Family Story

Director David Fincher looks back on how Mank made it to the screen.

Nev Pierce
February 19, 2021
Netflix Queue

Portraits by Michael Avedon

When Jack Fincher became a parent, he shared his lifelong love of cinema, and his regard for screenwriters in particular, with his son, David. “Jack felt this was a really difficult kind of writing, and something he had great respect for,” David Fincher says, looking back. “He also believed that the beleaguered writer was not a cliché due to personality type, but because they often had to bite their tongues as they watched idiots take their ideas and mangle them.” (On that point, the Oscar-nominated director begs to differ.)

Eventually, David encouraged Jack — who was by that time retired from his journalism career — to try his own hand at screenwriting. Those efforts have now solidified into one of David Fincher’s most acclaimed films to date, a project that also serves as an homage to his father, who died from pancreatic cancer in 2003.

Mank chronicles how screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz came to pen the first draft of what would one day be Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. Like so many films, Mank was years in the making, and it long loomed in David’s consciousness. Father and son initially discussed the idea in the 1990s, when David was graduating from music-video director to rising-star filmmaker. As Jack completed various revisions, they had many fruitful clashes over the direction of the screenplay.

Over the years, it became clear that the project was unlikely to see the light of day. It fell by the wayside and Jack fell ill. “He ended up having chemo to worry about, and not so much the rewrites,” David recalls. “We would talk about it from time to time. I would take him to his chemo — he was in therapy a little bit in the last couple of months of his life — and we would talk about it in the car, shoot the shit. But it was understood that this would not be something that would ever get made. And that was O.K.”

David Fincher moved forward, building an acclaimed body of work that includes Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl. Ultimately he arrived at a place where he could turn his focus to that elusive project from his past. Suddenly, Mank was something that could get made, and made the way he wanted: in dazzling black and white, with a superior cast carrying it forward.

Nev Pierce spoke to David Fincher in this edited excerpt from the book Mank, The Unmaking

Read Mank, The Unmaking

Mank, The Unmaking

January 28, 2021
Netflix

manktheunmaking.com

Text by:

Nev Pierce

Photography by:

Erik Messerschmidt
Miles Crist
Gisele Schmidt-Oldman
Gary Oldman
Ceán Chaffin
Nikolai Loveikis

The Fincher Takes It All: Mank with Nev Pierce

The Fincher Takes It All is a limited series podcast reflecting on and celebrating the filmography of director David Fincher ahead of the release of his next film, Mank.

Emily Murray
December 9, 2020
The Fincher Takes It All

Film journalist and filmmaker Nev Pierce joins me to discuss Mank, David Fincher’s latest film which is now available to watch on Netflix and in select cinemas.

Following screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay for Citizen Kane, the film takes a look at Hollywood and politics.

Me and Nev discuss the film’s analysis of Hollywood liberalism, what it has to say about the idea of the auteur, how Fincher made it feel like an old classic and whether it really does have anything to do with Citizen Kane.

Listen to the complete podcast series

La Septième Obsession 31: David Fincher

La Septième Obsession

OBSESSION: David Fincher

1. Mank de David Fincher

Le grand film de Fincher débarque sur Netflix le 4 décembre. L’occasion d’un entretien avec le cinéaste, mais aussi avec ses collaborateurs les plus proches. 16 pages spéciales.

Scénario pour une critique par Nicolas Tellop

Filmopathe entretien avec David Fincher – par Nev Pierce

Collaborer avec Fincher entretiens avec Erik Messerschmidt (chef opérateur) – Donald Graham Burt (chef décorateur) – Trish Summerville (costumière) – Kirk Baxter (monteur)

2. Revisiter Fincher

Plongée exceptionnelle dans l’oeuvre de l’un des plus grands cinéastes contemporains. Filmographie commentée, analyses… 50 pages à lire.

