David Fincher: Breaking Down His Style and Directorial Techniques
For my money, David Fincher is one of the greatest working directors alive today. Whether you love him or hate him he is one of the greatest craftsman working in the film business.
“What’s in the box? What’s in the box? – Detective Mills (Se7en)
I’ve followed David Fincher’s work since his commercial and music video days. I worked in a commercial production house when I started out and had access to his work from a friend I had working in Fincher’s production company, Propaganda Films.
David Fincher, born in 1962, in Denver, Colorado, was raised in California. He worked for the Korty Films in the Mill Valley when he was 18 years old. He actually started his career as one of the most admired and praised music video directors all over the globe.
He worked for Madonna, Aerosmith, and Michael Jackson, Paula Abdul, and many other artists. After the success of his career as a music video director, Fincher made his way up to the film industry, and today, he is known as one of the most visually accomplished filmmakers in the world.
Moreover, he is also known as the most skillful director of procedurals and psychological thrillers of Hollywood. The perfection of his films can be seen as he is known to take dozens of takes before he is completely satisfied with it.
He is basically famous for the unconventional and untraditional plots and storylines of his films. The psychological and fantastical elements in his movies are what make him an unconventional director. Other than that, he does not disclose all of the information to his viewers as he adapts a certain visual style and editing rhythm that creates the illusion of suspense.
An Unconventional Vision
David Fincher actually creates such an amazing series of films that can be called anything but meaningless and boring. Once the viewer starts watching the first scene of the movie, he is forced into watching it till the end.
He has the ability to indulge his viewers within the illusion of the film and makes sure that it has a long-lasting effect on the viewer. The dark and glossy treatment of the director with the characters of his movie is his ultimate experiment. Most people accuse him of making shallow films; however, it is Fincher’s unique style of experimenting with the odds.
Making a thriller movie does not mean that he steps out of the real world to do so, as when he pulls the curtains back, he reveals a mechanical process at the core, which is the art of this incredible filmmaker. He makes us realize that how we, as human beings, have indulged ourselves into something that we love so much, without realizing that everything in this world is temporary and can be taken away anytime.
Gone Girl (2014) is known to be the best movie made by David Fincher so far, as well as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), as both of these movies are extremely frightening and attractive. Another one of his movies, Fight Club, became wildly famous as Brad Pitt is merely the result of Edward Norton’s imagination and yet, Fincher does not restrict his movements.
On the other hand, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) was a huge success as the storyline was incredibly different, as it is based on a man who starts to age backward and that too, with inexplicable consequences.
David Fincher never fails to grasp the attention of the viewer, as he has been making such exhilarating films since many years now, for instance, The NeverEnding Story (1984) is the story of a boy who gets lost within the fantastical world of a mysterious book.
His movies are not only confined to the genre of thriller, as he also uses the element of dark intensity in his movies, and in one of his TV series. The TV series, House of Cards, is also the work of the incredible David Fincher, which is basically a dark satire.
However, Gone Girl still remains as one of his most profitable films of all times, as he managed to make 369 million dollars worldwide. The actors hired for the movie are the right hand of Fincher, who efficiently fulfills the need of the screenplay with their intense performances.
David Fincher & the Craft of Music Videos
INVISIBLE SPLIT-SCREEN TUTORIAL (The David Fincher Technique)
Tutorial showing how and why to use the invisible split-screen/split-comping technique that David Fincher’s editors (Angus Wall & Kirk Baxter) have become known for. I break down some stills from Fincher films as well as showing some practical applications from my own work.
In The Game (1997) and Panic Room (2002), David Fincher has a fairly thin screenplay, which he intensifies with through the comprehensive performances of the actors so as to create and maintain the tension of the single-location thriller. The Social Network (2002) is not just a thriller that is chilling as it is known to be deeply unsettling. The picture that they portray in this movie, of Mark Zuckerberg, is obnoxious yet strangely empathetic.
The Method in the Madness
David Fincher maps out unusual methods to adjust his camera movements in a manner that it complements the main element of the scene. This is one of the reasons why he keeps reshooting copious amounts of footage even after the principal photography and videography was wrapped up. He has a diverse style of making the films the way he wants with or without giving the final cut.
