drive film crews and actors to the breaking point, would be a subscriber to the Great Man theory at the heart of auteurism — the idea that some talents are so outsize they seep into every shot or beat of a movie. You’d be wrong though.

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Cover illustration by Greg Ruth; Fincher image reference by Frank Ockenfels

David Fincher on ‘Mindhunter’: ‘I Don’t Know if It Makes Sense to Continue’

Brent Lang
November 18, 2020
Variety

How Variety Covered the Era of ‘Citizen Kane’ and Herman J. Mankiewicz

Tim Gray
November 18, 2020
Variety

The End of David Fincher’s Mindhunter: Back To Square One

The viewership of Mindhunter, irrespective of its near-cult status on the web, was evidently not enough to inspire its own creators to continue the journey.

Rahul Desai
October 27, 2020
Film Companion

One of the most significant things to hit the web last week was the trailer of Mank. Global Film Twitter went into overdrive, and understandably so. Think of the context. This was American director extraordinaire David Fincher’s first movie since Gone Girl (2014), so it was a long-awaited return of sorts. Add this to the fact that Mank is a black-and-white movie about the movies – a biographical drama anchored by screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz’s battles with Orson Welles over screenplay credit for Citizen Kane – and that Fincher’s latest passion project is based on his late father’s screenplay. The hype machine is oiled and ready to fire.

Yet, only a day later, the excitement for Mank was replaced by the grief for Mindhunter. In a fascinating Vulture interview, Fincher, who served as an executive producer, director and de facto showrunner of Mindhunter, confirmed that there is likely to be no third season of the acclaimed true-crime thriller. The second season dropped on Netflix last September, two years after the first. Most Mindhunter fans had suspected the worst ever since the contracts of the cast weren’t renewed earlier this year. With Fincher looking to concentrate on Mank, the series was indefinitely put on hold. The global pandemic, of course, added to the uncertainty. Which is to say that the signs were there. So the show’s demise was no blinding bolt from the blue. But the real reasons are unsettling.

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