4 nuances de Fincher par Jean-Sébastien Massart et Fabrice Fuentes

David Fincher en 14 titres Propaganda Films (clips) – Alien 3Se7enThe GameFight ClubPanic Room + les plans de Panic RoomZodiacL’Étrange histoire de Benjamin ButtonThe Social Network Millénium + la musique hantée de MilléniumGone Girl Mindhunter

3. Analyses

Démoniaque – la perfection du crime par Nathan Reneaud
Fantômes et paranoïa par Jérôme d’Estais
Solitude & obsession – Fincher Dogma par Alexandre Jourdain
Poétique du suicide par Aurélien Lemant
Le système des objets – design finchérien par Dick Tomasovic

Sommaire complet

Commander

Empire Magazine: Mank Exclusive Images

Gary Oldman as Mank, with Tom Pelphrey as his younger brother Joseph and a junior aide on an MGM studio soundstage.

September 28, 2020
Empire

Gary Oldman and the director David Fincher working together on set.

As seen in Empire’s feature about the making of Mank – which takes David Fincher back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, with a screenplay written by his own late father, Jack Fincher:

Mank: Gary Oldman On Giving A Stripped-Down Performance In David Fincher’s Hollywood Tale

Read Nev Pierce‘s full Mank set visit in the Chadwick Boseman Empire tribute issue, on sale Thursday 1 October, in print and digital (iOS & Android).

𝚌𝚘𝚖𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚜𝚘𝚘𝚗

The People vs. David Fincher

Illustration by James Dawe.

From his love of music videos to his aversion to iPhones, the world’s most meticulous director answered your questions.

Nev Pierce
December 2019 (April 3, 2020)
Empire

From the 30th Anniversary Exclusive Subscriber Cover by Supertotto.

As part of our Empire 30 celebrations, we presented your reader questions to filmmaker David Fincher. Originally published in the December 2019 issue of Empire.

Read the full Q&A

Fincher’s ‘Zodiac’: A Suspenseful and Thrilling Combination of Police Procedural and Newspaper Film That Masterfully Chronicles the Progression of Obsession

Zodiac poster by Barret Chapman

Koraljka Suton
January 24, 2020

If you asked David Fincher about the childhood years he spent in San Anselmo in Marin County during the 1960s, the topic that would undoubtedly pop up would be that of an infamous serial killer who, in the director’s eyes, was “the ultimate boogeyman.” For it was precisely that time and that general area that saw the rise of the Zodiac, a murderer who frequently wrote letters and sent coded messages to local newspapers, gleefully taking credit for the gruesome killing sprees that would inevitably trigger waves of paranoia across the West Coast. As Fincher recalls: “I remember coming home and saying the highway patrol had been following our school buses for a couple weeks now. And my dad, who worked from home, and who was very dry, not one to soft-pedal things, turned slowly in his chair and said: ‘Oh yeah. There’s a serial killer who has killed four or five people, who calls himself Zodiac, who’s threatened to take a high-powered rifle and shoot out the tires of a school bus, and then shoot the children as they come off the bus.’” Fincher’s fascination with the mystery man who wreaked havoc in Northern California during the late 60s and early 70s, claiming to have taken the lives of thirty-seven people (out of which only five were confirmed as being his victims), ultimately resulted in the director gladly accepting to work on Zodiac, a 2007 movie written by James Vanderbilt. The screenwriter had read a 1986 non-fiction book of the same name while he was still in high school, years before pursuing his eventual career. After getting into screenwriting, he had the chance to meet Zodiac author Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist who had been working for one of the newspapers the killer wrote to during the 1960s, and decided to make a screenplay based on the information-packed book. Having creative control over the material was of the utmost importance to Vanderbilt, given the fact that the endings of his previous scripts had been altered. Together with producers from Phoenix Pictures, Vanderbilt bought the rights to both Zodiac and its follow-up, entitled Zodiac Unmasked, after which the Seven director was asked to come on board.

Apart from having a personal attachment to the story of the notorious serial killer who was never brought to justice, what drew Fincher to work on the project was also the fact that the ending of Vanderbilt’s script was left unresolved, thereby staying true to real-life events. But Fincher’s perfectionism and his wish to depict the open case as accurately as possible led to him asking that the screenplay be rewritten, for the wanted to research the original police reports from scratch. He also decided that he, Vanderbilt and producer Bradley J. Fischer should personally interview the people who were involved in the case so that they could discern for themselves whether the testimonies were to be believed or not. The people they spent months interviewing were family members of suspects, the Zodiac killer’s two surviving victims, witnesses, investigators both current and retired, as well as the mayors of Vallejo and San Francisco. As Fincher elaborated: “Even when we did our own interviews, we would talk to two people. One would confirm some aspects of it and another would deny it. Plus, so much time had passed, memories are affected and the different telling of the stories would change perception. So when there was any doubt we always went with the police reports.” They also hired a forensic linguistics expert to analyze the killer’s letters, with the expert’s focus being on how the Zodiac spelled words and structured sentences, as opposed to the emphasis that was put on the Zodiac’s handwriting by document examiners in the 1970s.