Most of the critics go against him on the fact that he receives undue fame and success for his films, as he is just the director, and thus, he does not write the scripts himself. However, the positive side of this debate is that it is the style of direction, of the movie, which adds on to the main element of the film, which in turn is always the credit of the director.
His abilities are not restricted to the director’s seat as he interprets the script at numerous levels and communicates it visually to enhance the effects of the film. In The Social Network, you can notice the work of the dialogues and then differ it on the basis of the visual effects displayed in the actual scenes of the movie.
At some points, the scene might be an all-dialogue based, but Fincher always finds a way to visualize the scene in an organized manner, which is not the conventional method of directing movies. When you watch a movie that is directed by David Fincher, you have to notice the minute details that he adds, for instance, when he focuses on the reactions, when the background music comes in, and when should he heighten the idea, even if it is in the script or not.
It can be seen that people basically admire the way he visualizes and interprets the scenes, keeping in mind that the quality of the movie should not be affected at any cost. David Fincher significantly concentrates on the fact that what is going on screen deserves more credit as they are translating the language of the film with their movements and actions.
As they say, it is a director’s responsibility to bring the script to life; we see that David Fincher never takes this line for granted for any of his movies. There is no doubt in the fact that the script is basically the foundation of the movie and the rest is up to the directions.
These movies give the actors a chance to challenge their own abilities as an actor. The protagonists of Fincher’s movies are mostly people who face the dangers of bizarre yet compulsive areas of life. Furthermore, David Fincher pays special attention to the locations so that the viewer can easily distinguish between them and get a better understanding of the backgrounds, which are highly symbolic.
It is said that movies contain all the essential substance, which form the bones of the movie, whereas, the flesh and the structure are the results of the directions. The tone of the script and the atmosphere is in the hands of the director, and Fincher definitely builds the best structures for all of his movies.
He maintains his image as the miraculous director of all times by using hues to evoke the emotional states of the characters as well as the viewers. He uses deep-focus quite efficiently and effectively in order to make sure that the foreground and the background of the movie has an equal weight to stand erect next to each other.
The way he processes and advances towards the main plot of the movie, it becomes hard for one to even blink. On the other hand, apart from the visualizations and other effects, David Fincher uses sound as another striking component to enhance the dramatic effect of the scenario. He mainly concentrates on the conduct of the ambient music, the scored music, and then ultimately, he uses silence just before he is about to reveal the greatest effect.
As a result, the process is intensely and acutely explained by Fincher. He shows us how the scene actually happened, how the crime was investigated, how the character transformed, and how the flat characters have some important in the key factors of the movie. Maybe these are one of the reasons why David Fincher is always interested in making thrillers, and specifically psychological thrillers as if he is controlling the mind of the viewer.
The critics say that he has the ability to leave a scar on the mind of the viewer with the surprising representation of the entirety, cynicism, despair, and the occasional burst of calculated sadism. The way David Fincher maintains the suspense of his movies is what makes him a wildly successful director of all times.
David Fincher’s list of movies:
- Alien 3
- Fight Club
- The Game
- Panic Room
- Social Network
- Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
- Gone Girl
- The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
- Netflix’s House of Cards
…is a stunning filmography that most director’s world kill for. Watching the video essays below will bring to light David Fincher’s genius as a storyteller and filmmaker.
Now if you want to go deep down the David Fincher rabbit hole the series of videos below go that deep and more. This series of videos, by filmmaker Cameron Beyl, is by far the most detailed breakdown of the director’s work and career. Cameron pulled out commercials I saw in the 90’s and thought I would never see again.
If you love David Fincher, then prepare to put aside over 3 hours to watch this amazing analyses of one of the greatest filmmaking minds today.
The first installment of THE DIRECTORS SERIES’ examination into the films and career of director David Fincher, covering his breakout in music videos, his Rick Springfield concert documentary THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM, and his first narrative feature, ALIEN 3.
