IFH 240: How to Work the Film & Television Markets with Heather Hale

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Today’s guest is Heather Hale, author of How to Work the Film and TV Markets: A Guide for Content Creators. Heather Hale is a film and television director, screenwriter and producer with over 50 hours of credits. She is currently under contract to direct an indie romantic comedy.

She directed, produced and co-wrote the million-dollar feature Absolute Killers (2011) which was marketed by distributors at Le Marche du Film and the American Film Market. She wrote the $5.5 million dollars Lifetime Original Movie The Courage to Love (2000) which starred Vanessa Williams, Stacy Keach, Gil Bellows and Diahann Carroll.

Heather’s new book How to Work the Film & TV Markets: A Guide for Content Creators was just published this summer by Focal Press/Routledge while her Story$elling: How to Develop, Market and Pitch Film & TV Projects will be published in 2018 by Michael Weise Productions.

For over two decades, Heather has served as an international keynote speaker, teacher, moderator, panelist and custom workshop facilitator for film and TV markets, festivals, writers workshops, colleges and universities and Chambers of Commerce around the globe, including creative adventure weeklong retreats such as StoryTellers on WalkAbout.

Enjoy my conversation with Heather Hale.

Alex Ferrari 0:34
I'd like to welcome to the show. Heather Hale, thank you so much for being on the show, Heather.

Heather Hale 2:50
It's my honor. Thanks for having me, Alex.

Alex Ferrari 2:52
So before we get into it, I really want to know how did you get into this crazy business?

Heather Hale 2:58
Oh, gosh, people always ask your breaking story. And you probably know, well is anyone we all have like five times do we have to break back in and you know, you can never rest on your laurels. And so I don't even know which one you know

Alex Ferrari 3:12
The first one. Let's just start with the very beginning.

Heather Hale 3:14
I don't even know what the first one is. I will say the who knows. But what most people look at as my break in was the courage to love which was a lifetime original movie. And the speed version to that was my aunt passed away. So this is a top total Hollywood Story. So with, you know, dog groomers and hairdressers. My aunt passed away she and my parents became executives of her trust and that we became we had to handle a townhouse in Pasadena. And foolishly I didn't grab it because you know, I wanted to live in LA not Pasadena. And selfishly, I'm such an idiot. I such

Alex Ferrari 3:56
I would have taken that bran

Heather Hale 3:58
I'm an idiot. I appreciate that now gorgeous garden jacuzzi. Like, I'm an idiot. Okay, we've established I'm an idiot. So anyway, that we became executives or trust, and my parents couldn't afford to debt service that and their own mortgage and all that. So we had to rent it out and we had to rent it out ASAP. And so we're literally like, packing up the garage of a woman who never moved in 40 some odd years, while we're grieving while we're dealing with the wake and all of that, while there's a moving truck with the other people moving in like it was that crazy. So as I'm moving banker's boxes out, and the new renters are moving banker's boxes in. They one of the wife says, hey, I've got a great idea for it. That would make a terrific movie. I understand you're a screenwriter. And how many times have we all heard that like every Hey, I have an idea. You do all the work. And you use all your relationships and resources and we'll split the profits and probably I'll sue you for stealing it. Like it's just never out. But I sat her down and I said, Okay, like, I don't want to do this, but let's do it. Because I'm an idiot. We've established Yes. And we literally sat there with a plate of brownies and ice tea, and I handed her a legal pad of paper and a pen. And I said, Let's write a deal memo. And I want it in your handwriting. So we can't say you didn't know what this was. And we wrote out this deal memo. And I was really careful. She claimed that her son was Vanessa Williams music producer. And how many times have we heard people say, I couldn't get it to so and so I can do this. Yeah, so I had her put, you know, my name is XYZ, Heather is XYZ. My son is Vanessa Williams music producer, and she put his name in there. And I will get this script to this. Vanessa Williams, like, that's that that piece was what made me do it. And so then I told her, I would mentor her and help her and support her and she wanted to write it. And I was just going to help her as a friend from the sidelines. And so over the next three months, I read and read on the research junkie, you know, most writers are voracious readers. So I knew everything about New Orleans in the 1830s. And this woman is amazing. The first African American nun ordained by the Catholic Church is really powerful story. And over the three months, she wrote back and faxed me This tells you how All right, me. That's me, like five pages describing a room. And that's as much as she had done in three months. And she begged me, Heather, can you please write this? And I said, Okay. And so I wrote this outline. And we got the outline to Vanessa Williams. She kept her word, she was good to her word. And then Vanessa Williams got it to Emily. Gosh, Gershon, at the William Morris at the time. And Emily called me we had sent her a five page outline, which bear in mind was really well researched, it was historically accurate adaptation was a powerful story. And we sent it to her and my associate, in her zeal and enthusiasm. I don't want to say lied, but eagerly told her wait till you read the script. It's fantastic. course, there was no script, of course, right. It's just an outline, just a five page treatment of what the beat outline was really well written in prose, really, really engaging of what we were going to do. Sure. And so I get a call from Emily Gerson Sainz, who says, I understand the script. No, I didn't get a call. I was told. Emily wants to see the script. She and Vanessa are going to be at the Cannes Film Festival in 10 days. So could you send it to him?

Alex Ferrari 7:55
Sure.

Heather Hale 7:56
And there, it was a god moment. And I literally picked up the phone before I had time to think and quit my job. Wow. And I told my boyfriend, I'm not leaving this computer. Until I have that script. Done. Like, this is my break. It was scary as all get out. And I called Emily, which was very terrifying. Like one of the first people I've ever called, was like the head of William Morris, who's waiting for a script that's not written from me. And I gently said, so how firm The date is that deadline? She goes, she goes, Oh, bless her heart. bless her heart. Oh, honey, it's not from not for me at all. I I love the project, the NASA loves the project. And Vanessa and I are going to be in Cannes at the same time, loving the project. So I'm not sure when that will occur again, when the two of us will be together interested in your project. At that moment, we will be and so I went, Okay, thanks. I got the phone. And then I realized I didn't have 10 days I had nine because I had FedEx it. So I literally wrote and wrote and wrote and then I would hit print fall asleep. My boyfriend would read I had girlfriends, people writers group. So I would like email them the 12 pages I'd written I would email them the 17 pages I'd written I, I would sleep and then I would wake up and I get back at it. And I would put in people's notes, fix all the typos keep cranking so I had literally copied the treatment, threw it into final draft first script I'd ever written and just went for it. And it got set up. And it was a five and a half million dollar feature on lifetime and 2000 and then you know, I had to break it all over again. But let's call that my break.

Alex Ferrari 9:51
That's that was the most passive aggressive way of saying the deadline is the deadline. Right? But but good for her because It was true no and you know what and you know what? Yeah but that description that for people listening that that description of how she she spoke to you eautiful is exactly how people in LA talk in those positions, though then general everyday No. Generally never say no. They're generally never like they are there are the you know the art golds of the world. There are but but a lot of them will do this kind of passive aggressive. Yeah. And it's, it's honestly an art form.

Heather Hale 10:34
It's an art. It's like on my vision board to be unflappable. And if you ever if you've listened to Shonda Rhimes, his latest book, I listen to it on audio tape, I love to listen to like Tina Fey and Amy Schumer all their books, Andy kailyn on when they narrate on their audio books. But so listening to Shonda Rhimes, which was awesome. I, you know, she coined the word badassery. She said, you know, they say it's not a word unless it's in the dictionary. But in my Microsoft Word, I right clicked and added it to my dictionary, so it's a word. So I have like, unflappable, badassery on my vision board. That's my goal is to be able to not cuss and swear not raise my voice, not lose my temper, but say so eloquently. And maybe it's passive aggressive, but it is an art form exactly what you mean and still be smiling and look like you're being courteous in such a team player when you're really laying down the bottom line.

Alex Ferrari 11:30
And that is an art form. And this Yeah, without question. So So let's talk about markets, film markets, television markets, that's one of your expertise is, which it all started there, right? Because I had to get it to cat you have to get the cat. Exactly. So can you explain to the audience what the difference is between film festivals and film markets?

Heather Hale 11:51
Sure. I think that's actually one of the least understood and even people who have been in the business forever. Because you'll have people say, it's funny. I never know whether it's can or con because I get corrected no matter how I said someone's gonna correct me. So they'll say they're going to Cannes. But are they going to the festival of the market because the festival in the market are on opposite sides of the cross that you know this promenade, and they're going on at the exact same time. And people can fly around the world and realize that they have credentials, they've paid two or $3,000 in here and there at the festival when they meant to be at the market and everybody they want or or worse I mean at least that you can probably Jerry rig but what if you're in the wrong city at the wrong week, you go to the Berlin you know, the main event to go to the European film market. And you ended up at Berlinale at you know and or you're at the different the TV markets and you're in the wrong week. Everybody you paid 3000 or 5000 to go see is not even there. Yeah, so I think it's really important. So so so real clearly like festivals, we were talking about Sundance before we went live fest. If you think of show business, you can think of the festivals as the show and markets as the business of the entertainment industry. great analogy because festivals are open to the public. Usually, they're all about audience enjoyment. They're all about the craft, they celebrate the love of the art. It can be about a specific genre, or locale and it's all about community. So film fans and TV lovers from the public can come and enjoy premieres fun parties, they can vote, you know, especially for audience awards. But these competitions are curated by taste making gatekeepers and they award prizes based on their judgement of quality. And the audience response and critical reviews is what everybody's looking for. And that's what can launch these surprise breakout hits are dashed the hopes of what everyone thought was gonna be a winner. And as you know, there are no prizes at markets.

Alex Ferrari 14:06
The only prize is a check.

Heather Hale 14:08
There's no prizes, right and the press are often blocked from the screenings because they don't want spoilers leaked. So markets are the entertainment industries trade shows and like everything else in show business, they tend to be more glamorous, faster paced and more intimidating than any other business sector. And so these markets getting on the market floor is typically restricted to accredited industry professionals. So you have to have bought a badge you have to be a player to get on that floor. And then those products or content, the film and television things you might have seen shown at film festivals or television festivals are what is bought and sold business to business and then turned around and parlayed to the to the wider public. So there is this symbiotic relief shipped between the two circuits. So it's possible that a film that does fantastic at Sundance gets picked up by a distributor and is then sold internationally, like a cute little Little Miss Sunshine is bought at Sundance, and then they turn around and sell it to Europe, that European film market. So and then the same, the same thing can be in reverse. Maybe a product does really well at a market. And they choose to use the film festival platform as their promotional marketing to create some audience awareness and create buzz. So

Alex Ferrari 15:36
It's at Sundance every year,

Heather Hale 15:38
Every year, Toronto, Midnight Madness, you name it. So one of the things I think that helps put things in perspective is the size and scope of the material presented. So if you look at like a typical Cannes Film Festival, there's like 21 films that are in competition officially. And then right across the promenade is Lamar Shea to film, which is the Cannes Film market. And there's 3030 500 films at the market. So that shows you the size and scope because what's being sold at the market are shown or screen or viewed, is literally the entire year's inventory, and a backlog of the year before and what. So it's a good year to three years worth of assets that are competing in this incredible, incredible den of noise, to try to make a blip on the radar for anyone to notice you like it the one of the most humbling experiences ever, is to walk on a market floor with your little one sheet. Right? And think My poor baby. And I will tell you, it kicks you in the teeth and says, Is your logline strong enough is your pitch like you're competing with George Clooney on the market floor looking for money, right? Like that's there. I mean, you don't normally run into them, but they are they're raising money. And so your materials have to be so not just slick and professional. But the concepts and the execution has to be so viscerally grabbing, that someone's willing to risk money on them. And so it really does make you take a step back and check yourself that nobody cares about your hopes and dreams and aspirations. They care about are you bringing them something they can make money off of?

Alex Ferrari 17:31
Can you talk a little bit? What can you name a few of the big markets that people should look out for?

Heather Hale 17:36
Well, of course the can the Lamar shaida film is the Cannes market. The European film market is probably the second largest now the American Film market is the third. And then and then there's there's a ton of others. There's the Hong Kong film art, there's the Asian film mark, there's TIFF, com, then titanosaurs, the Latin American one, but another thing that's kind of bubbled up, which I think is really fascinating and helpful for independent filmmakers, is you have the film markets over here and you have the film or the of the film and TV markets over here. And you have film and TV festivals. Oh, and for the just real quickly for TV markets. You have Nat p, which is the National Association television program executives, you have real screen you have kids screen again, the Hong Kong film art is both you have the MIPS we call them the MIPS sweet, so there's mipi mc doc MC formats. And then you have like Nat p in Europe, there's just a ton, Bogota has one. And but in between, you know, you've seen I'm sure that the independent film arena that was such at the golden era in the 1970s people are talking about the Renaissance that we're seeing, and the golden era of television that we're seeing, which is really kind of the shift of independent filmmaking going to television because we have this convergence of film and TV, where the what we call over the top television, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, these, you know which are almost telcos right there, they're almost ISP fees that are offering this is all the issues of net neutrality, but that that is an opportunity for them to create these they create content and deliver content. So in the middle, where the independent filmmaker can often get lost because the studios are doing the huge blockbusters and the networks are doing their channels. What's bubbling up is this co production market scene. And that's where things like cinema in Rotterdam and the Berlin Berlin all a co co pro market, which is over like while the European film market is going on. And while the Berlinale Film Festival is going on, they kind of seamlessly overlap with the Berlinale co production market, which is where independent producers can find financing where they can find production partners where they can find distributors were willing to see projects that are works in progress. And so here's another difference between film festivals and markets. People will tell you, like, you know, as a screenwriter, never send your script out until it's just kick ass as good as it could possibly be. Right? That's it. Okay. So with films, they tell you never to submit to a festival until it's perfect, right? Because it's being judged. So a lot of people miss perceive that and come over to the market space and say, Oh, I can't show it to them. I can't do this because it's a market. Well, they're accustomed to seeing things with holes, and placeholders. And we're going to do the special effects on this. And, you know, they've even done studies where people had missing scenes or animation, they didn't even know that the animation wasn't there, because they were so caught up emotionally in the moment. So a market there, they're happy to see a talent reel for a possible reality show host or a character that we're going to build a world around in their mail you, they're accustomed to seeing, like, let's say you're shooting an independent film, and you're not going to be ready by the market. But your opening sequence is awesome. You just show that as your sizzle reel or trailer or just some selected scenes, and at the market that professionals use to scene products in every stage of development. So that's yet another difference that people you know, will come with the wrong misperceptions that limit their opportunities.

Alex Ferrari 21:39
Now, who should attend markets in general? As far as filmmakers are concerned? Like, should it be at what level of of the process should they go?

Heather Hale 21:48
Well, I think it depends on what your goals are and what your product is. So you will see on the net p floor or you know, MIPCOM IP TV, on the TV markets, people who are not in the industry at all, who might have a sizzle reel on themselves often, or an idea or concept. And they're trying to sell a game show they're trying to sell a reality show they're trying to sell some nonfiction thing like Adam ruins everything, you know, some sort of an edutainment type product. And even if they all they have is a one sheet that's a good one sheet and a good concept. They can literally you know, buy a badge and go pitch almost door to door You know, they're going sweet to sweet. That's another thing. You know this, but maybe your listeners don't. You look at something like the AFM at the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica. They literally move every bed out of every room. And every suite becomes a sales office. So some market floors have booths like a trade show, where you know, you go from booth to booth to booth on a market floor nappy has these towers where you go up to the suites, and again, they've moved the beds out. So you walk in, and there's the table and chairs, and there could even be cubbies set up with offices for receptionist and all that, actually at the Loews hotel. I was one of two people sleeping there, during the AFM, which was you talk about the shining light, step out into an empty hotel, and you're the I'm not even like there's no room service. There's nobody there. Just closed down. It's It's surreal. So that's, I think. So anyway, to answer your question, Who goes, so if you're a director, you want to go over to festivals, because that's where they're celebrating you. At the markets, it's largely producers. So you might be a writer, producer, director, producer. So if you're wearing a producer hat, and you're trying to raise money, or you're trying to initiate distribution interest, that's a really good place to be another way a lot of producers can use markets that they may not be aware of, is not on the first few days. But on the last couple of days, you can go in with your really great one sheet or sizzle reel. And when the distributors are have gone through the bulk of their meetings, because remember, they've paid 30,000, probably to be there. So you show up selling them and they've paid a ton of money to sell. You're in their way. You're in their way. But the last few days, they are thinking about the next market and they're trying to build relationships as well. And the cocktail parties are all great opportunities for this. But let's say you come in and you've got your indie film project, you got a million dollar project and you have a hit list of 10 stars that you think are really good. It's really a good idea to take that simple bulleted list. don't bore them just go in. Here's my one sheet. Here's my logline. These are the 10 stars I'm thinking of, and you might be blown away where they say this person's not marquee value. This person will never get distribution. I like this person, this person is really good. And someone on that list you might not be aware, is really huge in the breath block or the mint, the new MIT, you know, might be something that you weren't aware was a company, a person who would really attract the Chinese market, you know, I'm always trying to think of the other markets. Or they may say, Oh, I like all of these eight mafioso, guys, these character actors, and they're all really good. Have you thought about x, y, z, and they adds names to your list. And that is priceless information. Because it and they may tell you look, if you get any one of these people off this list, come back to me, and we'll talk about a distribution. It may not be a distribution commitment, because you know, it's hard to say, Yes, I will distribute your film when it's an unknown commodity. Of course, it's not in the can. So that's, I mean, that's the thing is your your film is probably never worth more than when it's nothing yet.

Alex Ferrari 26:03
And to a certain extent, you're right,

Heather Hale 26:05
Right. Everyone can imagine in their mind's eye the very best it could possibly be.

Alex Ferrari 26:11
But a lot of times also do you do you agree that depending on the cast, yeah. If the cast is big enough, there will be commitments to distribute then in there purely because they know if you can afford Nicolas Cage? Yes, you're the project is going to be at at least a somewhat of a benchmark that I know I could sell, because you're not gonna hire Nicolas Cage and do a $20,000 movie.

Heather Hale 26:37
Right? Well, I will. Yes, I agree. But I will say that there's two parts to that. One part is that if you get Nicolas Cage, like I got Vanessa Williams true. It's not you getting the money. It's probably Nicolas Cage, or Nicolas Cage is contacts, resources, referrals. So one of the things I suggest people do is make their hitlist for who they want as their stars for lead actors, and look and see who's got a production company and go get to the production company of the star you want. And let them be partners with you because now they're that much more financially incentivized to come on board and be a real partner. And then that's when the ball starts rolling. You know, my dad always used to say that the most precious asset in Hollywood is momentum. its momentum, you know, and its traction getting people to have it's, it's making your enthusiasm contagious, so that you can get some traction so that you can create some momentum momentum because you can work for 10 years on a project and blow dust off of it. And if you get the right people to shine their light, man, things happen fast, you know, that's the overnight success. So I think that is a huge part of it. And then the other part I will say, is, a lot of times people make their hit list and they're hit the hit list reveals a lot about you. If you have Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep on your hitless. They exactly they may be very polite because they're so polite, but they're laughing at your neophyte ism, right, because it's so delusional. But if you come in with some really amazing actors from say, Breaking Bad, or you know what I mean? Like, some animals obtainable? Yeah, if you mentioned their name at your family holiday. No one else at the table who's not in the business will know who you're talking about? Or maybe you show them their picture and they go oh, yeah, yeah, I know that guy. But the difference is with a distributor, they know that the caliber like David Morris, if you remember, if you know who he is, he was in the Green Mile. He's a fantasy or Freddie Highmore. You know, right now in the in the good doctor, and he was in Bates Motel. So Freddie Highmore at a holiday function. The average person not in the business, Michael, I don't know who that is. Well, do you watch the good doctor? Oh, yeah. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 28:59
I do. Okay, that's about Rob's rush,

Heather Hale 29:03
Obvious rush. He deserves a Lifetime Achievement Award already. I love him. But what I would say is that when you come to a distributor with someone like that, they may not be, you know, cinema marquee value that he can open a movie by himself, of course. But what that tells the distributor is the caliber of acting is going to attract other very strong actors. It's going to attract good directors, it's going to attract people who are going to that's going to raise the bar of their, of their work. So that so if you came with a feat, it's like, in the old days, you needed your Sylvester Stallone or Van Damme to sell DVDs in Asia. Sure, right. But it's changing. It's changing a lot. So now the mass, you know of YouTube competition. It's quality that rises up So having a good concept well written, well executed with really good stars. I think our star culture while it's still hugely important, you look at any advertisement, it's all about celebrity. But it's changing because of the fragmentation of the dial and what the Internet has done to revolutionize our business.

Alex Ferrari 30:18
So you mean Steven Seagal versus mike tyson is gonna have problems? Not if they're fighting. That was the that was the most AF me. AFM movie. This year.

Heather Hale 30:31
You remember when it was a couple Emmys ago where they put all the YouTube stars on the red carpet? No, I didn't. Okay, this was a couple of years ago. And they took all these YouTube stars with millions of followers. And they thought, oh, we're gonna tap into their site, guys. And what you realize is asking questions on a red carpet is a skill set that Ryan Seacrest and the people who have earned the right to eat, they're like, they didn't know who they were talking to. They were disrespectful. And they thought that their 15 minutes of fame was going to carry them on red carpet. And people forget, this is a business. Right? And so I think it's fine to stop cast, maybe one YouTube slab. And if you are a YouTube celeb, then then cool, that's you. But make sure you populate that cast with rock solid actors around you. Because everyone in the business can see through a fame run.

Alex Ferrari 31:27
And it's getting it's getting like before, it was all about how many followers you have. And I have to a certain extent, a lot of casting decisions now are made on social media. If the if there's two actors of equal caliber, equal credits,

Heather Hale 31:44
That's assuming they're equal caliber and equal credit. Exactly. It's not usually that case,

Alex Ferrari 31:49
Usually not, but if you assume that they're, you know, at the same playing field, yeah, I'm gonna go with the one that has the bigger social follow.

Heather Hale 31:55
Absolutely. But they also have ways of assessing your digital footprint. Like I have a widget in mind when I look on Twitter. I know how many of your followers are fake? I mean, you bought?

Alex Ferrari 32:11
That's before?

Heather Hale 32:13
Yeah. And a huge thing is your engagement. Like are you perceived to be authentic in your engagement with a legit tribe? Right, you know, we have our our mutual friend, Richard bato, the are bound stage 32, his crowdsourcing for filmmakers book is all about that, like it's being authentic to a community. So I think it's really important that people, like it's really important to have a social media following and a social media presence and be authentic. But it's like anything else that, you know, it's the quality of how you do it, you can't just buy a million followers and slap up promotional stuff. Because first of all, those million followers probably aren't even real and don't care. So they're not going to leave in droves. But the real people are, if all you ever do is throw up, you know, JPEGs of your book that you're selling,

Alex Ferrari 33:01
Right! A perfect example I always use is there's this filmmaker that I was working with on a project years ago, and they spent I'm gonna say they spent like about four or $5,000 buying views. Yep. of their trailer. Yeah. And nothing and we all know it. Right. So but they thought the like the end, I think they got I think it got up to about a million and a half 2 million views that they spent money. It all spent. Yeah, nothing organic, no interaction, no anything. But they were touting that to distributors. Like, look, we've gotten 2 million hits on our trailer, give us money for our movie. There's an audience out there for it. Yeah. And that might have worked in 1995. Exactly. But not today. And people can definitely tell when it's, look, it's not hard to find out if you're if they're fake or not. You just have to look at the engagement. And even the engagement they're trying to fake now. And it's still so difficult to fake real engagement.

Heather Hale 34:00
Yeah, I know someone a very high profile author, producer, TV person. So I am and they've passed away and they were very beloved. So I won't throw them under the bus because that would be disrespectful. Sure. But they hired friends of mine to go online into the chat rooms and take on this was way back in the day. So it is not new. You said chat. Yeah. Yeah, take on personas. So they would have three, four or five different personas each and get into debates and arguments with themselves, right like and be trolls and jerks and you know, so that other people would jump in and then they'd get out of that chat room and go start somewhere else. So that Pete that there was buzz and engagement. But I think that, you know, first of all, people are really savvy to that now. And then the flip side of that is too bad because the person who really busts their tail to get a million or 2 million followers legitimately and then goes to Bandy that about the marketplace. Now everybody's pretty jaded, and even if you earned them and spent 15 years creating that following that, like, yeah, yeah, but that that comes back to the quality of the content and the material.

Alex Ferrari 35:08
You know, and also and also, and I know we're going on a tangent with social media, but it's important in regards to what we're doing is also the the proof is in the pudding, you know, like, yeah, you know, I'll tell you right really quickly, if you're real or not purely buy a bike, do a post, yeah, do a post and we'll see how many retweets they get, or how many reactions they get, and see how much traffic I can generate off of it. If it's something that's adding too much. I'll tell you in a second, like, Here you go, boom. And, you know, so when people find people who are actually real and authentic, they gravitate to respect.

Heather Hale 35:42
Absolutely. I'll tell you something beyond the social media is also your assets, your marketing assets. So I help people create pitch packages, sizzle reels, practice their pitch and all that. And I've been a judge at you know, nappies player, TV player contest bondage for a bunch of things. Yeah, forever. So one of them at one market. And again, I don't want to, you know, hurt anyone's reputation. I just share the spirit of the story. This gal came in and she was competing. And she, the first round ever, there were three rounds. And the first round was to pitch verbally. And so this girl came in and pitched her heart out on I think it was a mafia comedy, like a sitcom. She was so hysterical. We were like wiping tears, though. I think there were eight or 12. I don't know, several judges, I don't remember how many judges about eight, let's say. But we were laughing, literally slapping our needs wiping away tears cracking up, she had us eating out of her hand and we loved her. We loved her project. We loved everything about her. So then she made it to the second round. And in the second round, she brought in her sizzle reel. And in her sizzle, she had spent $250,000. No. And she had I don't know if it was friends or I don't know who these actors were. But in this sizzle. The production value was awful. The timing was awful. The acting was awful. The costumes were awful. And 250 100%. And that is not the only time I've seen that I've seen people do better with zero budget than 250. I've seen lots of bad how

Alex Ferrari 37:28
I'm just figuring out how do you spend a quarter of a million dollars on a sizzle reel? Like how do you do it happens all Oh my god.

Heather Hale 37:37
So because companies want to get paid. And they I think prey on delusions. So. So what happened was and I'm proud of myself, I'm not bragging but just it's hard to find people who will tell the truth in Hollywood and I do always get in trouble all the time. So I will say I'm here at it when it helps. So she was gonna get knocked out. And I spoke up in the, in the voting round with her in the room and said, I got to tell you, I said I'm going to point out the elephant in the room because everybody was giving her feedback on the sizzle reel. Yeah. And I said to her to enter the fellow judges, I said, Look, that sizzle reel, unfortunately, you have wasted $250,000, you know, on her face had she's almost in tears. You shouldn't be she was almost in tears because everybody was ripping the sizzle reel to shreds, and she was going to get knocked out of the contest. And she had spent all this money. And I said Look, I said I'm gonna vote to put you through on the caveat that you pitch verbally, again, because you had us, you had us imagining your vision, and this sizzle reel is going to kill you. So you need to never show it. Anyone again ever. I don't care how much it cost. I don't care how much lead tears went into it. It's going to shoot you in the foot. It's an albatross to your project. Let it go consider it a mistake. And and and she everybody changed their votes. And we put her through and she pitched verbally. And she did that she didn't win. But she was like number two or number three. And she was really grateful. And I mean, it's heartbreaking to tell someone that but it's true.

Alex Ferrari 39:19
You got to you've got to tell the truth. And it's not even up for debate. It was just like, Look, this was horrendous. Yeah, you're hurting yourself by

Heather Hale 39:28
To acknowledge how fantastic she did without even a piece of paper. That that shows the integrity of the idea, her passion, her personality, her ownership and authenticity with that material. As the writer she had earned the right to stand up and bolus over and it was so well executed on the page. It is not her fault that the collaborators didn't rise to the occasion and she can find other collaborators because she owns the intellectual property. It's her baby.

Alex Ferrari 39:58
Absolutely, absolutely. So How How should someone with a digital series approach to television market in today's world? Because now, as you said, everything's going towards television? What How should someone should they do a pilot? Should they just come in with the idea? Should they do have a full series produced? What do you What's your suggestion?

Heather Hale 40:19
Well, I think all of those you know, it's like Hollywood How do you break into Hollywood? Well, let's give you the 2000 ways we all know friends who've done it, you know it there's no right or wrong. I will say there probably some quicker avenues than others and then the minute you say this is the way you do it, then there's some breakout Blair Witch success that you know, it's this stuff that happens the angry orange, I don't know if you're familiar with that. I mean, I, there's a ton of examples of stuff. But one way they do watch just as we were talking about earlier, within social engagement, there are people who put up Twitter accounts that are in the voice or the point of view of one of their characters and then voice and that's, I think, how eight things about my daughter eight roles about my daughter got done was started off a Twitter feed, you know, it was that such a unique, authentic voice. So coming up with ways to select I think was angry orange was a little two minute thing that was an orange, literally an orange. marquee face drawn on it. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 41:18
He's. He's done very well.

Heather Hale 41:21
Yeah. So they were like 32nd two minute things, but they were so freakin funny. They went viral. And you know, I forget who it was. pretty famous gal. I should remember her name. But she said viral is not a business plan.

Alex Ferrari 41:35
Like Sundance is not a distribution plan. Sundance is not a distribution.

Heather Hale 41:39
That's like saying, I'm going to buy a lottery ticket. Yes. Somebody, somebody who buys a ticket will win. But your odds, like that's not the business plan. Go ahead, throw the penny in the crib.

Alex Ferrari 41:52
I'm quitting my job today. Because my next year, I'm covered because I'm going to do the scratch off.

Heather Hale 41:57
Exactly. Yeah. So I mean, I pro pennies and fountains and I'm all about superstitious little rituals. Cool. Do it by your lottery tickets. I all the more power to you. But Call me if you went please sleep call that

Alex Ferrari 42:10
Five projects. Yeah.

Heather Hale 42:11
Yeah. So but some of the things they can do one, of course, if you're like, I judged the Marcee web Fest, several years back, and that was fascinating, because you know, Josh Gad, yeah, of course. Okay, Josh, Gad one. Oh, lover. Yeah, yeah, he's all off and Buting the beast, but he also had 1600 pen, if you remember that as a short lived series. So right before with Dharma, the girl who played Dharma and Dharma and Greg, right before that. He was submitted into the Marseille web fest. And it was me and I think the Warner Brothers digital VP, bunch of really cool people. So we were, you know, sequestered in a room for 12 hours watching nothing but websites went to a web series, one after another. And there were people who had fantastic business plans, and ancillary marketing and Merchandising, and it was so well like sales and marketing 101, like, or not even that PhDs and sales and marketing. But we weren't engaged by their content. So what difference did it make, right? And then you had people who had years of seasons and seasons, like hundreds of episodes. And then you had Josh Gad with like two little three minute sketches that were practically SNL. And again, we're in hysterics. So I think it comes down to the quality. So if you have, let's say you have a web series that's won some awards, don't expect someone to watch eight episodes of it, grab the, you know, 30 seconds or two minutes of the very, very, very best footage. And don't feel like it needs to be five minutes or seven minutes or any of that. If it's if you have a really good two minutes, that's the beginning, middle and end. And there's a little bit of weak stuff, when in doubt, cut it out, cut it out, cut it out, if it is not very, very, very best cream of the crop. You know, they say Shakespeare threw away 95% of his stuff. I don't know how anyone knows that. But you know, I believe it as a writer,

Alex Ferrari 44:07
I'm sure and I would love to be in that trashcan.

