David Fincher started in show business working on the sfx crews for films such as Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and The Return Of The Jedi. He earned a name for himself directing commercials and music videos including 'Janie's Got A Gun' by Aerosmith and the Madonna videos for 'Express Yourself' and 'Vogue'.
Alien 3, marking Fincher's directorial debut, was released in 1992. It was the second sequel in the popular series of Alien films but is often considered the least favourite. The third instalment of the series pits Lt. Ripley on a prison planet with a mainly British cast, to battle the aliens yet again. By all accounts, this project was the one that nobody wanted, with script problems throughout the production as well as unrelenting pressures and restraints imposed by the studio. The only thing that pulled the film together were Fincher's leadership skills.
For Se7en, Fincher climbed out of the sewers of Fiornia 161 and into a city far worse, for this remarkable urban thriller. Detective David Mills and Lt. William Somerset (played by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) embark on a dangerous trail to find a serial killer who is using the seven deadly sins as his motivation for madness. Fincher's best film to date as well as a rising cult favourite, this is still hailed by some as one of the best films of all time.
Se7en came out in 1995 and was one of those rare movies that was both a huge box office hit, as well as being an incredible motion picture.
David Fincher's follow-up to Se7en was 1997's The Game. Michael Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton, a wealthy businessman, given a mysterious birthday gift from his estranged brother played by Sean Penn. What follows is a set of extraordinary events and circumstances as Van Orton plays the astonishing Game.
Like Alien 3, The Game improves with each viewing, being so finely crafted - an intriguing film to watch. Fincher is a king-hell film maker but he is also one of the few directors who can kick you in the nuts with his visuals. In Fight Club, the 1999 film based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, Fincher doesn't just kick you in the nuts; he grabs you by them and gives them a monumental twist. Which is exactly the point of the film. It's not about anti-social behaviour or home grown terrorism as some have implied. It's essentially about modern man. An entire generation raised by women, with no major war or cause to call their own a generation of emotionally castrated creatures who need a good swift kick in the huevos to remind them who they are. Fight Club depicts what happens when some of these men start to understand what they really need in life.
Next up is Panic Room and an interview with
?: Lets talk about logistics. I heard the challenges, the difficulty and that you didnt realize the enormous undertaking of making Panic Room.
David Fincher: Its deceptive because you read a script and it reads like, these guys are doing things downstairs and its being seen on video monitors then you cut to room where two people are trapped and they start talking. No script is really written in stone. There are things that you want to change or have the actors riff on. But you have to commit whats on the video monitors behind the two actors in the panic room that you shot days before.
A lot of times when you think its really simple you realize that you dont have enough footage to play on those monitors while the two actors talk so you have to cover that stuff now. What was one setup now becomes three setups. Another example is when Dwight [Yoakam who plays Raoul] stars smashing the ceiling to get into the panic room, so hes smashing the plaster. Now you have the replace the plaster for every take, its a 45 minute reset time, the plaster weighs 800 to 900 pounds, you have to build steel rails to get it up there. Also, you need to cut take three with take eleven so the smashed ceiling has to look the same from each and Dwight is actually breaking it so he needs to do it correctly. Youre shooting something thats an eighth of a script page long, it should take half a day to shoot instead it takes 2 days.
?: Does that stuff interfere with getting what you want from the actors?
DF: Not really. It becomes an added element that has to be juggled.
?: In retrospect would you do it another way?
DF: Maybe on a houseboat [laughs] to make myself more miserable. Well it probably would have been easier to do it all with all specials effects with greenscreens. In retrospect that would probably be less expensive than what we ended up doing.
?: Your movies look somewhat the same even though you use different cinematographers. But do you consciously think about maintaining your signature style?
DF: No. Everything has to funnel through what one thinks it is aesthetically correct. Quite honestly, I dont like to justify sources of light in the shot so you end up doing toplighting. You end up solving problems in similar ways because you have the same criteria for them. I also make movies that take place at night so you cant put people next to windows. That wont help you.
?: What is it about night that you like?
DF: I think almost everybody in life has been afraid of the dark. I dont think this movie would be very scary if it took place during her lunch break.
