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

Advertisements

Paramount Pulls The Plug On David Fincher’s ‘World War Z’ Sequel

Rodrigo Perez
February 6, 2019
The Playlist

“Movement is life,” Brad Pitt‘s Gerry Lane famously said, advising survivors in Paramount‘s 2013 zombie/outbreak movie “World War Z.” Momentum is everything in Hollywood, and perhaps a lack of it hurt “World War Z”‘s chances for a sequel, because it’s now curtains for the followup film. Sources close to the project for years tell us that Paramount Pictures pulled the plug on director David Fincher‘s film last night.

The film’s budget was definitely an issue but only to a degree. Fincher and his team were proposing something less than the budget of the original ($190 million according to Box Office Mojo, before the costly reshoots). However, Paramount’s known about this figure since at least last year and had hemmed and hawed about the project for months. One might think it not entirely coincidental that Paramount, which makes far fewer films than the average studio, just designated a lot of money for two significant blockbusters: “Mission Impossible 7” & ‘8‘ which will arrive in the summer of 2021 and 2022, according to their official release dates.

Paramount simply dragged their heels, at one point eyeing a 2018 or 2019 summer release, but never feeling bold enough to put it back on the schedule. Pitt, who has worked with Fincher several times, began to court Fincher for the job back in August of 2016 and a few months later the director agreed and started to look for writers to develop a new script. Dennis Kelly, the creator and writer of the original U.K. “Utopia” series—which Fincher almost adapted himself for HBO— was hired to rewrite the script from Steven Knight.

The officially untitled “World War Z 2” was roughly aiming for a summer shoot—Fincher is currently still busy editing “Mindhunter” season two for Netflix—but the writing might have been on the wall given how tentative Paramount was with the project.

Read the full article

Paramount Scraps David Fincher’s ‘World War Z 2’ over Budget Concerns

Adam Chitwood
February 6, 2019
Collider

Joe Penhall on the Nature of Criminality in MINDHUNTER and The King of Thieves

Joe Penhall (2018, Richard Mildenhall / Independent)

John Bucher
January 25, 2018
LA Screenwriter

Joe Penhall has been telling stories in theaters, across TV screens, and on stages for almost 20 years. His screenplay based on Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron, brought him acclaim and opened up doors that would lead to his most celebrated project to date, Netflix’s Mindhunter.

Penhall has returned to the world of cinema with his newest project. Starring Michael Caine, The King of Thieves is a crime story based on real events about a retired crew of criminals who attempt to pull off a heist in London’s jewelry district.

[…]

John Bucher: With both Mindhunter and King of Thieves, you really get into the psychology of criminals and you have deep insights here into the way that people who have committed and plotted crimes look at the world. How do you approach these characters to understand their psychology?

Joe Penhall: The first and only regular job I ever had was as a crime reporter in my early twenties, and occasionally, the detectives would give me a transcript to read. One of them was an interview with a serial killer and we would analyze it and we would talk about it and they would give me their insights, and over the years, I’ve just become more and more interested in psychology and the kind of pathology of people’s behavior, because the only way to know anything about people is to try and develop a proper kind of psychological perspective.

What fascinated me about Mindhunter was how these FBI agents are expected to get crew cuts and lock people up and they’re at a time in history when that’s not good enough anymore. We have to develop a more nuanced, more academic, psychological understanding of this and I think that that’s true. People accept criminals. They accept politicians. They accept the bad people and the good people in society without ever really analyzing or pathologizing them in any way at all.

These things are an opportunity for me to try and dig down and understand what makes criminals tick. These criminals are a big part of our society, and certainly when I was doing Mindhunter, I know David Fincher and I were both fascinated with psychopathy and narcissism and personality disorders because I think we felt, somewhere on the grapevine, there were other people out there who weren’t serial killers who were high-ranking politicians who had psychopathy, who had personality disorders that resembled very closely the kind of villains in our piece.

And it came to pass. Since Mindhunter was written, there’s been this book about Donald Trump’s personality disorder. It’s well known that many of history’s dictators had personality disorders. They had psychopathy. They had sociopathy. They had antisocial personality disorder.