-RICK SPRINGFIELD MUSIC VIDEOS (1984)
-THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM (1984)
-ASSORTED MUSIC VIDEOS & COMMERCIALS (1985-1990)
–ALIEN 3 (1992)
The second installment of THE DIRECTORS SERIES goes into the films and career of director David Fincher, covering his major early commercial works and his breakout as a successful feature director with 1995’s SE7EN.
-ASSORTED COMMERCIALS (1992-1994)
The third installment of THE DIRECTORS SERIES’ examination into the films and career of director David Fincher, covering his streak of major, pop-culture-defining features during the late 90’s.
The fourth installment of THE DIRECTORS SERIES’ examination into the films and career of director David Fincher, covering his first feature-length forays into digital filmmaking.
The fifth and final installment of THE DIRECTORS SERIES’ examination into the films and careers of director David Fincher, covering his recent quartet of hard-edged dramatic thrillers and further innovations with digital filmmaking technology.
THE DIRECTORS SERIES is an educational non-profit collection of video and text essays by filmmaker Cameron Beyl exploring the works of contemporary and classic film directors. You can support their work by going to Patreon
Every Frame a Painting with David Fincher
The creator of the David Fincher: And the Other way is Wrong is a freelance editor based in San Francisco named Tony Zhoe. He has an amazing series of video essays called “Every Frame a Painting” focusing on a director and one aspect of film form. According to Tony:
“Film form is the way pictures and sound work together to create meaning. If you think of film as a language, this is the vocabulary and grammar.
Composition, lighting, editing, color, silence, movement, and music are all aspects of form. There’s a weird perception that this stuff is boring, but it’s honestly pretty fun.”
Each episode is a mini film school. He does a great job and has built up a hell of a following. I love his on-going series so much I’ll be spotlighting his work on Indie Film Hustle from time to time. It’s a much watch for any filmmaker, a film student or an old pro.
Always keep learning, always keep growing no matter what your age. Take at look at this remarkable video essays below. Be ready to take notes. Doesn’t get better than David Fincher.
You can support Tony’s work by going to Patreon
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David Fincher Interview ★ Filmmaking (Filmmakers and Producers)
If I do my job right in prep, I always feel like the shooting should be boring. The previous aspect of this movie is now what made the onset part excruciating as much as there were so many technical things to you know, child actor has to be gone in six hours. She can only be on set for so many hours at a time and then just go back to school, and then she has to be there for a certain, you know, so you have that you troubling that. Then you have a room in the middle of your sound stage that looks like a fucking NBC Studios that’s running every video tape feed of every monitor, that switching back and forth that goes to the panic room and we have multiple panic rooms, and so you know, she was sending up a shot in there you have to get the actress, even the minor actors out and back in their first undertake missions goes down. And you don’t know when that’s going to happen, and you get a leak happening in the kitchen and the flooring is screwed up, and so in that respect this movie was just plagued. That movie was a drag to make from that standpoint, not, it wasn’t that the movie was boring because I had already made the movie, I did feel like made the movie three times, but that’s I’d rather be prepared and bored than excited and hemorrhaging cash and looking like a fucking moron. Previse at this point is expensive but when you know previse like visual effects, prices of which are very expressive will come down it’s simply 21st century storyboarding that’s all. Your expectations are different on the first day of shooting than they are on the hundredth of shooting. On the hundredth day of shooting, you’re like if I can finish this and not shoot myself or anyone else around me, I would’ve done good work. You know, on the first day you trying so hard to kind of like make sure that this gets polished and that gets polished, and you’re holding on to the right thing, so I don’t really… First days to me are usually sort of debilitating because I kinda go, God I forgot it’s not gonna go at clockwork it’s a fucking movie, it’s just like all of those movies, just like all those other movie experiences, it’s just gonna be a lot of plotting, hard work. You know, usually for me, the reality begins to rear its ugly head and you go, oh my God, look at all those perfect previses and look at all these great little clothes that are hand designed in the storyboards and then and now look these actors, some reason they can’t get through eight pages of dialogue in three minutes. What is wrong? So I go through that. I go through the whole hard designing, it’s just like, normal for me. The hardest overriding reality is that when you read something, you read a script and you go, oh that will make a neat movie. And