Heather Hale 44:10
Exactly. But that's what I'm saying. You got to throw away kill your babies, kill your darlings, and then only take the cream of the crop and then that tease, you know, you sell the sizzle, not the steak, you want to elicit their interest and intrigue them to want more. And you may not show them more. You may get into a room. They're really engaged. They have their different ideas and you go in their direction because he who has the gold wins. Don't feel like you owe it to the material to bring in your old crap that they might not what find what tickled them because it might be different, like what Spike TV is interested in is going to be quite different than what the sci fi channel is interested in.

Alex Ferrari 44:50
Sure. Exactly. And that's a problem for a lot of creators is that they spend so much time so much money creating something they want to show it all exactly. It's and you just like maybe pictures, right? It's your baby, you want to show baby pictures to everybody. I try not to do that. But But every once in a while, just for, you know, exactly. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. But at the end of the day, you've got to take off your Creator hat and put on your business hat, put on your marketing hat and go, Okay, what I got to look at this with clean eyes, and you can't have someone who can do it for you

Heather Hale 45:36
And ditto your YouTube channel, maybe you have a YouTube channel that's got all of that on there. But you have a branded YouTube channel that only has the best of the best that represents the show, which is, you know, you think of what you put on social media, especially what you're putting on that is projecting to the industry is your 24 seven shingle. Don't put crap out there. And if you do, like, hide it in a way that only friends and family can see it, but if you're gonna put it out there on your website, anywhere, you know, it's way better to have three great two minute clips, then something that's, you know, really, two hours of bad. No, that's what they say the greatest sin in Hollywood is to be boring.

Alex Ferrari 46:21
Yes. And there has been plenty of that going on at the movie theaters lately.

Heather Hale 46:25
Yeah. And on the market floors and at the festivals and co production markets. You know, I used to joke that, you know, the perfume of Hollywood is desperation.

Alex Ferrari 46:35
Oh, God, that's a great line. And it's so true. Yeah. And you and and because I used to wear that, that Oh, we've all worn it. We've all to desperation.

Heather Hale 46:45
Yeah. And the purse and the deodorant. Like it comes out. It's the Bo of Hollywood. It's desperation also.

Alex Ferrari 46:51
I mean, it is something that you can smell on someone. Yeah. So fast into the room into a ballroom you can smell and and I used to, I used to just just it would it would rain around me. I should spring out of me like, what's his name from Charlie Brown? The guy who's always dirty? Up rock? Yeah, he would just always walk. Yeah, it was around me all the time. Yeah, I would meet someone when I first got here, I would meet someone, you know, at another level, higher level or just a place that I could? And I'd be like, I hate doing it at the end, you would just go after them. Yeah. And they could just be like, Okay, he's that and that would be the end of it. No. And I happened to me a bunch of times till I finally, I don't know how I did it. But naturally, I just stopped it and became more giving and more of service to people I meet trying to be.

Heather Hale 47:42
And that I think is the is the to me, networking is the highest form of service. It's what do they need? How can I help them and you hope that by the time it pays forward 10 times somewhere it comes around back to you. Right? But you know, when you're trying to intentionally network, you know, one of the most prudent things is to ask them about them in their projects, because and that's the thing you have to be careful of with you is because when someone asks a writer about their project, oh, no. Right? We love our babies, we want to talk about them. That's all we want to talk about. So you really are it's kind of like being on a first blind date after a divorce. You don't really want to talk about your ex, right? So you want to listen and ask questions. And if the conversation comes back around to you be locked and loaded with a silver bullet. That's really quick and easy than kills.

Alex Ferrari 48:30
Right! But don't don't but don't walk up with that bullet in hand just yet. Don't shut it off.

Heather Hale 48:35
Z or the machine gun. Yeah, God on silver bullet.

Alex Ferrari 48:40
I it's, it's it's just so funny. And I meet and I was my next question was gonna be about networking. And I think we're on that topic now. But like, sometimes I'll be speaking and, you know, people will come up and they'll just, they're just kind of like, you can tell that they're they're just wanting to their I call them energy suckers, even successful people. Right? Yeah, just energy suckers. They just want to obsess Empire, vampires, they just want to start from you. And, you know, you as you get older and you've been in the business long enough, you'd become attuned to that. That frequency very quickly, or your hair goes on and as they come up as they approach you, yeah. Oh, desperation. There's the odor desperation. There's the O of BS. You know, I'm not trying to do anything, but I'm just trying to impress you because I've done this, this and this. I know this. I could definitely get your project that this person because I cut their hair.

Heather Hale 49:37
I'll tell you two quick little stories about that. I was I you know, I'm not a vain person. You know, we all get beat up so much. I guess you just don't have time or energy to be vain. You just working hard

Alex Ferrari 49:51
Not on this side of the camera, at least.

Heather Hale 49:53
Yeah, yeah. So I was at an event. It was a women's event and I was talking to a group of women and you know, I'm a I'm a first I'm a, I was a first time director, I think I've done two things now. But you know, I'm really still a rookie, I really am trying to break in as a director. So I was at this event and I have done I had directed a million dollar feature, which on the one hand, anyone in the business knows like soup to nuts. That is, that's like an ultra marathon series like that. It's a huge accomplishment, whether it made any money or not, it got in the can. And it got picked up by two distributors. It was at the AFM and right, huge, it was at Walmart Best Buy. Okay, so who cares if it's any good or made any money like that, just the fact that we got from point A to point z, and I did not die or kill anybody, right? So and it had meatloaf and Ed Asner and Eddie Furlong, so I'm at this event. And I'm feeling like simultaneously proud and scared, shitless and insecure and blah, blah, blah. And these girls are talking about all the stuff they've directed, and they're posing and dropping names and being all the all this. So I'm just sitting listening because I really need to network and I really need to learn a lot more. And I need to expand my horizons, blah, blah, blah, blah. Well, I can our listening to them give all sorts of advice and tell me what I should do. It comes around that one of them his entire directing oeuvre was a PSA. And he had done a short film. So I sat there and not that I'm all bad. But I sat there respectfully listening to all and and then when they asked me what I had done, which like the event was almost over, and I was like, Oh, you know, just a million dollar feature with meatloaf. And yeah, and then I walked away because they like seriously put their lap late. Like I said to her, they they had done a free public service announcement for 30 seconds. And that was what they directed. Sure. The flipside of that I was going to say is when people are posing, you know, the, if you have to get a catcher's mitt out to catch the names that they drop, no, odds are, they're full of it. And if you call them out on it, well to have two stories. I had a guy who told me and I won't say who he is, because he's kind of a power player. But he told me he Ma, it'll be too obvious. He had directed a little movie called and then I won't put the movie in, but it was a huge movie. Sure. He had no he had he had line produced a little movie called insert huge movie here. Sure. And I was like, Oh my god, I better check my ego. And so I sucked it up and let him treat me like shit because he was a misogynist. He was awful. And then I optioned my material to him, which was a huge mistake. And then I googled because nowadays you can I am in the bathroom like now I've learned like, excuse me go to the bathroom, IMDb the shit out of their lies, right. But it turned out he had second unit line. Oh, no, he had told me he had produced it. But he had second unit line produced it. Which is he's basically Yeah, producers like finding the money soup to knotting it. And second unit line producing is someone who was hired to cut checks for a couple of days.

Alex Ferrari 52:58
Second, not even the main line producer the second

Heather Hale 53:00
Second unit line producer when he told me he produced it. But then the third I was gonna say because it goes the other way, too, is people who drive the flashy cars and have the gorgeous, can sometimes be so so encumbered and sold, leased and so fake about what they're projecting is their image, that they don't have the money to scrape together, change out of their depth for iced tea at a McDonald's, right? Yep. And sometimes you'll be with someone who's driving a beat up car, and they're not inexpensive shoes. And they do not offer to pick up the tab that's on somebody else's expense account. And they are the person who owns 21 homes free and clear and could actually find your film, but they're not trying to impress you, and they are cheap. And the reason they're rich is because they're cheap. And that doesn't mean they won't invest in your film. So I mean, it goes both ways.

Alex Ferrari 53:55
I do find and this is against only from years of experience, that the people who are the big loud mouth, the people who are the boasters Yes, there are those guys, you know, that are the Brett Ratner's of the world that are those kind of people, you know, and do actually know these people and actually have the money and stuff. And I threw bread out there because he deserves to be thrown out there. And I have no problem with that. But there but most of the times you're going to you know if you see the guy quiet in the room, and he's in the room, first of all, she's in the room. That means that they've done something to be in that room. Yeah. And generally speaking, they're not going to be the boasting guys and not going to be the ones dropping names. If you see Steven Soderbergh's car. He drives like a 2005 2008. Pre Buffett does too, by the way, right? Exactly. Because they're not trying to impress anyone. They're damaged. Yeah, they're very, they're rare in LA. They're in the business in general, you don't meet those people very often. They're rare on wall street there were Nashville's, ya know, they're everywhere, and they're very vague in every industry, but in our business, you know, you don't meet those people. So what I do actually meet people like our be Suzanne Lyons who's, you know, like you as well, people, you know, people who are actually doing what they're saying they're doing and are not boasting about, hey, I've got you know, 300,000 followers and you know I have this or I have that the proofs in the pudding. Yeah, like, Look, you just, you know, go and look, you know, look me up, I don't care, you know, look, or they'll say, look, you know, I want to talk about it.

Heather Hale 55:38
And that, quite frankly, is the value to your website and social media, you know, the more I feel like it, my website's not perfect, but I try really hard to have it projected good image. But I think that's good, because you can have a conversation, give them a business card, and then they can do their due diligence on you. And they can check you out after the fact they can check your bio, they can check your credits on IMDB. And so you can just be a human being involved and engaged in the conversation and not be trying to spit out your resume. So, you know, that is that's how I think you can be using your marketing and social media and those things to, to back you up with this 24 shingle that's out there all the time, but just be a human being when and be present in those conversations.

Alex Ferrari 56:24
Now, we've gone off off the rails a little bit in this interview, because we were talking more about markets. But this all works into the network. It all works out. But can you add, can you throw a few insider nuggets of things that we should look for at film markets, things that you like, I wish I would have known this doing a market before?

Heather Hale 56:44
Well, there's so much that I wrote a book on it. So like, that's before, that's actually the whole reason for the book was because you said you had gone to one of your first markets recently. Really kind of like blown away and overwhelmed. I think anyone in this business should just get on a market floor as fast as possible. Because you what you learn and how humbling it is, will really put things in perspective for the rest of your career. So whether you sell anything, Oh, go ahead,

Alex Ferrari 57:12
No, it's a product. That was the thing I said in my review of AFM like, it's so humbling, because they don't care about the craft. They don't care about the artistry they don't care about. It's a product. And yeah, and as soon as you understand that changes your perspective, a whole I don't care what your personal project, they don't care about it.

Heather Hale 57:30
Yeah. And they're not being mean either. They're just, it's not even callous. They're just so Matter of fact, and they can smile while they're just eviscerating you. painful. Leave a case you know, it's art to us but they don't care. They don't care.

Alex Ferrari 57:49
Obviously Steven Seagal and Mike Tyson not a lot of art in that movie.

Heather Hale 57:52
So So I will say that honestly, like I I'll tell you like how the book started. And then I'll tell you a couple secrets. I was at the American Film market in 2013. I booked all the speakers and I was helping focal press come up with their line, their franchise line, the AFM present. Sure. And so they had a focal press it said, you know, who do you think would make a good author for one of our books or in our series and who would be a good subject matter expert and is like, you know, you need to get RB to do something on crowdsourcing ad got him on a panel is like you've got to get no but nobody's talking about that. And I gave him all these names of people and I'd gotten another friend Anne Marie Guillen on the finance panel. I just really tried hard to get, you know, some new fresh voices that we needed to be hearing at the AFM. I was actually really proud because people told me later they opened up the full page spread, and I was Hollywood Reporter daily variety. And I had all the pictures for the all panelists. And people, at least a dozen people wrote me privately and said, I don't know how you did it. But it was 5050 female male, and it was every color of skin under the sun. That's because normally we don't see that. So I was really had like my own private agenda to try to really diversify what we saw, so that you weren't ghettoizing like putting all the women on one panel, because we don't know when you can avoid that panel, or all the people of color on one panel, and that's our diversity panel, but get one on every panel. That was my golf. Good. Anyway, um, so. So when I was helping her, I was giving her all these people that I think I got eight or a dozen friends book deals that year. She said, Well, if you come up with anything else, let us know. And I said, I can tell you right now what you're missing. And she said what? I go, you've got the American Film market presents and no one's ever written a book on how to work the markets. And her face just dropped like yeah, da it's like always the obvious that we miss. And so I said, I'll, I'll write it, you know, and I, of course, didn't feel like I was a guru. I just knew I could research and I reached out to at least 200 People I did interviews for a couple years for that book. So some of the things I learned at one at one AFM I was sitting there and I won't mention names of companies, I will tell you privately.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:11
Sure, no problem. I appreciate it.

Heather Hale 1:00:13
Anyway, I was sitting there with a girlfriend and we were going into meet someone I had interviewed, because that was another thing I did. I used it to network like crazy so that I could meet 200 people that were, you know, international sales agents and distributors and all that a financier, as an investor. So are sitting there to meet one of the people who I'd interviewed with. And we were on the other side of this cubby wall, because, you know, they sometimes have these temporary cubby walls and like there's four feet of empty room, you know, that it's the wall is not there. So on the other side was somebody pitching. And on the other side of another wall, were a couple people. So there was an established distributor, who was teaching a wet behind the ears, rookie distributor who was new to their company, of how to do what they needed to do. And I don't know how much you know about, like, I do my own budgets and schedules, and I can my views and stuff. So I don't know how much you know about this, but it hit us. But basically, when you do an independent film, you have to often do a SAG bond, right? Okay, so let's say you have a million dollar film and your budget for your actors is, let's say 200,000. So sag might make you put up 200,000, or 50,000. But you have to put up a bond, so that if for any reason you flake out and don't pay the payroll for that week, sag can dip into this bond, that it's a formula that they make you that they hold the whole time. So if you need a million dollars, you actually need 1.2 million, because you got to put this money up that sits there that you can't touch until you get it back. And so this distributor was explaining to the other distributor, the new distributor, how they could basically make a commission off you getting your sag bond refunded to you, if they use the wording for gross receipts into the account they were managing, okay. So in other words, they're supposed to be selling your film, and getting a commission from Turkey or China or you know, wherever they're selling it. And as those monies come in, they take 10% 20%, whatever their commission is off the Pasha. She was teaching him how to get the bond, the savings account, you raised blood, sweat and tears that you had sitting there to pay your actors, that when you got it back from sag, they could take 10 to 20% of it because it passed through their account.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:35
So let me let me clarify something you're telling me that there are unscrupulous distributors in the marketplace? Can you imagine this? Is this an exclusive?

Heather Hale 1:02:45
And they were training one another down the daisy chain? How to screw independent producers? So I know, shocking, absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:53
I've never heard anything like that.

Heather Hale 1:02:56
Like you're gonna take a commission off my savings account that I barely scraped together to make this Phil Street. What is this? Oh, my God, and then they want us to sign a contract that says, Oh, yeah, yeah, you can handle my money. I trust you. Yes. Yeah. So those are the kinds of things So literally, during the course of writing this book, I will say, I am this probably not politically correct. But we've established I'm an idiot, yes. I probably will make very little money off this, you know, because the publisher makes 80%. You know, funders are bad. Okay, so I don't, people are like, oh, I'll buy your book. I'm like, thanks. Like, what am I like? Maybe I'll see two cents. 10 years from now? I don't know. So I was so frustrated writing this book, because all that I was learning and all of that. And then I didn't even want to do as two years of work for free. For what, right? But what kept me going was storytellers around the world, content creators, people who have a dream, people have a passion, people have a story that is so under their skin, that they're working for two or five or 10 years for free speculatively. And I thought I got to help them. I got to help them navigate these markets. I got to help them stop being screwed. I got to help them save money. And I will tell you, this is really inappropriate. And I love it. I really need to edit it. No, we won't. I was in the AFM series originally in the franchise. Sure. And I was part of that. And it was always going to be that and it was kicked out. Because of many of the things I said of how to save money and how to you know, okay, if you can't afford a badge, here's what you do.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:37
Well, Heather, Heather to A to A to A FM's Kravitz defense here. I'm sorry, but I get that.

Heather Hale 1:04:46
And I edited it all out. You know what I mean? just done, the damage was done. And so the truth is, you know, there's a lot in this book that the markets don't want you to know. And the other thing was by the end of it, I was like, okay, you Here's how you work around the markets. Here's how you take everything you've learned. Yeah, that work on a market floor. And here's how you DIY it. Here's how you do YouTube. Here's how you use social media. Here's how you sell not business to business, but business to consumer, because that is revolution that Amazon and who else there still in the middle, you literally could have your own website and sell your books and your movies and your TV if they're good enough directly to the crowd that you're creating. So I think it was too independent and too irreverent, too real. And I have a problem with that.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:34
No, look, I I gave away. I give away a lead generator for if you sign up to my email list, six, six tips to get into film festivals for free or cheap. Yeah, exactly. And I think I got into over 600 film festivals in the course of my career, and I paid for probably less than 5% or 10% of Yeah, yeah. But you know, sometimes I wrote the film film festivals the wrong way. I'm like, but guys, look, you know, it's awesome.

Heather Hale 1:06:03
It is. It's such a hard business. You know, people are like I would volunteer for variety. sommets I bought I volunteered for everything I couldn't afford to go to. You know, so I'm a little pee on peasant with a name badge, but I get to hear the studio execs telling it like it is to, you know, be a fly on the wall to the $5,000 a seat thing I can't get into. So you just we one thing about independent filmmakers is we are scrappy. We are resilient. And we are pitfalls and we need to learn to be unflappable badasses.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:35
No. Can you say that? Can you talk? We spoke about the book a bit, but what's the name of the book? Where can they get it?

Heather Hale 1:06:42
It's called how to work the film and TV markets. And it's available on Amazon. It's available. You know, it's actually add a lot of the markets the the publisher took it to the AFM and it sold out in the first day. I'm sure so yeah. So my website is HeatherHale.com and I will put a plug because it's not even cost them any money. But on HeatherHale.com, I'm pretty sure it's /howtoworkthefilmandTVmarkets is all sorts of giveaway stuff. Like it has a calendar of the map of the markets all around the world, co production markets festivals. And I'll tell you that that calendar, that matrix took me forever, because I had to line up what was going on simultaneously, what was an ad junk event? What was going on? Like if you're going to another country? What could you also hit while you're there, it's a really great calendar, I've got the facts on packs. So who's got housekeeping deals where I've got them archived, so you can look back who used to have a deal with what studio and what distributor, it's got so many different sets of information. So and that's all you know, it's got a global map, it's got all the market statistics, it's got some great full color, key art examples. It's got a Union's low budget matrix, because if you can ever make sense of that game of Sudoku, good luck, right? So it's got anyway, it's Heather hale.com, how to work the film and TV markets, and it's got tons of giveaways. And then and then also on there, there's a 21% off on Amazon and 20% off the publishers like a code. So you know, it's gonna make my two cents go to one. But you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:08:20
I love the honesty, it's awesome. And I'll put all of those links in the show notes. So I have a few questions left that asked all my guests, all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker or screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Heather Hale 1:08:36
Oh, we have another hour. Now. Honestly, this is gonna sound really cliche and soapy. And but it's so true. It's just so frickin true. And you remember, you get reminded of it every year and every decade. And that's just be true to yourself. Be true to yourself, be authentic, and know who your friends are, because you will learn over and over and over again, who they are and who they aren't. And, you know, if you're going to be miserable, working around the clock at two in the morning, you damn well better make sure it's something worth working on. And I would say also, you know, when we create film and television products or content, I mean a lot of people artists hate to hear it referred to as product and content, but at the marketplace, that is what it is. It's a art over at the festivals. But whatever it is that you're creating, that you're generating, you are essentially exporting our culture. So I would beseech you to please be careful that you're really espousing values you actually hold not lowering to pander to the lowest common denominator of what you think you can sell. Because you could have a breakout hit with something that's actually meaningful. You know, you look at Shawshank Redemption and Groundhog Day and you know, there are films out They're and there's nothing wrong with entertainment, like cult hits, like there's so much good stuff out there. But, you know, do stuff you're really proud of. And that really means something to you. And it's cool if it's comedy, Thriller, Horror, whatever it is, but I mean, even look at alien aliens. Those are real horror, like in silence of the lamb and the believers, like there's some scary shit out there. And it's still entertaining. So I'm not saying it has to be g rated Disney answers for sure. I'm just saying, make sure that what you're saying with your art is really what you mean, because it's easy for it to get, you know, going through that gauntlet to get like GMO two headed shaped weird. That's not what you meant at all right? You know, stay true to yourself, stay true to your voice. And, and one thing that is good about Hollywood, there are many, many, many, many, many good things about Hollywood. But one of the things I love most about it is it is a society and a culture, where Everywhere you look, people are following their dreams everywhere. And it is exciting. It's entrepreneurs, I call them everywhere you look as people who passionately believe. Usually they're scams and posers and flakes, and felonies and all that. But most of the heart that beats in Hollywood, is people who have a mission for something they want to say that so under their skin, that they're trying to figure out a way to say it and hold true to that. And, you know, it's like I always say, you know, I'm a I'm a voluptuous girl. So I'm lucky because I'm very thick skinned, because you need a rhinoceros skin to survive in Hollywood. But one of the hardest things is to keep your heart open, and to stay responsive to the communal consciousness and to have empathy for other people's worldviews and points of views. So if you can, don't be a dick,

Alex Ferrari 1:11:55
That's, that should be on a T shirt. If that's not it, don't be there. That's like the best advice you could have in Hollywood. Don't be just don't be a dick.

Heather Hale 1:12:02
Yeah, be a nice person. And that doesn't mean be a doormat. It means be an unflappable badass who can cheerfully tell the truth and be honest and be you know, have good intentions and, and, and write great stories because the world needs them.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:20
Amen more now than ever. Can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career?

Heather Hale 1:12:29
Oh, boy, this is gonna reveal my libertarian roots. And probably Atlas Shrugged or the fountainhead. Okay, really? I know that's not an industry book. But sure. Oh, it's all about golf coach.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:46
I gotcha. I gotcha. I gotcha. No problem, no problem. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Heather Hale 1:12:56
Oh, my goodness, there's so many out. I'm not sure I've learned them all. Um, okay, well, I'm stealing this from my dad, but I think he would allow me to, and I'll probably cry because he recently passed. But um, you don't have to make every mistake personally. Interesting. And that you can surround yourself with mentors, and mastermind groups and friends. And you can learn from other people's mistakes and advice. And that doesn't mean, you know, don't have to make every mistake yourself.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:32
If you're smart, you can learn from others mistakes. And yeah, because I mean, why wouldn't you? Sometimes Sometimes you have to learn it by sticking your hand in the fire. But if people tell you, hey, I've been burned there, don't put your hand there.

Heather Hale 1:13:45
And that's why you have to know who your friends are. Because there are a lot of people who are going to tell you, Oh, don't put your hand in my cookie jar, when really you can build your own cookie jar, and they shouldn't be in your kitchen. To know who your friends are. Because your friends. And I'm very blessed to have a few who will tell you when you're being a shit. Who will tell you when you're being myopic, who will tell you when you're not seeing the forest for the trees. And and then there's times where and I've had this happen many, many, many times, where you know, you have an email and you send it to a few friends to make sure that they vet it to make sure it's not too emotional or you're not saying anything that could be slanderous, or whatever. It sometimes you can have. And I had this happen to my fact that it's an old story I've told many times, but I wrote to Sherry Lansing once, and everybody in my circle said no, don't send it. Don't send it. Don't send it. No, you'll embarrass yourself. No, you're reaching too far. No, no, no. And guess who called me Sherry Lansing,

Alex Ferrari 1:14:47
Really? Now by the way, can you tell everybody who doesn't who Cherie,

Heather Hale 1:14:51
She was the first woman to run a studio and she repairment like Titanic and you name Yeah, she was behind.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:58
She was a beast.

Heather Hale 1:14:59
Yeah. Like Behind every successful film for like a decade and a half? Yes. So all I'm saying is that there are times when all your friends and fans and champions who have your best interests at heart, I'm not saying they're wrong, but they are not seeing either how big you could be no, or the path that you're seeing through the trees. Or sometimes you know, it's not a lottery ticket, sometimes it's just luck and you reach out and with this sharing Lansing example, I'm I can give a million others. It was some connection I had, that I knew she would respond to, you know, you can see someone's Achilles heel, you have a tender spot in your heart that you know that that thread will connect you to them. And if you authentically speak to that, and sometimes your rage, I mean, I've had, you know, knock down fights, not fights, but verbal, with people who I loved and adored, who were eight, we were able to come back around, because we spoke our truth. And we realized we were like, kind of out of sync. When we both heard the other person's point of view. We understood it and got it and we got our friendship back on track and, you know, that could have been derailed, and it's the stronger friendship for it.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:16
And what are three of your favorite films of all time?

Unknown Speaker 1:16:19
Oh, for sure. I have to say my Groundhog Day and Shawshank Redemption.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:24
I was gonna say those two for sure.

Heather Hale 1:16:25
For sure, for sure. But I'll say a couple others. One of my favorites, a little teeny, teeny film, waking that divine love waking that I'm in love with. That is one of my all time favorites. And I have to say this won't be those would be my top three. I'll leave it at that. Those are my top three.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:45
Yeah. Heather, thank you so much for for sharing with the tribe and dropping some very big knowledge bombs on us. It's been an absolute pleasure having you on the show.

Heather Hale 1:16:57
Thank you. It's my honor. And my pleasure. And I hope that everyone learned something, or at least had a good laugh.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:03
Thanks. I really want to thank Heather for dropping some major knowledge bombs about film and television markets on the tribe today. And if you guys have not had the opportunity to go to a market like AFM or Cannes, or MIP, D or MIPCOM, definitely, if you have an opportunity go and do it, even if you have nothing to sell. Just go and understand talk to people understand the process of how independent film and Independent Television series are sold. And the more you understand about that process, and about the business of selling your product, you will be so much more successful and get to your goals faster and faster. Trust me, I learned not only a ton with this as Meg but I had already learned a lot about selling movies and going through that process throughout my career. But I learned so much more just doing with this as Meg as well. And now in the new film on the corner of ego and desire. I'm taking all that knowledge and bringing it to that project. So the more you do, the more you learn, the better it is, I tell you when I went to AFM when I've gone to Toronto, at their mini market, there's so many amazing nuggets of information you can get. So please, if you have an opportunity, do it cuz you will not be disappointed. If you want links to anything we spoke about in this episode including links to Heather's book, head over to indiefilmhustle.com/240. And if you haven't already guys, if you love the show, please head over to filmmakingpodcast.com and leave us a five star review. It really really helps me out a lot helps out the podcast a lot to get it ranked higher, to get more people to see it and listen to this information. So please just head over to filmmaking podcast.com and leave us that five star review. Thank you so much. And as always keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

LINKS

  • Heather Hale – Official Site
  • [easyazon_link identifier=”1138800651″ locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]How to Work the Film and TV Markets: A Guide for Content Creators[/easyazon_link]
  • StoryTellers on WalkAbout

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David Fincher: The Ultimate Guide to His Films & Directing Style

1999 was a watershed year for people in my generation, as it no doubt was for other generations as well. On the eve of the new millennium, we were caught in a place between excitement and apprehension.

The 21st century loomed large with promises of technological and sociological innovations, yet we were beset by decidedly 20th century baggage, like an adultery scandal in the White House or the nebulous threat of Y2K.

This potent atmosphere naturally created its fair share of zeitgeist pop culture work, but no works had more of an impact on the public that year than The Wachowski Brothers’ THE MATRIX and David Fincher’s FIGHT CLUB. I was only in middle school at the time, but FIGHT CLUB in particular captivated my friends and I with the palpable substance behind its visceral style.

As a kid already consumed by a runaway love for movies, FIGHT CLUB was one of the earliest instances in which I was acutely aware of a director’s distinct voice. As such, the films of director David Fincher were among the first that I sought out as a means to study film as an art form and a product of a singular creative entity.

His easily identifiable aesthetic influenced me heavily during those early days, and despite having taken cues from a much larger world of film artists as I’ve grown, Fincher’s unique worldview still shapes my own in a fundamental way.

David Fincher was essentially the first mainstream feature director to emerge from the world of music videos. Ever the technological pioneer, David Fincher innovated several ideas about the nascent music video format that are still in use today. This spirit of innovation and a positive shooting experience on the set of 2007’s ZODIAC eventually led to him becoming a key proponent of digital filmmaking before its widespread adoption.

A student of Stanley Kubrick’s disciplined perfectionism and Ridley Scott’s imaginative world-building, David Fincher established his own voice with a cold, clinical aesthetic that finds relevancy in our increasing dependency and complicated relationship with technology.

David Fincher was born in 1962, in Denver, Colorado. His father, Howard, worked as the bureau chief for LIFE Magazine and his mother, Claire Mae, worked in drug addition facilities as a mental health nurse.

David Fincher spent most of his formative years in northern California’s Marin County (a setting he’d explore in his features THE GAME (1997) and ZODIAC), as well as the small town of Ashland, Oregon. Inspired by George Ray Hill’s BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969), an 8 year-old David Fincher started to make little movies of his own using his family’s 8mm film camera.

Having grown up in a time when film schools were well established, David Fincher—rather interestingly—opted against them in favor of going directly into the workforce under Korty Films and Industrial Light and Magic (where we would work on 1983’s RETURN OF THE JEDI).

It was David Fincher’s time at ILM specifically that would shape his fundamental understanding of and appreciation for visual effects, and his incorporation of ILM’s techniques into his music videos no doubt led to his breakout as a director.

AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: “SMOKING FETUS” (1984)

At the age of 22, David Fincher directed his very first professional work, an anti-smoking ad for the American Cancer Society called“SMOKING FETUS”. Anti-smoking ads are infamous for being shocking and transgressive as a means to literally scare people out of lighting up.

“SMOKING FETUS” was the spot that undoubtedly started it all by featuring a fetus in utero, taking a long drag from a cigarette. The crude puppetry of the fetus is horrifying and nightmarish—an unholy image that delivers a brilliant whallop.