And it strikes me as self-evident that there is a pathological way of understanding these things without just calling it evil or without just calling them monsters or without just ringing your hands, you know. I think we were on a mission with Mindhunter to show that these people were actually ordinary people, sad to say.

King of Thieves is a much lighter version of that, but it’s the same thing. It’s not Warren Beatty in a heist film. It’s not George Clooney in a heist film. They’re banal people. They’re banal people that can’t be socialized the way most people can and they end up doing odd things like robbing vaults. I just find it fascinating but fascinating for slightly different reasons than people generally find heists fascinating or criminality fascinating in the movies.

Read the full interview

The Creator of Netflix’s ‘Mindhunter’ Is Already Thinking Past Season 2

“We’re working as fast as we can,” Joe Penhall tells Inverse.

Jake Kleinman
January 17, 2019
Inverse

Joe Penhall has been keeping busy. In between researching and writing Mindhunter Season 2, he also had time to pen King of Thieves, a new movie out next week about a group of elderly British burglars. But we couldn’t resist asking about his hit Netflix show, and, in an interview, Penhall tells Inverse approximately when we can expect Mindhunter Season 2 to arrive along with his plans for Season 3 and beyond. (Listen to the interview in the video above, if you can stand the sound of my rapid note-taking throughout.)

You might think that, as series creator, Penhall would be heavily involved with the editing process, but once filming wrapped in December 2018 he was essentially finished with Mindhunter Season 2.

“The editing process is quiet for me because David Fincher locks himself away and doesn’t really want to share with anybody,” Penhall says. “And I don’t particularly need to see things half finished.”

He added that Season 1 took about “6 months of 8 months” to edit, suggesting that Mindhunter Season 2 could see a similar timeline, only faster.

“We’re working as fast as we can,” he says. “There’s only eight episodes in this one [down from 10 in Season 1]. So he doesn’t have quite as much to do.”

Read the full profile and listen to the interview

When will Mindhunter season 2 be released? Here is what its creator told us

Joe Penhall also talks Charles Manson, his 5 season plan and admits he almost passed out at FBI’s museum of death.

Gregory Wakeman
January 22, 2019
Metro (US)

Mindhunter creator Joe Penhall is hopeful that the second season of the Netflix show will be released by the end of 2019, although he admits that all depends on director David Fincher.

Shooting on Mindhunter season 2 finished “about a month ago,” but when it comes to its release date Penhall says, “I don’t know because that’s always up to David. He kind of goes into editing and he doesn’t talk to anybody until he comes out again.”

“I would hope that would be by the end of this year but I just don’t really know. Yeah and he’s a rule breaker and he wants to do it on his own with his own schedule.”

Read the full profile

The Curious Development History of ‘Benjamin Button’

Adam Chitwood
January 3, 2019
Collider

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is, at first glance, a unique entry in director David Fincher’s filmography. It’s an epic romance of sorts; a sweeping love story told through the ages, one which would appear to be at odds with what many view as a cold and cynical worldview that permeates Fincher’s other films like Se7en, Fight Club, or Zodiac. But upon further inspection, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button fits right in with the rest of Fincher’s darker films, as it’s really the story of a man whose entire life is surrounded by the reminder of death.

Benjamin Button hit theaters on December 25, 2008—almost exactly a decade ago—and was the biggest hit of Fincher’s career until Gone Girl, grossing over $330 million worldwide. It received mostly positive reviews and was nominated for 13 Oscars, winning three for Art Direction, Makeup, and Visual Effects. It almost certainly paved the way for Fincher to next make The Social Network, another successful Oscar-winning film, but actually creating The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was arduous, and the road to getting the film off the ground in the first place was a decades-long journey.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button itself is based on a short story in an F. Scott Fitzgerald book published in 1922, and the central premise caught Hollywood’s attention in the late 1980s: the story of a man born old who ages backwards and dies young.

The first director attached to the project was Frank Oz, with Martin Short attached to star. But after working on the script for a few months for Universal Pictures, Oz left the project. He couldn’t quite crack how to turn this short story into a compelling drama, as the central premise lacked significant conflict.