?: I loved that shot with the camera traveling into the keyhole; most directors would just show the lock turn. How do you decide which shots youre going to stylize?
DF: That was described in the script and it seemed to fit. I think [screenwriter David] Koepp was trying to establish a really specific relationship between the windows and the burglars, the predators, were looking through. Its kind of like with fishbowls when cats press their noses up against them. Also since in one stylized shot where we float through the entire house, it established the geography. Thats why the bad guys could have a conversation on the first floor and Jodie and her daughter cant hear them because shes so far away and weve shown that.
?: You are very aggressive in your techniques in eliciting emotion from the audience.
DF: I think that its always a balance between subjectivity and omniscience. Thats always the thing you are trying to balance, this movie in the first 2/3 we try our best to establish a distance. The camera is completely unencumbered while the people are. The people run up, hit a door and fall back. They cant get through the wall, and then the camera just goes right through it. I think that there is something about that that tells the audience scream all you want no one can hear you. You can only watch.
?: Did you realize that you were hiring three directors as your actors [Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker and Dwight Yoakam]?
DF: Oh yeah. I thought of Forest and Dwight initially and at the time Nicole was cast in the movie. When she was injured and Jodie became available it was right after I met with her that I thought, This is great, these people will know why Im so neurotic.
?: Did they have a lot of suggestions for you?
DF: Thats the thing, if youve directed before the one thing you know is to just shut up and act. You do have to work to the audiences eye. Thats whats funny about movie acting is that it is completely silly looking. The way people have to move around each other in a two shot. If you saw people behaving like that in real life you would ask what the hell their problem is. But through the cameras lens, it works. When I asked these actors to do something they never said, I dont think my character would do that. They just did it.
?: Tell us about how Nicole actually hurt herself.
DF: She was running up steps or down steps. She said, Ouch! We thought maybe she had hyper-extended her knee or something like that. She started limping and my initial reaction was Oh, she wants to leave early. But then her doctor came in and shot some x-rays. She had a hairline fracture of the bone beneath her knee joint.
?: So she just wouldnt be able to handle all the physicality of the movie?
DF: Well I didnt think the movie would end up being so physical but certainly all the actors have the bumps and bruises to prove me wrong.
?: How far along in the shoot were you when that happened?
DF: About eighteen or nineteen days.
Jodie was available because her next movie that she was going to direct, Flora Plum, had fallen apart while we were shooting with Nicole. After Nicole got hurt, I told the studio to shut it down and collect the insurance, they would have made a three million dollar profit from it.
But they wanted this movie. So I told them it would cost like ten million dollars more to shut down and gear back up. They wanted it so we sent the script over to Jodie and we met in the bar at the Four Seasons Hotel and she agreed to do it.
?: How much time did Jodie have to prepare?
DF: About nine days.
?: Alan Parker said that when Jodie Foster was eleven years old she had very specific ideas about how Bugsy Malone should be directed. Has she grown up?
DF: Mellowed maybe. Weve all mellowed since we were eleven years old.
?: What happens to a movie when you switch a major role like that?
DF: Its very odd. There were a lot of things that I wouldnt think would need to change that did. We were working on two different sets basically, the panic room and the main floor. You have all the physical stuff that has to happen pretty well set. But when we shot things with Jodie that we had already shot with Nicole. I found that as a presence just a different vibe, not just what they have to say. Certain lines did have to be rewritten. In my opinion Jodie Foster can play anything but helpless is asking a lot of the audience to believe because she just isnt. The character was originally written more helpless.
For example, the scene where Jodie was eating pizza with her daughter [Kristen Stewart] was already shot with Nicole. So when we went to recreate it with Jodie, it just didnt work, it was weird. So we had them switch sides and do different things. People just carry different vibes with them.
?: What about Jodies pregnancy, how did you shoot around that?
DF: That was a problem. We shot all the wide stuff, then the medium stuff, and then the close-ups.
?: Well there is a lot of action, how did it work with her being pregnant?
DF: Well, Jodies stunt double, Jill Stokesberry, who is really amazing, does most of the action stuff. Because it would be really irresponsible to throw a woman who is six months pregnant around.
Jill would step in for most of it then Jodie would do the close-up and I would yell More violent, more violent.