David Fincher has often been called a modern-day Kubrick because of his visual precision and notoriety for demanding obscene numbers of takes—a comparison made all the more salient when given that both men shared a thematic fascination with man’s relationship (and conflict with) technology.

David Fincher’s modeling of his aesthetic after Kubrick’s can be seen even in his earliest of works. Shot against a black background, the fetus floating in space resembles the Star Child of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). “SMOKING FETUS” brought David Fincher to the attention of Propoganda Films, who subsequently signed him on in earnest, effectively launching his career.


RICK SPRINGFIELD: “DANCE THIS WORLD AWAY” (1984)

Due to the strength of “SMOKING FETUS”, 80’s rock superstar Rick Springfield enlisted David Fincher to direct his 1984 concert film, THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM. The responsibility also entailed the shooting of four pre-filmed music videos to incorporate into the live show.

“DANCE THIS WORLD AWAY” features three vignettes: a man dancing amongst the ruins of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a happy-go-lucky TV show for kids, and a ballroom filled with socialites oblivious to the nuclear missile launching from underneath the dance floor. The piece establishes several traits that David Fincher would incorporate into his mature aesthetic like stylized, theatrical lighting, an inspired use of visual effects and elaborate production design.


RICK SPRINGFIELD: “CELEBRATE YOUTH” (1984)

“CELEBRATE YOUTH” is presented in stark black and white, punctuated by bright pops of color like the red of Springfield’s bandana or the indigo of a child’s sneakers. This conceit further points to David Fincher’s familiarity with special effects, as such a look requires the shooting of the original footage in color and isolating specific elements in post production.

The look predates a similar conceit used by Frank Miller’s SIN CITY (both the 2005 film and the comic it was based upon), so it’s reasonable to assume that David Fincher’s video very well could have served as an influence for Miller. “CELEBRATE YOUTH” also highlights David Fincher’s inspired sense of camera movement, utilizing cranes and dollies to add energy and flair to the proceeds.


RICK SPRINGFIELD: “BOP TIL YOU DROP” (1984)

“BOP TIL YOU DROP” tells David Fincher’s first narrative story in the form of a slave revolt inside of a futuristic METROPOLIS-style dystopia. This is Fincher’s earliest instance of world-building, using elaborate creature and set design, confident camera movements and theatrical lighting (as well as lots of special visual effects) to tell an archetypal story of revolution.


RICK SPRINGFIELD: “STATE OF THE HEART”(1984)

Rounding out David Fincher’s quartet of Rick Springfield videos is “STATE OF THE HEART”, which compared to the others, is relatively sedate and low-key in its execution. While the piece takes place inside of a single room, David Fincher still brings a sense of inspired production design in the form of a cool, metallic color palette. Indeed, “STATE OF THE HEART” is the first instance within Fincher’s filmography of the cool, steely color palette that would later become his signature.


THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM (1984)

All of the aforementioned music videos, while capable of acting as standalone pieces, were produced for eventual incorporation into Rick Springfield’s larger concert film, THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM.

With his first feature-length work, David Fincher more or less follows the established format of concert films—performance, audience cutaways, wide shots that give us the full scope of the theatrics, etc. He makes heavy use of a crane to achieve his shots, partly out of necessity since he can’t exactly be on-stage, yet it still shows a remarkable degree of confidence in moving the camera on David Fincher’s part.

And while it probably wasn’t Fincher’s idea or decision, THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM contains a pretty blatant Kubrick nod in the form of a guitarist wearing Malcolm McDowell’s iconic outfit from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971).

The concert film format doesn’t allow much room for David Fincher to exercise his personal artistic voice, but he does manage to add a few stylistic flourishes in the form of visual effects that were added in after the live filming.

He adds a CGI blimp hovering over the stage, as well as fireballs that erupt from various places throughout the stadium (several audience cutaways appear blatantly staged to accommodate the inclusion of these effects).

Despite being something of a time capsule for ridiculous 80’s hair rock, it’s a high quality romp through Springfield’s discography that briskly clips along its brief 70 minute running time without ever really sagging.

Fincher’s involvement with THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM wasn’t going to net him any opportunities to transition into features, but it did generate a significant amount of buzz for him in the music video and commercial world, where he’d spend the better part of a decade as one of the medium’s most sought-after directors.

The success of THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM (1984), director David Fincher’s feature-length concert film for Rick Springfield, led to a very prolific period of music video assignments for the burgeoning auteur. In three short years, David Fincher established himself as a top music video director, held in high regard and higher demand by the biggest pop artists of the era. It was the golden age of music videos, and Fincher was the tastemaker at the forefront developing it into a legitimate art form.


THE MOTELS: “SHAME” (1985)

In his early professional career, Fincher’s most visible influence is the work of brothers Ridley and Tony Scott, two feature directors who were quite en vogue at the time due to blockbuster, high-fashion work like BLADE RUNNER (1982) and THE HUNGER (1983). Tony in particular was a key aesthetic influence, with David Fincher borrowing the English director’s love for theatrical lighting and the noir-ish slat shadows cast by venetian blinds.
For The Motels’ “SHAME”, Fincher makes heavy use of this look in his vignette of a woman stuck in a motel room who dreams of a glamorous life outside her window. Because computer-generated imagery was still in its infancy at the time, Fincher’s penchant for using special effects in his music video work is limited mostly to compositing effects, like the motion billboard and the fake sky behind it.


THE MOTELS: “SHOCK” (1985)

David Fincher’s second video for the Motels features lead singer Martha Davis as she’s chased by an unseen presence in a dark, empty house late at night. The concept allows Fincher to create an imaginative lighting and production design scheme.“SHOCK” also makes lurid use of Fincher’s preferred cold color palette, while a Steadicam rig allows David Fincher to chase Martha around the house like a gliding, ominous force. This subjective POV conceit echoes a similar shot that David Fincher would incorporate into his first feature, 1992’s ALIEN 3, whereby we assume the point of view of a xenomorph as it chases its victims down a tunnel. The piece also feature some low-key effects via a dramatic, stormy sky.


THE OUTFIELD: “ALL THE LOVE IN THE WORLD” (1986)

By 1986, David Fincher’s music video aesthetics were pretty well-established: cold color palettes, theatrical lighting schemes commonly utilizing venetian blinds, and visual effects. While The Outfield’s “ALL THE LOVE IN THE WORLD” was shot on film, David Fincher embraces the trappings of the nascent video format by incorporating tape static and a surveillance-style van.


THE OUTFIELD: “EVERY TIME YOU CRY” (1986)

David Fincher’s second video for The Outfield in 1986, “EVERY TIME YOU CRY”, is a concert performance piece a la THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM. Like the latter’s incorporation of rudimentary visual effects, here Fincher uses the technology to replace the sky with a cosmic light show and add in a dramatic moonrise.


HOWARD HEWETT: “STAY” (1986)

In “STAY”, a piece for Howard Hewett, David Fincher makes use of another of Tony Scott’s aesthetic fascinations—billowing curtains. He projects impressionistic silhouettes onto said curtains, giving his cold color palette some visual punch.


JERMAINE STEWART: “WE DON’T HAVE TO TAKE OUR CLOTHES OFF” (1986)

While Jermaine Stewart’s “WE DON’T HAVE TO TAKE OUR CLOTHES OFF” is a relatively conventional music video, David Fincher’s direction of it is anything but. The core aesthetic conceit of the piece is the playful exploration of aspect ratio boundaries. David Fincher conceives of the black bars at the top and bottom of your screen as arbitrary lines in physical space, so when the camera moves to the side, those lines skew appropriately in proportion to your perspective. He takes the idea a step further by superimposing performance elements shot in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio over the main 2.35:1 anamorphic footage, giving the effect of visuals that transcend the constraints and the edges of their frame.

You can watch the video here.


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (1988-1990)

Throughout the 80’s, David Fincher became a director in high demand thanks to his stunning music videos. As he crossed over into the world of commercials, his imaginative style and technical mastery began to command the attention of studio executives, who desired to see his visceral aesthetic to features. During the late 80’s and early 90’s, Fincher churned out some of his most memorable music video work and worked with some of the biggest stars around.


YM MAGAZINE “HER WORLD” (1988)

While his “SMOKING FETUS” spot for the American Cancer Society in 1984 was his first commercial, Fincher’s “HER WORLD”, a spot commissioned by Young Miss Magazine, kicked off his commercial directing career in earnest. The spot stars a young, pre-fame Angelina Jolie walking towards us, clutching a copy of YM Magazine as several cars painted with the words “sex, “love”, “work”, “family”, and others zip and crash around her in a ballet of violence. Even when working in the branding-conscious world of advertising, Fincher is able to retain his trademark aesthetic (indeed, you don’t hire someone like Fincher if you want a friendly, cuddly vibe). His characteristic cold color palette is accentuated by stark lighting and slick streets. An eye for stylized violence that would give 1999’s FIGHT CLUB its power can be glimpsed here through the jarring collisions of the cars.


Alien 3 (1992)

The runaway success of director James Cameron’s ALIENS sequel in 1986 turned the property into a major franchise for Twentieth Century Fox. Executives wanted to strike with a third ALIEN film while the iron was hot, but coming up with the right story proved tricky.

Adding to the threequel’s film’s development woes, a revolving door of writers and directors experienced immense frustration with a studio that was too meddlesome with its prized jewel of a franchise.

In a long search for an inexperienced, yet talented, director that they could control and micromanage, Fox settled on David Fincher—a rising star in the commercial and music video realm with a professed love for the ALIEN franchise and its founding director, Ridley Scott.

Fincher jumped at the offer to direct his first feature film, but in retrospect it was a naïve move that almost destroyed his career before it even began. His supreme confidence and bold vision clashed with the conservative executives, causing a long, miserable experience for the young director.

He eventually disowned ALIEN 3, abandoning it to flail and die at the box office. However, as Fincher has grown to become recognized as one of America’s major contemporary auteurs, his debut has undergone something of a reappraisal in the film community, with fans choosing to see the good in it instead of the bad.

More than twenty years after its release, ALIEN 3’s legacy to the medium is that it makes a hard case against the kind of filmmaking-by-committee that meddlesome studio executives still impose on gifted visionaries to this day.

ALIEN 3 picks up where ALIENS left off, with Lt. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Hicks (Michael Biehn), and Newt (Carrie Henn) resting in cryosleep as their ship, The Sulaco, drifts peacefully through space.

However, in their hibernating state, they are unaware of the fact that an alien facehugger has stowed away onboard their craft. Its attempts to penetrate and impregnate our heroes leads to a fire on deck and the cryosleep chambers are jettisoned away in an escape pod that crash lands on nearby on Fiorina 161, a sulfurous industrial prison planet colloquially known as Fury.

Tragically, Hicks and Newt don’t survive the crash, but Ripley does when she’s discovered by a group of inmates and nursed back to health. Once restored, Ripley finds herself thrust into an all-male, religious extremist culture that hasn’t seen a woman in decades.

Ripley quickly toughens up to counter the sexual aggression of the inmates, but her problems multiply when its discovered that one of the alien xenomorphs has followed her to Fury 161 and is picking off the inmates one by one.

A distress signal is dispatched to a rescue ship, but Ripley and the inmates still have to contend with the xenomorph before help arrives, a task made all the more difficult by the lack of conventional weapons anywhere in the prison facility, as well as the discovery that Ripley is hosting the embryo of a new egg-laying Queen alien inside of her.

In her third performance as Ripley, Weaver yet again transforms the character via a radical evolution into a tough, resilient survivor. Her arc throughout the three films is compelling, and for all the controversies over the film’s storyline, Weaver deserves a lot of credit for never phoning it in when she very easily could have.

Hers is the only familiar face in this hellish new world, save for the mutilated visage of Lance Henriksen’s android Bishop (and his flesh-and-blood counterpart that appears towards the end of the film).

Among the fresh blood, so to speak, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance and Pete Postlethwaite stand out as the most compelling inmates on Fury 161. Dutton plays Dillon, a tough, righteous voice of spiritual authority that the other inmates can rally behind.

Dance plays Clemens, the sensitive, intellectual medical officer who helps Ripley acclimate to this harsh world and harbors a dark secret of his own. The late, great character actor Postlethwaite plays David, an observant prisoner with a high degree of intelligence.

David Fincher’s collaborations with director of photography Jeff Cronenweth in the music video realm led to Fincher hiring his father, the legendary Jordan Cronenweth, as ALIEN 3’s cinematographer. Best known for his work on Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 masterpiece, BLADE RUNNER (itself a huge influence on Fincher’s aesthetic), Cronenweth was being slowly consumed by Parkinsons Disease during filming.

The earliest of ALIEN 3’s several considerable production woes, Cronenweth’s condition deteriorated so quickly that cinematographer Alex Thomson had to step in and replace him only two weeks into the shoot. Despite this setback, ALIEN 3 is a visual stunner that firmly established David Fincher’s uncompromising style in the feature realm.

Fincher’s stark, grungy aesthetic translates well into the theatrical anamorphic aspect ratio format, with the smoky, industrial production design by Norman Reynolds giving Fincher plentiful opportunities to incorporate artful silhouettes and his signature cold, desaturated color palette (only David Fincher can make a palette that deals heavily in oranges and browns feel “cold”).

Fincher’s emphasis on architecture and world-building manifests in a subtle, surprising way—he chooses to shoot a great deal of the film in low angle shots that look up at the characters and expose the ceiling. This creates an air of helplessness that pervades the film, like we’re way over our heads and drowning in despair.

While this hopeless mood ultimately might have contributed to the film’s failure at the box office, it’s an inspired way for David Fincher to communicate a real, tangible world that draws us into it—most sets are built without a ceiling so a lighting grid can be easily installed overhead, but by showing the audience the existence of a ceiling, it subconsciously tells us we are in a place that exists in real life… and that the events of the film could very well happen to us.

Fincher and Thomson’s camerawork in ALIEN 3 is also worth noting. Fincher has always had a firm, visionary command of camera movement, and the considerable resources of studio backing allows him to indulge in sweeping, virtuoso moves that bring a fresh, terrifying energy to the film.

A particular highlight is a tunnel sequence towards the end of the film, where the xenomorph chases the inmates through a huge, twisting labyrinth. David Fincher uses a steadicam that assumes the POV of the Xenomorph as it rages through the tunnels, twisting and spinning at seemingly impossible angles to communicate the alien’s terrifying agility and speed.

The industrial, foreboding nature of Fincher’s visuals are echoed in composer Elliot Goldenthal’s atmospheric score. Instead of using traditional symphonic arrangements, Goldenthal blurs the line between music and sound effects by incorporating non-instruments and electronic machinations into an atonal blend of sounds.

In many ways, this approach proves to be even scarier than a conventional orchestral sound could conjure up. To reflect the medieval, religious nature of Fury 161’s inhabitants, Goldenthal also adapts haunting choral requiems that weave themselves into his tapestry of ominous sounds and tones.

ALIEN 3’s infamous production disasters are well documented, hopefully as a means to ensure that the film industry as a collective learns from the production’s mistakes. These woes began during the earliest stages of pre-production which saw the hiring and resigning of director Renny Harlin before Vincent Ward came onboard for a short period to realize his vision of a wooden cathedral planet populated by apocalyptic monks.

While a semblance of this conceit remains in the finished film, the script was changed radically several times before cameras started rolling, and even then the filmmakers didn’t have a finished version to work from. The ramifications of this were numerous, from actors being frustrated with constantly-changing character arcs, plot inconsistencies, and even $7 million being wasted on sets that were built and never used.

The process was particularly hard on David Fincher, who was constantly fighting a losing battle against incessant studio meddling that overruled his decisions and undermined his authority. Fed up with the lack of respect his vision was being given, the young director barely hung on long enough to wrap production, and walked off entirely when it came time for editing. The fact that he ever decided to make another feature film again after that ordeal is something of a miracle.

Despite constant challenges to his control of the film, Fincher’s hand is readily apparent in every frame of ALIEN 3. A science fiction film such as this is heavily reliant on special effects, a niche that David Fincher’s background at ILM makes him well suited for.

Computer-generated imagery was still in its infancy in 1992, so Fincher and company had to pull off ALIEN 3’s steam-punk vision of hell and the devil through a considered mix of miniatures, puppets, animatics and matte paintings. Some of the earliest CGI in film history is also seen here in the film, in the scene where the skull of the hot-lead-covered Xenomorph cracks under the sudden onset of cold water before exploding.

Fincher’s fascination with technology plays well into the ALIEN universe, where the complete absence of technology—and for that matter, weapons—is used as a compelling plot device to generate suspense and amplify the hopelessness of the characters’ scenario. In order to vanquish the monster, they ultimately have to resort to the oldest form of technology known to mankind: fire.

ALIEN 3 fared decently at the box office, mostly due to franchise recognition and the considerable fan base built up by the film’s two predecessors, but was mercilessly savaged by critics (as was to be expected).

Long considered the worst entry in the series until Jeanne-Pierre Jeunet gave David Fincher a run for his money with 1997’s ALIEN: EVOLUTION, ALIEN 3 has become something of a cult classic as Fincher’s profile has risen. Fans forgave the film of its transgressions because they knew Fincher’s vision had been hijacked and tampered with. They knew that somewhere out there, in the countless reels of film that were shot, David Fincher’s original vision was waiting to be given shape.

In 2003, Fox attempted to make amends by creating a new edit of the film, dubbed the Assembly Cut, for release in their Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set. Fincher refused to participate in the re-edit, understandably, so Fox had to go off his notes in restoring the auteur’s original vision.

The 2003 Assembly Cut differs markedly from the 1992 original, restoring entire character arcs and adding a good 50 minutes worth of footage back into the story. There’s several key changes in this new cut, like Ripley being discovered on the beach instead of her escape pod, the Xenomorph bursting out of an ox (and not a dog), and the removal of the newborn alien queen bursting out of Ripley’s chest as she falls to her death.

The end result is a much better version of the film, giving us greater insight to the characters and their actions. While it doesn’t quite make up for the studio’s stunning lack of respect for Fincher during the making of the film, it ultimately proved that their concerns that the untested young director didn’t know what he was doing were completely unfounded, and were the film’s ultimate undoing.

The experience of making ALIEN 3 would be enough for any director to quit filmmaking forever, but thankfully this wasn’t the end for David Fincher. He would go back to the music video and commercial sector to lick his wounds for a while, but his true feature breakout was just on the horizon.


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (1992-1995)

The abject failure of ALIEN 3 was director David Fincher’s first high-profile disappointment. It nearly made him swear off filmmaking altogether and he publicly even threatened as much— but when the dust settled, Fincher was able to slip back into commercial and music video directing with ease. Working once again in his comfort sphere, David Fincher churned out some of his best promotional work between the years 1992 and 1995.

NIKE: “INSTANT KARMA” (1992)

1992 saw sports gear giant Nike commission Fincher for a trio of commercials. The most well-known of these is “INSTANT KARMA”, which mimics the energetic pace of music videos. David Fincher’s touch is immediately evident here, with his high-contrast look that incorporates key components of his style like silhouettes and a cold color scheme.


NIKE: “BARKLEY ON BROADWAY” (1992)

Nike’s “BARKELY ON BROADWAY” is shot in black and white, a curious choice for a high-profile spot like this. The central conceit of a theatrical stage show lends itself quite well to Fincher’s talent for imaginative production design and lighting. Like “INSTANT KARMA”, “BARKLEY ON BROADWAY” has taken on something of a cult status, especially because of Charles Barkley’s cheeky persona.


NIKE: “MAGAZINE WARS” (1992)

The third spot, “MAGAZINE WARS”, revolves around the conceit of sports magazine covers in a newsstand coming to life and causing a mess. The idea is heavily reliant on visual effects, which comes naturally to David Fincher. While it’s a brilliant idea, it’s one that’s most likely inspired by a similar scene in Gus Van Sant’s feature MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, which had come out only a year earlier.


NIKE: “BARKLEY OF SEVILLE” (1993)

In 1993, Fincher once again collaborated with NBA superstar Charles Barkley on another spot for Nike called “BARKLEY OF SEVILLE” that makes use of some potent old world imagery that David Fincher’s prime influence Stanley Kubrick used so excellently in 1975’s BARRY LYNDON (while also foreshadowing the eerie Illuminati imagery that Kubrick would depict inEYES WIDE SHUT six years later). The piece is textbook Fincher, featuring a dueling orange and blue color palette, theatrical lighting that highlights some excellent production design and casts artful silhouettes.


BUDWEISER: “GINGER OR MARIANNE” (1993)

Also in 1993, Fincher took on two spots for Budweiser beer. The first, “GINGER OR MARIANNE” features young adults playing pool and debating their preferences of old TV character crushes. The pool hall is lit in smoky, desaturated warm tones with high contrast, as per Fincher’s established aesthetic.


BUDWEISER: “CLASSIC ROCK” (1993)

The second Budweiser spot, “CLASSIC ROCK”, features a handful of middle-aged dudes golfing and arguing over their favorite acts. David Fincher utilizes the high contrast natural light on the scenic golf course, supplementing it with a subtle gliding camera as it follows the characters. The result is a pretty conventional, but no less well-crafted, piece of advertising.


CHANEL: “THE DIRECTOR” (1993)

Fincher’s spot for Chanel, called “THE DIRECTOR”, is an excellent example of his “grunge-glam” aesthetic. The piece makes evocative use of its cold, blue color palette and smoky, European urban setting, with the director’s high contrast lighting bouncing off the wet streets and old-world architecture. Fincher’s fondness for revealing the artifice of the shooting process is incorporated into the narrative, as his opening vignette is revealed to be the shoot for a large movie, with the titular director being shown mostly in abstract, silhouette form.

COCA-COLA: “BLADE ROLLER” (1993)

Fincher’s filmography owes a lot to the work of Ridley Scott and his brother, Tony Scott. Ridley’s influence in particular is deeply felt in the fundamental building blocks of David Fincher’s aesthetic, and Fincher’s “BLADE ROLLER” spot for Coca-Cola seems to be directly lifted from Ridley’s visionary sci-fi masterpiece BLADE RUNNER (1982).

We see a dystopian city of the future, characterized by neon lights and Asian architecture, bathed in perpetual smoke and soaked through to the bone. Fincher’s signature high contrast, cold look plays directly into the BLADE RUNNER style, which the young director builds upon by adding his own flourishes like artful silhouettes and a high-energy camera that screams through the cityscape.“BLADE ROLLER” is one of David Fincher’s most well-known commercials, and easily one of his best.


AT&T: “YOU WILL” CAMPAIGN (1993)

It’s not uncommon for advertisers to create entire campaigns with multiple spots centered around a singular idea. In 1993, AT&T wanted to communicate how their technologies were going to be at the forefront of the digital revolution, which would have long-term ramifications for how we live our lives and connect with others.

To convey this message, AT&T hired Fincher—a director well known for his fascination with technology—for their “YOU WILL” campaign. The campaign is a series of seven spots that actually predict many of the things that are commonplace today, albeit in a laughably clunky, primitive form that was the 90’s version of “hi-tech”.

The spots show us various vignettes of people connecting with others through AT&T’s theoretical future tech: GPS navigation, doctors looking at injuries over video-link, video phone calls, sending faxes over tablets, and more. Fincher’s high contrast, cold palette serves him well with this campaign, further enhancing the appeal of this promising technology that aims to transform our lives.

Looking back at these spots over twenty years, it’s easy to laugh at the clunky tech on display, but it’s remarkable how much of it they actually got right.


MADONNA: “BAD GIRL” (1993)

David Fincher’s output during this period of his career was heavily weighted with commercials, but he did make a few music videos, one of which was another collaboration with pop diva Madonna for her track “BAD GIRL”.

The video incorporates some Hollywood talent in the form of Christopher Walken who plays a silent, watchful guardian angel of sorts and supporting character stalwart Jim Rebhorn, who would later appear in Fincher’s THE GAME four years later.

The look of“BAD GIRL” is similar to Fincher’s previous collaborations with Madonna, featuring high contrast lighting, diffused highlights and a smoky, cold color palette. The video is very cinematic, no doubt owing to a large budget afforded by the combined clout of Madonna and David Fincher (as well as Walken’s goofy dancing, seen briefly towards the middle).


LEVI’S: “KEEP IT LOOSE” (1993)

The first of several spots that Fincher would take on for jeans-maker Levi’s, “KEEP IT LOOSE” features the director’s iconic blue color palette as a static background, with a variety of actors composited into the scene dancing wildly and expressing themselves in their hilariously baggy 90’s jeans.


LEVI’S: “REASON 259: RIVETS” (1994)

1994 saw several more Levi’s spots put on Fincher’s plate, with “REASON 259: RIVETS” being the standout. The piece features the cold, blue high contrast look David Fincher is known for, along with a premise centering around tech—in this instance, a machine that is able to punch a single jeans rivet into someone’s nose as a decorative stud. The spot as it exists online currently can’t be embedded, but you can watch it here.


THE ROLLING STONES: “LOVE IS STRONG” (1994)

Fincher’s video for The Rolling Stones’ “LOVE IS STRONG” is shot in high contrast black and white, featuring grungy bohemian types in a smoky, urban setting.

The video shows off Fincher’s natural talent for visual effects, as he composites his actors as giants against various NYC landmarks, using the dwarfed city below them as their own personal playground. It’s a pretty simple concept, but extremely well-executed and staged—a credit to Fincher’s meticulousness.


SE7EN (1995)

In the mid-90’s, a script by newcomer Andrew Kevin Walker called SE7EN (a stylization of “seven”) was making the rounds and generating excitement all over town. Readers and creative executives alike hailed its bold, original storyline and that ending.

That audacious, coup-de-grace ending that nobody saw coming. That ending that could possibly never be put into the finished film and thus had to be rewritten and castrated into oblivion for fear that its inclusion could break cinema itself. Indulgent hyperbole aside, it was the ending that cajoled a young David Fincher back into the director’s seat that he had so publicly sworn off after a catastrophic experience with his debut, ALIEN 3 (1992).

While David Fincher didn’t have enough clout on his own to drop mandates that the original ending would remain as written, his stars (Hollywood heavyweights) Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman did, and they used that clout to back up this untested auteur. As such, Fincher was in an enviable position to infuse this hauntingly original story—free from the baggage of franchise—with his unflinching style and uncompromising vision.

SE7EN takes place in an unnamed, crumbling metropolis of perpetual precipitation and endless blight—an oppressive environment where hope goes to die. Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman), a longtime member of the city’s police force, is in his last week of retirement, with a young, headstrong detective named Mills (Brad Pitt) arriving in town to take his place.

On their first day together, they are called to a murder scene where an obese man has been forced to literally eat himself to death.

Initially assuming it to be another one of the city’s routine murders—business as usual—, a similar scene at a lawyer’s office the next day (where the victim was forced to carve up his own body and the word “greed” is painted on the floor in his blood) prompts a second look at the fat man’s murder scene (where Somerset finds “gluttony” written in grease behind the fridge).

This discovery prompts the detectives to realize that they are in the midst of a killing spree perpetrated by a psychopath who carries out his murders in accordance with the seven deadly sins and leaves behind grisly scenes that taunt and challenge his pursuers. With the days passing and the bodies piling up, Somerset and Mills must race against time to deduce the killer’s identity and stop him before his grand plan reaches its shocking and grisly conclusion.

Morgan Freeman is pitch perfect as the insightful, bookish Detective Somerset—a man haunted by the mistakes of his past and the city that threatens to consume him. His presence lends a great deal of gravitas and authority to the film, grounding the outlandish story developments in reason and logic and making them all the more scarier because of their realism.

Brad Pitt’s performance as the hotheaded, impatient Detective Mills is interesting in that the performance itself tends to be wooden at times but we as the audience are still pulled into his swirling emotional whirlpool.

Perhaps it’s only because Pitt has become such a sublimely subtle actor in the twenty years since that his forcefulness in SE7EN reads now as a younger man struggling with inherent talent but an unpolished craft. Mills’ impatience and stubbornness is well set-up throughout the film—when assigned a handful of heavy philosophical books by Somerset, he opts instead to read the Cliff Notes versions.

Because he takes shortcuts and is quick to action without necessarily thinking things through, he’s in a prime position to be manipulated by Spacey’s John Doe and play into his twisted, murderous scheme.

Speaking of John Doe, Kevin Spacey absolutely murders it as SE7EN’s creepy, calculating killer (puns!). Spacey imbues this psychopath with a degree of intelligence and brilliance that one doesn’t necessarily expect in their garden-variety serial killer.

For Doe, his life’s work IS his life—he has no job or relationships to speak of, only a single-minded focus to complete his grand plan and etch himself permanently into the criminal history books. As evidenced by Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS series, Spacey is at his best under Fincher’s direction, and their first collaboration together in SE7EN results in the actor’s most mesmerizing performance in a career stuffed with them.

While the potency of SE7EN’s story hinges on this trifecta of brilliant performers, Fincher doesn’t skimp in the supporting department either. He enlists Gwyneth Paltrow (who coincidentally was dating Pitt at the time) to play Pitt’s supportive, sweet wife, Tracy.

Paltrow has something of a bland reputation of an actress, but collaborating with auteurs like David Fincher, James Gray, or Paul Thomas Anderson bring out the very best in her and remind us why she’s an excellent actress.

Paltrow takes what could easily be the standard non-confrontational, supporting house wife stock character and infuses it with a creeping pathos and dread— grappling with moral conflict over bringing a child into the dark, overbearing world that Fincher has created on-screen.

In another nod to director Stanly Kubrick’s profound influence on Fincher, FULL METAL JACKET’s (1987) fire-and-brimstone drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey shows up here as Somerset’s weary precinct captain. Additionally, John C McGinley shows up against-type as a militaristically macho SWAT commander, as does Mark Boone Junior as a shady, scruffy informant to Somerset.

To accomplish his stark, pitch-black vision, Fincher enlists the eye of cinematographer Darius Khondji, who is able to translate David Fincher’s signature aesthetic (high contrast lighting, cold color palette, silhouettes and deep wells of shadow) onto the 35mm film image.

The film is presented in the 2.35:1 anamorphic aspect ratio, but in watching some of the film’s supplemental features (and with no other evidence to go on), I’m convinced that Fincher and Khondji didn’t actually shoot anamorphic.

It appears the 2.35:1 aspect ratio was achieved via a matte in post-production, which plays into Fincher’s reputation as a visual perfectionist who uses digital technology to exert control over the image down to the smallest detail. This control extends to the camera movement, which uses cranes and dollies for measured effect, echoing John Doe’s precise, predetermined nature.

In fact, the only time that Fincher goes handheld is during the foot-chase sequence in Doe’s apartment complex and the finale in the desert, both of which are the only moments in the film that the balance of control is tipped out of any one person’s favor, leaving only chaos to determine what happens next.

While SE7EN was filmed in downtown Los Angeles, David Fincher intended for it to stand in for an unnamed East Coast city, which he successfully achieved via a mix of careful location selection and production designer Arthur Max’s vision of oppressive decay.

A never-ending, torrential downpour of rain amplifies Fincher’s signature grunge aesthetic, although its presence was initially less about thematics and more about creating continuity with Pitt’s scenes (who had to film all of his part first before leaving to work on Terry Gilliam’s 12 MONKEYS).

