Wednesday, September 29, 2010

David Fincher – Movies Spotlight – October 2010

David Fincher is known for his dark thrillers, often working with a saturated color palette. His use of fluid tracking shots, low camera angles, and low-key lighting along with the cold temperature colors has made his style one of the most recognizable – perfectly fitting the tone of his work. He has become one of Hollywood’s best auteur directors (and easily one of the top directors working today). His new film, The Social Network about Mark Zuckerberg the creator of Facebook, is this month’s must see and a likely favorite in the 2011 Oscar Best Picture race.

Early Career:

Fincher started making films when he was eight years old using an 8 mm camera. Once of age, he decided not to go the film school route getting a job instead at Korty Films as a camera loader, among other odd jobs. From there he moved on to the famed Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) in 1980, working on such films as Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But Fincher really wanted to direct films, so he left ILM to gain experience directing commercials. His first was for the American Cancer Society – it featured a fetus smoking a cigarette. The commercial got the attention of producers in LA and he was hired to direct his first film – the Rick Springfield 1985 documentary The Beat of the Live Drum. He then returned to commercials directing spots for such companies as Revlon, Converse, Nike, Pepsi, Sony, and Levi’s. With the birth of the more mainstream music video thanks to the success of MTV, Fincher saw them as a more interesting medium to pursue his directing.

Propaganda, Music Videos and Alien 3:

Fincher joined the video production company Propaganda Films, a company that by 1990 was producing almost a third of all music videos made in the US. Propaganda Films has a very impressive list of directors that went on to success in film including: Fincher, Michael Bay, John Dahl, Antoine Fuqua, Spike Jonze, Alex Proyas, and Mark Romanek. At Propaganda Films, Fincher made many iconic and well know music videos for artists Madonna (Express Yourself and Vogue), Billy Idol (Cradle of Love), Paula Abdul (Straight Up), Aerosmith (Janie’s Got a Gun), The Rolling Stones (Love Is Strong), Nine Inch Nails (Only), and Michael Jackson (Who Is It), among many others (and multiple videos for a few of the listed artists). After directing several highly praised music videos, he finally got his chance to do a feature film. 20th Century Fox hired him to do the next in the successful Alien series – Alien 3. But Fincher became entangled in disputes with the studio over the budget and script. He felt that Fox was not putting the necessary trust in him as a filmmaker (though remember this was his first feature, and on a higher profile film). When the film came out in 1992, it was met with poor reviews from critics and did not perform well with the general movie-going population either (he is not the only very talented director to produce an average film while working on the Alien franchise as Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection aka Alien 4 is considered the worst of the series and not a very good film in general). The experience was awful for Fincher and he went back to music videos working with The Rolling Stones (see above).

Brad Pitt and Settling into the Hollywood System:

In 1995, Fincher was dawn back into feature films by a great screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker called Se7en about two detectives tracking down a serial killer whose murders are based on the seven deadly sins. Again, he had issues with the studio, this time New Line Cinema, when they wanted him to shoot a new ending refusing to use the original one due to its disturbing and shocking climactic scene. But star Brad Pitt stepped in and said he would not be apart of the project if the ending was changed. The film opened with the original ending to acclaim from critics and fans alike. The film is widely regarded as one of the best of the decade. Fincher and cinematographer Darius Khondji’s use of the bleach-bypass process to create a dark look is heralded by filmmakers and often copied. Next he made The Game with Michael Douglas about an executive who is given an odd birthday present by his brother – a live-action game that begins to dominate his life. It also opened to good reviews from critics, but only mild box office success. He then cast Pitt in Fight Club, a film about an insomniac who starts a bare-knuckle fighting club that evolves into a cult-like group. Surprisingly, given the film’s almost unanimous love today, the film opened to bad reviews from critics and failed at the box office – though many of those same critics and fans changed their tunes, as the film appeared on many best of the year and best of the decade lists. Aside from Alien 3, Fincher started his career with three very good films and buckets of critical acclaim. So, for his next film he made the David Koepp scripted film (probably his first mistake was working with Koepp; sure he is famous and highly successful, but his scripts generally yield poorly structured and not great films) Panic Room. It is probably his most mainstream film (and also probably the worst of his career, not counting Alien 3). He then took a five year break developing Zodiac with screenwriter James Vanderbilt about the hunt for the Zodiac Killer. It was the first film he shot digitally (as digital is the growing medium now), aside from a few sequences that digital could not accommodate. Upon its release, it was one of the best received films of the year, but could not maintain its buzz and failed to garner a single Oscar nod and it struggled at the box office. Due to this, it is considered as one of the most underrated films of the decade (though I was not a huge fan). Up next Fincher decided to again work with Pitt on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button about a man who ages backwards. The film was beautifully done receiving an Oscar best picture nod and Fincher his first best director nod (and it is one of my favorites of the year). Fincher has a fantastic track record critically, with Panic Room being the only blemish on his resume (Alien 3 not being entirely his fault). Now with The Social Network, he is again primed to have an Oscar contender in a number of categories.

Future Projects:

Fincher is currently in the process of filming his next film, a remake of the Swedish crime-mystery (and first of the Millennium Trilogy) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Fincher has a great crew on the film with a script from excellent screenwriter Steven Zaillian, his producer from The Social Network Scott Rudin, production designer Donald Graham Burt, who did his last three films, and newcomer cinematographer Fredrik Backar. The film will star Rooney Mara (poised for a breakout year; she is also in The Social Network), Daniel Craig, Robin Wright, and Stellan Skarsgard. Then, he is attached to direct the action film The Killer based on the French graphic novel by Matz. He is also producing the animated film The Goon starring Paul Giamatti based on the comic series by Eric Powell. Fincher is one of the best, and every film he makes has cinema fans eagerly awaiting its release.

David Fincher Selected Career Highlights:

1.)    Seven (1995)* – Director – available on Blu-ray/DVD
2.)    The Game (1997) – Director – available on DVD
3.)    Fight Club (1999)* – Director – available on Blu-ray/DVD
4.)    Zodiac (2007) – Director – available on Blu-ray/DVD
5.)    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)* – Director – available on Blu-ray/DVD
*editor’s picks
David Fincher’s Filmography is also available on to rent and stream


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