The First Rule of Making ‘Fight Club’: Talk About ‘Fight Club’

Dan Evans (The Ringer)

In an excerpt from the new book ‘Best. Movie. Year. Ever.,” David Fincher, Edward Norton, and the minds behind ‘Fight Club’ talk about the bare-knuckled, bloody battle to bring Chuck Palahniuk’s book to the big screen

Brian Raftery
March 26, 2019
The Ringer

Sometimes, during their breaks, the men who worked alongside Chuck Palahniuk would gather to talk about where their lives had gone wrong. It was the early nineties, and Palahniuk was employed at a Portland, Oregon, truck-manufacturing company called Freightliner. Many of his colleagues were well-educated, underutilized guys who felt out of sorts in the world—and they put the blame on the men who’d raised them. “Everybody griped about what skills their fathers hadn’t taught them,” says Palahniuk. “And they griped that their fathers were too busy establishing new relationships and new families all the time and had just written off their previous children.”

Palahniuk’s Freightliner duties included researching and writing up repair procedures—tasks that required him to keep a notebook with him at all times. At work, when no one was looking, he’d jot down ideas for a story he was working on. He’d continue writing whenever he could find the time: between loads at the laundromat or reps at the gym or while waiting for his unreliable 1985 Toyota pickup truck to be fixed at the auto shop. The result was a series of “small little snippets” about an unnamed auto company employee who’s so spiritually inert, so unsatisfied, that he finds himself attending various cancer support groups, just to unnumb himself. He soon succumbs to the atomic charisma of Tyler Durden, a mysterious figure whose name had been partly inspired by the 1960 Disney movie Toby Tyler. “I grew up in a town of six hundred people,” says the Washington-born Palahniuk, “and a kid in my second-grade class said he’d been the actor in that movie. Even though he looked nothing like him, I believed him. So ‘Tyler’ became synonymous with a lying trickster.”

After meeting Tyler Durden, Palahniuk’s narrator begins attending Fight Club, a guerrilla late-night gathering in which men voluntarily beat each other bloody. Fight Club comes with a set of fixed rules, the most important of which is that, no matter what, you do not talk about Fight Club. Many of the book’s brawlers are working-class guys with the same dispiriting jobs—mechanics, waiters, bartenders—held by some of Palahniuk’s friends. “My peers were conflict averse,” says Palahniuk. “They shied away from any confrontation or tension, and their lives were being lived in this very tepid way. I thought if there was some way to introduce them to conflict in a very structured, safe way, it would be a form of therapy—a way that they could discover a self beyond this frightened self.”

Palahniuk would bring work-in-progress chapters to writing classes and workshops around Portland, holding one successful early reading at a lesbian bookstore. “They wanted to know ‘Is there a women’s version of this?’ he says. “They just assumed Fight Clubs existed in the world and wanted to participate.” Palahniuk, then in his early thirties, had recently seen his first novel get rejected. “I was thinking ‘I’m never getting published, so I might as well just write something for the fun of it.’ It was that kind of freedom, but also that kind of anger, that went into Fight Club.” He’d wind up selling the book to publisher W. W. Norton for a mere $6,000.

Fight Club’s quiet 1996 release came just a few years after the arrival of the so-called men’s movement, in which dissatisfied dudes looking to reclaim their masculinity would gather for all-male retreats in the woods. They’d bang drums and lock arms in the hope of escaping what had become a “deep national malaise,” noted Newsweek. “What teenagers were to the 1960s, what women were to the 1970s, middle-aged men may well be to the 1990s: American culture’s sanctioned grievance carriers, diligently rolling their ball of pain from talk show to talk show.”