Howard Shore crafts an ominous score that utilizes a particular brassy sound evocative of old-school noir cinema, but its’ in Fincher’s source cue selection that SE7EN’s music really stands out.

He uses a cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” for the opening credits, foreshadowing David Fincher’s later collaborations with NIN frontman Trent Reznor on the scores for THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011).

Other standout cues include a Marvin Gaye track playing in the Mills apartment, and—in another nod to Kubrick—classical arrangements that waft through the cavernous library Somerset conducts his research in.

It’s also worth highlighting SE7EN as Fincher’s first collaboration with Ren Klyce, who would go on create the visceral, evocative soundscapes of Fincher’s subsequent films.

Overall, SE7EN is a supreme technical achievement on all fronts— a fact realized by the studio (New Line Cinema), who then mounted an aggressive awards campaign on the film’s behalf. Only Richard Francis-Bruce’s crisp editing was nominated at the Academy Awards, with neither David Fincher nor his stellar cast getting a nod.

Despite the cast turning in great, truly original performances, it’s apparent that Fincher’s emphasis on the visuals and the technical aspects of the production came at the expense of devoting as much energy and attention to the performances as he probably should have.

The result is a visually groundbreaking film with slightly wooden performances, despite the cast’s best efforts and a first-rate narrative.

An oft-mentioned aspect of SE7EN is its haunting opening credits sequence, designed by Kyle Cooper. The sequence acts as a preview of John Doe’s meticulous psychosis, with jittery text trying to literally crawl away from the disturbing images that we’re shown in quick, rapid succession.

Shot separately from the main shoot after the original scripted opening credits sequence was trashed, the piece both pulls us into this sick, twisted world and prepares us for what comes next. The sequence was shot by late, great cinematographer Harris Savides—who would go on to lens Fincher’s THE GAME (1997) and ZODIAC (2007)—and edited by Angus Wall, who has since become one of David Fincher’s key editors.

Fincher, more so than a great deal of his contemporaries, uses the opening credits of his features to set the mood and the tone of his story in a highly creative and stimulating style. His incorporation of the technique began in earnest with SE7EN, but the practice hails back to the work of Alfred Hitchchock, who pioneered the idea of opening credits as part of the storytelling and not just an arbitrary device to let the audience know who did what.

SE7EN is one of the earliest instances in Fincher’s feature filmography in which his aesthetic coalesces into something immediately identifiable—no small feat for a man at bat for only the second time. The film places a subtle, yet strong emphasis on architecture—specifically, an early twentieth-century kind of civic architecture seen in noir films and old New York buildings (a mix of classical and art deco).

There’s a distinct claustrophobic feeling to the city David Fincher is portraying, which is reinforced by his framing of several shots from a low angle looking up at the ceiling (implying that the walls are closing in around our characters).

Fincher’s fascination with technology is also reflected in a mix of cutting-edge forensic tools and outdated computer systems that are used by the protagonists to find their man. Lastly, a strong air of nihilism marks Fincher’s filmography, with the incorporation of its philosophy giving SE7EN its pitch-black resonance.

Several story elements, like the moral ambiguity of Detective Mills, the rapid decay of the city aided and abetted by uncaring bureaucrats, and the darkly attractive nature of John Doe’s crimes cause a severe existential crisis for our protagonists.

SE7EN was a huge hit upon its release, and put David Fincher on the map in a way that ALIEN 3 never did (or could have done)—precisely because it was an original property in which Fincher could assert himself, free from the excessive studio needling that plagued top-dollar franchises back then (and still today).

This freedom resulted in one of the most shocking thrillers in recent memory, jolting audiences from apathy and re-energizing a fear response that had been dulled by the onslaught of uninspired slasher films during the 80’s.

SE7EN, along with Fincher’s other zeitgeist-y film FIGHT CLUB (1999), is frequently cited as one of the best pictures of the 90’s, perfectly capturing the existential, grungy essence of the decade. Above all, SE7EN is a gift—for David Fincher, another chance to prove himself after the failure of ALIEN 3, and for us, a groundbreaking new voice in the cinematic conversation.

That, my friends, is what was in the box.


THE GAME (1997)

Director David Fincher had built up quite a career for himself in the commercial and music video realm through his association with Propaganda Films. After the breakout success of his feature SE7EN (1995), Fincher was able to leverage this newfound clout into a collaboration with Propaganda for his third feature, a suspenseful puzzle thriller in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock called THE GAME (1997).

THE GAME’s origins are interesting in and of itself, with Fincher actually being attached to direct the script by John Brancato and Michael Ferris as his return to features after his abysmal experience onALIEN 3 (1992). The sudden availability of SE7EN star Brad Pitt forced the production of that film to go first and delayed THE GAME by several years.

Ultimately, this proved to be a good thing, as SE7EN’s runaway success set THE GAME up for similar success with a built-in audience hungry for the visionary director’s next work.

Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is a wealthy investment banker who lives by himself in a huge mansion outside of San Francisco. His solitary existence keeps him at an emotional distance to those around him, a result of some deep emotional scarring that stemmed from his father’s suicide during childhood.

On a particularly fateful birthday (having reached the age his father was when he killed himself), Nick’s brother Conrad (Sean Penn) shows up with an unusual present: the opportunity to participate in a live-action game, organized by an enigmatic entertainment company called Consumer Recreation Services.

Nick ventures over to the CRS offices to indulge his curiosity, but after a rigorous mental and physical evaluation, he’s ultimately deemed unfit to take part in the game.

So imagine his surprise when he arrives home that night to find a clown mannequin in his driveway (placed in the same position that his father was found after jumping off the mansion’s roof), and the nightly news anchor interrupts his television broadcast to address Nick personally and announce the beginning of his “Game”.

Trying to ascertain just what exactly is going on, Nick follows a series of perplexing and macabre clues, eventually encountering a waitress named Christine (Deborah Kara Unger) who may or may not be a part of this Game.

As his life is manipulated to increasingly dangerous degrees, Nick loses control of his orderly lifestyle and begins to question CRS’ true intentions for him—- is this really just a game, or is it an elaborate con designed to drain his considerable fortune and rub him out in the process?

With THE GAME, Fincher has constructed an intricate puzzle for the audience to solve, wisely placing the narrative firmly within Nick’s perspective so that we’re taken along for his wild ride. Because the story is so dependent on shocking twists and turns, subsequent re-watchings can’t replicate the exhilarating experience of seeing it for the first time.

However, Fincher does a great job of peppering clues throughout that are so subtle I didn’t even notice them until my fourth time around, such as Unger’s character being on the periphery of the first restaurant scene without so much as a close-up or wide shot of her face to announce her presence.

Likewise, Nick’s first visit to CRS contains a strange interaction wherein the receptionist appears to give an order to the Vice President of Engineering (played by recently-diseased character actor James Rebhorn)—- why would a receptionist be telling a VP what to do?

These are only two subtle clues in a story that’s absolutely stuffed with them, which makes for something new to find with each re-watching.

Douglas turns in a fine performance as a cold, lizard-like Scrooge archetype. Nicolas Van Orton plays like a subdued, less flamboyant version of WALL STREET’s Gordon Gekko, which works because the distant, calculating aristocrat archetype is one that Douglas can pull off better than anyone.

David Fincher’s casting of Douglas also adds reinforcement to the idea of Fincher as Stanley Kubrick’s heir apparent (Douglas’ father, Kirk Douglas, was also a famous film star who headlined Kubrick’s PATHS OF GLORY (1957) and SPARTACUS (1960).

As the cold, cynical waitress Christine, Deborah Kara Unger is a great foil to Douglas’ character, as well as an inspired female part that resists becoming a conventional “love interest” trope. Her ability to mask her feelings and intentions is crucial to the success of THE GAME, leaving Douglas and the audience constantly trying to figure out where her loyalties lay.

Sean Penn’s role as younger brother Conrad is smaller than his usual performances, but he is no less memorable as a disheveled, mischievous agent of chaos. The late character actor James Rebhorn may have never held the spotlight in his own right, but every one of his performances was never anything less than solid, as can be seen in his performance as the disorganized, CRS VP of Engineering Jim Feingold. Rebhorn’s talents get a chance to truly shine in THE GAME, becoming the human face of the ominous CRS entity and, by extension, the film’s de facto antagonist.

David Fincher also throws in some small cameos in the form of fellow Propaganda director Spike Jonze as a medic towards the conclusion and SE7EN’s Mark Boone Junior as a private investigator tailing Nick.

THE GAME is also Fincher’s first collaboration with the late, great cinematographer Harris Savides in the feature world (they had previously shot a number of commercials together). The anamorphic 35mm film frame is awash in steely blues and teals, accentuated by high contrast lighting that signifies David Fincher’s signature touch. Flashback sequences filmed on 8mm provide a dreamlike nostalgia that appropriately dances along the line of sentimentality and melancholy.

Savides is well-suited to translate Fincher’s vision to screen, ably creating a push-and-pull dichotomy between the sleek polish of Nick’s old money world and the slick CRS offices and the seedy grunge of the back alleyways and slums that Nick’s Game takes him to.

The film is essentially about Nick’s loss of control, which juxtaposes his confused flailing against deliberate, observational compositions and precise dolly movements as a way to echo CRS’ forceful herding of Nick along a predetermined path.

This visual precision is highly reminiscent of Kubrick’s work, and very well may be what it would have looked like if Kubrick had ever decided to make an Alfred Hitchchock thriller. Another nod to Kubrick can see in the video slideshow that Nick watches as part of his initial evaluation, which in and of itself highly resembles its infamous counterpart in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971).

SE7EN’s Howard Shore returns to create the score for THE GAME, crafting an intriguing, brassy sound to reflect the propulsive mystery and peppered with a tinge of melancholy piano that hints at Nick’s inability to move past his father’s death.

David Fincher’s stellar ear for needle drops also results in the incorporation of the White Rabbits’ iconic “Somebody To Love” as a psychedelic taunting mechanism in the scene where Nick arrives at his mansion to find it’s been vandalized with black light graffiti.

All of these elements are tied together by Ren Klyce’s sound design into an evocative sonic landscape that draws us further into the puzzle.

Fincher’s music video work often explored the boundaries of the film frame, transgressing arbitrary lines to see what was being hidden from view. Most of the time, this meant that the artifice of the production process (crew, set facades, equipment, etc.) was made known to the viewer.

THE GAME is an appropriate avenue to explore this idea in feature form because the story concerns itself with what happens when Nick is essentially placed inside of his own movie. This plays out in the form of any close inspection of a given object or development by Nick reveals its inherent fakery and connection to filmmaking.

Christine’s apartment is revealed as a fake set via various set dressing techniques Nick stumbles upon. The hail of gunfire directed at Nick and Christine by masked gunmen is comprised of harmless blanks. Nick’s iconic plunge from the top of a San Francisco skyscraper is cushioned by a giant stunt airbag.

The game Nick has been thrust into is an elaborate, deliberate manipulation of actors and events designed to take him on a film-like character arc and transformation.

To this effect, architecture (another of David Fincher’s thematic fascinations) plays a huge role in the proceedings. Fincher’s locations and sets are always architecturally impressive, and THE GAME doesn’t disappoint in the classical style seen in Nick’s mansion and San Francisco’s financial district, as well as the sleek modernity of CRS’ futuristic offices.

David Fincher often frames his subjects from a low angle in order to show the ceilings—this accomplishes the dual effect of establishing the realism of the space as well as conveying a subtle sense of claustrophobia (a sensation very important to THE GAME’s tension).

Production designer Jeffrey Beecroft makes great use of lines as a way to direct your eye (especially in the CRS headquarters set). These lines subtly point Nick (and by extension, us) in the right direction to go despite the orchestrated chaos around him.

Fincher is able to find several instances within the story to indulge in other fascinations. THE GAME uses technology to striking ends in advancing the plot, like the television magically talking to Nick in his own home, or the hidden video camera lodged inside the clown mannequin’s eye.

A distinct punk aesthetic runs through Fincher’s filmography, with the most literal examples being found in FIGHT CLUB (1999) and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011), but even in a cold-Scrooge-turned-good tale such as THE GAME, David Fincher is able to incorporate elements of punk culture in a natural way (the aforementioned mansion break-in and black light graffiti vandalism sequence).

And finally, Fincher’s approach to the story is informed by a nihilistic sensibility, in that Nick is inherently a cynical, selfish person, along with the prominent theme of suicide and the ultimate revelation of the film’s events as orchestrated manipulations and inherently false.

THE GAME was a modest hit upon its release, bolstered by a compelling story and strong performances that were, in this author’s opinion, much better than those seen in SE7EN. By achieving a balance between engrossing performances and superb technical mastery, Fincher shows off huge growth as a director with THE GAME.

Ultimately, the film itself was somewhat lost in the sea of late 90’s releases, and for the longest time it languished on a bare-bones catalog DVD with a neglected transfer. Thankfully, THE GAME has undergone something of a cultural reappraisal with the release of The Criterion Collection’s outstanding Blu Ray transfer.

Now, THE GAME is often referenced among film circles in the same breath as his best work, and is fondly remembered as one of the best films of the 1990’s (alongside SE7EN and FIGHT CLUB). For David Fincher, THE GAME cemented his reputation as a great director with hard edge and reliable commercial appeal.


FIGHT CLUB (1999)

1999’s FIGHT CLUB was the first David Fincher film I ever saw, and it became a watershed moment for me in that it was absolutely unlike any movie I had ever seen. Granted, I was only in middle school at the time and hadn’t quite discovered the world of film at large beyond what was available in the multiplex.

FIGHT CLUB was one of the earliest experiences that turned me on to the idea of a director having a distinct style, a stamp he could punch onto the film that claimed it as his own. My own experience with FIGHT CLUB was easily dwarfed by the larger reaction to the film, which has since become something of an anthem for Generation X—a bottling up of the 90’s zeitgeist that fermented into a potent countercultural brew.

Coming off the modest success of 1997’s THE GAME, director David Fincher was in the process of looking for a follow-up project when he was sent “Fight Club”, a novel by the groundbreaking author (and Portland son) Chuck Palahniuk.

A self-avowed non-reader, David Fincher nonetheless blazed through the novel, and by the time he had put the book down he knew it was going to be his next project. There was just one problem—the book had been optioned and was in development at Twentieth Century Fox, his sworn enemies.

Their incessant meddling and subterfuge during the production of Fincher’s ALIEN 3(1992) made for a miserable shooting experience, ultimately ruined the film, and nearly caused Fincher to swear off feature filmmaking forever.

This time, however, he would be ready. He was now a director in high demand, having gained significant clout from the success of SE7EN (1995), and he used said clout to successfully pitch his vision of FIGHT CLUB to Laura Ziskin and the other executives at Fox.

The studio had learned the error of its ways and was eager to mend relations with the maverick director, so they allowed him a huge amount of leeway in realizing his vision. Armed with the luxury of not having to bend to the whims of nervous studio executives, David Fincher was able to fashion a pitch-black comedy about masculinity in crisis and the battle between modern commercialism and our primal, animalistic natures.

The novel takes place in Wilmington, Delaware (home to the headquarters of several major credit card companies), but Fincher sets his adaptation in an unnamed city, mostly because of legal clearance reasons (which would have been a nightmare considering how much FIGHT CLUB disparages major corporations and institutions).

Our protagonist is the unnamed Narrator (Edward Norton), an insomniac office drone obsessed with Swedish furniture and support groups for serious, terminal diseases he doesn’t have. He finds in these support groups an emotional release and a cure for his insomnia, achieving a stasis that props him up while pushing down the nagging feeling that he’s wasting his life away.

His world is up-ended by the arrival of the acidic Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), a fellow support group freeloader that confounds his perceived progress at all turns.

Constant travel because of his job as a recall analyst for a major car manufacturer provides some relief, and it is on one particular flight home that he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), whose effortless cool is unlike anything the Narrator has found in his so-called “single-serving” flight companions. Upon returning home, he finds his apartment has blown up due to mysterious circumstances. With nowhere else to turn, the Narrator calls up Tyler on a whim, who offers him a place at his ramshackle squatter mansion on the industrial fringes of town.

As the two men bond, they discover a cathartic release from an unexpected source: fighting. They channel this release into the founding of an underground brawling organization called Fight Club, where similarly culturally disenfranchised men can get together and unleash their primal side in bareknuckle grappling matches.

Soon, the duo’s entire outlook on life and masculinity changes, with the Narrator in particular taking charge of his own destiny and liberating himself from his perceived shackles at work.

In Fight Club, they have tapped into something very primal within the male psyche—a psyche subdued in the wake of rampant commercialism, feminism, and political correctness, just itching to be unleashed.

Fight Club grows larger than Tyler or The Narrator had ever hoped or expected, with satellite chapters popping up in other cities and the purpose of the secretive club evolving to include acts of domestic terrorism and anarchy.

When The Narrator finds himself losing control of the monster that they’ve created, he comes into mortal conflict with Tyler, who has gone off the deep end in his attempts to fundamentally and radically change the world.

Norton brings a droll, dry sense of humor to his performance as the Narrator, a medicated and sedate man who must “wake up”. In what is one of his most memorable roles, Norton ably projects the perverse, profoundly morbid thoughts of his character with sardonic wit and a sickly physicality. This frail, scrawny physicality is all the more remarkable considering Norton had just come off the production of Tony Kaye’s AMERICAN HISTORY X (1998), where made him bulk up with a considerable amount of muscle.

In his second collaboration with David Fincher after their successful team-up in SE7EN, Brad Pitt also turns in a career highlight performance as Tyler Durden, a soap salesman and anarchist with a weaponized masculinity and radical, seductive worldview that he is fully committed to living out.

His character’s name and persona have entered our pop culture lexicon as the personification of the unleashed, masculine id and the grungy, counter-commercial mentalities that defined the 1990’s.

Helena Bonham Carter counters the overbearing masculinity of David Fincher’s vision while oddly complementing it as Marla Singer, the very definition of a hot mess. Marla is a cold, cynical woman dressed up in black, Goth affectations.

Her aggressive feminine presence is an appropriate counterbalance to Tyler Durden’s roaring machismo, as well as serves to highlight the film’s homoerotic undertones. Meat Loaf, a popular musician in his own right, plays Bob—a huge, blubbering mess with “bitch tits” and a cuddly demeanor, while Jared Leto bleaches his hair to the point of anonymity in his role as a prominent acolyte of Durden’s (and thorn in the side of The Narrator).

To achieve FIGHT CLUB’s oppressively grungy look, David Fincher enlists the eye of cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, the son of legendary DP Jordan Cronenweth (who had previously worked with Fincher on ALIEN 3). The younger Cronenweth would go on to lens several of Fincher’s later works due to the strength of their first collaboration on FIGHT CLUB.

The film is shot on Super 35mm and presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, but it wasn’t shot anamorphic—it was instead shot with spherical lenses in order to help convey the gritty tone Fincher intended. Indeed, FIGHT CLUB is easily David Fincher’s grungiest work to date—the image is coated in a thick layer of grime and sludge that’s representative of the toxic philosophies espoused by its antihero subjects.

The foundation of FIGHT CLUB’s distinct look is built with Fincher’s aesthetic signature: high contrast lighting (with lots of practical lights incorporated into the framing), and a cold, sickly green/teal color tint. David Fincher and Cronenweth further expanded on this by employing a combination of contrast-stretching, underexposing, and re-silvering during the printing process in order to achieve a dirty, decaying look.

The production of FIGHT CLUB also generated some of the earliest public reports of Fincher’s proclivity for shooting obscene numbers of takes—a technique also employed by David Fincher’s cinematic forebear, Stanley Kubrick.

Both men employed the technique as a way to exert control over their actors’ performances and wear them down to a place of naturalistic “non-acting”. While this earns the ire of many a performer, it also earn as much respect for a director willing to sit through the tedium of dozens upon dozens of takes in order to really mold a performance in the editing room.

In a career full of visually dynamic films, FIGHT CLUB is easily the most volatile and kinetic of them all. Fincher employs a number of visual tricks to help convey a sense of surrealist reality: speed-ramping, playing with the scale of objects (i.e, presenting the contents of a garbage can as if we were flying through the Grand Canyon), and Norton’s Narrator breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly (a technique he’d later use to infamous effect in Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS series).

Production designer Alex McDowell supplements David Fincher’s grimy vision with imaginative, dungeon-like sets in which to house this unleashed sense of masculinity, all while countering the sterile, color-less environments of the Narrator’s office and apartment.

Interestingly enough, the Narrator’s apartment is based almost exactly off of Fincher’s first apartment in (soul-suckingly bland) Westwood, an apartment he claims that he had always wanted to blow up.

THE GAME’s James Haygood returns to sew all these elements together into a breathtaking edit with manic pacing and psychotic energy, creating something of an apex of the particular sort of music-video-style editing that emerged in 90’s feature films.

FIGHT CLUB might just be the farthest thing (commercially-speaking) from a conventional Hollywood film, so it stands to reason that a conventional Hollywood score would be ill-fitting at best, and disastrously incompatible at worst. This mean that Howard Shore, who had scored David Fincher’s previous two features, had to go.

Really, ANY conventional film composer had to go in favor of something entirely new. In his selection of electronic trip-hop duo The Dust Brothers, Fincher received a groundbreaking score, comprised almost entirely of drum loops and “found” sounds. I have almost every note from that score memorized—I used to listen to the soundtrack CD almost every day during high school as I did my homework.

And then, of course, there’s The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?”: a rock song that will live in infamy because of its inclusion inFIGHT CLUB’s face-melting finale. Sound and picture are now inextricably linked in our collective consciousness— I defy you to find someone whose perception of that particular song has not been forever colored by the image of skyscrapers imploding on themselves and toppling to the ground.

The music of FIGHT CLUB is further heightened by the contributions of David Fincher’s regular sound designer Ren Klyce, who was awarded with an Oscar nomination for his work on the film.

A main reason that Fincher responded so strongly to his initial reading of Palahniuk’s novel is that it possessed several themes that David Fincher was fascinated by and liked to explore in his films.

On a philosophical level, the story contains strong ties to nihilism with Tyler Durden’s enthusiastic rejection and destruction of institutions and value systems, and the subsequent de-humanization that stems from Fight Club’s evolved mission objective (which extrapolates nihilistic virtues to their extreme).

The novel’s overarching screed against commercialism also appealed to Fincher, who gleefully recognized the inherent irony in a director of commercials making a film about consumerism as the ultimate evil. David Fincher plays up this irony throughout the film by including lots of blatant product placement (there’s apparently a Starbucks cup present in every single scene).

This countercultural cry against commercialism and corporate appeasement is inherently punk, which is yet another aesthetic that Fincher has made potent use of throughout his career.

With FIGHT CLUB, David Fincher also finds ample opportunity to indulge in his own personal fascinations. His background at ILM and subsequent familiarity with visual effects results in an approach that relies heavily on cutting-edge FX.

This can be seen in the strangest sex sequence in cinematic history, which borrows the “bullet-time” photography technique from THE MATRIX (1999) to turn Pitt and Carter into enormous copulating monuments that blend and morph into one single mass of biology.

The idea of stitching numerous still photographs to convey movement (where the traditional use of a motion picture camera would have been impractical or impossible) also allows Fincher to rocket through time and space, such as in the scene where we scream from the top of a skyscraper down to find a van packed with explosives in the basement garage.

Architecture also plays in important role, with Durden’s decrepit (yet organic) house on Paper Street resembling the grand old Victorian houses in LA’s Angelino Heights juxtaposed against the faceless, monolithic city skyscrapers that are destroyed in the film’s climax.

Here, as in his earlier features, David Fincher tends to frame his subjects from a low angle looking up—this is done as a way to establish the realism of his sets and locations while imbuing the subjects themselves with an exaggerated sense of power and authority.

FIGHT CLUB also contains Fincher’s most well-known opening credits sequence: a dizzying roller-coaster ride through the Narrator’s brain.

Beginning with the firing of impulses in the fear center, the camera pulls back at breakneck speed, with our scale changing organically until we emerge from a pore on Norton’s sweat-slicked forehead and slide down the polished nickel of the gun barrel lodged in his mouth.  It’s an incredibly arresting way to start a film, and prepares us for the wild ride ahead.

Finally, FIGHT CLUB allows David Fincher to really play with the boundaries of his frame and reveal the inherent artifice of the film’s making. This conceit is best illustrated in two scenes. The first is the “cigarette burns” projection-room scene where the Narrator reveals Tyler’s fondness for splicing single frames of hardcore pornography into children’s films by explaining the projection process to the audience in layman’s terms.

This scene is present in the novel, but Fincher’s approach of it is further informed by his own experience working as a movie projectionist at the age of 16, where he had a co-worker who collected random snippets of a given film’s most lurid moments into a secret envelope.

The second scene in question is Tyler’s infamous “you are not your fucking khakis” monologue to camera, whereby his intensity causes the film he is recorded onto to literally wobble and expose the film strip’s sprocket holes. The effect is that of the film literally disintegrating before our eyes—the story has gone off the rails and now we’re helpless to do anything but just go along for the ride.

David Fincher’s terrible experience with the studio on ALIEN 3 directly contributed to FIGHT CLUB being as groundbreaking and shocking as it was. When studio executives (most notably Laura Ziskin) inevitably bristled at the sight of David Fincher’s bold, uncompromising vision in all its glory, their attempts to tone it down were blown up in their faces by a director who had already been burned by their tactics once before and was one step ahead of their game.

A great example of this is Ziskin asking David Fincher to change a controversial line (Marla Singer telling Tyler Durden that she wants to have his abortion), which David Fincher responded to by agreeing to change the line under the condition that it couldn’t be changed any further after that. Ziskin quickly agreed, because how could anything be worse than that?

Imagine her outrage, then, when Fincher came back with Marla’s line changed to “I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school” and she couldn’t do anything to change it back. Once David Fincher knew how to play his meddlesome executives to his benefit, he became truly unstoppable.

FIGHT CLUB made its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and its worldwide theatrical run was met with polarized reviews and box office disappointment. Quite simply, audiences were not ready for Fincher’s abrasive vision.

However, it was one of the first films to benefit from the DVD home video format, where it spread like wildfire amongst eager young cinephiles until it became a bona fide cult hit. It probably couldn’t have been any other way— FIGHT CLUB was made to re-watch over and over again, to pore over all the little details and easter eggs that David Fincher and company peppered throughout to clue us into the true nature of Tyler Durden’s existence.

FIGHT CLUB’s release also had real-world implications in the formation of actual underground fight clubs all across the country. In mining the dramatic potential of a fictional masculinity crisis, FIGHT CLUB tapped into a very real one that was fueled by a noxious brew of feminism, political correct-ness, the new millennium, metrosexuality and frat-boy culture (a subgroup that glorified the carnage and violence while ironically failing to recognize the film’s very palpable homoerotic undertones and thus assuming them into their own lifestyle).

Fifteen years removed from FIGHT CLUB’s release, the film stands as the apex of the cynical pop culture mentality of the 1990’s, as well as a defining thesis statement for a cutting-edge filmmaker with razor-sharp relevancy

If you want more inside info on the making of Fight Club, take a listen to the IFH Interview with FC screenwriter Jim Uhls.


PANIC ROOM (2000)

The expansive, sprawling nature of FIGHT CLUB’s story meant that director David Fincher spent a great deal of the film’s production in a van traveling to and from the film’s four hundred locations. Naturally, he wished to downscale his efforts with his next project and find a story that took place in a single location.

He found it in a screenplay by David Koepp called PANIC ROOM, inspired by true stories of small, impenetrable fortresses that New York City’s wealthy elite were building for themselves inside their homes. Because the story lent itself so well to an overtly Hitchockian style of execution and form, David Fincher approached PANIC ROOM (2002) as an exercise in pure genre, refusing to “elevate” the material with the infusion of potent allegory and subtextual thematics like he had done with FIGHT CLUB or SE7EN (1995).

The film is expertly constructed in a way that only Fincher could have envisioned, with top-notch filmmaking on par with any of his best work. However, PANIC ROOMwas somewhat lost in the noise of 2002’s other releases, and thus doesn’t enjoy the same cherished status of David Fincher’s higher-profile work (despite the argument that it should).

Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) is a recently divorced single mom, looking for a new home in Manhattan for her and her young daughter, Sarah (Kristen Stewart). They are shown a beautiful, expansive brownstone complete with cathedral ceilings, original crown molding, and a panic room—a hidden concrete room outfitted with survival and communications tech and designed as a refuge in the event of a home invasion.

Despite Meg’s misgivings that the property is simply too much house for the two of them, she buys it anyway. As Meg and Sarah sleep during their first night in the house, three burglars—Junior (Jared Leto), Burnham (Forest Whitaker), and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam) break inside.

Meg and Sarah are awakened by the commotion, and instinctually barricade themselves in the panic room. Any assurance of safety soon vanishes when Meg realizes that she never hooked up the panic room’s dedicated phone line, along with the revelation that what the burglars are after—millions of dollars in US bonds—is hidden in a floor safe underneath their feet.

What ensues is a suspenseful, contained thriller that would make Hitchcock green with envy as Meg and Sarah fend off this trio of unpredictable male intruders who will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Jodie Foster is compelling as lead heroine Meg Altman, a fiercely maternal woman whose initial mild-mannered-ness gives way to a resourceful, cunning bravery. Interestingly, Foster replaced original actress Nicole Kidman, who had to leave the production due to the aggravation of an earlier injury (she still has a voice cameo as Meg’s ex-husband’s new girlfriend).

Despite the short notice, Foster exhibited enormous dedication to the role by giving up her chair on the Cannes Film Festival Jury as well as working through the pregnancy of her second child. Kristen Stewart, who was only eleven at the time of filming, turns in a great performance as Sarah, Meg’s punk-y daughter with a cynical attitude and intelligence beyond her years.

Stewart provides a nice balance to Meg’s refined femininity with a rough, tomboyish and androgynous quality (something which Foster had herself at Stewart’s age). In making the character of Sarah a diabetic, Stewart is able to become an active participant in the suspense and engage us on a personal, visceral level.

The three burglars prove just as compelling as our female protagonists due to a complex combination of values and virtues that causes conflict between them. The most accessible of the three is Forest Whitaker as Burnam, a professional builder of panic rooms and a sensitive, honorable man who projects a warm, authoritative presence.

This complex physicality is essential to the success of the role, and Fincher’s choice of Whitaker, who he previously knew not as an actor but as a fellow director at Propaganda Films, is an inspired one. Burnham is compelled not by greed but by obligation to his family, meaning that while he’s misguided in his attempts to right his wrongs, he’s not beyond saving.

His antithesis is Raoul, a mysterious, volatile man who quickly asserts himself as the group’s dangerous wild card. Raoul is played by Dwight Yoakam, a country singer turned actor who injects a great deal of menace to the proceedings.

Jared Leto, who previously appeared in David Fincher’s FIGHT CLUB in a small role, benefits from the expanded screen presence that the character of Junior affords him. Junior is the self-designated leader of the operation, but he quickly finds control of the situation slipping from his grasp as the night unfolds.

