David Fincher: His Secrets on Directing & Visual Storytelling

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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)

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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.

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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:

…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.

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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)
SE7EN (1995)


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 GAME (1997)
FIGHT CLUB (1999)
PANIC ROOM (2002)



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.

-VARIOUS COMMERCIALS AND MUSIC VIDEOS (2002-2007)
ZODIAC (2007)
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008)


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.

-VARIOUS COMMERCIALS (2008-2010)
THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011)
HOUSE OF CARDS (2013)
-VARIOUS MUSIC VIDEOS AND COMMERCIALS (2013 & 2014)
GONE GIRL (2014)

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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Check out Christopher Nolan’s Master Class of Directing “The Following”

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