?: Did you feel doomed because of all the problems?
DF: Yeah, it was cursed.
?: Since youre neurotic already what did this do to you?
DF: You do feel a little persecuted by the forces.
?: Well not only did you switch actors you also switched directors of photography. What happened, why did you replace Darius Khondji with Conrad Hall Jr.?
DF: Yknow it just wasnt working. We also switched kids.
?: Were you trying to find a kid that looked more like Jodie?
DF: No, we switched kids in rehearsal with Nicole.
?: That kid in the movie is amazing. She actually reminds me of a young Jodie Foster.
DF: Well when he hired we didnt think she looked like Nicole but like Jodie Foster actually. Its funny that it worked out that way.
?: What do you think about this kind of film, the thriller?
DF: I dont think there is any kind of importance to this kind of film. It is truly the guilty pleasure genre of moviemaking.
?: Doesnt that have importance?
DF: Yeah in a lurid, kind of fear based entertainment. Comedies are probably more important to the human psyche than movies that scare people. But its nice every once in a while. One of the reasons I made this movie is because I like scaring people.
?: Well, like Fight Club, I think Panic Room is very much a black comedy.
DF: Its got its humor and there is a bit of sadistic relish especially with Dwight Yoakams character. We talk so much about this door [to the panic room] that wont close, the door this and that. So I have to see this door close on someones hand. Koepp was like, what is going to happen, this person is just going to scream and thrash through the whole scene. I said, oh yeah. People will just enjoy that scene so much.
?: Any second thoughts about making Dwights character punch the kid in the face?
DF: None. You want a movie villain that people want to spit at.
?: There was a big gasp at the screening.
DF: The fact is that the horrible reality of child abuse is that it isnt backhanded slaps. He is supposed to be an appalling character and you have to in some way get the kid out of the picture.
?: Is Jared Leto tired of getting the crap beaten out of him in your movies?
DF: Hes perfect for it, isnt he? If there is any guy you want to see get his face burned off its him.
?: Hes just so damn pretty.
DF: We love that.
?: When you cast this movie did you intentionally cast three guys who were very different types from one another?
DF: Raoul was originally written as a giant scary hulking guy. But I thought what if he was this wiry mean kind of ex-con white trash kind of guy, I remembered Sling Blade and I thought Dwight Yoakam would be cool. Burnham [played by Forest Whitaker] was sort of glib and was originally the guy who designed the panic room. I didnt buy talking that guy into breaking into a house. I think we had to make him the guy who installs them, the blue-collar guy. I loved the idea of Forest Whitaker; you cant get someone more physically imposing than him. Then I turned into a CAA agent, who could I get to be in the middle? Its got to be someone little and glib. Who has aspirations to be Latrell Sprewell. Jared Leto original gangster. Jared came in, he had the gold teeth and he was doing this whole rap thing. I said, Im not too sure about that. So he went away, came back with cornrows in his hair. I thought it was awesome because it speaks so much to him being a wanna-be hard guy, an fuckin OG.
?: Your DVDs seem special. Fight Club in particular is kick-ass. It goes beyond the films, and into the context of it.
DF: We needed to do that with that movie because the ball was dropped with it so radically. The marketing was so botched; we wanted to tell people that it wasnt intended to be offensive, if it was. It was intended to be a black comedy, a satire. We fought really hard to get that DVD packaging. We had to make a deal for the studio to use that hideous green and purple photograph of Brad Pitt. They wanted Brads face as big as they could make it. We said that could use that but the DVD has to look like a brown package, like pornography. They agreed.
?: One of your missions is to place your films in the right context then.
DF: Yeah and you can do that through DVD. The DVD, whether we like it or not, will place it in historical perspective.
?: When you talk about people liking to be scared there are few things that come up like ghosts or monsters. But your movie is different; we all have that fear of people breaking into our home.
DF: Right, its based on neuroses as opposed to the supernatural. We all have the power to make things worse for ourselves than any supernatural force could do. The fact that more people lock their doors and turn the lights on when they are alone, not because of ghosts but because of the human element.
?: How indebted are you to Alfred Hitchcock, especially for this sort of film?