Leto finds an inspired angle into what would otherwise be the stock hotheaded, impatient villain archetype by turning Junior into a trust-fund kid who’s ill-advised attempts at giving himself some edge (take those atrocious dreadlocks, for instance) only lead to the hardened criminals he’s trying to impress taking him less seriously.

PANIC ROOM, like all of Fincher’s pre-ZODIAC (2007) feature work, was filmed in the Super 35mm film format. While shot open-matte in the full-frame Academy aspect ratio, the finished film is presented on the widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio so that David Fincher had total freedom to compose the frame as he saw fit. He did it this way, as opposed to shooting in the anamorphic aspect ratio, because he apparently hates the limited lens choices and shallow depth of field that plagues the anamorphic process.

Fincher hired Darius Khondji, who had previously shot SE7EN, but Khondji left the production two weeks into the shoot due to creative differences with David Fincher’s meticulously planned and extensively pre-visualized approach (which stifled any on-set spontaneity). Cinematography duties were then passed on to Conrad W. Hall (not to be confused with his father, the legendary Conrad Hall who shot ROAD TO PERDITION (2002) and COOL HAND LUKE (1967)).

Hall Junior proves adept at replicating Fincher’s signature aesthetic via a high-contrast lighting scheme and a cold color palette whereby traditionally warm incandescent bulbs glow a pale yellow and the harsh fluorescents of the panic room take on a blue/teal cast. Fincher’s mise-en-scene is dotted with practical lights, creating an underexposed, moody image that is bolstered by a “no light” approach—meaning that David Fincher and Hall sought as much darkness as they could get away with, primarily using the extremely soft light afforded by kino-flo rigs.

A highlight of PANIC ROOM’s look is a constant, fluid, and precise camera that glides and floats through the house, as if unfettered by the limitations of human operation. This technique is achieved through the combination of the Technocrane and CGI that stitches multiple shots into one, seamless move.

The best example of this in the film is the virtuoso long take that occurs as the burglars break into the house. We first see them arrive, and swoop through the house as they try various entry points, all the while taking the time to show us Meg and Sarah asleep and unaware of the impending danger.

This shot would have been impossible to achieve before the rise of digital effects, a revolution that Fincher helped usher in due to his familiarity with the process from his days at ILM.

Because of his natural grasp on digital filmmaking tech, he is able to turn this incredibly complicated shot into a “thesis” money shot that condenses his entire visual approach to the film into a single moment while effortlessly establishing the geography of the house and orienting us for what’s to come.

As I mentioned before, the extensive location shoots and setups required by FIGHT CLUB resulted in Fincher desiring a singular, contained scenario for his next project. In developing PANIC ROOM, he realized he wanted to create the entire house as a studio set (a la Alfred Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW (1954) so that he could exert complete control.

Toward that end, he hired SE7EN’s production designer, Arthur Max, to construct the full-featured house inside a large soundstage as one continuous structure whose walls could be flown out to accommodate a camera gliding through the set.

Max’s work here is nothing less than masterful, as nary a seam of the complicated construction exposes itself throughout the entire film. The same could be said of the fluid edit by Fincher’s regular editor James Haygood, working in collaboration with Angus Wall.

Wall had previously edited bits and pieces of David Fincher’s commercial work, as well as the opening credits to SE7EN, but PANIC ROOM is Wall’s first feature editing job for David Fincher, and his success here has to led to continued employment in Fincher’s later features.

After a brief hiatus taken during the production of FIGHT CLUB, composer Howard Shore returns to David Fincher’s fold with a brassy, old-school score that oozes intrigue and foreboding.

During this time, Shore was consumed with scoring duties for Peter Jackson’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, so PANIC ROOM was an assignment taken on precisely because of its low musical demands.

As it turns out, Shore’s work in PANIC ROOM is generally regarded as some of his best and most brooding. The score is complemented by a superb sound mix by David Fincher’s regular sound designer, Ren Klyce.

When done right, genre is a potent conduit for complex ideas and allegory with real-world implications. PANIC ROOM is essentially about two women fending off three male home invaders, but it is also about much more: the surveillance state, income equality, the switching of the parent-child dynamic…. the list goes on.

A visionary director like David Fincher is able to take a seemingly generic home invasion thriller and turn it into an exploration of themes and ideas. For instance, PANIC ROOMaffords Fincher the opportunity to indulge in his love for architecture, letting him essentially design and build an entire house from scratch.

The type of architecture that the house employs is also telling, adopting the handsome wood and crown molding of traditional brownstone houses found on the East Coast.

Architecture also serves an important narrative purpose, with the story incorporating building guts like air vents and telephone lines as dramatic hinging points that obstruct our heroes’ progress and build suspense.

Again, David Fincher employs low angle compositions to reveal the set ceiling in a bid to communicate the location’s “real-ness” as well as instill a sense of claustrophobia.

Fincher’s fascination with tech is woven directly into the storyline, which allows him to explore the dramatic potential of a concrete room with a laser-activated door and surveillance cameras/monitors.

The twist, however, is that despite all this cutting-edge technology (circa 2002, provided), both the protagonists and the antagonists have to resort to lo-fi means to advance their cause. Another aesthetic conceit that David Fincher had been playing with during this period is the idea of micro-sized objects sized up to a macro scale.

In FIGHT CLUB, this could be seen with the shot of the camera pulling back out of a trashcan, its contents seemingly as large as planets.

Fincher echoes this conceit in PANIC ROOM via zooming in on crumbling concrete until it’s as big as a mountain, diving through the gas hose as the burglars pump propane gas into the panic room, and jumping inside the glass enclosure of a flashlight to see a close up of the bulb spark on and off.

David Fincher ties this visual idea in with another signature of his films—imaginative opening credits sequences.  With PANIC ROOM, he places his collaborators’ names against the steel and glass canyons of New York City, as if the letters themselves were as big as skyscrapers and had always been a part of their respective structures.

As interesting of an idea it is, I’m not sure the large scope that these credits imply fully gels with a movie that’s so self-contained and insular.  And finally, the punk/nihilistic flair that hangs over David Fincher’s filmography has a small presence in Kristen Stewart’s androgynous punk stylings, as well as the appearance of The Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious on one of her t-shirts.

Fincher’s desire to exert total control of the shoot via meticulous set-building and extensive computer pre-visualization ended up working against him, making for a long, strenuous shoot bogged down by technical difficulties and slow advancement.

However, the effort was worth it—PANIC ROOM became a box office hit upon its release, receiving generally positive reviews.  As a lean, mean thriller, PANIC ROOM is incredibly exhilarating and well-made; perhaps even one of the best home invasion films ever made.

More importantly, PANIC ROOM would be the last feature that David Fincher ever shot on celluloid film (as of this writing).  The 2000’s would bring the swift rise of digital filmmaking, a technology that Fincher—as a noted perfectionist and control-freak—would swiftly embrace.

PANIC ROOM closes the book on the first phase of David Fincher’s feature career (marked by gritty, subversive fare shot on film), heralding the arrival of a new phase that would solidify Fincher’s legacy amongst our most prestigious filmmakers


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (2002-2007)

After the release of director David Fincher’s fifth feature, PANIC ROOM (2002), he took a five-year hiatus from feature work. However, this doesn’t mean he was lounging poolside with margaritas for half a decade.

He was hard at work in other arenas: prepping a sprawling film adaptation of the infamous San Francisco Zodiac murders during the 70’s, as well as taking on select commercial and music video work. During this five-year period, David Fincher created some of his highest profile (and most controversial) short-form work.

Fincher’s 2002 spot for Adidas, called “MECHANICAL LEGS” is a great little bit of advertising done in the classic David Fincher visual style: high contrast lighting, steely color palette and a constantly-moving camera.

The entire piece is a digital creation, featuring a pair of disembodied robot legs exhibiting superhuman agility and speed as they test out a new pair of Adidas sneakers. Fincher’s flair for visual effects and dynamic compositions really makes the spot effective and, more importantly, memorable.


COCA-COLA: “THE ARQUETTES” (2003)

I remember this particular ad, Coca-Cola’s “THE ARQUETTES” when it came out, as it received a lot of airplay based on the popularity of the titular couple following Courtney’s successful run on FRIENDS as well as their combined appearances in Wes Craven’s SCREAM films.

Of course, I had no idea David Fincher was behind the spot when I first saw it, but having grown accustomed to his aesthetic, I can easily spot it now. It’s evident in the desaturated warm tones that favor slightly colder yellows instead of typical oranges, as well as the high contrast lighting. The spot’s tagline, “True Love”, is poetically tragic now after the couple’s divorce in 2011.


XELEBRI: “BEAUTY FOR SALE” (2004)

In 2004, Fincher was commissioned by Xelebri to realize a stunning concept in the spot for “BEAUTY FOR SALE”. The piece takes place in a futuristic world, filled with the imaginative production design and world-building Fincher is known for, and bolstered by the visually arresting conceit of normal people wearing supermodel bodies as costumes (achieved through clever CGI and other visual effects). A cold color palette and high contrast lighting wraps everything up into a neat little David Fincher package.


HEINEKEN: “BEER RUN” (2005)

Fincher’s spot for Heineken called “BEER RUN” is also a commercial that I remember quite well from its initial run, primarily due to the fact that it was a big, lavish Super Bowl ad. The piece stars Fincher’s regular feature collaborator Brad Pitt as himself, adventurously trekking out into the urban night for a case of Heineken while avoiding the hordes of paparazzi.

Visually, a green/yellow color cast is applied over the image which accentuates the high contrast lighting and evokes not only the color branding of Heineken itself, but David Fincher’s FIGHT CLUB (1999). Dynamic camera movement and the inclusion of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” over the soundtrack further point to Fincher’s confident vision.


NINE INCH NAILS: “ONLY” (2005)

Fincher’s only music video during this period was created for Nine Inch Nails’ single “ONLY”. Fincher had already been associated with NIN frontman Trent Reznor due to the inclusion of a remix of Reznor’s “Closer” in the opening credits toSE7EN (1995), but this is the first instance of the two men working together directly. This is notable because Reznor would go on to become a regular composer for David Fincher, beginning with 2010’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK and continuing to the present day.

Interestingly, the video is presented in the square 4:3 aspect ratio, but the look is classic Fincher: high contrast lighting, a steely/sterile grey color palette and a constantly-moving camera that gives the simple concept a dose of electric energy.

The concept serves Fincher’s fascination for tech, with a Mac laptop acting as the centerpiece to this 21st century orchestra. CGI is used to inspired effect in incorporating sound waves on the surface of coffee, as well as conveying Reznor’s face and performance via those needle-art slabs that were popular during the era.


MOTOROLA: “PEBL” (2006)

In 2006, David Fincher reteamed with his cinematographer on THE GAME (1997), the late Harris Savides, to shoot a commercial for Motorola called “PEBL”. The spot tracks the long, slow erosion of a rock until it becomes so smooth that is adopts the form factor of Motorola’s Pebl mobile phone.

Fincher uses CGI in the form of meteors, craters, and weather to portray eons of time in only sixty seconds. This spot was filmed with digital cameras, and is credited with giving Fincher and Savides to adopt the format for the production of their next feature collaboration, 2007’s ZODIAC.


ORVILLE REDENBACHERS: “REANIMATED” (2007)

A commercial recently started airing that digitally recreates the late Audrey Hepburn, and understandably caused a lot of furor. There’s a huge ethical debate about using CGI advancements to bring long-dead celebrities back to life, a debate that more or less began in 2007 when David Fincher and Orville Redenbachers had the audacity to bring Orville himself back from the dead to hawk some popcorn.

I understand advancing the technology so that it can be used for necessary purposes (i.e, finishing the performance of an actor who died during production like Paul Walker), but the final effect is never truly convincing. It’s mildly upsetting at best, and pants-shitting horrifying at worst.

Here, Fincher’s familiarity with effects works against him, with his excitement at bringing dear old Orville back from the dead perhaps blinding him to the resulting “uncanny valley” effect. “REANIMATED”is easily one of Fincher’s most controversial videos, and for good reason.


LEXUS: “POLLEN” (2007)

Another spot that’s heavily-reliant on CGI, Lexus’ “POLLEN” is set inside of a greenhouse that was created entirely in the digital realm. Here, David Fincher is able to exact total control over his image and dial in a high contrast, steely color palette that highlights the car’s streamlined design.

The main takeaway from this period of Fincher’s career is his experimentation with digital cameras and acquisition would result in his overall confidence in the format and its future. Once he shot the majority of ZODIAC on digital, his film days were basically over.

His early adoption transformed him into the poster boy for the cinematic potential of the nascent digital format on a large, blockbuster scale.


ZODIAC (2007)

I’ve written before in my essays on Paul Thomas Anderson and The Coen Brothers about how 2007 was a watershed year in modern cinema. That specific year saw the release of three films that are widely considered to be the best films of the decade, the apex of efforts by specialty studio shingles like Paramount Vantage and Warner Independent.

Mid-level divisions like these flourished during the Aughts, with studios putting up considerable financial backing into artistic efforts by bold voices in an attempt to capture the lucrative windfall that came with awards season prestige.

It was a great time to be a cinephile, but it was also ultimately an unsustainable bubble—a bubble that would violently pop the following year when these shingles shuttered their doors and studios turned their attention to blockbuster properties and mega-franchises (ugh) like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

As an eager student in film school, 2007 was a very formative year for me personally. It was the year that Anderson’s THERE WILL Be BLOOD and The Coens’ NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN were released, but those films are not the focus of this article. This particular essay concerns the third film in the trifecta, David Fincher’s masterful ZODIAC.

When the film was released, I was already a David Fincher acolyte and had been awaiting his return to the big screen five years after PANIC ROOM. As I took in my first screening of ZODIAC on that warm, Boston spring afternoon, I became acutely aware that I was watching a contender for the best film of the decade.

ZODIAC’s journey to the screen was a long, arduous one—much like the real-life investigation itself. The breakthrough came when writer James Vanderbilt based his take off of Robert Graysmith’s book of the same name.

From Graysmith’s template, Vanderbilt fashioned a huge tome of a screenplay that was then sent to director David Fincher—helmer of the serial-killer-genre-defining SE7EN (1995)—basically out of respect.

Fully expecting Fincher to pass, Vanderbilt and the project’s producers were quite surprised to learn of the director’s interest and connection to the material— but Fincher himself wasn’t surprised in the least. He remembered his childhood in the Bay Area, where Zodiac’s unfolding reign of terror was the subject of adults’ hushed whispers and his own captivated imagination.

In an oblique way, ZODIAC is an autobiographical and sentimental film for David Fincher—a paean to an older, more idyllic San Francisco whose innocence was shattered by the Zodiac murders and ultimately lost to the negative economic byproducts of rampant gentrification.

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ZODIAC spans three decades of San Francisco history, beginning in 1969 and ending in 1991. The focusing prism of this portrait is the sense of paranoia and panic that enveloped the city during the reign of terror perpetrated by a mysterious serial killer known only as The Zodiac. Simply murdering people at random is a scary enough prospect to shake any city to its foundations, but Zodiac’s command of the media via chilling correspondence sent to newspaper editors and TV stations allowed him to disseminate his message and strike mortal fear into the heart of the entire state of California.

At the San Francisco Chronicle, crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) takes up the Zodiac beat and finds an unlikely ally and partner in plucky cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), whose familiarity with pictorial language and messages aids in the endeavor to decode the Zodiac’s cryptic hieroglyphics.

Meanwhile, Inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) is breathlessly canvassing the populace and questioning hundreds upon hundreds of suspects in an effort to crack the Zodiac case, only to find frustration and confusion at every turn.

As the months turn to years, Zodiac’s body count continues to rise—until one day, it stops entirely. Time passes, nobody hears from the Zodiac for several years and the city moves on (including the increasingly alcoholic Avery).

That is, with the exception of Graysmith and Toschi, whose nagging obsession continues to consume them whole. With each passing year, their prospects of solving the case drastically decreases, which only amplifies their urgency in bringing The Zodiac to justice before he slips away entirely.

What sets ZODIAC apart from other serial-killer thrillers of its ilk is its dogged attention to detail. Fincher and Vanderbilt built their story using only the facts—eyewitness testimony, authentic police documentation and forensics evidence.

For instance, the film doesn’t depict any murder sequence in which there weren’t any survivors to provide accurate details about what went down. Another differentiating aspect about the film is the passage of time as a major theme, conveyed not only via on-screen “x months/years later” subtitles but also with inspired vignettes like a changing cityscape and music radio montages over a black screen.

ZODIAC’s focus lies in the maddening contradiction of factual accounts that stymied real-life investigators and led to missed clues and dead-end leads. The true identity of The Zodiac was never solved, and the film goes to painstaking lengths to show us exactly why that was the outcome.

ZODIAC attempts to deconstruct the larger-than-life myth of its namesake, but it also can’t help exaggerating him in our own cultural consciousness as the serial killer who got away—a modern boogeyman like Jason or Freddy that transcends the constraints of time and could pop up again at any time to resume his bloody campaign.

ZODIAC centers itself around a triptych of leads in Gyllenhaal, Downey and Ruffalo. The author of the film’s source text, Robert Graysmith, is depicted by Gyllenhaal as a goody-two-shoes boy scout and single father who throws himself into a downward spiral of obsession.

His sweet-natured pluckiness is the antithesis of the hard-boiled, cynical detective archetype we’ve come to expect from these types of films. Downey, per usual, steals every scene he’s in as the flamboyant, acid-witted Paul Avery. Ruffalo more than holds his own as the detail-oriented police inspector in a bowtie, David Toschi (whose actions during the Zodiac case inspired the character of Dirty Harry).

These three unconventional leads ooze period authenticity and help to immerse the audience into the story for the entirety of its marathon three hour running time.

By this point, Fincher had built up such an esteemed reputation for himself that he could probably cast any actor he desired. With ZODIAC’s supporting cast, Fincher has assembled a, unexpected and truly eclectic mix of fine character actors. John Carroll Lynch plays Arthur Lee Allen, the prime suspect in Toschi and Graysmith’s investigation.

Lynch assumes an inherently creepy demeanor that, at the same time, is not overtly threatening. Lynch understands that he has a huge obligation in playing Allen responsibly, since the storyline effectively convicts him as the Zodiac killer posthumously (when it may very well be not true at all).

When the Zodiac killer is seen on-screen, you’ll notice that it’s not Lynch playing the role. David Fincher wisely uses a different actor for each on-screen Zodiac appearance as a way to further cloud the killer’s true identity and abstain from implicating Allen further than the storyline already does. Additionally, this echoes actual survivor testimonies, which were riddle with conflicting and mismatching appearance descriptions.

Indie queen Chloe Sevigny plays the nerdy, meek character of Melanie. As the years pass in the film, she becomes Graysmith’s second wife and grows increasingly alienated by his obsession. She possesses a quiet strength that’s never overbearing and never indulgent.

Brian Cox plays San Francisco television personality Melvin Belli as something of a dandy and honored member of the literati. His depiction of a well-known local celebrity oozes confidence and gravitas. Elias Koteas plays Sergeant Mulanax, an embattled Vallejo police chief, while Dermot Mulroney plays Toschi’s own chief, Captain Marty Lee.

PT Anderson company regular Phillip Baker Hall appears as Sherwood Morrill, an esteemed handwriting analyst whose expertise is thrown into question as he succumbs to an escalating alcohol problem. Comedian Adam Goldberg appears in a small role as Duffy Jennings, Avery’s sarcastic replacement at The Chronicle, and eagle-eyed Fincher fanatics will also spot the presence of Zach Grenier, who played Edward Norton’s boss in FIGHT CLUB (1999).

ZODIAC is a very important film within Fincher’s filmography in that it marks a drastic shift in his style, ushering in a second act of creative reinvigoration fueled by the rise of digital filmmaking cameras and tools that could match celluloid pixel for crystal.

Fincher’s early adoption became a tastemaker’s vote of confidence in a fledgling technology and substantially bolstered the rate of adoption by other filmmakers.

Having shot several of his previous commercials on digital with THE GAME’s cinematographer Harris Savides, David Fincher was confident enough that digital cameras could meet the rigorous demands of his vision for ZODIAC and subsequently enlisted Savides’ experience as insurance towards that end.

Shooting on the Thomson Viper Filmstream camera in 1080p and presenting in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Fincher is able to successfully replicate his signature aesthetic while substantially building on it with the new tools afforded to him by digital.

Because of digital’s extraordinary low-light sensitivity, Fincher and Savides confidently underexpose their image with high contrast, shadowy lighting—many times using just the available practical lights, which resulted in moody, cavernous interior sequences and bright, idyllic exteriors. Fincher also is able to create something of a mundane, workaday look that stays within his established color space of yellow warm tones and blue/teal cold casts.

The procedural, methodical nature of the story is echoed in the observational, objective camera movement and editing. David Fincher’s dolly and technocrane work is deliberate and precise, as is every cut by Angus Wall in his first solo editing gig for Fincher having co-edited several of his previous features.

Wall’s work was certainly cut out for him, judging by Fincher’s well-documented insistence on doing as many takes as required in order to get the performance he wanted (it’s not uncommon in a David Fincher film for the number of takes to reach into the 50’s or 60’s).

To my eyes, ZODIAC is quite simply one of the most realistic and authentic-looking period films I’ve ever seen, owing credit to Donald Graham Burt’s meticulous production design. Burt and Fincher aren’t after a stylized, exaggerated vintage look like PT Anderson’s BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997), but rather a lived-in, well-worn, and low-key aesthetic.

Absolutely nothing feels out of place or time. Fincher’s borderline-obsessive attention to historical detail extended as far as flying in trees via helicopter in one instance to make the Lake Berryessa locale look just as it did at the time.

Practical solutions like this were augmented by clever, well-hidden CGI and digital matte paintings that never call attention to themselves. Funnily enough for a film so predicated upon its historical authenticity, David Fincher also acknowledges a surprising amount of artistic license taken with the film’s story— compiling composites of characters and re-imagining real-life events in a bid for a streamlined, clean narrative.

In developing the film, Fincher initially didn’t want to use a traditional score, instead preferring to incorporate a rich tapestry of popular period songs, radio commercials, and other audio recordings.

Toward that end, he used several different styles of music to reflect the changing decades, such as jazz, R&B and psychedelic folk rock like Donavan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man”, which takes on a pitch-black foreboding feel when it plays over the film’s brilliantly-staged opening murder sequence.

Once the film was well into its editing, Fincher’s regular sound designer Ren Klyce suggested that the film could really use some score during key moments.

David Fincher agreed, and reached out to David Shire—the composer of Alan J. Pakula’s ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976), a film that served as ZODIAC’s tonal influence.

Shire’s score is spare, utilizing mainly piano chords to create a brooding suite of cues that echoes the oblique danger and consuming obsession that the story deals in.

The story of ZODIAC is perfectly suited to Fincher’s particular thematic fascinations. Architecture plays a big role, with Fincher depicting San Francisco as a city in transition. He shows cranes on the skyline, holes in the ground waiting to be filled, and most famously, an impressionistic timelapse of the TransAmerica tower’s construction.

This approach extends to his interiors, specifically the Chronicle offices, which slowly transform over the years from a beige bullpen of clacking typewriters and cathedral ceilings to a brighter workspace with low-slung tile ceilings and fluorescent light fixtures (as seen in the well-composed low angle shots that pepper the film).

Nihilism— another key recurring theme throughout David Fincher’s work— pervades the storyline and the actions of its characters. Because they’re unable to solve the mystery and tie things up with a neat Hollywood ending, they either fall into an existential crisis about all their wasted efforts, or they simply lose interest and move on.

Fincher’s exploration of film’s inherent artifice is present here in very meta stylings: film canisters and their contents become promising leads and clues, and the characters get to watch movies about themselves on the screen (Fincher makes a big show of Toschi attending the Dirty Harry premiere). ZODIAC’s unique tone and subtext is perfectly indicative of David Fincher’s sensibilities as an artist, and frankly, it’s impossible to imagine this story as made by someone else.

ZODIAC bowed at the Cannes Film Festival to great views, its praise echoed by a cabal of prominent critics stateside. They hailed it as a masterpiece and Fincher’s first truly mature work as a filmmaker—the implication being that the maverick director was ready to join the Oscar pantheon of Great Filmmakers.

The critics’ high praise hasn’t eroded since either; it consistently ranks as one of the best films of the decade, if certainly not the most underrated. I wish the same could be said of the box office take of its original theatrical run, which was so poor that it only made back its budget when worldwide grosses were accounted for.

Thankfully, the release of Fincher’s director’s cut on home video managed to bring the film a great deal of respect and attention. As a reflection of David Fincher’s strict adherence to facts and eyewitness testimony in making the case for Arthur Lee Allen as the Zodiac, the long-dormant case was actually re-opened by Bay Area authorities for further investigation. When the pieces are put all together, the evidence clearly points to ZODIAC as Fincher’s grandest achievement yet.


THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008)

With some films, there’s an intense connection that you can’t fully explain. It resonates deep inside of you, in that cloud of unconsciousness. At the risk of sounding a little hippy-dippy, director David Fincher’s THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008) is one such film for me. It feels like a life that I’ve already lived before, despite the fact that I’ve never been to the South and I was born too late in the twentieth century to remember most of it.

Yet, there’s something about the film’s eroded-paint interiors in particular that reminds me of a distinct time in my life, a time when I was re-discovering my hometown of Portland, Oregon with new eyes during summer breaks from college.

I only realized it after my most recent viewing, but the film also sublimely foreshadows major developments in my own life: The treasured tugboat upon which Benjamin Button spends a great deal of his early adult years is named The Chelsea (coincidentally the name of my fiancée), and the love of his life is an elegant dancer (again, the soon-to-be Mrs.).

I can’t make it through the film without tearing up a little bit (or a lot), especially during the last montage where David Fincher shows us the smiling faces from Button’s life as Button himself opines in voiceover about how relationships are life’s biggest treasure. The scene utterly slays me. Every. Single. Time.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is based off the F. Scott Fitzgerald book of the same name, published in 1922. A film adaptation had been in development since the 1970’s, associated with a wide variety of big-time Hollywood names like Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and Jack Nicholson.

Due to the storyline of a man aging in reverse, which would require 5 different actors playing Button at various stages of his life, the idea never picked up much steam. A leading role split up between five men wouldn’t appeal to any one movie star, and the studio couldn’t justify the required budget with unknowns. After a while, most executives considered it to simply be one of those great screenplays that never got made.

By the early 2000’s, executives began to realize that CGI technology had caught up with the demand for a single actor to portray Button throughout the ages. They brought FORREST GUMP scribe Eric Roth aboard to try his hand at a new draft, but the project really began generating momentum when Fincher, fresh off his success with 2002’s PANIC ROOM, became involved.

Working with Spielberg’s producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall (in addition to his own regular producer, Cean Chaffin), he developed the film simultaneously with his 2007 feature ZODIAC, which ended up going before cameras first. David Fincher’s creative steerage was instrumental in securing the participation of Brad Pitt, and with the decision to forsake the novel’s original Baltimore setting in favor of New Orleans and its generous post-Katrina tax incentives, the project was finally given the greenlight after decades of development.

Within Fincher’s filmography, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is just that—a curious case. It’s his most honored film, and certainly his most emotionally resonant and powerful. However, the film is not well-liked amongst the film community at large, let alone his devoted fanbase. It is commonly accused of maudlin sentiments, which at the time of its release were at odds with a cynical American mentality wrought by terrorism and an unpopular war abroad.

However, as the long march of time strips the film of the context of its release, its fundamental integrity increasingly reveals itself. Like its sister project ZODIAC, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON makes a strong case for one of the best films of its decade.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is bookended with a framing narrative that concerns an elderly woman named Daisy (Cate Blanchett) lying on her deathbed in a hospital while Hurricane Katrina approaches. She implores her daughter to read her a series of journal entries she’s saved in a box, all of them written by a mysterious man known only as Benjamin Button.

His story begins on the eve of World War 1’s end in New Orleans, where a baby is born with quite the defect: severely wrinkled skin and a frail condition that’s consistent with an old man at the end of his life.

The baby’s mother dies during labor, and the father, wealthy button manufacturer Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng), flees with the baby in horror, abandoning him on the back steps of a nursing home. The home’s caretaker, a fiercely maternal soul named Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) discovers the baby and takes him in as her own, giving him the name of Benjamin.

The child confounds all expectations as he continues growing up into an elderly-looking little boy, appearing better and healthier every day. Benjamin (Brad Pitt) fits right in with the residents of the creaky old nursing home, and they become something of an extended family around him. One day, Benjamin meets a precocious little girl named Daisy, who sense just how different he is, and they begin a lifelong friendship.

As the years give way to decades, Benjamin continues to age in reverse, becoming more youthful and virile as he sets out into the world on a grand adventure that places him against the backdrop of the 20th’s century historical moments.

He becomes a master sailor, battles Nazi submarines in open waters, and even experiences a secret love affair with an old married woman (Tilda Swinton) in Russia. When Benjamin returns home from his adventures, he finds Daisy has grown into a beautiful young woman as well as a successful ballet dancer in New York.

Their attraction towards each other alternates erratically, never overlapping until Daisy’s career is cut short after getting hit by a taxi in Paris. Middle age sets in, and as Daisy becomes acutely aware of her mortality, she and Benjamin finally give in to each other and start a grand romance.

When Daisy announces she’s pregnant, Benjamin becomes withdrawn emotionally—he’s reluctant about becoming a father because as the child grows, he’ll only get younger still and, as he puts it, “(she) can’t raise the both of us”.

As Benjamin’s singularly unique life plays out, the film reveals itself to ultimately be about the heartbreak of age and time. It plays like a melancholic yearning for youth, while at the same praises the experience of life and living it to the fullest with the time you have.

Brad Pitt’s third collaboration with David Fincher is also his most sophisticated. As Benjamin Button, Pitt needs to be able to convey a complex life through all its various stages and differing attitudes. The main through-line of Pitt’s performance is that of a curious innocent, who soaks in everything around him with wide-eyed glee because he was never supposed to live long enough to see it anyway. The majority of Pitt’s performance is augmented by CGI, but his characterization is consistent and his physicality is believable across the spectrum of age. Simply put, Pitt’s performance is a career-best that takes advantage of his off-kilter leading man sensibilities.

Blanchett’s Daisy is an inspired counterpart as a complex character who is both tender and cold, idealistic and practical. Like Pitt, Blanchett must convey the full spectrum of womanhood with her performance, and does so entirely convincingly (with a little help from CGI “youth-inizing” techniques and conventional makeup prosthetics).

Tilda Swinton plays Liz Abbott, Benjamin’s mistress and lover during his short residency in a grand, old Russian hotel. Swinton, like Blanchett, is capable of playing a wide variety of age ranges, and here performs beautifully as an older, sophisticated and worldly woman who introduces Benjamin to the world of caviar and secret love affairs.