Read the full article

Film stills by Merrick Morton (Paramount Pictures)

Other in-depth articles on films by David Fincher on Cinephilia & Beyond:

Alien3: “Take all of the responsibility, because you’re going to get all of the blame”

Se7en: A Rain-Drenched, Somber, Gut-Wrenching Thriller that Restored David Fincher’s Faith in Filmmaking

Downwards Is the Only Way Forwards: Welcome to David Fincher’s The Game

Fight Club’: David Fincher’s Stylish Exploration of Modern-Day Man’s Estrangement and Disillusionment

Fincher’s Zodiac As Easily One Of The Best Thrillers Of The Millennium So Far

From Facebook to ‘Fuck-You Flip-Flops’: How Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher Made ‘The Social Network’ a Fiery Word-Off

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

Deeper Cuts

Nev Pierce
August 8, 2019
Empire (September 2019 Issue)

I want to have no idea what’s going on in your head.”

David Fincher is issuing instructions to a moustachioed man, who is gazing into a mirror, adjusting the shoulder strap on the woman’s slip he’s wearing. The crew, similarly delicately, adjust the lighting for this moment of self-fulfillment — one of a series of episode-puncturing vignettes of Dennis Rader (played by Sonny Valicenti), aka The BTK Killer.

Bind. Torture. Kill. And do it quickly.

Fincher is on a tight schedule for these late additions to the lengthy shoot. While the scene is set, he sits at the monitor with lead writer Courtenay Miles, adjusting dialogue, as the art department present him with crime-scene photographs and mementos of victims for sign-off. Multitasking can be murder.

Camera set, they shoot. Once. Twice. “That is fucking creepozoid,” says Fincher, after the third take. If you can manage to unsettle the director of Seven and Zodiac, then you’re probably doing your job. The next few days filming in this cavernous Pittsburgh studio will involve FBI office politics, masks (literal and figurative) and autoerotic asphyxiation. As one crew member puts it, “Some things you can’t unsee.”

Back for its second season, Mindhunter has lost none of its fearlessness. BTK returns, of course, but following impactful portrayals of lesser-known serial killers Edmund Kemper and Jerry Brudos, this year is taking on the iconic — including arguably the two most famous serial killers of all: Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) and David Berkowitz, aka Son of Sam (Oliver Cooper). The latter we’ve previously seen on screen being commanded by a demon-possessed dog in Spike Lee‘s Summer Of Sam. And — on the 50th anniversary of the murders his ‘disciples’ carried out — Manson is everywhere, including in Quentin Tarantino‘s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (portrayed by the same actor, Damon Herriman). But whereas most movies lean into the mythology of Manson, or embellish Berkowitz, Mindhunter is looking to re-examine reality. This isn’t hellhound hyperbole or gauze-softened myth. It’s the ugly truth.

“We want to believe they’re madmen,” says Courtenay Miles, “But when you read their history, their journals, letters, you see it is a human being in there. But it’s a human being gone wrong.” Miles was first assistant director on the debut series — the aide-de-camp to the director’s general — and made the unlikely but long-cherished transition to writer when Fincher gave her a shot. She immersed herself in the world of serial killers, and lost sleep as a result. “All of the characteristics that are in their mental structure and their compulsions are things that any other human being can identify with,” she says, reflecting on the long gestation of serial killers. “They’re made over 20 years. Nurturing these compulsions. That just got under my skin.”