DF: I saw a lot of Hitchcock when I was a kid; there were very few people that were that specifically true to their ideas and proclivities. So he was and is a very interesting filmmaker. His movies are so mainstream and so personal at the same time. But we didnt do much research on this. I sold the studio on this by telling them this was a cross between Straw Dogs and Rear Window. But that was as far as it went. We didnt screen the movies or anything.
?: You didnt say it was a slasher version of Home Alone.
DF: We tried that. [laughs]
?: They were puppeteers in the credits, what did they do.
DF: When the husbands [played by Patrick Bauchau] collarbone was sticking out, we needed five guys to make it move.
?: How is Rendezvous with Rama going?
DF: Nothing yet. Were trying to get a script together fewer than 300 pages.
?: What's it like having a screenwriter as your producer?
DF: Its good. If he's good at both then its good.
?: Some people might consider you an auteur and having the screenwriter there all the time might not be good.
DF: I'm just a hard working interpreter. I like David and I liked his writing on this, I thought it was really terse. He has a concept and a conceit. He has something that he wanted to do. Not just in terms of cinema, David doesn't write for the money. The highest compliment that's he's paid since he saw the movie was "that you weren't afraid to make it a genre movie." I said, there was no reason for me not to, the script was good.
?: You don't exactly do genre films.
DF: I do, I think Se7en is a subversion of a genre movie, I don't know which one. But this is a piece of entertainment designed around eliciting certain responses from the audience either by playing on their expectations, subverting or crushing them. [laughs]
?: Panic Room is definitely more of mainstream project than Fight Club
DF: I think most movies are. [laughs]
?: Will the success of this film bring us another similar project as Fight Club?
DF: Fight Club was just one of those opportunities that came along that you just can't turn down. I couldn't believe the studio even bought it.
?: So was it a conscious decision to do a more mainstream project?
DF: Well, how many Fight Clubs are going to come along? The projects that make you want to kill to get involved with.
?: Well, Bill Mechanic [former head of 20th Century Fox who championed Fight Club] lost his job over it and he is happy that it is out there.
DF: I don't think Bill Mechanic lost his job over it, I think that that is a glib thing to say.
?: Well, he said it.
DF: I think that that is even especially glib for him to say. I would wear that as a badge of honor. Bill Mechanic supported us in the making of that movie in a way that I have never seen. Michael De Luca [former President and Chief Operating Officer of New Line Productions] went to the mat for Se7en. When we needed 18 more days to reshoot on Se7en and Phyllis Carlyle [producer of Se7en] was saying, "We need to fire this guy. He's a music video guy. He doesn't know what he's doing. We need to redo the ending. The head can't be in the box." When all that shit was going on, Mike De Luca was watching my back. When we went to Bill Mechanic and told him we were having a problem with the ending [of Fight Club]. We said, the tone of the movie had shifted radically, it's a lot goofier than we thought it would be and we need the ending to be more visceral. We need to take a week off and it's going to cost a million dollars more and we had already spent 62 million dollars. He said okay.
I don't know many people that would do that. So I am eternally indebted to Bill Mechanic because every step of the way he and Arnon [Milchan] were there to help us with our problems. Sony, with Panic Room, has been that way as well but they got very nervous when the shooting went over 100 days.
?: You've said that people use "music video director" as a put down but you still do music videos. Like "Judith" for A Perfect Circle. What is it about them that you still like to do them?
DF: Music videos are fun. You're not encumbered by a narrative. There's nothing more gratifying than shooting, cutting, scoring and mixing a scene that works. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. When you watch that scene with an audience and they react to it, it's amazing. You've gotten to them, you've touched them. Its also an amazing thing to be able to take a piece of music and put pictures to it that may or may not be related to the lyrics and to create this whole other things. You kind of force abstraction.
?: In many interviews George Lucas has said that he desperately wants to go back to doing abstract experimental films.
DF: That's what he says. Well, he should do it. How much fucking money does he need?
?: You have the chance to do it with music videos.
DF: Well why not, some of the most interesting and most talented people I have ever worked with are musical artists.
?: Well, for the features you use composers. You don't really use songs or pop songs in your movies.