As Benjamin’s adopted mother Queenie, Taraji P. Henson is a revelation. She projects a strong, resilient dignity that allows her to essentially run the show at the old folks home Benjamin lives in. Mahershala Ali, better known for his role in Fincher’sHOUSE OF CARDS series, works for the first with the director here as Tizzy, Queenie’s lover and a distinguished, mild-mannered father figure to Benjamin.

Jason Flemyng plays Benjamin’s real father, Thomas Button, as a man besieged by melancholy over how his life has turned out. He’s a rich man, but all of the money in the world couldn’t have prevented his current situation, so he keeps Benjamin at an emotional distance until its time to pass his legacy and wealth on.

And last but not least, Elias Koteas— in his second consecutive performance for Fincher following ZODIAC—plays Monsieur Gateau, a blind clockmaker. Consumed by grief after losing his son to the Great War, Gateau constructs a clock that hangs in the New Orleans train station and runs backwards—thus paralleling Benjamin Button’s own life.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON furthers David Fincher’s foray into the digital realm. Working with a new visual collaborator in cinematographer Claudio Miranda, Fincher once again utilizes the Viper Filmstream camera to establish an all-digital workflow. Indeed, not a single frame of the film was ever printed to film before the striking of release prints.

Acquisition, editing and mastering was done entirely with bits and pixels— ones and zeroes. Presented in David Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the film is easily the director’s warmest-looking picture to date. The frame is tinged with a slight layer of sepia, while the warm tones veer towards the yellow part of the color spectrum and a cold blue/teal cast defines the current-day Katrina sequences.

The incorporation of practical lights into the frame creates a high contrast lighting scheme while making for moody, intimate interiors that evoke the old world feel of New Orleans.
Fincher’s color palette deals mainly in earth tones, which makes the presence of red (see Daisy’s dress during their first romantic date) all the more striking when it finally appears.

Red in general seldom makes an appearance in David Fincher’s work (except for blood, of course), a phenomenon that can be chalked up to Fincher’s self-avowed aversion to the color as it appears on film due to its distracting nature. However, with Daisy’s dress in particular, the costume designers were able to convince Fincher that the distraction served a legitimate story purpose.
For a director well known for his dynamic sense of camera movement, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is a surprisingly sedate affair.

While certain key moments are punctuated with dolly or Technocrane movements, for the most part David Fincher is content to let the frame stay static and allow the performances to take center stage. This approach is bolstered by returning production designer Donald Graham Burt’s exceptional period reconstructions (themselves augmented with CGI and digital matte paintings).

Fincher’s regular editor Angus Wall stitches everything together in a deliberate, meaningful fashion that eschews flash in favor of truth and emotion. Kirk Baxter joins Wall, and would go on to become part of Fincher’s core editing team himself.

For the film’s music, David Fincher collaborates with Alexandre Desplat, who creates an elegiac, nostalgic score that sounds lush and romantic. Desplat’s work stands in stark contrast to the moody, foreboding scores that Howard Shore or David Shire created for Fincher’s earlier films.

Fincher supplements Desplat’s whimsical suite of cues with several historical needledrops that fill out the period: southern ragtime, R&B crooner hits like The Platters’ “My Prayer”, and even The Beatles’ “Twist And Shout”. Above all of these, the incorporation of Scott Joplin’s Bethena waltz stands out as the most powerful and cutting of cues (in my mind, at least). The song is as Old Time Dixie as it comes, but it’s a nostalgic little tune that resonates with me on a very strange level.

I can’t hear it without tearing up a little, and I can’t figure out why besides the obvious beauty of the song. The best way I can describe it as if it’s some remnant from a previous life that only my unconscious soul recognizes—which is an odd thing to say coming from a guy who doesn’t believe in reincarnation.

For a lot of people, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON doesn’t feel like a David Fincher film, mainly because of its overall optimistic and sentimental tone that stands at stark odds with the rest of his emotionally cold, nihilistic filmography. However, the film is right in line with the trajectory of Fincher’s other thematic explorations.

While the passage of time is a key theme specific to the film’s story, it builds upon the foundation that Fincher established in ZODIAC (a story that also took place over the course of several decades). The old world New Orleans setting allows for lots of Victorian/classical architecture in the form of ornate southern mansions and municipal buildings that, as the years tick by, give way to a distinct midcentury modern feel (see the duplex where Benjamin and Daisy’s daughter is born).

And finally, despite being shot on digital, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON plays with the artificial constructs of the film medium. Flashback sequences, like the blind clockmaker scenes and a man getting struck by lightning seven times are treated to look like old silent pictures from the Edison era—jittery frames, contrast fluctuations, and heavy scratches, etc.

These filters, applied in post-production, serve to differentiate the flashbacks from the sumptuously-shot main story, but they also clue in to a curious phenomenon that has risen out of the industry’s quick shift into digital filmmaking: the treating of digital footage to look like film, which is akin to a vegetarian trying to make a soy patty taste just like the chicken he refuses to eat in the first place.

To my memory, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is one of the earliest instances of applying filmic artifacts onto a digitally “pure” image, along with Robert Rodriguez’s PLANET TERROR in 2006.

It’s a commonly held tenet that age softens even the hardest of personalities. The production of THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON saw David Fincher enter middle age and come to grips with his own mortality after the death of his father. As such, the film stands as a testament of an artist looking back on life and softening his edge without sacrificing who he is.

The film’s release in 2008 was met with modest commercial success and polarized reviews, with some deriding it as aFORREST GUMP knockoff while an equally vocal contingent hailed it as a technical triumph and a masterpiece of storytelling.

Fincher had his first real brush with the Oscars after the film’s release, with his direction receiving a nomination in addition to a nomination for Best Picture amongst a slew of actual Oscar wins for its groundbreaking visual effects work in seamlessly mapping a CG face onto a live-action body performance.

The cherry on top of the film’s success was its induction into the hallowed Criterion Collection, which—while met with scorn by Criterion fanboys for its perceived maudlin mawkishness— earned Fincher his place in the pantheon of important auteurs. It is an admittedly easy film to dismiss for cynical reasons, but THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON holds many treasures for those who choose to embrace it.

Like its unique protagonist, the film will persist through the ages precisely because of its poignant insights into the meaning of our fragile, fleeting existence on this earth.


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (2008-2010)

The release of 2008’s THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON found director David Fincher without a follow-up project immediately in the pipeline. His search for new material would eventually lead him to Aaron Sorkin and 2010’s masterful THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but due to the fact that the story wasn’t nearly as development-intensive as his previous film, Fincher was able to squeeze in a few commercials. His most notable work from this brief period consisted of multiple spots done for Nike and Apple, both giants in their respective fields.

NIKE: “SPEED CHAIN” (2008)

One of several spots that Fincher created for Nike in 2008, “SPEED CHAIN” is simply masterful in concept and execution. It depicts the evolution of speed, starting with a snake coming out of the water, morphing into a man, a leopard, a car, and finally a speeding bullet train. The piece is presented in David Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 aspect ratio, as well as his signature cold color palette and dynamic camera movements that are augmented by CGI.


NIKE: “FATE: LEAVE NOTHING” (2008)

“FATE: LEAVE NOTHING” is yet another exceptional piece of advertising, set to a trip-hop remix of Ennio Morricone’s score for THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966) as two young boys grow and develop essential football skills like agility and strength. It all culminates in a key confrontation between the two on the field as they collide with explosive force. Alongside the ever-present visual signatures, the piece is indicative of a major fascination of Fincher’s from this period in his career—the passage of time.


NIKE: “OLYMPICS FILMSTRIP” (2008)

Fincher’s third spot for Nike, “OLYMPICS FILMSTRIP” is heavy on the post-production, framing Olympians in film frames as the strips themselves run and twist through the frame. Shot by THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON’s cinematographer Claudio Miranda in David Fincher’s characteristic steely color palette, the piece also falls in nicely with Fincher’s continued exploration of the film frame’s boundaries and the mechanics of film itself as an artificial imaging medium.


STAND UP 2 CANCER: “PSA” (2008)

Stand Up 2 Cancer’s “PSA” spot features several vignettes in which celebrities (and scores of regular people too) stand up and face the camera—an admittedly literal concept. Several of Fincher’s previous feature collaborators make an appearance here: Tilda Swinton, Morgan Freeman, Elle Fanning, and Jodie Foster. Others, like Susan Sarandon, Keanu Reeves, Casey Affleck, and Tobey Maguire also pop up.


SOFTBANK: “INTERNET MACHINE” (2008)

David Fincher’s “INTERNET MACHINE” is a spot for a foreign cell phone company that, to my knowledge, never aired stateside. It’s a strange piece, and so dark that we almost can’t see what’s going on at all. Cast in a heavy, David Fincher-esque green color tint, Brad Pitt walks down the street and casually talking on his phone— all while CGI cars are blown away by apocalyptic winds behind him.


APPLE: “IPHONE 3G” (2009)

In 2009, Fincher did two spots for Apple’s iPhone line of products. The first, “IPHONE 3G” teases the secrecy that usually surrounds the release of a new iPhone by depicting the complicated security process of accessing the prototype stored within Apple’s laboratories.

The sleek, high contrast and steely look is characteristic of Fincher, but fits in quite sublimely with Apple’s own branding. The colorless set is full of various security tech and looks like something out of a Stanley Kubrick movie, which is fitting for a director whose work is profoundly influenced by him.


APPLE: “BREAK IN” (2009)

“BREAK IN” advertises the imminent release of the 3G’s successor, the iPhone 3GS. This spot echoes the look of “IPHONE 3G” with a similar steely color palette and Kubrick-style set piece, but this time around David Fincher has a little more fun with the storyline and technology on display.


LEXUS: “CUSTOM CAR” (2009)

“CUSTOM CAR”, done for Lexus, is simple in concept and execution, featuring Fincher’s steely, cold, urban aesthetic and fascination with mankind’s relationship to technology—seen here via the convenience of custom car settings that help identify ownership in the absence of visual differentiation.

The piece isn’t available to embed as far as I can tell.


NIKE: “TRAIL OF DESTRUCTION” (2009)

Fincher’s 2009 spot for Nike, “TRAIL OF DESTRUCTION” is incredibly artful in its high contrast, black and white approach. It might be one of the most expressionistic depictions of football I’ve ever seen.

David Fincher’s characteristic use of CGI as a storytelling tool (not just for visual flash) can be seen at the end, where the football player/protagonist retires to the locker room and exhibits a lizard-like skin pattern of scales.


NIKE: “GAMEBREAKERS” (2010)

“GAMEBREAKERS” is all computer-generated, and as such it hasn’t aged as well. It looks more like an old videogame, but perhaps that was the intent. Fincher once again works with cinematographer Claudio Miranda, who shot live-action face elements that were then mapped onto CG bodies. The idea is similar to the tech employed for THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, but reversed and applied to a dynamic action sequence.


THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)

Facebook is easily the biggest, most transformative development of the early twenty-first century. It completely revolutionized how we communicate with each other, how we keep in touch with old friends and family, and even how we use the Internet on a fundamental level. It single-handedly ushered in the era of “Web 2.0” that experts spent most of the 90’s predicting and theorizing about.

The fact that Facebook was born in the dorm room of some Harvard kid meant we had entered a brave, new digital age. We were now in a world that benefitted the young and the savvy, the likes of who didn’t wait to “pay their dues” or obtain a blessing from the old guard before going about casually changing the world.

At the end of the day, however, Facebook is a tool. A product. A collection of ones and zeroes organized just so and projected onto our monitors. So, when it was announced that THE WEST WING creator Aaron Sorkin had written a screenplay based off “The Accidental Billionaires”, Ben Mezrich’s book on Facebook’s turbulent founding, the question on everyone’s minds (as well as the film’s own marketing materials) was: “how could they ever make a movie out of Facebook?”

As Mezrich’s book revealed (and Sorkin’s screenplay built upon), the inside story of Facebook’s genesis was fraught with a level of drama, intrigue, and betrayal normally reserved for Shakespeare.

Sorkin’s script, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, was a high-profile project from day one. It attracted the efforts of top producers like Scott Rudin, in addition to well-known personalities like Kevin Spacey, who signed on to executive produce the film. Directing duties were eventually handed to David Fincher—- the right decision, given that literally nobody else could’ve made this film as masterfully as he has done here.

When THE SOCIAL NETWORK debuted in October of 2010, it enjoyed very healthy box office receipts, mostly due to the name recognition of Facebook as well as a collective curiosity about its eccentric founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Others—like me—simply came to worship at the altar of David Fincher, subject matter be damned.

Because life is unfair, THE SOCIAL NETWORK came close to Oscar glory but was ultimately robbed by some movie about a cussing monarch or whatever that nobody will remember in ten years. There’s a strong case to be made that THE SOCIAL NETWORK is the best film in Fincher’s entire body of work, but that’s a hard case to argue considering the strength of the rest of his filmography.

One thing is for certain: we hadn’t even completed the first year of the Teens before David Fincher had given us a strong contender for the best film of the new decade. THE SOCIAL NETWORK uses Zuckerberg’s deposition hearings as framing devices, allowing for the bulk to story to occur as flashback while the “present-day” sequences orient us in time and space and help keep us on the same page as the characters.

We see Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) under fire from two fronts—Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) are suing him because they believe Facebook was an original idea of theirs that Zuckerberg stole, while Zuckerberg’s former best friend and Facebook CFO is suing him because he cheated him out of millions of dollars that were rightfully his. Fincher then transports us to Cambridge, Massachusetts during the mid-2000’s where Zuckerberg was an undergrad at Harvard.

When his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) dumps him for being a cold, cynical little twerp, Zuckerberg goes home and creates Facemash—a website that compares randomly-generated portraits of female students. The ensuing traffic crashes Harvard’s computer network and gains him a large degree of notoriety among the student body as well as disciplinary action from Harvard’s board.

Word of his antics reach the Winklevoss twins (henceforth known as the Winklevii), who hire him to realize their idea of a Harvard-exclusive social networking site called Harvard Connect while dangling the vague possibility of an invitation to their prestigious Final Club in front of him like a carrot.

But in bouncing their idea off of his friend Saverin, Zuckerberg realizes he has a much better one, disregarding his commission to build Facebook with Saverin instead. The popularity of Facebook explodes around the campus, turning Zuckerberg and Saverin into local celebrities. It’s not long until the site expands its user base to other Ivy League schools as well as Stanford, located right in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Understandably, the Winklevii finds themselves humiliated and infuriated by Zuckerberg’s deceit, and so begin building a nasty lawsuit against him.

Having left Boston for the warmer climes of Palo Alto for the summer, Zuckerberg and Saverin hustle to find more capital for their successful little business, eventually starting a partnership with Napster founder Sean Parker, who helps set them up with meetings with big-time investors as well as some primo office space.

As Facebook is launched into the stratosphere, Zuckerberg finds himself accumulating enemies faster than friends. Much is made in the film about the inherent irony of the creator behind the world’s most successful social networking endeavor losing all of his friends in the process.

This idea is most potent in the major conflict between Zuckerberg and a scorned, exiled Saverin who rages back with venomous litigation after he’s deceived out of hundreds of millions of dollars in potential earnings.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK would live or die on the strengths of its performances, a notion that the technically-minded Fincher recognized and applied to his strategy by putting an unusual amount of focus (for him) on the performances.

Beginning with a generous three weeks of rehearsal time prior to the shoot, and following through with consistently demanding obscene numbers of takes (the opening scene had 99 takes alone), David Fincher led his cast into delivering searing, career-best performances.

The lion’s share of the attention and the film’s only acting nomination at the Oscars went to Jesse Eisenberg’s pitch-perfect performance as Mark Zuckerberg, or rather, the fictional version of the real-life Facebook founder that Sorkin had created. Eisenberg portrays Zuckerberg as a cold genius with sarcastic, antisocial tendencies. He is regularly absent from the present—his mind is elsewhere, preoccupied by his duties back at the office.

At the same time, he can be calculating and ruthless when he needs to be. As Eduardo Saverin—the initial investor and embattled ex-CFO of Facebook—Andrew Garfield delivers a breakout performance. Decent, passionate, and perhaps a little squirrely, Saverin is Zuckerberg’s closest friend and confidant; a brother. But their relationship is a Cain and Abel story, and because of his blind trust that Zuckerberg will do the right thing and look out for him, he inevitably assumes the Abel position.

Pop icon Justin Timberlake— in a performance that legitimized his status as a capable actor— plays Sean Parker, the creator of Napster and Silicon Valley’s de facto “bad boy”. Timberlake easily channels a flashy, cocky, and flamboyant physicality that’s at once both undeniably attractive to Zuckerberg and duplicitously sleazy to Saverin.

Fincher’s casting of Timberlake is quite playful, and he doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to pointing out the irony of a pop star playing a man who single-handedly transformed (some might say ruined) his industry.
Fincher’s eclectic supporting players serve as rock-solid satellites that orbit around the film’s three titanic leads. David Fincher’s series of collaborations with the Mara clan begins here with the casting of Rooney Mara as Erica Albright, Zuckerberg’s ex girlfriend. She’s patient and honest, but in a no-bullshit kind of way that’s not afraid to tell people off and put them in their place.

Mara’s character is presented as a major driving force behind Zuckerberg’s actions, with their breakup becoming the inciting event that drives him to create Facemash in the first place. Mara turns in a spectacular low-profile performance that would lead to high-profile roles in other films, not the least of which was as the lead in Fincher’s next project, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011).

Rashida Jones, better known for her work on PARKS & REC, plays the admittedly thankless role of Marilyn Delpy, an insightful young lawyer in Zuckerberg’s deposition. Her knack for comedy is well documented in her larger body of work, but in THE SOCIAL NETWORK she shows off a fantastic serious side that is consistently realistic.

Armie Hammer’s dual performance as the Winklevoss twins was yet another of the film’s many breakouts. Hammer’s portrayal of the film’s primary set of antagonists required the dashing young actor to not only change his physicality between Tyler and Cameron by mere degrees, but also to undergo the arduous process of motion-capturing his face for its later digital compositing onto the body of actor Josh Pence.

Pence, it should be noted, is the great hero of the piece, as he valiantly forfeited his own performance in service to Fincher’s vision. And last but not least, Joseph Mazzello turns up in his highest-profile role since 1993’s JURASSIC PARK as the anxious, nerdy Dustin Moskovitz— Zuckerberg’s roommate at Harvard and one of Facebook’s founding fathers.

As I’ve grown older and more entrenched in Los Angeles’ film community, I’ve found that my connections to major studio films have become increasingly personal, and my degrees of separation from the prominent directors and actors I admire decreasing exponentially. THE SOCIAL NETWORK is a personal flashpoint then, in that a lot of my friends and acquaintances are a part of the film.

I suppose this is due to the story’s dependence on talent in their early twenties, as well as just being associated with the larger Los Angeles film community at the right time. For instance, my co-producer on my 2012 feature HERE BUILD YOUR HOMES, Josh Woolf, worked on the film as a production assistant and was there during the filming of the aerial title shot with Zuckerberg running across Harvard Square (a shot we’ll address in detail later).

Additionally, an actor friend of mine who I shot a short film with in January 2014, Toby Meuli, plays one of the more-prominent Harvard students during the Facemash sequence. A member of my group of friends from University of Oregon makes a brief appearance during a Final Club party sequence in which he chugs from a bottle of liquor and hands it off to Andew Garfield standing behind him.

I even went to a party in Los Feliz in 2010 that was thrown by the young woman with a pixie cut who was featured prominently during the opening frat party sequence. And finally, Mike Bash—a very close friend of mine—was cast in a great scene that followed the Bill Gates seminar. He was originally the guy who didn’t know that it was actually Bill Gates who was speaking. The scene was initially shot in Boston, but his role was cut when David Fincher eventually decided that he didn’t like how he directed the scene.

Rather than live with what he had, David Fincher reshot the scene in LA with new actors. Naturally, Bash was pretty despondent over his exclusion from the finished product, despite my assurances that he achieved a dream that eludes the grand majority of aspiring (and successful) actors: receiving direction from David Fucking Fincher.

David Fincher’s foray into digital filmmaking soldiers on in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but this time he swaps out the Viper Filmstream camera with its maximum resolution of 1080 pixels for the glorious 4k visuals of the Red One camera.

His FIGHT CLUB cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth, returns to shoot THE SOCIAL NETWORK in Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 aspect ratio, ultimately bagging a Cinematography Oscar nomination for his trouble. Fincher and Cronenweth convey an overall cold tone without relying on the obvious blue side of the color spectrum. Warmer shots are dialed in to a yellow hue, with a prominent green cast coating several shots.

David Fincher’s visual signature is immediately apparent, once again utilizing high contrast lighting and practical lamps that make for dark, cavernous interiors. In shooting the film, Fincher and Cronenweth pursued a simple, unadorned look. Combined with the digital format’s increased sensitivity to light, most lighting setups were reportedly completed in twenty minutes or less.

The camerawork is sedate and observational, containing none of the flashiness of its kindred tonal spirit, FIGHT CLUB. When the camera does move, the name of the game is precision—meaning calculated dolly moves or the motion-controlled perfection of the Technocrane. There’s only one handheld shot in the entire film, when Timberlake’s Parker drunkenly approaches a bedroom door at a house party to find police on the other side.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK marks production designer Donald Graham Burt’s third consecutive collaboration with Fincher—and third consecutive period piece. Thankfully, reconstructing the mid-2000’s isn’t as arduous a process as recreating the 70’s or large swaths of the twentieth century.

The major challenge on Burt’s part was replicating a well-known campus like Harvard in an authentic manner when the school refused to let the production film on their grounds. Shots filmed at Johns Hopkins University, as well as various locations in Los Angeles are unified in time and space by David Fincher’s editing team of Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter.

The director’s adoption of digital techniques extends well into the post-production realm, with any promise of the technology’s ability to make editing easier going right out the window because of Fincher’s preferred shooting style.

Fincher had routinely used two cameras for each setup, effectively doubling his coverage, in addition to regularly demanding dozens upon dozens of takes until he was satisfied. At the end of it all, Wall and Baxter were left with over 268 hours of raw digital footage to sift through—a momentous task made all the more complicated by David Fincher’s tendency to mix and match elements from various takes right down to individual syllables of audio to achieve the cadence of performance he desired.

The new tools that digital filmmaking affords have certainly unleashed Fincher’s control-freak tendencies, but when that same obsession results in his strongest work to date and Oscar wins for his editing team, it can hardly be called a bad thing.

One of the most immediate and striking aspects of THE SOCIAL NETWORK is its unconventional musical score, written by Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor in his first scoring job after a series of casual collaborations with Fincher (SE7EN’s opening credits and the music video for Reznor’s “ONLY”).

Partnering with Atticus Ross, Reznor has managed to create an entirely electronic sound that not only evokes his own artistic aesthetic, but also complements the film’s tone perfectly. Reznor’s Oscar-winning suite of cues is quite spooky, incorporating a haunting droning sound that unifies all the disparate elements. It almost sounds like someone dancing upon a razor’s edge.

The now-iconic main theme uses melancholy piano plunks that recall nostalgia and childhood, slowly getting softer and lost to audio buzz and droning as Zuckerberg strays from innocence. Another standout is a rearrangement of the Edvard Grieg’s classical masterpiece “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” that appears during the Henley Regatta rowing sequence, which sounds as through it were filtered through the manic, electric prism of Wendy Carlos (Stanley Kubrick’s composer for THE SHINING (1980).

Fincher’s go-to sound guy Ren Klyce layers everything into a coherent audio mix that would net him his own Oscar nomination. Klyce and David Fincher’s approach to the sonic palette of THE SOCIAL NETWORK is quite interesting, in that they don’t shy away from mixing in loud music and ambience during crowded scenes like the opening tavern sequence or the midpoint nightclub sequence.

The dialogue is almost lost amongst the loud din of activity, becoming a counterintuitive strategy to invest the audience and signal to them that they’ll really have to listen over the next two hours. Despite being a primarily talky film, the experience of watching THE SOCIAL NETWORK is anything but passive.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK takes all of Fincher’s core thematic fascinations and bottles them up into a singular experience. The director’s opening credits are always inspired, and THE SOCIAL NETWORK is no different (despite being relatively low-key).

Echoing Zuckerberg the character’s composed, plodding nature, David Fincher shows us Eisenberg running robotically through the Harvard campus late at night, which not only establishes the setting well, but also introduces us to the lead character’s relentless forward focus. Treating the text to disappear like it might on a computer screen and laying Reznor’s haunting theme over the whole thing are additional little touches that complete the package.

The title shot in this sequence, where we see Zuckerbeg run through Harvard Square from an overhead, aerial vantage point, also shows off Fincher’s inspired use of digital technology in subtle ways. The shot was achieved by placing three Red One cameras next to each other on top of a building and looking down at the action below.

This setup later allowed Fincher to stitch all three shots into one super-wide panorama of the scene that he could then pan through virtually in order to follow Zuckerberg. It’s insane. It’s genius.

Mankind’s relationship to technology has always been a major staple of David Fincher’s films, a thematic fascination influenced by his forebear Stanley Kubrick. In THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Fincher’s career-exploration of this theme comes to a head as the story’s main engine. The saga of Mark Zuckerberg is inherently about computers, the Internet, our complicated interactions with it, and its effect on our physical-world relationships.

Whereas Kubrick painted technology as dehumanizing and something to be feared, Fincher sees it as something to embrace—- something that distinctly enhances humanity and differentiates one person from the other. In David Fincher’s work, the human element tends to coalesce around the nihilistic punk subculture.

Our protagonist is inherently nihilistic and narcissistic, willing to burn whatever bridge he needs to advance his own personal cause, despite his actions not being fueled by money or power. The story hits on Fincher’s punk fascinations with Zuckerberg’s rebelliousness and devil-may-care attitude, in addition to the overt imagery of antisocial computer hackers and the inclusion of The Ramones’ “California Uber Alles”.

Finally, Fincher’s emphasis on architecture helps to evoke a sense of time and place, mixing in the old-world Harvard brownstones with the sleek modernism of the Facebook offices and deposition rooms that echoes the film’s subtext of the old guard stubbornly giving way to a new order.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK is easily David Fincher’s best-received film. When it was released, it scored high marks both in performance and critical reviews, going on to earn several Oscar nominations and even taking home gold statues for some of the big categories like Editing (Wall & Baxter) and Adapted Screenplay (Sorkin).

Ultimately, Fincher himself lost out on its deserved Best Director and Best Picture awards to THE KING’S SPEECH, but anybody could tell you which of the two films will be remembered in the decades to come. THE SOCIAL NETWORK again finds Fincher operating at the top of his game —a position he’s held since SE7EN even though he only broke through into true prestige with 2007’s ZODIAC.

It may not be an entirely accurate reflection of its true-life subject, but THE SOCIAL NETWORK is a pitch-perfect reflection of what Zuckerberg left in his wake: a society that would never be the same, fundamentally changed by a radical new prism of communication.


THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011)

The late 2000’s was a golden era for young adult fiction in both the novel and film mediums. Just look at the runaway success of the TWILIGHT series or THE HUNGER GAMES—books or films. Doesn’t matter, because they both are equally prominent within their respective mediums. Despite your personal stance on these properties (trust me, I want them gone and buried just as much as you), you can’t deny their impact on pop culture.

During this time, another book series and subsequent set movie adaptations captivated an admittedly older set—Stieg Larsson’s MILLENNIUM trilogy. Named after the muckracking news magazine that central character Mikael Blomvkist works for, the books (and movies) comprise three titles: “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”, “The Girl Who Played With Fire”, and “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”. In 2009, the first of the Swedish film adaptations came out based on “Dragon Tattoo”, featuring newcomer Noomi Rapace in a star-making turn as the series’ cyper-punk heroine, Lisbeth Salander.

As the Swedish film trilogy proved successful both at home and abroad, it was inevitable that the major US studios would remake the property for American audiences. The task fell to Sony Pictures, who set up THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO with super-producer Scott Rudin overseeing a screenplay by esteemed writer Steve Zaillian.

Rudin’s natural choice for a director was David Fincher, who he had previously worked on the very successful THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) with. Fincher was drawn to the story of two mismatched misfits trying to solve a decades old murder, despite his misgivings that he had become the go-to guy for serial killer films after the success of SE7EN (1995) and ZODIAC (2007).

The tipping point came in Fincher’s realization that he would be at the helm of one of the rarest projects in mainstream studio filmmaking: a hard R-rated franchise. As expected, David Fincher delivered a top-notch film with Oscar-caliber performances and effortless style. For whatever reason, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO didn’t connect with audiences, and its lackluster box office performance probably aborted any further plans for completing the trilogy.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is structured differently than most other thrillers, in that it eschews the traditional three-act design in favor of five acts. This might be perhaps why the film floundered in the United States, where audiences have been subliminally conditioned to accept the ebb and flow of three acts as acceptable narrative form.

The film’s first half tells a two-pronged story, with one thread following Mikael Blomvkist (Daniel Craig)—a disgraced journalist who has recently lost a high-profile lawsuit against wealthy industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. After taking some time off from his co-editor gig at news magazine Millennium, he is approached by Henrick Vanger (Christopher Plummer), a rival of Wennestrom’s and a wealthy industrialist in his own right. Vanger brings Blomvkist to his sprawling estate in rural Hedestat under the auspices of authoring a book of his memoirs.

However, the true purpose of Blomvkist’s employment is much more compelling—to try and solve the decades-old case of Henrick’s granddaughter Harriet, who went missing in the 1960’s and is presumed killed.

Blomvkist takes up residence in a guest cottage on the property and dutifully begins poring over the family records and taking testimony from the various relatives, some of who have shady ties to the Nazi Party in their pasts.

Meanwhile in Stockholm, a young computer expert named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) grapples with the fallout of her foster father’s debilitating stroke. She’s forced to meet with state bureaucrats for evaluation of her mental faculties and state of preparedness for life on her own.

Her case worker—a portly, morally-bankrupt man named Yils Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen)—forces her to perform fellatio on him in exchange for rent money, his abuse eventually culminating in Salander’s brutal rape.

However, he doesn’t expect Salander’s ruthlessness and resolve, made readily apparent when she returns the favor and rapes him right back.
Blomvkist requests the help of a research assistant, and in an ironic twist, is paired with Salander—- the very person who performed the background check on him prior to Vanger’s offer of employment.

They make for an unlikely, yet inspired pairing—both professionally as well as sexually. Together, they set about cracking the case, only to discover their suspect is much closer—and much deadlier—than they could’ve imagined.

James Bond himself headlines David Fincher’s pitch-black tale, but it’s a testament to Daniel Craig’s ability that we never are actually reminded of his secret agent exploits throughout the near-three-hour running time.

Craig has been able to avoid the sort of typecasting that doomed others like Mark Hamill or Pierce Brosnan before him, simply because he refuses to let his roles define him. As disgraced journalist Mikael Blomvkist, he projects a slightly disheveled appearance (despite still being an ace fucking dresser). It may not be the most memorable role of his career but he turns in a solid, faultless performance regardless.

The true spotlight goes to Rooney Mara’s cold, antisocial hacker punk, Lisbeth Salander. Mara underwent a radical transformation for the role, even so far as getting real piercings, tattoos, dye jobs, even having her eyebrows bleached.

