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 on October 28 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.

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The Hero’s Journey: Se7en

Jeff Garvin & Dan Zarzana
June 25, 2019
The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey is a monthly podcast which examines classic and contemporary books and films through the lens of The Hero’s Journey. Pioneered by renowned mythologist and teacher Joseph Campbell, and refined for the context of modern storytelling by Disney veteran Christopher Vogler, The Hero’s Journey is a series of motifs and archetypes that pervade myths, folklore, and stories across all cultures and eras. Your hosts, author Jeff Garvin and book blogger Dan Zarzana, will discuss a new book or film each month. And probably, there will be some drinking.

Lose your heads with Dan and Jeff as they open the box on David Fincher’s serial killer masterpiece, Se7en.

Listen to the podcast

How They Wrote Fight Club

Fight Club Author Chuck Palahniuk

N. T. Jordan
May 29, 2019
Behind the Curtain (YouTube)

What is the meaning of Fight Club? Instead of giving you my theory, let’s learn straight from the source! Listen to Chuck Palahniuk (author), Jim Uhls (screenwriter), David Fincher (director), and more talk about how they created this film and book!

Fight Club is a 1999 film based on the 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk. It was directed by David Fincher and stars Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter. Norton plays the unnamed narrator, who is discontent with his white-collar job. He forms a “fight club” with soap salesman Tyler Durden, and becomes embroiled in a relationship with him and a destitute woman, Marla Singer.

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

Interview with Fight Club Screenwriter Jim Uhls

Dave Bullis
May 11, 2019
The Dave Bullis Podcast (PodBean)

Jim Uhls is a screenwriter and producer. Jim’s sceenwriting credits include, Fight Club, the feature-film Jumper, the NBC television film Semper Fi, and the SyFy miniseries Spin

Jim’s current online class on screenwriting is available at Creative Live. And you can follow him on Twitter.

Show Notes

0:02:39 – How did Jim get his first (credited) writing gig as Fight Club?
0:04:19 – Chuck Palahniuk
0:10:36 – The Meeting
0:14:03 – The Narrator
0:18:50 – Screenwriting Rules
0:31:14 – Jim’s Screenwriting Advice
0:38:58 – The Scent of Blood
0:50:13 – Jim, if he’ll ever direct
0:52:57 – David Fincher Directing Style
1:05:17 – My Fight Club house story

Listen to the full interview

How Aaron Sorkin Wrote The Social Network

83rd Academy Awards: Aaron Sorkin. Writing (Adapted Screenplay) winner
for The Social Network (February 27, 2011)

N. T. Jordan
May 21, 2019
Behind the Curtain (YouTube)

The Social Network is one of the best films of the 2010s. Aaron Sorkin, a screenwriter famous for his dialogue, teamed up with visual director David Fincher to create a modern film with themes as old as story itself. Watch and learn how they did it!

The Social Network is a 2010 American biographical drama film directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin. Adapted from Ben Mezrich‘s 2009 book The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal, the film portrays the founding of social networking website Facebook and the resulting lawsuits.

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