Alien3: In Space, They’re Still Screaming

Ron Magid
Unit Photography by Rolf Konow and Bob Penn, courtesy of 20th Century Fox
July, 1992
American Cinematographer

Alex Thomson, BSC — one of Britain’s premier cinematographers — creates images of dazzling perfection, richness and clarity, images which have graced some of the most exquisite-looking films in recent memory: Legend, Ridley Scott‘s epic fairytale; Eureka, Nicholas Roeg‘s influential retelling of Citizen Kane; and Excalibur, John Boorman‘s visually magnificent approach to the King Arthur legend.

Though Alien3 is ideal subject matter for Thomson’s rich photographic style, he might never have lent his expertise to the project had it not been for one of the greatest triumphs and tragedies of his career. Late in 1990, Thomson had been chosen by one of the world’s undisputed filmic masters to photograph what promised to be his final masterpiece: the director was David Lean; the project was Joseph Conrad‘s Nostromo

Unfortunately, Lean took ill and died, Nostromo shut down and a saddened Alex Thomson returned to London, wondering what he would do next. “I came back from France on a weekend and they called me on Monday to see if I could take over on Alien3,” Thomson recollects. “I started work on Tuesday, which was about a week and a half into production. I was happy to do it; it kept my mind off what might have been.” (There is a certain karmic irony to Thomson’s twist of fate. As fans of the first Alien film will recall, the spaceship in that picture was dubbed the Nostromo.)

Behind the camera, Alex Thomson, BSC watches intently as operator David Worley lines up a shot on Charles Dance as Sigorney Weaver stands by.

The production history of Alien3 is a troubled one. Before Thomson joined the film, its first director, New Zealander Vincent Ward — one of a slew of directors who had been attached to the project during its lengthy pre-production phase — had been replaced by rock video director David Fincher. Thomson was hired when the film’s original cinematographer, Jordan Cronenweth, ASC (Blade Runner) left the production.

Many cinematographers might feel stifled by a production where the original look had already been determined, but not Thomson. “I had no problem with following in Jordan’s footsteps because his approach was so right,” he enthuses. “It was marvelous to be pointed in the right direction by a man of his caliber.” 

First-time feature director Fincher, for his part, is an award-winning rock video director with a background in visual effects storyboarding at ILM. “To take something over like this at 28 must’ve been quite awe-inspiring, but he handled it as if he’d done 20 pictures,” Thomson relates.

Read the full profile

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

Shot on RED: MINDHUNTER

Michele K. Short / Netflix

The show’s look is as meticulous as the mechanics of police work it depicts.

October 21, 2019
RED Digital Cinema

Going inside Mindhunter Season 2: there’s a contradiction at the heart of Mindhunter, the highly rated Netflix drama. For all the efforts of creator David Fincher and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt to craft a minimalist aesthetic for this ripped-from-the headlines chronicle of the modern serial killer and its FBI profilers, the show itself continues to win plaudits for how it stylistically marries editorial with subject.

Season 1 was lauded for shining a light onto this particularly murky corner of the criminal psyche with its desaturated cinematography. “David and I continued with what we had put together for the first season,” Messerschmidt explains. “If anything, Season 2 is even more structured and formalist. That classical aesthetic is driven a lot by the content. The show is very measured in its approach to a story about serial killers so we felt the photography should be restrained and simple.”

Miles Crist / Netflix

Messerschmidt photographed all nine episodes of the new season which returned to Netflix after a two-year hiatus. Directors Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), Carl Franklin (House of Cards) and Fincher took charge of blocks of three. Before taking responsibility to shape the look of Mindhunter’s first run, Messerschmidt had worked as a gaffer on shows like Mad Men and Bones, and then the feature film Gone Girl where he first came into contact with Fincher.

Definitive if subtle changes were made for Mindhunter’s latest season, the most notable of which was shooting with the custom XENOMORPH with HELIUM 8K S35 sensor and being able to monitor HDR on set.

Read the full profile

‘Fight Club’ 20th Anniversary: Holt McCallany on Standing Behind Brad Pitt in ‘Iconic’ Photo

The “Mindhunter” star portrayed a fight club member in David Fincher’s 1999 film.

Omar Sanchez
September 10, 2019
The Wrap

Holt McCallany currently stars in Netflix’s “Mindhunter,” but two decades ago, he was an up-and-coming actor who found himself sharing the screen with Brad Pitt in “Fight Club.” As the David Fincher film celebrates the 20th anniversary of its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, McCallany reflects on being part of the “iconic photo” from the set, calling it “one of the really memorable moments of my career.”

The photo of a bloodied Brad Pitt shirtless in a dingy basement, smoking a cigarette and ready to fight is arguably the most famous image from the film. Surrounding Pitt are other fight club members, including McCallany.

“I love that photo,” McCallany told The Wrap. “It’s one of the really memorable moments of my career. There aren’t too many moments along the way that were more special than ‘Fight Club.’”

McCallany was a New York Broadway actor when he landed his role in “Fight Club,” the Edward Norton and Pitt-led action flick about two members of an underground group of brawlers. The still was taken by the set photographer Merrick Morton. McCallany said after the “Fight Club” premiere, strangers would approach him on the street, recognizing him due to the photo’s use during the film’s promotional run.

Read the full profile

Holt McCallany

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

Cinephilia & Beyond, one of the finest websites dedicated to the art and craft of Film, is struggling financially and needs your support: DONATE

Anarchy in the U.S.A.

Flashback: Fight Club

Talking about one of the most divisive films of the 1990s, as director David Fincher teamed with first-time feature cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, ASC to craft a tale of modern disillusionment.

Director David Fincher teams with first-time feature cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth to craft a tale of modern disillusionment in Fight Club.

Christopher Probst [ASC]
Unit photography by Merrick Morton [SMPSP]
November 1999
American Cinematographer

In his 1996 novel Fight Club, writer Chuck Palahniuk posed this question: What do you do when you realize the world is not destined to be your oyster, when you recognize the innocuous banalities of everyday life as nothing more than a severely loosened lid on a seething underworld cauldron of unchecked impulses and social atrocities?

Director David Fincher is no stranger to this theme. All of his previous films, Alien3 (see AC July ‘92), Seven (AC Oct. ‘95) and The Game (AC Sept. ‘97), have explored the dark side of the human psyche. With Fight Club, Fincher once again demonstrates his affinity for this bleak and foreboding realm, displaying a deft cinematic sensibility and a gift for taut visual execution.

Fight Club opens as its disenfranchised — and nameless — narrator (Edward Norton) feigns illness and begins attending cancer-patient support group meetings in a vain attempt to find purpose within his lonely, mundane existence. Through a chance encounter on an airplane, he meets the enigmatic Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), the organizer of Fight Club, an underground group of young men who take part in bare-knuckle brawls concocted to vent their pre-apocalyptic angst.

Fincher has worked with a score of prominent cinematographers on commercials, music videos and feature films. Interestingly, he began shooting Alien3 with the late Jordan Cronenweth, ASC — who left the production due to his battle with Parkinson’s disease, and was replaced by Alex Thomson, BSC. For Fight Club, Fincher enlisted Jordan’s son, Jeff Cronenweth [ASC], to realize his uniquely dystopian vision.

Read the full article

Cronenweth (wearing cap, just behind the camera on left) and his crew set up double coverage for a conversation scene between Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and the film’s nameless narrator (Edward Norton).