Considering her previous collaboration with David Fincher was as the squeaky-clean girl-next-door Erica Albright in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Mara’s appearance in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is gut-level arresting.

The depth of Mara’s talent is evident in her unflinching confrontation with the most brutal aspects of her character arc. By giving herself over to the role entirely, she’s able to take a character that was already so well-defined by Rapace in the Swedish versions and make it completely into her own. Her Best Actress nomination at the Oscars was very much deserved.

Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, and Robin Wright round out Fincher’s compelling cast. Plummer is convincing as Henrick Vanger, depicting the retired industrialist as a good-natured yet haunted old man, as well as a bit of a dandy.

Skarsgard’s Martin Vanger is the current CEO of the family business, and his distinguished-gentleman persona cleverly hides his psychopathic, murderous inclinations. Wright plays Erika Berger, Blomvkist’s co-editor at Millennium and his on-again, off-again lover. Wright is by her nature an intelligent and savvy woman, as evidenced not just here but in her subsequent collaboration with Fincher in HOUSE OF CARDS as Kevin Spacey’s Lady MacBeth-ian spouse.
In keeping with David Fincher’s affinity for digital filmmaking technology, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO takes advantage of the Red Epic digital cameras, the next generation of the type that THE SOCIAL NETWORK was shot on.

The film is presented in Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 aspect ratio, but again it is not true anamorphic. Besides being a reflection of David Fincher’s general distaste for the limitations of anamorphic lenses, the shooting of the image in full-frame and the later addition of a widescreen matte in postproduction is a testament to Fincher’s need for control.

This method allows him to compose the frame exactly as he wants, and the Red Epic’s ability to capture 5000 lines of resolution allows him an even greater degree of precision in zooming in on certain details, blowing up the image, or re-composing the shot without any loss in picture quality.

This technology also affords better image stabilization without any of the warping artifacts that plague the process.

Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth returns for his third collaboration with Fincher, having replaced original director of photography Fredrik Backar eight weeks into the shoot for reasons unknown.

Despite his initial position as a replacement DP, Cronenweth makes the picture his own, with his efforts rewarded by another Oscar nomination. David Fincher’s signature aesthetic is very appropriate for the wintery subject matter, his steely color palette of blues, greens and teals evoking the stark Swedish landscape— even warmer tones are dialed back to a cold yellow in Fincher’s hands.

The high contrast visuals are augmented by realistically placed practical lights that suggest cavernous interiors. Fincher’s sedate camera eschews flash in favor of locked-off, strong compositions and observant, calculated dolly work. When the camera moves, it really stands out in an affecting way.

Nowhere in the film is this more evident than in the shot where Craig’s Blomvkist is in the car approaching Vanger’s extravagant mansion for the first time. Presented from the forward-travelling POV of the car itself, the mansion grows larger in the center of frame— the symmetrical framing conceit suggesting ominous perfection.

The fact that the camera is stabilized makes for a smooth foreboding shot that takes any sort of human element out of the equation and replaces it with a fundamentally uneasy feeling. In the commentary for the film, David Fincher cites a favorite book from childhood, Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”—the sequence in which Harker approaches Dracula’s Castle serving as inspiration for his approach to this particular shot.

The connection is certainly not lost on this writer. Like several key shots in Fincher’s larger filmography, the Vanger Estate Approach (as I like to call it) would become a tastemaker shot that has not only been copied in his successive project HOUSE OF CARDS, but in subsequent pop culture works by other artists as well.

Production designer Donald Graham Burt returns for his fourth Fincher film, artfully creating an authentic sense of place in the Swedish locations while showing off his impeccable taste and eye for detail.

Editing team Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter are key collaborators within David Fincher’s filmography, and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO would become their second consecutive Oscar win for editing under the director’s eye.

Their work for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO really utilizes the advantages that digital filmmaking has to offer in realizing David Fincher’s vision and creating a tone that’s moody but yet unlike conventional missing-person thrillers.

Angus and Wall establish a patient, plodding pace that draws the audience deeper into the mystery before they’re even aware of it, echoing Blomvkist’s own growing obsession with the case.

Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and his music partner Atticus Ross reprise their scoring duties, giving the musical palette of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO an appropriately electronic and cold, wintery feeling.

Primarily achieved via a recurring motif of atonal bells and ambient soundscapes, the score is also supplemented by a throbbing, heartbeat-like percussion that echoes Salander’s simmering anger as well as the encroaching danger at hand.

One of Reznor’s masterstrokes is his reworking of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for the opening credits and trailer, featuring vocals by Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O. Given a new coat of industrial electronic grunge, the rearrangement instantly conveys the tone and style of the film.

Fincher’s needledrops are few and far between in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, but one sourced music track stands out because of the sheer audaciousness of its inclusion. In the scene where Skarsgard’s Martin Vanger tortures Blomvkist in anticipation of butchering his prey, he fires up the basement’s stereo system and plays, of all songs, Enya’s Orinoco Flow.

I remember the moment getting a huge laugh in the theatre, and rightfully so—the song is just so cheesy and stereotypically Nordic that it acts as a great counterpoint to the sheer darkness of the scene’s events.

The laughter instead becomes a nervous sort of chuckle, the kind we employ to hide a certain kind of fundamental unease and anxiety. Fincher’s go-to sound guy Ren Klyce was nominated for another Oscar with his standout mix, taking this noxious brew of sounds and turning it into a razor-sharp sonic landscape that complements David Fincher’s visuals perfectly.

On its face, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO doesn’t seem like it would call for a substantial amount of computer-generated visual effects. Fincher’s background in VFX results in the incorporation of a surprisingly large quantity of effects shots.

Almost every exterior shot during the Vanger sequences has some degree of digital manipulation applied to it in the way of subtle matte paintings, scenery extensions and weather elements that blend together seamlessly in conveying Fincher’s moody vision and desire for total control over his visuals.

His affinity for imaginative opening title sequences continues here, in what is arguably his most imaginative effort to date. Set to the aforementioned “Immigrant Song” cover, the sequence plays like a dark nightmare version of those iconic James Bond title sequence, depicting key moments from the film in abstract, archetypical form as a thick black ooze splashes around violently. The choice to incorporate a black on black color scheme is undeniably stylish.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO sees David Fincher at the peak of his punk and technological aesthetic explorations. While not Fincher’s creation, the character of Lisbeth Salander fits in quite comfortably within his larger body of work—the culmination of a long flirtation with punk culture.

She is most certainly the product of the cyberpunk mentality, which values not only rebelliousness but technological proficiency as well. Unlike other depictions of this subculture in mass media, it’s easy to see that Fincher obviously respects it for what it is and aims to portray them in a realistic manner.

He builds upon the downplayed foundation he laid in THE SOCIAL NETWORK here by refusing to generate fake interfaces for Salander to use. He shows Salander actively Googling things, looking up people on Wikipedia, etc—he doesn’t shy away from showing corporate logos and interfaces as they appear in real life.

While a lot of people have a problem with blatant product placement, I can respect a director who doesn’t go out of his way to hide (or aggressively feature for that matter) brands and logos when depicting a realistic world. After all, we live in a world awash with corporate branding, so why pretend it doesn’t exist?

David Fincher’s body of work is defined by a distinctly nihilistic attitude towards story and character, even though I don’t believe he’s nihilistic himself. With THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO in particular, these sentiments are a prominent part of the storytelling.

These protagonists are morally flawed people who aren’t afraid of doing bad things to get ahead. They’re mostly atheists, and they don’t care whether you like them or not. The themes of abuse that run through the narrative also reflect this overarching mentality, playing out in the form of authority figures exerting their influence and selfish desires over the women that depend on them.

We see this reflected both on the bureaucratic level with Salander’s lecherous case worker, as well as on the familial level in Harriet Vanger’s repeated rape and abuse at the hands of her brother and father.

Architecture plays a subtle, yet evocative role in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. One of the core themes of the story is the clash between new Sweden (Salander’s weapons-grade sexual ambiguity and technical proficiency) and old Sweden (the Vanger family’s moneyed lifestyle and sprawling compound).

This clash is echoed in the architecture that Fincher chooses to present. The Vanger estate consists of classical Victorian stylings and rustic cottages; compare that to the harsh lines and modern trappings Martin Vanger’s minimalist cliffside residence (all clean lines and floor-to-ceiling glass), as well as the whole of Stockholm—very much the model of a modern European city. In showing us this duality of place and time, Fincher is able to draw a line that also points us directly to the narrative’s major emphasis on the duality of man.

Despite THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO’s impeccable pedigree and unimpeachable quality, it was a modest disappointment at the box office. It opened at a disadvantage, placing third on its debut weekend and never rising above it during the rest of its run.

There were, of course, the inevitable comparisons to the original series of film adaptations, with purists preferring them over David Fincher’s “remake”.

Having seen Fincher’s version before I ever touched the originals, I quickly found that I couldn’t get through the first few minutes of the Swedish opening installment—Fincher’s execution, to me, was so much more superior in every way that it made the originals look like cheap TV movies of the week.

Unfortunately, we will probably never get to see what David Fincher would have done with the remaining two entries in the series, as the poor box office performance of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO most likely put the kibosh on further installments.

But, as I’ve come to discover again and again since I’ve started this essay series project, time has a way of revealing the true quality of a given work. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is only three years old as of this writing, but the groundswell of appreciation is already growing—hailing the film as the most underrated in Fincher’s filmography and an effort on par with his best work.


HALO 4 “SCANNED” TRAILER (2012)

In 2012, the long-awaited, highly anticipated HALO 4 was released for the Xbox 360. During the buildup to the release, the game-makers enlisted director David Fincher to craft an unconventionally long commercial/teaser trailer.

Titled“SCANNED”, the piece takes on the POV of Master Chief, showing us flashbacks from his life as he was selected for the Master Chief program, surgically enhanced, and let loose into the galaxy to protect Earth. The flashbacks are triumphant in nature, which only underscores the severity of the situation when we cut to the present and reveal Master Chief in captivity, facing off against what appears to be a greater threat than he’s ever encountered.

“SCANNED” is a combination of live-action and all-CG elements, evoking the slick commercial work of David Fincher’s earlier advertising career as well as reiterating his confident grasp on visual effects. The high contrast, cold/blue color palette is one of the piece’s few Fincher signatures, in addition to the focus on the futurist technology required to make Master Chief in the first place. At two minutes long, “SCANNED” is a supersized spot and must have been incredibly expensive. Considering that both the HALO video game series and Fincher have huge fan bases between them, it’s a bit surprising to see that their collaboration here wasn’t hyped more than it was.
There’s not a lot of growth to see on David Fincher’s part here, other than the observation that his long, successful commercial career has made him the go-to director for only the highest-profile spots and campaigns.


HOUSE OF CARDS “CHAPTER 1 & 2” (2013)

Director David Fincher has long been a tastemaker when it comes to commercial American media. His two pilot episodes for Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS, released in 2013, are simply the latest in a long string of works that have influenced how movies are made, how commercials are engineered, and how music videos have evolved.

Due to HOUSE OF CARDS’ runaway success, he has played a crucial part in making the all-episodes-at-once model the indisputable future of serialized entertainment and reinforcing the notion that we’re living in a new golden age of television.

HOUSE OF CARDS had originally been a successful television series in the United Kingdom, so of course it had to be re-adapted for American audiences, who presumably have no patience for British parliamentary politics.

On principle, I think this is a terrible practice that discourages us from learning about other cultures based off the assumption that we’re too lazy to read subtitles. But like Fincher’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011) before it, once in a while the practice can create an inspired new spin on existing work that distinctly enhances its legacy within the collective consciousness.

HOUSE OF CARDS’ origins stretch back to 2008, when David Fincher’s agent approached the director with the idea while he was finishing up THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. Fincher was interested in the idea, and enlisted hisBENJAMIN BUTTON writer Eric Roth to help him executive produce and develop the series.

After shopping it around to various cable networks around town, they found an unexpected home in streaming movie delivery service Netflix, who was in the first stages of building a block of original programming in order to compete with the likes of HBO and Showtime while bolstering their customer base. Along with LILYHAMMER and the revived ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, HOUSE OF CARDS formed part of the first wave of this original programming, which took advantage of Netflix customers’ binge-watching habits by releasing all episodes at once instead of parsing them out over the space of several weeks.

It was (and still is) a groundbreaking way to consume television, and despite the naysayers, the strategy worked brilliantly. Funnily enough, the reunion between Fincher and SE7EN (1995) star Kevin Spacey didn’t occur out of their natural friendship, but because Netflix found in its performance statistics a substantial overlap between customers who had an affinity for David Fincher and Spacey, respectively.

As such, executives at Netflix were able to deduce and mathematically reinforce the conclusion that another collaboration between both men would generate their biggest audience. This also gave them the confidence to commit to two full seasons from the outset instead of adhering to traditional television’s tired-and-true practice of producing a pilot before ordering a full series.

Admittedly, the use of metrics and numbers instead of gut instinct might be a cynical way to approach programming, but in HOUSE OF CARDS’ case, the idea really paid off. Under Fincher’s expert guidance, Spacey has delivered the best performance of his career and HOUSE OF CARDS has emerged as one of the best serialized dramas around, rivaling the likes of such heavyweights as MAD MEN, THE WIRE, and BREAKING BAD.

Fincher directed the first two episodes in the series, which takes place during the inauguration of fictional President Garrett Walker. Walker wouldn’t even be taking the oath of office if it weren’t for the substantial canvassing done by House Majority Whip Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) in exchange for the coveted position of Secretary of State.

After taking office, however, Walker has a change of heart and reneges on his promise. Underwood shows grace and discipline in accepting the President Elect’s decision, but immediately begins scheming how to manipulate his way to the top. He’s simultaneously challenged and reinforced by his wife Claire (Robin Wright), the CEO of a prominent nonprofit and a strong-willed leader in her own right.

On the President’s first day in office, Underwood targets the new nominee for Secretary of State, Michael Kern, via an education reform bill— which is revealed to be radically left-leaning and unacceptable to the public’s interests.

Underwood leaks the bill to the press through Washington Herald reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), whose story on the matter lands on the Herald’s front page and prompts the education reform chairman to step aside and designate Frank himself to head up the authorship of a new bill.

It isn’t long until Underwood manages to unseat Kern by exploiting his handicaps via hardline questions from the press, subsequently installing a pawn of his own as the new candidate. Over the course of the first season, Underwood’s machinations and orchestrations will whisk him up into the upper echelons of power and within a heartbeat of the highest office in the land.

Kevin Spacey has always been a well-respected actor, but his performance as Frank Underwood reminds us of his unparalleled level of talent. Underwood is an unconventional narrator, straddling a line between an omniscient and personal point of view.

A southern gentleman from South Carolina first, a Democrat second, and currently the House Majority Whip (a temporary position, to be sure), Underwood is a ruthlessly calculating and manipulative politician—but at the same time he’s endlessly charismatic and armed with an endless supply of euphemisms and folksy proverbs.

Although Spacey and David Fincher haven’t worked together on this close a scale since 1995, it seems they’re able to slip right into the proceedings with a great degree of confidence and comfort.

Robin Wright, also on her second collaboration with Fincher after THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, plays Underwood’s wife, Claire. Every bit as strong and calculating as her husband, the character of Claire adds a distinctly Shakespearean air to the story by channeling the insidiously supportive archetype of Lady Macbeth.

The CEO of a successful nonprofit firm, Claire pulls her weight around the Underwood household and becomes Frank’s rock during difficult times. Wright does a great job of making Claire inherently likeable and relatable, despite her outwardly cold characterization.

With HOUSE OF CARDS, the Mara family has established something of a dynasty in their collaborations with Fincher. After Rooney’s career-making performances in THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, older sister Kate proves every bit her equal as Zoe Barnes, a wet-around-the-ears journalist for the Washington Herald. Plucky, street smart and ambitious, Barnes is able to use her intelligence as a tool of empowerment just as well as her sex.

Corey Stoll and Mahershala Ali, as Peter Russo and Remy Denton respectively, prove to be revelations that stick out amidst the clutter of David Fincher’s supporting cast. Stoll’s Russo is a politician from East Pennsylvania who has problems with alcohol and drug abuse. He’s severely disorganized and impulsive, despite his promising intelligence and ambition.

Ali’s Denton is almost the exact opposite—super focused, disciplined, and exceedingly principled. Denton is a high-powered lawyer who serves as a great foil to Underwood’s scheming. Ali’s performance also benefits due having worked with Fincher on THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON.

Like all of Fincher’s late-career work, HOUSE OF CARDS is shot entirely digitally, taking advantage of the Red Epic’s pure, clean image to convey the series’ sterile, almost-surgical tone. Instead of hiring a cinematographer he’s worked with before, David Fincher enlists the eye of Eigil Bryld, who ably replicates the director’s signature aesthetic.

The cold, steely color palette has been desaturated to a pallid monotone in its treatment of blues, teals, and greys. Warm tones, like practical lights that serve to create a soft, cavernous luminance in interior chambers, are dialed into the yellow side of the color spectrum.

The aesthetic deviates from Fincher’s style, however, in opting for a much shallower focus—even in wide shots. Curiously, the aspect ratio seems to be fluid from format to format. When streamed on Netflix, HOUSE OF CARDS is presented in 1.85:1, but watching it on Blu Ray, the image appears to be cropped to Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 aspect ratio, making for an inherently more-cinematic experience.

HOUSE OF CARDS plays like an old-school potboiler/espionage thriller, featuring shadowy compositions and strategic placement of subjects in his frame that are reminiscent of classic cloak-and-dagger cinema.

The camera work is sedate, employing subtle dolly work when need be. The effect is a patient, plodding pace that echoes Underwood’s unrelenting focus and forward-driven ambition. Perhaps the most effective visual motif is the inspired breaking of the fourth wall, when Spacey pulls out of the scene at hand to monologue directly to camera (which makes the audience complicit in his nefarious plot).

Spacey delivers these sidebar moments with a deliciously dry wit, enriching what might otherwise be a stale story of everyday politics and injecting it with the weight of Shakespearean drama. The foundation of this technique can be seen in 1999’s FIGHT CLUB, where David Fincher had Edward Norton address the audience directly in a few select sequences. HOUSE OF CARDS fully commits to this idea, doing away with conventional voiceover entirely.

While it’s been used in endless parodies since the series’ release, the very fact that the technique is commonly joked about points to its fundamental power.

Another visual conceit that has been copied by other pop culture works like NONSTOP (2014) is the superimposition of text message conversations over the action, rather than cutting to an insert shot of the message displayed on the cell phone’s screen.

Considering that characters have been texting each other in movies for almost ten years now, I’m frankly surprised it took us this long for the on-screen subtitle conceit to enter into the common cinematic language. It’s an inspired way to dramatize pedestrian, everyday exchanges that act as the modern-day equivalent of coded messages in cloak-and-dagger stories.

Behind the camera, Fincher retains most of his regular department heads save for one new face. Donald Graham Burt returns as Production Designer, creating authentic replicas of the hallowed halls and chambers of Washington DC. Kirk Baxter, who normally edits Fincher’s features with Angus Wall, goes solo in HOUSE OF CARDS and weaves everything together in a minimalist, yet effective fashion.

The ever-dependable Ren Klyce returns as Sound Designer, giving an overly-talkie drama some much-needed sonic embellishment. The only new face in the mix is Jeff Beal, who composes the series’ music. Beal’s theme for HOUSE OF CARDS is instantly iconic, fueled by an electronic pulse that bolsters traditional orchestral strings and horns— echoing the romantic statues of fallen heroes that dot the DC landscape with a patriotic, mournful sound.

The series doesn’t rely on much in the way of needledrops, so David Fincher’s inclusion of two pre-recorded tracks is worth noting. The first episode features an inaugural ball where we hear Dmiti Shostakovich’s “Second Waltz”, which cinephiles should recognize as the main theme to Kubrick’s EYES WIDE SHUT (1999).

Additionally, the second episode features Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” when Russo goes to visit a conspiracy theorist in rural Massachusetts. While not exactly the most original choice of music, it’s appropriate enough.

For visionary directors like Fincher, television is tough because of the need to work within a strictly defined set of aesthetic boundaries. While this is changing and becoming a better stage for visually dynamic work every day, the basic rule of thumb is to direct the pilot in order to set the style in place and make the entire series conform around it.

In that regard, HOUSE OF CARDS as a series absolutely oozes Fincher’s influence, despite 24 of the (to-date) 26 episodes being helmed by different directors. This phenomenon can be ascribed to the fact that David Fincher’s episodes dovetail quite nicely with several themes and imagery he’s built his career on exploring.

Take the opening titles for instance—while they are usually part and parcel with the conventional television experience, Fincher makes them his own by showing time-lapse footage of Washington DC locales, suggesting the bustling scope of his stage while further exploring the passage of time as a thematic idea— also seen in earlier work like ZODIAC (2007) or THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON.

This theme is also reflected in Fincher’s depiction of DC’s iconic architecture. Like he did in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, his compositions and location selections when taken as a whole suggest a clash between the old Washington and the new.

Old DC, marked by classical, colonial structures like The White House and The Lincoln Memorial, face off against the growing tide of steel and glass towers, or the modern infrastructural design of subway stations. A key takeaway of HOUSE OF CARDS is that Washington DC, a city defined by its romantic memorials to the past, is increasingly modernizing into a world city of the future.

This transition is aided by mankind’s increasing dependence on— and complicated relationship with—technology; another core idea that David Fincher has grappled with throughout his career. HOUSE OF CARDS’ focusing prism is communication: cell phones, text messages, the Internet, Apple computers, CNN, etc.

The series goes to great lengths to depict how information is disseminated in the digital age, with government and the media forming a complex, symbiotic relationship.

In asking the audience to root for, essentially, the bad guy, HOUSE OF CARDS echoes the strong undercurrent of nihilism that marks Fincher’s stories. Underwood is less of a protagonist than he is an antihero.

Objectively, he’s a bad person who’s scheming to outright steal the Presidency to rule the world as he sees fit. In real life, we’d react to this sort of notion with outrage—just ask anyone who’s ever irrationally obsessed over a particular birth certificate of a certain standing President. However, we can’t help but root for Underwood to succeed, simply because he’s just so damn attractive and charismatic (on top of actually being, you know, a fully-fleshed out, relatable person with moral shades of grey and not a stock villain archetype).

HOUSE OF CARDS’ groundbreaking release was met with quite the warm reception. It was nominated for several Emmys (a big deal for a series that hadn’t been broadcast first on television), and launched Netflix into HBO’s orbit in terms of compelling original content.

For Fincher as a director, HOUSE OF CARDS served as a great comeback after the disappointment of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. The series, whose third season is scheduled to premiere in February 2015, is a confident, near-flawless exploration of man’s lust for power and our complicated governmental structure—and wouldn’t be nearly as successful without David Fincher’s guiding hand. My one regret with HOUSE OF CARDS is that he didn’t direct more episodes.


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (2013-2014)

Director David Fincher barely had any time to notice the modestly-disappointing performance of 2011’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, what with the continuing development of several projects he was attached to make. It would be 3 years before he was back in cinemas with another feature, but the years between 2011-2014 were by no means a fallow period.

His sheer love for directing and for being on set couldn’t keep him away for long— and so in 2013 he returned to the arena that first made his name, armed with a new commercial and a new music video.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: “SUIT & TIE” (2013)

You couldn’t go anywhere in the Summer of 2013 without hearing Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” on the airwaves. As Timberlake’s own bid for Michael Jackson’s pop throne, the song’s broad appeal couldn’t be denied.

The inevitable music video for the song couldn’t be trusted with just any filmmaker—it was too high-profile to go to anyone but the biggest directors in town. Most likely due to their successful collaboration in 2010’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Timberlake chose Fincher as the director for “SUIT & TIE”—their union begetting one of the better music videos in many, many years.

Fincher’s visual aesthetic proves quite adept at its translation into the world of high fashion and style. He uses black and white digital cinematography and a 2.40:1 aspect ratio to echo the polished, sleek vibe of Timberlake’s song.

While a lot of his earlier music videos were shot in black and white to achieve a sense of grit, David Fincher’s use of it here echoes the crispness of a black tuxedo against a white shirt.

There’s a great interplay between light and dark throughout the piece, both in the broad strokes like the dramatic silhouettes he gets from his high contrast lighting setups, as well as smaller touches like Timberlake’s white socks that peek out from between black pants and shoes (another homage to Michael Jackson).

Despite being primarily a for-hire vehicle for Timberlake and a selling tool for his single, “SUIT & TIE” manages to incorporate a few of Fincher’s long-held thematic fascinations.

Fincher’s exploration of our relationship with technology sees a brief occurrence here as Timberlake and Jay-Z utilize state of the art recording equipment in the studio, as well as employing iPads as part of the songwriting process.

David Fincher features Apple products in his work so much more prominently than other filmmakers that I’m beginning to think he has a secret product placement deal with them. Architecture also plays a subtle role in the video, seen in Timberlake’s slick, modern bachelor pad as well as the Art Deco stylings and graceful arches of the stage he performs on.

One strange thing I noticed, though: the size of the stage itself doesn’t match the venue it’s housed in. For example, when the camera looks towards Timberlake, the stage extends pretty deep behind him like it was the Hollywood Bowl.

But when we cut to the reverse angle and see the audience, the venue is revealed to be disproportionally shallow and intimate. If you were to draw out the geography onto a blueprint, you’d realize it was a very unbalanced auditorium. Most likely, these two shots were shot in separate locations and stitched together with editing.

As his first music video in several years, “SUIT & TIE” finds Fincher working at the top of his game in familiar territory. It’s easily one of his best music videos and will no doubt serve as a taste-making piece and influencer for many pop videos to come.


CALVIN KLEIN: “DOWNTOWN” (2013)

Later the same year, Fincher collaborated with his THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO star Rooney Mara in a spot for Calvin Klein perfume called “DOWNTOWN”. Also shot in digital black and white, the spot finds David Fincher and Mara eschewing the punk-y grunge of their previous collaboration in favor of an edgy, glamorous look.

Mara herself is depicted as a modern day Audrey Hepburn—being adored by the press as she attends junkets and does photo shoots—but is also seen engaging in daily urban life and riding the subway (while listening to her iPod, natch). Fincher’s love of architecture is seen in several setups, the most notable being a shot prominently featuring Mara framed against NYC’s George Washington Bridge. The whole piece is scored to a track by Karen O, a kindred spirit of Mara’s and Fincher’s who provided the vocals for Trent Reznor’s re-arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Overall,“DOWNTOWN” is a brilliantly executed and stylish spot that sells its product beautifully.


GAP: “DRESS NORMAL” CAMPAIGN (2014)

2014 marked director David Fincher’s return to cinema screens with his domestic thriller GONE GIRL, following a three year hiatus from feature filmmaking.  It also saw the infamous provocateur release a series of four commercial spots for the blandest clothing label in the business: Gap.

In a transparent bid to regain some cultural relevancy, Gap released a campaign entitled “DRESS NORMAL”, a move that could be construed as the struggling brand capitalizing on their sudden popularity amongst the emergent “normcore” crowd– arguably one of the more idiotic non-trends in recent memory.

To his credit, Fincher achieves Gap’s goals brilliantly, creating four effortlessly cool and stylish pieces (despite what some of the more-cynical voices in the blogosphere might say).  Titled “Golf”, “Stairs”, “Kiss”, and “Drive”, all are presented in stark shades of black and white, rendered crisply onto the digital frame.

Fincher eschews a sense of modernity for a jazzy mid-century vibe, with the old-fashioned production design and cinematography coming across as a particularly well-preserved lost film from the French New Wave.  Each spot pairs together a couple (or groups) of beautiful urbanites living out the prime of their youth in generic urban environs.

David Fincher’s hand is most evident in the sleek, modern camerawork that belies the campaign’s timeless appeal.  He employs a variety of ultra-smooth dolly and technocrane movements that effortlessly glide across his vignettes while hiding the true complexity of the moves themselves.

All in all, Fincher’s “DRESS NORMAL” spots are quite effective, injecting some much-needed style and sex appeal into Gap’s tired branding efforts.


GONE GIRL (2014)

Since the beginning of time, men and women have been at odds with each other.  One of the grand ironies of the universe is that testosterone and estrogen act against each other despite needing to work in harmony in order to perpetuate the species.

We scoff at the term “battle of the sexes”, like it’s some absurdly epic war over territory or ideology, but the fact of the matter is that, no matter how hard we try to bridge the gap, men and women just aren’t built to fully comprehend each other like they would a member of their own sex.

Yet despite these fundamental differences of opinion and perspective, we continue coupling up and procreating in the name of love, family, and civilization.  In this light, the institution of marriage can be seen as something of an armistice, or a treaty– an agreement by two combative parties to equally reciprocate affection, protection and support.

Naturally, when this treaty is violated in a high-profile way like, say, the murder or sudden disappearance of someone at the hands of his or her spouse, we can’t help but find ourselves captivated by the lurid headlines and ensuing media frenzy.  Names like OJ Simpson, Robert Blake, or Scott Peterson loom large in our collective psyche as boogeymen symbolizing the ultimate marital transgression.

The treacherous world of domesticity serves as the setting of director David Fincher’s tenth feature film, GONE GIRL(2014).  Adapted by author Gillian Flynn from her novel of the same name, the film marks David Fincher’s return to the big screen after a three year absence following the disappointing reception of 2011’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.

In that time, he had refreshed his artistic energies with Netflix’s razor-sharp political thriller HOUSE OF CARDS (2013), with the serial’s warm reaction boosting his stock amongst the Hollywood elite.

Fincher’s oeuvre trades in nihilistic protagonists with black hearts and ruthless convictions, so naturally, the churning machinations and double crosses of Flynn’s book were an effortless match for his sensibilities.

Working with producers Joshua Donen, Arnon Milchan, Reese Witherspoon, as well as his own producing partner Cean Chaffin, Fincher manages to infuse a nasty undercurrent of his trademark gallows humor into GONE GIRL, making for a highly enjoyable domestic thriller that stands to be included amongst his very best work.

GONE GIRL begins like any other normal day for Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck).  But this day isn’t like any others– it’s the fifth anniversary of his wedding to wife Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), a privileged New York socialite and the real-life inspiration for “Amazing Amy”, the main character in a series of successful children’s books authored by her parents.

He leaves home to check in on the bar he runs in the nearby town of North Carthage, Missouri, expressing his dread of the occasion to his twin sister Margot, who mixes drinks there.  When he arrives back at the generic suburban McMansion he shares with Amy, he finds a grisly scene– overturned furniture, shattered glass, streaks of blood… and no Amy.

The police launch an investigation into Amy’s whereabouts, with her status as minor literary celebrity causing a disproportionate stir in the media.  He’s taunted at every turn by deceitful talk show hosts and news anchors, as well as clues from Amy herself, left behind in the form of letters that are part of gift-finding game that’s become their anniversary tradition.