you’re never gonna enjoy that movie in the same way that you did reading it that one time, coz in the second time you’re reading it, of course you didn’t know it, third time you read it you’re breaking it down and start again, who would I get? How do I do this? And so then you go and then you take a year you know, in this case the movie, a year to shoot it. Starting and stopping, building the set, previse and all the stuff, it took like nine months pre-production, six months of shootings, eight months of post or something. The thing that got you excited is the first thing lost in the two-year process, it reason you wanted to do it is this is the first thing you have to jettison the terms of your enthusiasm, and you always trying to hold onto that, that memory of what it was like when you first read it and were excited by it, now, of course the best time for the next two years, you’re not excited by it, you’re just behind and over, behind schedule and over budget, not again the work the way you wanted, it’s not as succinct as it should be. Add another camera and trying to figure out a way to get a step ahead and all you’ve done is make things take an hour long delayed so now you might as well be shooting in that setup and all that. I know that this movie is, is specifically a footnote movie, I mean, I sort of feel like all movies you go can go in with the idea that this isn’t the one that defined you, you know, because I think people get too caught up in the legacy that they’re leaving and I, and I try sort of like thrillers, I like this movie because it’s not really bad crime, or any kind of sociology, it’s really, it’s just a lurid thriller, you know, it’s Friday night movie. It’s not supposed to be that important, and I think that a lot of people get questioned when you release a movie that we’re trying to say, it’s like I don’t know, I’m just trying to say to chicks go caught in a closet and three tried to get in again and they burn the place down. But I don’t know, I guess a footnote movie aspect is that it’s not supposed to be taken too seriously. What, it’s got concept, I’m not making slices of life and making slices of cake, and I think that you know it’s important to you know, we’re not curing cancer, we’re just making a movie with actors pretending to be burglars. I remember reading the script and going and I flipping the pages till I got to the part where she goes on after their cell phone and then she tries to find in, she tries to grab it and it slides further into the bed and I was there going, oh my God, you can’t do this. Then she knocks the lamp over, it’s like, this is, no one will sit still for this. And this is one of the things I think David Koepp is really great at, and he just smiled and said, you know if you can make a movie like this, and this is a date movie, I mean it’s a Friday night movie, you gotta have to go for the cell phone, and you gotta have her mess in, and it’s gonna continue sliding, she’s gotta knock over the thing, they gotta hear and they gotta run up the stairs. And I said look, if we’re gonna do this, then I’m gonna do it in slow motion. Then he said, okay now you’re with the program, now you got the right attitude. So if you’re gonna do something which is kind of a bald-faced as this, you gotta just go all the way and make it as you know, if you’re going to pander, pander. I think casting’s a big part of the job in that there are certain, tangible things that an actor, as a human brings to a role. I think that Forest would have a hard time playing somebody who is evil. He genuinely doesn’t have that. I think it would be hard for Jared Leto to play somebody who is naïve, coz he’s just not that, you know. Jodie Foster can play a lot of things, stupid ain’t one of them. Actually there was a movie we were talking about doing at one point, and I wanted her to play Marion Davies, you know somebody who was generally thought to have been, sort of get to end not particularly bright but all of the people who knew her, thought she was really sharp and really insightful and I love the idea of somebody really smart playing somebody who and let her try to cover up the fact that she’s really smart and then as Chris as we getting closer and closer, you’re going to kind of go, oh wow she’s really, there’s really something going on in there. So I think each actor’s a buffet in the shooting things that you’re gonna ask them to do. You know, in most cases it’s on display, you know, you’re just editing, you’re just kinda going. Really think chips and guacamole, I was kind of scene sort of like teriyaki tenders, she now to me start with that and then go to like a defilade. There’s a whole thing that they have to offer and it’s sort of your job to not lead them toward the thing that they can probably do well, but it’s just inappropriate, so yeah I don’t know that casting is ninety percent of the job but I think casting is a… Good casting and good writing have never hurt a movie. That’s a line from Death Trap, it’s so good even a town to direct it couldn’t fuck it up. So that’s it, I think he tried to kind of get to a place where and now enough things are in motion that even a town director can’t fuck it up. The end of seven is