Palahniuk’s Fight Club characters, though, were younger and angrier than their aggrieved elders. A few primal scream sessions in the woods weren’t going to cut it. “We are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday we’ll be millionaires and movie stars and rock stars, but we won’t,” Tyler says of his peers, adding “Don’t fuck with us.” It was one of many briskly written yet impactful mission statements in Palahniuk’s book, which earned positive reviews from a few major critics—the Washington Post called it “a volatile, brilliantly creepy satire”—as well as the author’s own father. “He loved it,” Palahniuk says. “Just like my boss thought I was writing about his boss, my dad thought I was writing about his dad. It was the first time we really connected. He’d go into these small-town bookstores, make sure it was there, and brag that it was his son’s book.”

Fight Club wasn’t an especially big performer in its original hardcover run, selling just under 5,000 copies. But before it even hit shelves, an early galley copy reached producers Ross Grayson Bell and Joshua Donen, the latter of whom had produced such films as Steven Soderbergh’s noir The Underneath. Bell was put off by some of the book’s violence, but as he read further, he arrived at Fight Club’s big revelation: the insomniac narrator, it turns out, really is Tyler Durden, and at night he’s been unknowingly leading the Fight Club army raiding liposuction clinics for human fat—first to turn into soap, and then to use for explosives. Eventually Tyler’s hordes of followers begin engaging in a series of increasingly violent acts. “You get to the twist, and it makes you reassess everything you’ve just read,” says Bell. “I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep that night.” Looking to make Fight Club his first produced feature, Bell hired a group of unknown actors to read the book aloud, slowly stripping it down and rearranging parts of its structure. He sent a recording of their efforts to Laura Ziskin, who’d produced Pretty Woman and was now heading Fox 2000, a division that focused on (relatively) midbudget films. According to Bell, after listening to his Fight Club reading during a fifty-minute drive to Santa Barbara, Ziskin hired him as one of Fight Club’s producers. “I didn’t know how to make a movie out of it,” said Ziskin, who optioned the book for $10,000. “But I thought someone might.”

Ziskin gave a copy of Palahniuk’s book to David O. Russell, who declined. “I read it, and I didn’t get it,” Russell says. “I obviously didn’t do a good job reading it.” There was one filmmaker, though, who definitely got Fight Club. He was the perfect match—a guy who viewed the world through the same slightly corroded View-Master as Palahniuk; who could attract desirable actors; who could make all of Fight Club’s bodily fluids splatter beautifully across the screen. And he wasn’t afraid of drawing a little blood himself.

Read the full excerpt

The Ringer: The 50 Best Movies of 1999, Part 1

The Ringer: The 50 Best Movies of 1999, Part 2

The Ringer: Make the Case: ‘Being John Malkovich’ Was a Head Trip Masterpiece—and the Best Film of 1999

Order Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen, by Brian Raftery (Simon & Schuster). On sale: April 16, 2019

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How David Fincher and Tim Miller’s ‘Love, Death and Robots’ Made the Leap to Netflix

David Fincher & Tim Miller, Executive Producers
SXSW Film Festival. Austin, TX
(Daniel Boczarski / Getty Images, Zimbio)

Brandon Katz
March 11, 2019
Observer

Steven Spielberg may or may not be marshaling forces against Netflix. The Academy may or may not have awarded Green Book Best Picture as a slight to the streamer’s unanimously praised Roma. A handful of power players in Hollywood still dismiss direct-to-consumer platforms as secondary hubs of entertainment. But they’ll be on the wrong side of history.

Some of cinema’s greatest filmmakers are flocking to the world of streaming, tempted by its deep pockets and creative freedom (hello, Martin Scorsese). Roma didn’t need to win Best Picture for Netflix to make a powerful point about its place in the industry—with an increasingly ambitious library of original shows and films, the service has already become arguably the No. 1 destination for entertainment. Adding directors David Fincher and Tim Miller’s new animated anthology series Love, Death and Robots to the mix just further underlines that fact.

The creative duo, who boast three Academy Award nominations between them, originally viewed the series—a collection of animated short stories that spans various genres including science fiction, fantasy, horror and comedy—as a film. But up against Hollywood’s risk-averse studios, they could never get a firm green light. Enter Netflix, which has emerged as a home for the kind of daring, left-field storytelling we rarely see in mainstream cinema.

