When David Fincher Changed TV Forever

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Se7en and the 10th anniversary of The Social NetworkThe Ringer hereby dubs September 21-25 David Fincher Week. Join us all throughout the week as we celebrate and examine the man, the myth, and his impeccable body of work.

Thanks to ‘House of Cards,’ the man so deeply associated with filmmaking may ironically be best remembered for his impact on the streaming revolution

Alison Herman
September 25, 2020
The Ringer

Try and think back, if you can, to 2013. Obama has just won a second term. “Netflix” still means DVDs in red envelopes. And the idea of a major director deigning to do TV is remarkable enough to turn heads.

David Fincher was hardly the first name-brand auteur to try his hand at the small screen. Most famously, David Lynch brought paranormal dread to primetime with Twin Peaks in 1989; Steven Spielberg directed multiple episodes of his NBC anthology Amazing Stories, with subsequent chapters helmed by Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, and Danny DeVito. But Fincher is neither an irrepressible weirdo prone to counterintuitive career moves nor a middlebrow populist with a family-friendly sensibility. He is, in many ways, a textbook Film Director: an uncompromising visionary who makes dark, violent, and above all, precise movies for adults. Fincher is the last person you could picture taking notes from a network executive, or taking part in the logistical corner-cutting that marks so much of TV production, which naturally made him the first person an up-and-coming entertainment hub would call to signal they’re Not Like Other Networks.

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First Look at David Fincher’s “Mank”

1930s Hollywood is re-evaluated through the eyes of scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane for Orson Welles.

Click to enjoy the images in glorious 5K, full quality, and full screen view:

𝙼𝙰𝚈𝙴𝚁
𝚆𝚑𝚘 𝚠𝚊𝚜 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚝 𝚊𝚐𝚊𝚒𝚗?
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
𝚃𝙷𝙰𝙻𝙱𝙴𝚁𝙶
𝙹𝚞𝚜𝚝 𝚊 𝚠𝚛𝚒𝚝𝚎𝚛.

𝙼𝙰𝚁𝙸𝙾𝙽
𝙸 𝚓𝚞𝚜𝚝 𝚜𝚊𝚠 𝟺𝟸𝚗𝚍 𝚂𝚝𝚛𝚎𝚎𝚝.
(𝙱𝚛𝚘𝚘𝚔𝚕𝚢𝚗-𝚎𝚜𝚎) 𝙸𝚝 𝚋𝚕𝚎𝚠 𝚖𝚢 𝚠𝚒𝚐.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
𝙼𝙰𝙽𝙺
𝚈𝚘𝚞 𝚌𝚊𝚗 𝚝𝚊𝚔𝚎 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚐𝚒𝚛𝚕 𝚘𝚞𝚝 𝚘𝚏
𝙱𝚎𝚍𝚜𝚝𝚞𝚢…

𝙹𝙾𝙴 (𝚅.𝙾.)
𝚆𝚘𝚛𝚍 𝚘𝚗 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚜𝚝𝚛𝚎𝚎𝚝 𝚒𝚜 𝚛𝚊𝚍𝚒𝚘’𝚜
𝙶𝚘𝚕𝚍𝚎𝚗 𝙱𝚘𝚢 𝚠𝚊𝚗𝚝𝚜 𝚝𝚘 𝚐𝚘 𝚝𝚘𝚎-𝚝𝚘-𝚝𝚘𝚎
𝚠𝚒𝚝𝚑 𝚆𝚒𝚕𝚕𝚒𝚎 𝙷𝚎𝚊𝚛𝚜𝚝, 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚢𝚘𝚞’𝚛𝚎
𝚑𝚎𝚕𝚙𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚒𝚗 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚔𝚒𝚝𝚌𝚑𝚎𝚗.

𝙼𝙰𝚈𝙴𝚁
𝚃𝚑𝚒𝚜 𝚒𝚜 𝚊 𝚋𝚞𝚜𝚒𝚗𝚎𝚜𝚜 𝚠𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚋𝚞𝚢𝚎𝚛
𝚐𝚎𝚝𝚜 𝚗𝚘𝚝𝚑𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚏𝚘𝚛 𝚑𝚒𝚜 𝚖𝚘𝚗𝚎𝚢 𝚋𝚞𝚝 𝚊
𝚖𝚎𝚖𝚘𝚛𝚢. 𝚆𝚑𝚊𝚝 𝚑𝚎 𝚋𝚘𝚞𝚐𝚑𝚝 𝚜𝚝𝚒𝚕𝚕
𝚋𝚎𝚕𝚘𝚗𝚐𝚜 𝚝𝚘 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚖𝚊𝚗 𝚠𝚑𝚘 𝚜𝚘𝚕𝚍 𝚒𝚝.

𝚁𝙸𝚃𝙰
(𝚛𝚊𝚒𝚜𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚑𝚎𝚛 𝚐𝚕𝚊𝚜𝚜)
𝙴𝚒𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚛 𝚢𝚘𝚞 𝚍𝚎𝚖𝚘𝚗𝚜𝚝𝚛𝚊𝚝𝚎 𝚢𝚘𝚞 𝚌𝚊𝚗
𝚑𝚊𝚗𝚍𝚕𝚎 𝚝𝚑𝚒𝚜, 𝙼𝚊𝚗𝚔𝚒𝚎𝚠𝚒𝚌𝚣, 𝚘𝚛 𝚠𝚎 𝚠𝚒𝚕𝚕
𝚊𝚕𝚕 𝚎𝚗𝚍 𝚞𝚙 𝚐𝚎𝚝𝚝𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚜𝚊𝚌𝚔𝚎𝚍.