So Universal’s president of production at the time, Casey Silver, next turned to screenwriter Robin Swicord, asking her to attempt an adaptation. She turned in a first draft in January 1990 and her contribution was so substantial that on the finished iteration of the film directed by Fincher, Swicord received a “Story by” co-credit.

Read the full article

In Conversation with Jennifer Haley, Writer (Mindhunter)

Jennifer Haley (Peter Konerko)

 

Pop Culture Confidential. Episode 90: Jennifer Haley – Writer, Mindhunter

2018. Pop Culture Confidential (Podcast)

Christina Jeurling Birro
November 29, 2017
Pop Culture Confidential

Thrilling, dark, gripping and tense are just some of the words used to describe the hit Netflix series Mindhunter. Playwright Jennifer Haley is a writer and co-producer on the series, and joins us this week to share her experience getting into the minds of FBI agents and serial killers.

Mindhunter is a meticulously paced crime drama based on the writings of the pioneering serial killer profiler John E Douglas. Along with his team, they interviewed the likes of Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, and Ed Kemper during the seventies and eighties which resulted in a redefining of criminal profiling forever.

The series has wonderful casting, beautiful cinematography, and some of the creepiest conversations you will hear this year. Lead by David Fincher who is Executive Producer and director of four of the episodes, the writers on Mindhunter have delivered an amazing array of characters.

 

L.A. Not So Confidential. S1 Ep. 4: Writing Minds – Jennifer Haley Interview

2018. L.A. Not So Confidential (Podcast).jpg

Dr. Scott & Dr. Shiloh
December 3, 2017
L.A. Not So Confidential

Forensic psychologists, Dr. Scott and Dr. Shiloh, interview award-winning playwright Jennifer Haley who was a writer on Season 1 of Netflix‘s 2017 hit Mindhunter. In their first interview episode, they dive into the excitement and obstacles of bringing John Douglas‘ book to life and dish on several story arcs that leave us not-so-patiently waiting for Season 2! What’s with Wendy and that cat? Will there be a musical episode to see Jonathon Groff in action?

Listen to the full interview

L.A. Not So Confidential: S1 Ep. 3: Hunting Minds

Dr. Shiloh and Dr. Scott dissect their new favorite show, Netflix’s Mindhunter, and compare their own first experiences interviewing and working with the criminal population.

 

2012. Jennifer Haley - The NetherJennifer Haley .com

In Conversation with Andrew Kevin Walker

Andrew Kevin Walker (Brad Elterman)

 

On Story: 610 Andrew Kevin Walker – Se7en

Austin Film Festival (YouTube)
June 18, 2016

Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker dissects his bleak thriller masterpiece, Se7en and working with director David Fincher to create the cult classic film.

 

Andrew Kevin Walker Interview

Movies and Stuff (YouTube)
Published on 22 Oct 2015

Dan and Abe interview the writer of Se7en Andrew Kevin Walker. Andrew touches on the history of Se7en, meeting Fincher, and his Silver Surfer script.

 

Episode 117: Ben from Fright-Rags, and Andrew Kevin Walker!

2018-10-12. Shock Waves (Libsyn) - Episode 117. Ben from Fright-Rags, and Andrew Kevin Walker!

Shock Waves
October 12, 2018

Join your hosts Ryan Turek and Rob Galluzzo as they welcome to the show Ben Scrivens, the owner/creator of horror T-shirt company Fright-Rags! Reviewed! TALES FROM THE HOOD 2, AMERICAN HORROR STORY: APOCALYPSE. The gang is also joined by special guest Andrew Kevin Walker, the screenwriter of David Fincher‘s SE7EN, SLEEPY HOLLOW, BRAINSCAN, 8MM, THE WOLFMAN, and much, much more. We get candid about the screenwriting process, the projects that never came to be, his working relationship with Fincher, and how he wrote SE7EN while working at Tower Records! All this and more!

Listen to the podcast

 

1992 Andrew Kevin Walker - Se7en. First Draft (andrewkevinwalker.com)Andrew Kevin Walker .com