“We got a ‘yes’ [from film studios] for a while here, a ‘yes’ for a while there, and then everybody starts on the whole ‘Yeah, but anthology, yeah, but anthology,’ and, you know, ‘Is it going to be confusing?’ And it’s like, why would a buffet be confusing?” Fincher told Observer at SXSW. “Why would it be confusing that you can have fruit or pancakes? Really, streaming services are kind of the perfect place to do something like this, because, you know, these [shorts] are distractions. But they’re really detailed in their execution, and a lot of love and care went into it.”

Netflix offered Fincher and Miller the opportunity—and a ton of freedom—to breathe life into their vision, so it’s easy to see why they ultimately landed there. The partnership helped Love, Death and Robots truly take shape.

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David Fincher. SXSW Film Festival. Austin, TX
(Daniel Boczarski / Getty Images, Zimbio)

David Fincher on If He’d Ever Direct a Superhero Film

Brandon Katz
March 9, 2019
Observer

David Fincher Wants to Destroy the Concept of the Half-Hour and Hour-Long Show

David Fincher (Patrick Lewis/Starpix for Netflix/REX/Shutterstock, IndieWire)

SXSW: Fincher and Tim Miller talk about their decade-long journey to making the new Netflix animation anthology “Death, Love and Robots.”

Chris O’Falt
Mar 9, 2019
IndieWire

The concept of an anthology animated short series, made by different artists from around the world, was a near-impossible pitch for executive producers David Fincher and Tim Miller to sell. Following the SXSW premiere of six of their 18 shorts — which will air on Netflix under the “Love, Death and Robots” banner — the duo revealed they had received countless rejections (though one unnamed studio said yes, before, as Miller described it, “they chickened out”) until the show eventually landed at Netflix.

“It was a very difficult thing to pitch a movie studio because it’s not often we’ll see it with all the credits in the middle,” said Fincher, referring to the fact that the 90-minute program the SXSW audience had just watched included end credits following each of the six shorts. “You want to move on to the next. For a streaming service it’s perfect.”

The idea that the shorts could be different lengths and have no narrative connective tissue was perfect for the on-demand nature of a subscription streaming service. According to Fincher, dating back to “House of Cards” and “Mindhunter,” his conversations with Netflix, including Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, have been centered around the need to break free of the half-hour and hour-long format.

“We have to get rid of the 22-minute [length of a half-hour show with commercials] and 48-minute [length of an hour-long show with commercials] because there’s this Pavlovian response to this segmentation that to me seems anathema to storytelling,” said Fincher. “You want the story to be as long as it needs to be to be at maximum impact or entertainment value proposition.”

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PIX System honored at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Scientific and Technical Awards

February 9, 2019
Oscars.org

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.

Scientific & Technical Awards 2018 | 2019

February 10, 2019
Oscars (YouTube)

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)

SciTech Awards

Carolyn Giardina
February 9, 2019
The Hollywood Reporter

Evening of Excellence: 2019 Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards

Jay Holben
February 21, 2019
The American Society of Cinematographers

How David Fincher and ‘Panic Room’ Helped Launch a SciTech Award Recipient

Pix was initially developed to help ‘Panic Room‘s’ sound team.

Carolyn Giardina
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.

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Dachs ’98 Receives Sci-Tech Oscar for PIX System

Cynthia Rockwell
March 4, 2019
Wesleyan University

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.

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PIX, the only addiction I have left.”
David Fincher

PIX System

‘Mindhunter’: The David Fincher Look is All About Power and Control

Merrick Morton / Netflix

Fincher was very particular about conveying control and dominance through lighting and production design in his Netflix FBI crime drama.

Bill Desowitz
June 18, 2018
IndieWire

David Fincher brilliantly pushes his cinematic formalism in “Mindhunter,” Netflix’s 10-episode crime drama that explores the FBI’s fledgling Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia, in the late ’70s. But, for the dialogue-heavy creepy interrogations with imprisoned serial killers by agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), executive producer/co-director Fincher manages to visually convey constant power shifts.