Miles got the chance to be disturbed — and earn her first screenwriting credit — because Fincher cares considerably less about reputation than he does about his own lived experience. But while the first season saw him employ emerging directors (the most high-profile being Asif Kapadia, whose greatest achievements were in documentaries), here he’s joined behind the lens by two cinematic heavyweights. Carl Franklin is of late an in-demand director of TV, including House Of Cards, but was responsible for some astounding crime cinema in the 1990s: Devil In A Blue Dress and One False Move. In that grubby, merciless thriller, the wife of Bill Paxton‘s seemingly guileless cop observes, “Dale doesn’t know any better. He watches TV. I read non-fiction.” Mindhunter bridges that divide. The other director is Andrew Dominik, whose three features all deal with the ruthless reality beneath criminal lore and legends (Chopper, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, Killing Them Softly). Dominik has wrapped his two episodes. Franklin is shooting four, Fincher three — but, as Dominik puts it, “his tentacles are everywhere”.

Read the full on set report in the September “30th Anniversary” Special Issue of Empire Magazine, now on sale.

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

From Facebook to ‘Fuck-You Flip-Flops’: How Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher Made ‘The Social Network’ a Fiery Word-Off

Adam Buffery
May 28, 2019

I’ve been Mark Zuckerberg—there are times in my life where I’ve acted that way. There are times in my life where I’ve been Eduardo Saverin—where I’ve gone and made a scene and regretted it and where I’ve been emotional and felt silly and stupid. And there are times when I’ve felt self-righteous and I’ve acted out in this other way… Look, what Mark does is no different than directing a movie—it’s what I do for a living every day. You grow something, and your job is to grow it well and to make sure it gets enhanced and to take care of it. That’s the subject of the movie. And if you have to hurt people’s feelings in order to protect that thing, that’s what you have to do. It’s a responsibility. You want to love every character in the movie. You want to be able to understand them. You want to be able to relate to them. But, as a director, the characters’ behaviors are inevitably related to facets of moments in your own life. You look at the work and say, Maybe I do know what that is. I’ve been the angry young man. I’ve been Elvis Costello. I know what that’s like. The anger is certainly something I felt that I could relate to—the notion of being twenty-one and having a fairly clear notion of what it is you want to do or what it is you want to say and having all these people go, well, we’d love to, we’d love you to try. Show us what it is that you want to do. It’s that whole condescending thing of having to ask adults for permission because the perception is that you’re too young to do it for yourself. And that’s why I understood Mark’s frustration. You have a vision of what this thing should be. And everyone wants to tell you, Oh, well, you’re young. You’ll see soon enough. —David Fincher

The 21st century computer-scribes who work behind the scenes behind the screens, creating culture and beauty with code, got an anti-hero to remember on the silver-screen in 2010 with David Fincher’s 8th feature film. From a once-in-a-generation, “holy shit” screenplay by Aaron SorkinThe Social Network is a movie about a 19-year-old Harvard student creating Facebook while losing the relationships in his life. It is an examination of a social outsider who built one of the biggest “clubs” the world’s ever seen, and it’s about the new age zooming past the old. It’s about ignorance in high places, that awkward moment when powerful hired officials prove they have no concept of what simple features on Facebook are in a hearing on Facebook security. It’s about a new language of coding that’s sweeping and running the globe, and about treating coding with the respect it deserves. It’s about coders being taken as seriously as writers, musicians, filmmakers, film producers, painters, costume-designers, photographers, and all other artists and creators. It’s about attaining power even though you’re socially anxious or awkward, and about finding that inner drive that helps you accomplish your goals. It’s about what happens when you lose your humility in your thirst for greatness, and about the fragility of the line between “passionate” and “ass-hole.” The Social Network is simultaneously about a seismic shift in the zeitgeist and your best friend getting your company in trouble for feeding his fraternity chicken a piece of chicken. It’s about creating and solidifying one’s identity, and everything and anything else that goes with what Fincher once jokingly referred to as “the Citizen Kane of John Hughes movies.”

Read the full article

Film stills by Merrick Morton (Sony Pictures)

Other in-depth articles on films by David Fincher on Cinephilia & Beyond:

Alien3: “Take all of the responsibility, because you’re going to get all of the blame”

Se7en: A Rain-Drenched, Somber, Gut-Wrenching Thriller that Restored David Fincher’s Faith in Filmmaking

Downwards Is the Only Way Forwards: Welcome to David Fincher’s The Game

Fight Club’: David Fincher’s Stylish Exploration of Modern-Day Man’s Estrangement and Disillusionment

Fincher’s Zodiac As Easily One Of The Best Thrillers Of The Millennium So Far