DF: It depends, obviously Howard Shore makes a lot of sense for Panic Room. But we used the Dust Brothers [composers for Fight Club] because we wanted something that was more. We didn't want anything that was thematic or that would tie the beginning of the movie to the end. I wanted it to be like you were changing stations on the radio. I didn't want any "Darth Vader's March". No cues to fit the characters. What we decided we wanted was to use something that was current, that couldn't be tied to any songs. We couldn't tie it to Beck or the Beastie Boys.
?: Well, to talk a little about Howard Shore; it took him this long to get an Oscar nomination [for composing the score to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring]. What did he bring to the table?
DF: Howard Shore is one of the best, most fearless, collaborators you could ever work with. He is completely undaunted by what you are trying to achieve, and totally pragmatic, and will tell you what does not work with the scene, and tell you how to fix it. He's a guy who will help you tell your story.
?: He's worked with David Cronenberg on nearly all his features and scored big Oscar winners like Silence of the Lambs. Why do you think it took him 25 years to get an Oscar nomination?
DF: He's a little outside the norm.
?: Crash is still one of the best soundtracks ever made.
DF: It is amazing.
?: Is there anything that didn't get into the movie that will be on the DVD?
DF: I don't know. We start working on that in a couple of weeks.
?: Was Jodie the second choice after Nicole Kidman?
DF: Jodie was never on the list because she wasn't available and when I read the script I talked to Nicole about it. At one point Nicole Kidman wanted to do Fight Club. We had talked about that but we weren't able to do it for a number of reasons. I think she is amazing. I hadn't seen The Others. I was busy during all that. There was no list.
?: Andrew Kevin Walker had a cameo as the "Sleepy Neighbor" in Panic Room. Did he do any rewrites?
DF: No, he and Koepp are best friends. But even if he did, if you're a professional screenwriter in Hollywood you get rewritten all the time. I would tease David all the time "Andy's coming down. Just for a fitting!"
?: They're saying that after September 11th, movies are going to change. Is it going to change the way you make movies?
DF: I don't know. I've never wanted to make movies about terrorists.
?: Well, I think they want to change the amount of violence in movies. Certainly Straw Dogs wouldn't be able to come out now. It's still banned in Britain.
DF: That's ridiculous.
?: You're a very technical director. You know so much more than the average director. Could you do the job of director of photography?
DF: No, I have a working vocabulary of what it is they are doing. That's an art form all its own and its something I probably won't ever have enough expertise to do. I have way too much respect for them to try to do that job.
?: How much writing do you do on your films?
DF: I don't do any writing. I consider myself sort of an editorial gadfly. I move scenes around and move dialogue about. I'm really doing more of what an actor would do, asking questions about the material or how can I help the material translate properly. I don't write. I come up with ideas for lines and stuff.
?: Would you ever generate your own screenplay?
?: So you wait for screenplays to come to you?
DF: Or you develop stuff. I'm always doing that.
?: What's the dumbest rumor you've heard about yourself on the Internet?
DF: I heard that I just had a son.
DF: Right. I can't believe I missed that. A friend of mine called me and congratulated me. Never believe everything you read on the Internet - except this of course!
?: Do you ever visit davidfincher.net?
DF: I don't do it religiously because it's too weird. It feels like people know too much about me.
?: What's the Hold Music thing you were doing stuff with?
DF: There was Hold Music that was generated by these directors who were represented at Anonymous Music who did a CD of different kinds of hold music. It got sent to me with a note saying I should listen to this. I wanted to do a music video of it. That was it.
?: What about working with Fred Durst?
DF: I love Fred. I think he is a hilarious guy, and really smart and creative. We talked about doing a movie called Runt. I just didn't think that it would be the best situation for his first film. There wasn't enough money; the guy who was producing was never sure what he wanted. I just wanted to help him out with it, literally just sitting down with him and going through it scene by screen.
As smart as Fred is, he is a pretty impetuous guy. He's all over the place. I was just curious because I wanted to be able to provide a service for him as a friend that was never provided to me. Helping him circumnavigate the waters and know some answers even before the questions are presented. There was a lot of violence at the end involving kids shooting in a high school.
?: Last question, might you be doing Mission Impossible 3, or is that just daft?
DF: It's not daft.
?: Thanks again.
DF: Thank you.