“It’s about control and dominance and also about misogyny,” Fincher said. “People forget that this goes all the way back to Jack the Ripper.”

And Fincher’s collaboration with production designer Steve Arnold (“House of Cards”) and gaffer-turned cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt (“Mad Men”) was crucial to the authentic ’70s look and dynamic blocking of the interrogation scenes, particularly those involving Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton), who captivates and mentors Holden.

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Actors on Actors: Jonathan Groff & Maggie Gyllenhaal

Variety (YouTube)
June 8, 2018

Los Angeles Times (YouTube)
June 7, 2018

Before Jonathan Groff Could Nail Mindhunter, He Had to Stop Smiling

ANATOMY OF A CHARACTER

The stage and screen star discusses leading David Fincher’s pitch-black serial-killer series.

K. Austin Collins
June 14, 2018
Vanity Fair

THE CHARACTER: HOLDEN FORD, MINDHUNTER

If you’ve seen classic David Fincher films like Seven, Zodiac, or even The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you know the infamously exacting director has a type: the obsessive who tries to solve a crime in the library or the archives, nimbly combing through databases and warehouses full of forgotten evidence. The Fincher obsessive starts their work unblemished—but by the end, it has upended their lives.

In the case of Fincher’s 10-episode Netflix series Mindhunter, that obsessive is Holden Ford, played by Tony-nominated actor Jonathan Groff. Holden starts as a textbook Groff character: neat, bookish, pretty, an F.B.I. choirboy who becomes a teacher and researcher after a hostage situation goes wrong. But soon, alongside behavioral scientist Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and anthropologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), Holden falls down the rabbit hole of a new line of thinking about killers, one that brings him a little too close to the murderers themselves.

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How David Fincher Nailed ‘Mindhunter,’ from Charlize Theron to Jonathan Groff

Holt McCallany, Anna Torv, Erik Messerschmidt (Director of Photography), Laray Mayfield (Casting Director), Cameron Britton, Jonathan Groff, Jennifer Starzyk (Costume Designer), Steve Arnold (Production Designer), David Fincher (Director/Executive Producer). (Patrick Lewis/Starpix for Netflix/REX/Shutterstock/IndieWire)

Take some people obsessed with serial killers, and a detail freak like David Fincher, and the alchemy is undeniably compelling.

Anne Thompson
June 4, 2018
IndieWire, Thompson on Hollywood

There are manifold reasons why Netflix’s chilling series “Mindhunter” breaks the mold, from David Fincher to the bromantic chemistry between boyish FBI agent Holden Ford (“Hamilton” star Jonathan Groff) and gruff, chain-smoking G-man Bill Tench (Fincher veteran Holt McCallany). Here are a few factors that pushed this series to the top of the competitive drama Emmy contenders.

1. Charlize Theron

The series may never have existed if executive producer Charlize Theron hadn’t recognized a fellow serial killer buff in Fincher. When the actress was researching her Oscar-winning role as sociopath Aileen Wuornos in Patty Jenkins’ “Monster,” she read John Douglas’s “Mindhunter,” about the groundbreaking ’70s FBI unit that pioneered research into serial killers.

“This guy had an incredible life,” she said. “What he does is so rare and mind-blowing. I’m fascinated by books on neurology and brain development and why people are sociopaths: They cut off all emotion in order to do horrible things. I bought the rights to his book. I thought about Fincher, who loved ‘Zodiac’ and ‘Seven’ [and thought] ‘He must be obsessed with this stuff too; he must know who John Douglas is.’ People said, ‘You have never produced television.’ I asked David to lunch and he knew about Douglas and was on board: ‘Let’s make it into a series.’ Dream big, motherfuckers!”

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Charlize Theron craves Sushi
Fincher and Theron, after their meeting in 2012 (Bauer-Griffin, AKM-GSI)