all handheld because it feels like that’s what should be happening at that point, you know this movie I wanted to say to the audience, this is all very measured and intended and then do things like have people have seizures and have people get their fingers cut off and had these horrible things happen and there’s like a sense of I think it instills or create sort of a sense of dread for the audience when they go, everything I’ve seen is very specific and now the victims are mounting. I just love the idea of this missions, like the camera doesn’t give you it just goes over here kinda perfectly and going over there kind of… It stays with this person and it doesn’t have any personality, there’s no, oh wait, let’s see this over here this might be interesting to somebody. There’s no that sort of documentary kind of feel to it, it’s very much like, what’s happening was doomed to happened, and I like that it’s this sort of psychological underpinnings of that staging. Straw Dogs is a movie I’ve always admired because it’s so visceral, it’s funny, it makes women hate men, and men hate… In equal measure and now it’s got to be one of the best pick a paw movies and here’s our minds to the poster. And wanted to make a movie that had the brutality meant something, where it didn’t just… And, and that’s a pretty good model for that, coz that movie is truly brutal. I often like in a movie crew and the making of a movie as, as it’s like a team in their season and it’s difficult you know once you sort of set a pace, set a, the relationships on a set take on a kind of hopefully a productive momentum, and when you start in stock and you have to go back and reshoot stuff, we did, we did a lot of reshooting, we had a lot of problems with the Panavision and their lenses, a lot of equipment failure and we ended up reshooting days of material on this movie for taking cranes, taking cranes, lenses that would go out of alignment and lose focus when they were tilted down a certain number degrees. Nicole getting hurt, we had makeup problems with certain things, we had staging problems, you know we rewrote some scenes in my back and read them so we could get other information, so we reshot Republic nine days. We had the 15 days of stuff that we had to reshoot when we lost Nicole but we had probably nine days of other stuff just technical stuff. When you’re trapped in one house and you have to go back and redo things that you’ve already done, and redo them and redo them, it becomes really hard on people, you got ninety people there who are all kind of like, they don’t feel like they’re making any progress, they’re cotton frozen molasses and everybody’s nerves get frayed. I think on this movie we had two or three instances where people had to be escorted to their cars by security because they were so at their wit’s end, it’s enormously complex movie and it took its toll, and there were a lot of people left in its wake. It’s like a football season or basketball season, you know you discover, you know, how deep your benches people go down and people who are expected to perform at a certain level, things get in the way that and some people rise to the occasion and you know, you win some, you lose some and some are rained out and on any given day you’re trying to not only do the work, but you’re trying to accomplish something at a certain level and it’s not always possible. There are games during the, you know hundred days it takes to make a movie that you either win or lose by two points. It’s hard, there are scenes you know, I watch is moving out there are scenes that I would beat, my forehead pink, thinking, my god what was I thinking like that was so, I so dressed up and nowhere to go. It was so overly over bait. I have only made five movies now, four movies? I don’t know, five movies. So I haven’t really made that many movies, I mean by the time Hitchcock was my age, he made like forty, so Gilberts made thirty five something like that. The one thing I learned, and of course, it’s totally disingenuous is it may be the way to do it is to set a pace, maybe you literally take the first three days of shooting schedule knowing your schedule and you just don’t give a shit about and you shoot it as fast as you can so everybody kind of goes, oh my god, that’s the case we are gonna be working on. And then you go back and you reshoot it at the end of the schedule somewhere because the stuff, you never really, you never really, but you kinda get everybody used to a way of working and I started this movie off you know with so much previews, and pre-production and meticulous notes that we kind of hit this pace of you know, we were getting ten set ups a day, ten two camera set ups a day, you would think that that’s enough, but this movie ended up being like over 2,000 set ups. So we used every single day, I mean we were literally behind the eight ball the entire time, and it’s amazing thinking we shoot a movie for, you know, well, you know, first 100 days and you would think in mid seven or sixty five days or sixty seven days, this movie just, it was like, every time you would shoot a day, there was like another day’s worth of inters to do, we were bogged, but you know, you learn that stuff.