𝚆𝙴𝙻𝙻𝙴𝚂 (𝚅.𝙾.)
𝚁𝚎𝚊𝚍𝚢 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚠𝚒𝚕𝚕𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚝𝚘
𝚑𝚞𝚗𝚝 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝙶𝚛𝚎𝚊𝚝 𝚆𝚑𝚒𝚝𝚎 𝚆𝚑𝚊𝚕𝚎?
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
𝙼𝙰𝙽𝙺
𝙲𝚊𝚕𝚕 𝚖𝚎 𝙰𝚑𝚊𝚋.

𝚌𝚘𝚖𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚜𝚘𝚘𝚗

Netflix FYC: Mindhunter. Scene Stealers with Damon Herriman and Kazu Hiro

Jenelle Riley
Editor – Variety
July 2020
Netflix

Actor Damon Herriman talks about tackling the role of Charles Manson (again) in Netflix‘s Emmy®-nominated series Mindhunter. Oscar®-winning makeup designer Kazu Hiro, meanwhile, details the actor’s physical transformation from mild-mannered Aussie to iconic cult leader.

For Your Emmy® Awards Consideration

Netflix FYC: Mindhunter. Maker’s Marque with Carl Franklin and Erik Messerschmidt


July 2020
Netflix

Director Carl Franklin and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt expound on the visual language of a scene from season two of Netflix‘s acclaimed drama series Mindhunter. They give insights into perspective considerations, the choice of handheld camera over Steadicam and the general stylistic shift employed for the sequence.

For Your Emmy® Awards Consideration

Netflix Helps Drive the Creative Vision with High-Dynamic-Range Content

Jay Holben
December 22, 2019
American Cinematographer

Some might consider high-dynamic-range (HDR) displays a technology of the future, but the reality is it’s here now and very much a contemporary delivery format. At the forefront of this delivery is Netflix, the streaming and production giant, which reports that roughly a quarter of the devices used to access its service monthly — more than 165 million — are configured for HDR. As a result, Netflix is making a concerted effort to provide HDR content and currently has more than 1,000 hours of such programming available.

One of these titles is David Fincher’s gritty, period procedural Mindhunter, which earned Christopher Probst, ASC an ASC Award nomination for its pilot in 2017. The series is photographed by Erik Messerschmidt, who notes that production incorporated HDR into the second season. “With Mindhunter, we try to be very subtle with the photography,” says Messerschmidt. “The story and themes of the show are complex and nuanced, so it’s really important that the photography never draws attention to itself. HDR helps because it enables me to be very subtle in my use of color and contrast, particularly in the toe of the exposure. Everyone likes to talk about the bright whites in HDR, but I think perhaps the added range in the shadows is more interesting and more important than added range in the highlights.

“I think cinematographers have always advocated for a better experience for the audience, whether it’s fast film stocks with tighter grain, better projection technology, or higher quality digital-capture and display technologies,” he continues. “HDR is just another step in that direction. Standard-dynamic-range video distribution can only show a narrow exposure band of the modern digital sensor’s dynamic range. The opportunity to use more of the sensor’s range when we want to is a very exciting development.”

Read the full profile

What Makes Mindhunter So Compelling? An Analysis

Thomas Flight
August 16, 2019
Netflix UK & Ireland (YouTube)

Mindhunter is not like other crime shows. In this video essay, Thomas Flight explores some of the inventive techniques creators Joe Penhall and David Fincher employ to inject drama and conflict into the show.

This is a detailed analysis of the ways in which Mindhunter pulls the audience into the lives of its characters as they explore the minds of some of the worst criminals on earth.

Mindhunter’s Brilliant Editing. A Breakdown

Thomas Flight
September 25, 2019
Thomas Flight (YouTube)

David Fincher to Direct Gary Oldman in Black and White with ‘Mank’

Sasha Stone
July 11, 2019
Awards Daily

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.

Read the full article

Thanks to Joe Frady.

David Fincher Revives One of His Longtime Dream Projects, “Mank”

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. Mankiewicz and legendary director Orson Welles. They both shared the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

And he is doing it for Netflix, the streaming service and production company that has granted him artistic freedom and for whom he has developed and produced the series House of Cards and Mindhunter, and executive produced the animated series Love, Death, and Robots.

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.

Fincher has shot many commercials and music videos in black and white, including Oh Father for Madonna (1989), notably inspired by Citizen Kane. His last music video, Suit & Tie (ft. JAY Z) for Justin Timberlake (2013), and last two commercial campaigns, for Calvin Klein (2013) and Gap (2014), were gorgeously shot using RED Cameras with monochrome sensors, perhaps with Mank in mind.

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 in November in Los Angeles.

James Swallow wrote about the original project on his essential chronicle of the first half of Fincher’s career, Dark Eye. The Films of David Fincher (Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 2003):

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”.

Nev Pierce asked Fincher about the project during his 2009 career interview for Empire Magazine:

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.

Thanks to Joe Frady and Andrew Moore.

LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS. Inside the Animation

April 9, 2019
Netflix (YouTube)

Love Death + Robots creator Tim Miller discusses the process of making an animated anthology for adults and pushing creative limits.

Watch all the “LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS. Inside the Animation” clips in the Episode Guide