In her absence, the clues have taken on a more much foreboding aura– channeling similar vibes and imagery from David Fincher’s 1997 classic mystery THE GAME.  The media’s increased scrutiny on Nick’s life and the history of his relationship with Amy drags his flaws as a husband out into the light, where they’re subsequently used against him to raise the possibility that he just might be responsible for her disappearance.  But did he kill his wife?  Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t… but the truth will be more surprising than anyone could’ve expected.

Ben Affleck headlines the film as Nick Dunne, skewering his real-life image as a handsome leading man by bringing to the fore a natural douchebag quality we’ve always suspected he possessed.  Dunne covers up his supreme narcissism and anger issues with a thin layer of charm, finding the perfect balance between a sympathetic protagonist who is way in over his head and a slick operator who thinks he’s got his game on lock.

Affleck proves inspired casting on Fincher’s part, and it’s nice to be reminded that besides being a great director in his own right, he’s still a great performer.  As Amy Dunne, Rosamund Pike conjures up one of the most terrifying villainesses in screen history.

An icy, calculating sociopath, Amy will do anything and everything necessary to carry out the perfect plot against her husband– even if the physical harm she deals out is on herself.  Pike’s skincrawling performance resulted in the film’s only Academy Award nomination, but it’s a well-deserved one that will be remembered for quite some time.

If the pairing of Affleck and Pike as GONE GIRL’s leads seems a bit odd or off-center, then Fincher’s supporting cast boast an even-more eclectic collection of characters.  Neil Patrick Harris– Doogie Howser himself– plays Amy’s college sweetheart Desi Collins.

A rich pretty boy and pseudo-stalker with bottomless reserves of inherited funds, he’s so intent on dazzling Amy with his high-tech toys and spacious homes that he’s completely oblivious to her machinations against him.  Primarily known for his comedic roles in TV and film, NPH makes a successful bid for more serious roles with a performance that’s every bit as twisted as the two leads.

Beating him in the stunt casting department, however, is maligned director Tyler Perry, whose films are often derided by critics as patronizing and shamelessly pandering despite their immense popularity amongst the African American population.  The news of his involvement in GONE GIRL with met with gasps of disbelief and confusion by the blogosphere, but here’s the thing– Tyler Perry is great in this movie.

He effortlessly falls into the role of Tanner bolt, a high-powered celebrity lawyer from New York, soothing Nick with his seasoned expertise and wearing expensive designer suits so comfortably they might as well be sweatpants.  He’s extremely convincing as a whip-smart, cunning attorney, never once hinting at the fact this is the same man who became rich and famous for wearing a fat suit under a mumu.

Emily Ratajkowski and Patrick Fugit are great as Nick’s jiggly co-ed mistress Andie and the no-nonsense Officer Gilpin, respectively, but GONE GIRL’s real revelation is character actress Kim Dickens.

Calling to mind a modern, more serious version of Frances McDormand’s folksy homicide investigator in FARGO (1996), Dickens’ Detective Boney is highly observant and sly– almost to a fault.  The joy in watching Dickens’ performance is seeing her internal struggle against the growing realization that none of her prior experience or expertise could ever prepare her for Amy’s level of scheming.

GONE GIRL retains David Fincher’s signature look, thanks to the return of his regular cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth.  As a team, they’ve built their careers out of using new filmmaking technologies to fit their needs, and GONE GIRL isn’t one to break the tradition.

One of the earliest features to shoot on Red Cinema’s new Dragon sensor, GONE GIRL was captured full-frame at 6k resolution and then thrown into a 2.35:1-matted 4k timeline in post-production.

This allowed Fincher and his editing partner Kirk Baxter to re-compose their frames as they saw fit with razor-precision and minimal quality degradation.  This circumstance also afforded the ability to employ better camera stabilization in a bid to perfect that impossibly-smooth sense of movement that Fincher prefers.

As one of the medium’s most vocal proponents of digital technology, David Fincher inherently understands the advantages of the format– an understanding that empowers him with the ability to make truly uncompromised work.

Appropriate to its subject matter, GONE GIRL is a very dark film.  Fincher and Cronenweth use dark wells of shadow to convey a foreboding mood, while Fincher’s signature cold color palette renders Nick’s trials in bleak hues of blue, yellow, green, and grey.

Red, a color that David Fincher claims to find too distracting on film, rarely appears in GONE GIRL, save for when he specifically wants your attention on a small detail of the frame– like, say, a small blood splatter on the hood over the kitchen stove.

Despite the consistent gloom, the film does occasionally find short moments of warm, golden sunlight and deeply-saturated color.  Fincher’s slow, creeping camerawork leers with omniscience, placing its characters at an emotional arm’s distance.

Knowing Fincher’s background as a commercial director, it’s not surprising to see GONE GIRL throw around nonchalant product placement for flyover-country conglomerations like Walmart, KFC and Dunkin Donuts.

Looking back over his other features, it’s clear that David Fincher has never been one to shy away from the presence of well-known brands in his frame– indeed, a large chunk of his bank account is there as a direct result of his interaction with brand names and logos.

Product placement is a controversial topic amongst filmmakers, with many seeing the intrusion of commerce as an almost-pornographic sacrilege towards art, but Fincher’s view seems to be that reality is simply saturated with corporate logos, branding, and advertisements, so why should a film striving for realism be any different?

In Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and his musical partner Atticus Ross, Fincher has found a kindred dark soul, and their third collaboration together after 2010’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO doesn’t surprise in its aim to bring something entirely unexpected to the proceedings.

Working from David Fincher’s brief that the music reside in the space between calm and dread, Reznor and Ross’s electronic score for GONE GIRL is characterized by soothing ambient tones interrupted by a pulsing staccato that conveys the razor-sharp undercurrents of malice that Amy so effortlessly hides behind her statuesque facade.

Outside of John Williams and Steven Spielberg, it’s hard to think of a composer/director partnership where each artist’s aesthetic is so perfectly suited towards the other.  Reznor, Ross, and Fincher have cultivated a symbiotic relationship that, together with Fincher’s regular sound designer Ren Klyce and his consistently excellent and immersive soundscapes, elevates any project they undertake into a darkly sublime experience.

A nihilistic sentiment abounds in the style of GONE GIRL, falling quite effortlessly into David Fincher’s larger body of work.  The same attention to detail and insight into the banal side of law enforcement (paperwork, legal red-tape, etc.) that marked 2007’s ZODIAC is present in GONE GIRL’s almost-clinical depiction of the day-to-day process of investigating such a luridly mysterious crime.

Two of David Fincher’s most consistent fascinations as a director– architecture and technology– play substantial roles in the drama, but never at the expense of story and character.  The architecture that Fincher concerns himself with in GONE GIRL is the domestic structures in which we house our families, or to put it another way, the castles in which we shelter our charges.

However, as seen through the perspective of David Fincher’s particularly dark and ironic sense of humor, our suburban castles instead become prisons.  The neutral tones of upper-middle-class domesticity that pervade Amy and Nick’s McMansion are almost oppressive in their blandness, while the structural elements on which they’re painted bear no characteristics of the values of those who inhabit them.

Fincher reinforces this idea by shooting from low angles to expose the ceiling, suggesting that the walls are figuratively closing in on his characters.  Likewise, Desi Collins’ grandiose, rustic lakeside retreat is simply too spacious to ever feel constricting or claustrophobic, what with it’s cathedral-height vaulted ceilings and oversized windows letting in an abundance of sunlight.

However, Desi has rigged his well-appointed home with an overblown array of security cameras and other surveillance, effectively trapping Amy inside if she wishes to remain under the auspices of “missing, presumed dead”.  And speaking of technology, David Fincher places a substantial focus on Nick’s distractions with video games, cell phones, oversized televisions and robot dogs.

This “boys with toys” mentality is quite appropriate to Fincher’s vision, as it is crucial to the authenticity of Amy’s convictions that Nick has fallen prey to that all-too-common suburban phenomenon of men turning to the stimulation afforded by electronics and gadgets after growing tired of their wives.

The dangers of growing complacent in your marriage– whereby we distract ourselves with screens instead of with each other– is a key message in GONE GIRL, and Fincher’s career-long exploration of mankind’s relationship to technology makes him a particularly suitable messenger.

Thanks in part to GONE GIRL’s high profile as a bestselling book as well as David Fincher’s own profile as a highly skilled artist with a fervent cult following, the film was a strong success at the box office.  As of this writing, it actually holds the records for Fincher’s highest-grossing theatrical run in the United States.

Critical reviews were mostly positive, and while it received only one nomination for Pike’s performance at the 2015 Oscars, it’s generally regarded as one of the best films of the year.  The tone and subject matter of GONE GIRL may not feel particularly new for Fincher (a notion that may have played into the film’s lack of Oscar nominations), but this well-trodden ground provides a solid platform for David Fincher to perfect what he already does best: delivering taut, stylish thrillers with razor-sharp edges.

Now firmly into middle age (52 as of this writing), Fincher could be forgiven for what so many other artists his age do: slowing down, mellowing out, looking backwards, worrying about legacy, etc.  It’s pretty evident however that he has no intention of doing any of those things.  While his next feature has yet to be announced, he’s deep in development on several projects running the gamut from theatrical to television.

Fincher’s skill set may have become more refined and sophisticated in its taste, but that doesn’t mean he’s gone soft on us.  Indeed, he’s actually grown much sharper.

He’s cleaved off extraneous waste from his aesthetic, and in return he’s able to focus his energies to the point of laser precision.  One only needs to look at GONE GIRL’s gut-churning sex/murder sequence to see that he hasn’t lost his unflinching eye for the macabre and his affinity for stunning his audience out of complacency.

He may be older, yes, but in many ways, he’s still that same young buck eager to shock the world with Gwyneth’s head in a box.


Author Cameron Beyl is the creator of The Directors Series and an award-winning filmmaker of narrative features, shorts, and music videos.  His work has screened at numerous film festivals and museums, in addition to being featured on tastemaking online media platforms like Vice Creators Project, Slate, Popular Mechanics and Indiewire. 

THE DIRECTORS SERIES is an educational collection of video and text essays by filmmaker Cameron Beyl exploring the works of contemporary and classic film directors. 


David Fincher’S FILMOGRAPHY

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IFH 176: How to Become a “Jack of All Trades” Indie Filmmaker

Right-click here to download the MP3

In today’s episode, I want to discuss the need for indie filmmakers to become a “Jack of All Trades.” As you travel down your filmmaking path you need to be adding tools to your toolbox. You have to be adding new skills, knowledge, and experience to your toolbox every day.

I go over not just the basic skills you need to know but some tools you never thought you needed to add to that box. The more tools you have in your toolbox, the more dangerous of a filmmaker you become.

Keep Hustlin and enjoy it!

Alex Ferrari 1:10
So I'm jacked up today, guys, I told you that I was redesigning indie film hustle. And I am proud to say that indie film, hustle 2.0 is now up online. It's been taking me weeks to to redesign the entire website from scratch from the bottom up. And I'm super excited to share it with you guys. I wanted to make it more user friendly. I wanted to I wanted to organize all this insane content, I just realized, I have over 450 articles, podcasts and blog posts on the site. And there was just so much information that a lot of it got lost in the old design. So hopefully, in this new design, you guys will have access to be able to get the information you need that I have on there. And as I continue to put more content on there, become a resource for you guys. And also there's easy links to courses, to books, to instructional videos, as well as highlights of each individual category, which I've broken up into six categories, which is screenwriting, directing, film production, post production, and marketing and distribution. And it's really clear, really clean, I would love for you guys to check it out. Just Of course, just go to any film, hustle calm. Let me know what you think message me, email me. Again, the emails at ifH [email protected] And let me know what you think if you guys find any problems anywhere on the site, anything's dead or dead links, I am going to be going through a site audit soon, which is meaning that I'm going to go through all my content, re up all my content, get rid of old content that's not relevant anymore, and just doing all sorts of stuff. I'm trying to make the indie film hustle experience for you guys as amazing as possible. And I want to give you an update on Meg. First of all, I had the LA premiere at the Chinese theatre, we have video coming out soon of it. And it was so exciting and surreal to be showing my little film this little film that Jill and I did last year, and we're playing it at the Chinese Theater, the world famous Chinese Theater, it was it was pretty amazing and very humbling. And we had a great crowd. Everyone really loved it. We had a wonderful q&a, which we'll be posting up on YouTube soon. And the sales of Meg have been coming in and they've been doing well. I've got some big news. I can't tell you yet because contracts haven't been signed. But there has been a big wonderful development with Meg. And I think you guys are going to be super excited. And I can't wait to share the information with you. But I can't say anything just yet. Because some contracts have to be signed first. But stay tuned for that. And then as the months go on, I will let you guys know what our numbers are in regards to sales. And I'll give you some generalized numbers and what platforms are doing better for us. But I haven't forgotten about you guys internationally. I know you guys been hounding me to get a get access to this as Meg. We are similar. We've already submitted to Vimeo pro Vimeo pro should be up and running. Hopefully this week. As soon as it is. I'll mention it on the podcast and I'll send it out to everybody so anybody outside of the US or doesn't have access to iTunes and Amazon for video, you'll be able to get it on Vimeo Pro. So thank you guys so much for your patience. Now today's episode is all about being a jack of all trades and how important it is. And I think this is something that filmmakers especially newer filmmakers coming out don't really grasp. Because film schools don't teach this film schools are very old school in the way they teach things. It's all you know everything segmented into departments, and in the bigger system and the bigger studio system that makes a lot of sense and I've worked on big projects, and you need to have that kind of, you know, organization with head of departments. And working with different crews, you have to have that the bigger the movie, the more you have to do that. But for the indie filmmaker, the micro budget filmmaker, the filmmaker, that's just coming up the ones that are making their own films, from scratch with five grand, 20, grand, 50 grand, and can't afford to have all of those crews, you have to have a skill set, you have to have a bunch of tools in your toolbox. Now I've, I've amassed a bunch of tools that I have in my toolbox that I pulled out when I made this is Meg, without those tools. Without that knowledge and experience, I would have not been able to make this as Meg on such a small humble budget, of course, under $24 million. But you know, without those tools, I wouldn't be able to do it. So I wanted to impress upon you guys and talk a little bit about skills that every filmmaker should have some knowledge about. Now, I'm not saying that we all have to be Robert Rodriguez that go out and make and do everything themselves. He runs this steady cam, he he composes the music, he sound designs, he does all of it. I'm not saying you have to do that. But having knowledge in every aspect of the business and other aspects of things that you might not associate with needing to know right away as a filmmaker. Because the more knowledge you have, the more dangerous you are as a filmmaker. And that's a good place to be, you know how wonderful it is for me to wake up in the morning and go, you know what, I'm gonna go make a movie in the next month, and I have everything I need to go make the movie, and I have the skill sets that I need to go make the movie. And if I don't have those skill sets, I'm going to learn it exactly what I did with Meg, I had no idea how to record audio from Meg. And I taught myself how to record decent audio, I'm not the best. It's not like you know, Oscar winning kind of audio recording. But it's good. It's good enough. It's a high quality. And that's all I could ask for. So some of the things that I think you guys need to as a filmmaker. And for all those screenwriters out there listening, these are things that you guys kind of do as well, if it's not on the production side, some of the stuff I'm gonna talk about later, is something else you guys are going to need as well. So first and foremost, if you're going to be a filmmaker, you need to learn directing, and that's the easy thing. Everybody wants to be a director, everyone thinks that they're good directors, until they get on the set. And they're like, Oh my god, what the hell am I gotten myself into? It's happened to me early on in my career, it happens. So directing, obviously, producing, understanding where to get your money from, how you're going to get your money, how you're going to organize a crew, how are you going to do call sheets? How are you going to do your first day DS job? How are you going to do all of those jobs that help in the actual producing of film locations? How to go get locations on the cheap? How to get permits? If you need to get permits? How are you going to go steal stuff? Can you go steal stuff, legally, all these kind of things, these are skills that you really need to understand and know, cinematography, you have to understand basic cinematography, you have to understand the basic camera that you're using the basic lenses that you're using, like what lenses or what, what focal lengths can do to your image and how you can tell your story. As a filmmaker, you also have to understand the camera you're using. If you don't if you know, I was talking to someone the other day, and they were like, Oh, yeah, we're shooting this thing on this cannon something or other? I'm like, how can you be that way? Like I looked at him, I'm like, Are you crazy? Do you not understand you're just trusting someone else to just give you a camera and I saw the stuff they were shooting. And it looked like, you know not that good. Because it didn't, you know, they didn't know what they were doing. They didn't understand the capabilities of that camera. They didn't understand the workflow all the way through post production. I'll get to that in a minute. But you have to understand this kind of stuff. If you're going to if you're going to succeed at this low budget at this no budget world. If you don't understand these basic things, you will fail. How I cannot tell you how many filmmakers I've worked with over the years that didn't understand this basic concept that they just trusted a dp or someone who called themselves a dp. And all of a sudden they get into posts and they're like, Oh, my God, everything doesn't look good, or the lighting is not great. All because you didn't know what you were doing it you have to understand the basics of it. You have to understand basic lighting not you don't have to be as you know, an ASC cinematographer, you have to understand basic lighting. I've never directed Well, I've never DPD a feature film before. I've done commercials and things like that. But I never did Pete a feature film before. And I just took it on with Meg as an experiment. I'm like, Well, you know what, I think I can do this. I taught myself as much as I could. I did a lot of testing on my own. And I figured it out. And I made and I made it look decent. But I understood my camera. I understand what the capabilities of my camera was. I understood the capabilities of the lights I had, and then I make mistakes along the way. Absolutely. There was a lot of mistakes I fixed in post, but why because I also had that tool set of colors which I'll get to in a minute. These are certain basic things that you need to learn. Another thing you need to understand is production design, just basic production design. And I know Production designs a very big word, and you know what it is on bigger movies. But when you're doing a low budget movie, you've got to be able to understand production design, James Cameron was production designing Titanic with his production designer, he was the one telling them what to do. James camera is one of those filmmakers who knows more about the other person's job than they do. Because that's how intense of a filmmaker it is. And you can tell him the work that he puts out. When we did broken, I didn't I never production design the thing in my life, but we walked into a hospital that had floors, and I'm not exaggerating floors of old, just equipment and gnarly looking stuff. And my producer and I just sat down and grabbed the bunch of stuff, and production design the entire movie ourselves. And when we needed we needed furniture to fill up an apartment, what did we do, we went to rent a center, I cover that entire Odyssey on episode 102 of the the podcast and I talked about how we just basically rented all of our furniture and had them deliver it, install it for us, and also pick it up a day later. And we didn't have to even worry about it. So these are little things you have to understand. So when you're talking to a production designer, you know, these little tips, you know, how you know how they can do things on the cheap, maybe. And you know, when we made up a guacamole gun, you know, which shoots blood out so you can get a really realistic blood hit. We built that ourselves why? Because we taught ourselves how to do that. These are things you need to understand. Now. Another big thing that all filmmakers need to understand is screenwriting. writing a story, being able to construct a story, story structure. These are basic things that all filmmakers need to understand. If you're a director and you don't understand story structure, and you're just relying on a writer to give you a script and you're just going to shoot it. You're just you're not going to do well. And God knows Hollywood is full of those, aren't they? People who don't understand the basic concept of story. And I understand that it can be a little intimidating. Like oh my god, Alex, you want me to be a screenwriter as well as a director. Look, do what I did. I took Meg and we did a script for it. You know, that's what the duplass brothers did. That's what Joe Swanberg did. That's what Lynn Shelton does, all of these guys just grab a really big scriptment, which is basically an outline of the entire movie, and then just have actors improv their lines. And it works great. It depends on the kind of movie you're making. But it's a way of doing it. Don't let any of these things stop, you just keep going pick up the knowledge you need to go. The next thing, huge thing that all filmmakers need to understand is post production. In today's world, post production is so crucial to all of your films, you are all going to go You're all going to visit me You're all going to go through me at one point or another understanding, editing, understanding color grading, understanding, post production, supervision, understanding online editorial, your deliverables, understanding what editing system, you're going to be using understanding post production workflow, all this information is out there, a lot of it's on the website, you could definitely check it out. But understand a little bit of all of this. So if you're a filmmaker, which I've worked with many who is a producer, and they walk into a post suite, and they're like, Oh, I just shot a $200,000 movie. How much money do you have proposed? Oh, we've got $5,000? I'm like, Are you mad? Like, why would you do that you have a $200,000 movie? And you're basically just chipping cheeping out on post your movies gonna come out horrible, you know, it's not going to do well. So you have to understand all of that, going forward. Another huge aspect of the film business that I guarantee you 99% of filmmakers don't understand is distribution, understanding how you're going to get your film out into the world? How are you going to make money with your film, understanding revenue streams, understanding how to either self distributor film or work with a traditional distributor and there is times to do both. The smaller the film, the less risk you're taking, you can self distribute. If you have a bigger film, you're gonna have to probably go to a traditional distributor, unless you're able to do the next skill that you have to understand audience building, crowd funding and crowd sourcing, you have to understand audience building, you have to understand how to get an audience how to market to an audience, how to get them to be excited about your project. These are crucial skills, crowdfunding if you want to start crowdfunding your movies. And that's also a form of audience building, crowdsourcing, which is another form of audience building. I'd go into so much detail about all of these things I'm talking about in the web, on the website and past podcasts, and sections of the of the website. So you really have no excuse. There's so much information that you can go through indie film, hustle, and find out all of these just type in the search bar. Exactly what what I'm talking about, and there's probably an article For a podcast discussing this, educate yourselves even at the basic level, so you understand it. And if you want to go into it more, you should definitely go into more, explore more and put more tools in your toolbox. So those are the big, big things that you really need to understand as a filmmaker, but I'm going to tell you a few things that you really should know and really should learn, that are not taught in schools, and are not generally things that filmmakers say that they have to do. Now everything I'm going to talk about coming for going forward, you know, you can hire people to do it, and that's fine. But when you got no money, you gotta gotta do it yourself. And I've worked in I've worked with other people trying to do these things that I'm going to talk about. And it never works out for me, because I know, I know, I guess a little too much about those sections. So I want things certain ways, and they can't, they can't do it. So I just end up just doing it myself. Now, a few things you need to learn web design. Oh, I know web design. Alex, I'm not a web designer. Why should I know what web design because every single movie you put out, you need to create a website. Every production company you create, you need to create a website, your personal page, you need to create a website. All of these things have to create a websites. Now it doesn't have to be hard, you can use Squarespace, I don't get paid by Squarespace. I'm not I'm not affiliated with them at all. We go to Squarespace and build a website up in five minutes, a nice looking basic website. If you want to take your site up to another level, then just I'll put a link in the description for how to build a site like indie film, hustle, not nearly as complex or anything. But the tools I use, I use WordPress, I use Beaver Builder, WordPress, Beaver Builder, and I host with Bluehost. And those three things, combined those things you have drag and drop design, it's super easy, super simple. And if you have basic graphic design skills, you should be able to do without a problem. And even if you don't, there are services out there that can help you. Another skill, branding, understanding branding, you could pick up simple books on just understanding branding, or Gary Vee a Gary Vaynerchuk has a ton of them, one's called crush it, you should definitely read that book. It's amazing. I'll put a link in the description, branding, understanding how to sell and yourself, your movie, your company so important. If you want to succeed as an independent filmmaker in the world today and moving forward. Also social media, social media marketing, understand the power of social media, how to build a social media following how to build a Twitter following how to build facebook, how to build YouTube, how to build Instagram, how to understand those platforms, these are things you have to learn. And I said before graphic design, basic graphic design skills, understanding Photoshop, understanding how to be able to put all things together in Photoshop, again, basic stuff I'm not talking about, you have to become a Photoshop expert. Hell, I'm not a Photoshop expert. But I know enough about Photoshop to get the job done. And if they asked me to do something a little bit more enhanced, I'm like, sorry, I'm out. So that's not a skill set that I have a deep, but I do enough, I know enough of that skill, to do what I need to do and move forward. So as far as web, web design, helping with web design, graphic design for posters, graphic design, for social media posts, and so on, that's what I have. That's what I use Photoshop for, you really have to also understand marketing and PR, understanding what it could be done for you where to spend money, where not to spend money, is traditional media even make sense anymore to like, spend money on a front, you know, a full page ad on in variety or something like that to promote your movie? Or is that money better spent on Facebook ads, you know, things like that you really have to understand these things. Now, I know I've thrown a lot at you guys. And there's probably a bunch of stuff that I have not even covered. But these are basic sets of things you have to understand enough to understand basic knowledge have to move forward as a filmmaker. I know it's immense. But you know what, that's what this is. That's what this business is, if you are trying to come up from the, from the street, where I am, you know, we're you know, just coming up, you know, just starting and building your career, that long play career that I've told you about not the one year plan, but the 10 year plan. This will take time. But I'm not saying you have to learn all of these today. Take the next year, and take a month and every month learn a new skill set. Why not? Because at the end of the day, when you have that skill set, guess what, guys, when you understand web design, and things are not going that well in filmmaking, you can maybe get a little side job doing web design, or graphic design, or branding or PR or do other sorts of things. Because the more skills you have in that box, the more things you can fall back on as you're moving forward in your filmmaking or on your filmmaking path. That's what I did. I learned editing, editing was my skill. That's where I learned that's what I made my living on. For the first part of majority of my career was editing then I jumped into color grading, then I jumped into post production supervision because it was just an extension of edit, edit editing and editorial, creative editing. And I was like, can it kept growing and growing and growing my skill set to the point now, where I don't edit often now for pay, I don't do it often I, I rather do color grading, but I have that as a backup. And I could always, you know, people hire me and try to hire me all the time to do creative editorial. And I say no, I really rather not, because I have more fun. And it's faster for me to do color grading or online editorial, or post production supervision or some other areas that I like to do. So the more tools you have in your box, the more successful you're going to be not only as a filmmaker, but in life, you know, I have a lot of tools in my toolbox. And if I wanted to, I can go off and do other things if I wanted to, because of all the skills I've gathered over the years. And that's what it's all about. It's about what life's about guys. And I don't want to be all hunky dory and you know, Kumbaya, but life's about building that toolbox, building that toolbox, making it full of knowledge and skills and experience that you can continue taking with you on your path on your filmmaking path or on your life path. And that's so, so important. Now, again, a lot of things I've talked about, is scary to jump into right away. Specifically, like, like, for me, cinematography, I jumped into cinematography, on mag. And I probably will do the same thing on my next feature. Now I understand I'm not the added level of cinematography, as my friend Suki who's an ASC dp, he has been training for 30 years as a cinematographer, and knows all things, cinematography, I don't, I know, just enough to get me where I need to go. And I have, as I have knowledge in color grading that helped me with that. So I had a really good feeling that I could do the job. So I leaned on my other experiences, I leaned on other things. So if you if you are a carpenter, and you're coming into the film business, chances are that skill set you can lean on if you're going to be a production designer. If you're going to production design a set, you feel really comfortable like Well, you know what, I've built houses, I've built tables, I've built other props, the other furniture before, why can't I do props, so you can lean on that experience. And that's what I'm trying to have you do is build that toolbox, build that toolbox full of tools that you can use, not only in filmmaking, but in life. And that is something that a lot of people don't understand, and people don't get that, Oh, I'm just gonna learn that why am I gonna learn that I could just hire someone to do that. But if you know it, you become dangerous. You become someone not to be trifled with, you know, no one's going to take advantage of you. And in this business, I hate to break it to you guys. But not everyone is really that scrupulous sometimes, and I'm not trying to paint that everybody in the film business is out to get you they're not but like in any place in any any business in any industry in the world. They're good, and they're bad. So the more knowledge you have, the more defense you have against people who are trying to take advantage of you. And any aspect of the business, specifically distribution. Because that's one place that a lot of filmmakers, like I said 99.9% filmmakers don't understand distribution. And I just want you guys to understand something that a lot of the skills I'm talking about right now I've learned over the last two years. I didn't understand social media before. Before I opened up any film hustle I had no I didn't have I just had a Facebook, my own personal Facebook. That was it had no understanding what Facebook had an understanding about Twitter had no understanding about distribution. I'd never knew anything about distribution. But from working on indie film, hustle, doing all that content, interviewing masters, and professionals in every aspect of the film business. I've picked up skills along the way. And resources along the way, that have made me a much more dangerous filmmaker, and a much more capable filmmaker. I couldn't have done this as Meg two years ago, before I opened up indie film, hustle, I needed indie film hustle to learn all the skills that I did not know in order to make it. And that's the same thing moving forward. There's so many things else I'm going to be learning. Moving forward, the more books that I'm going to read more courses that I'm going to take. I take courses all the time I'm reading all the time. That's why I always listen to audiobooks wherever I go, I always have an audiobook playing. Sometimes I'm learning about things that have nothing to do with the film business, because I want to experience other aspects of life. And I bring those experiences into my filmmaking, as George Lucas said, if you want to be a filmmaker, the first thing you have to do is live. Go out there and live get those experiences, bring them back into your filmmaking, into your writing and so on. So I hope this episode was helpful to you guys. You know, I wanted to kind of put together this and just put a little bit of a spotlight on the need of Being a jack of all trades, and like they say, oh, you're a jack of all trades master of none, I you know what I might not be a master of all my tools that are in my toolbox, but I know enough to get by. And I know enough about those aspects to move me forward in my journey in life and as a filmmaker, if you want to check out the show notes, they are at indie film hustle.com forward slash 176. And I just want to make sure you guys make sure you guys know that this is Meg is available not only on iTunes, but also on Amazon for rental or purchase. So please head out and if you guys have seen the movie, please leave me a good review on either Amazon or iTunes. It really helps us with the rankings and in getting up higher and getting more people to see the movie. So really, man, thank you so much for all the support guys and head over to indie film, hustle calm. I want you guys to see all the hard work I've been doing the last few weeks and see what you think. And I just I'm excited to keep bringing you guys more amazing content and helping you guys on your journey. So and as always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.

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IFH 108: How to Create a Cult Classic with Rafael Diaz Wagner

Right-click here to download the MP3

This week we have Rafael Diaz Wagner, co-writer, and producer of the new Cult Classic “Attack of the Killer Donuts.” Yes, that is really the name of the film and it’s glorious.

“Ever said you’d die for a Krispy Kreme? Here’s the movie to prove that arterial clogging isn’t the only risk of these sweet treats. In fact, it may be an artfully disguised public health broadcast.”

He started making films with a Beta Camera when he was 10 years old. Since then Rafael has written or co-written over 15 screenplays.

I wanted to find out how this film was made, marketed and sold. It’s a wonderful case study. Check out the trailer below and get ready to laugh.

Here a quote from the Hollywood Report review of the :

“If John Waters and George Romero dropped acid together and then spent the night at their local Krispy Kreme, they might have concocted something like the new cult classic in the making, Attack of the Killer Donuts. But the fact that such a film actually exists, and is exactly what it claims to be about, is something that even the best drugs can’t help explain.”

And here is the poster that got me interested in speaking to Rafael. They knew who their market was and marketed directly to them.

900

 

Enjoy my conversation with cult classic writer/producer Rafael Diaz Wagner.

Alex Ferrari 1:47
Now today's guest I you know, well man I I saw this movie poster. I saw this movie poster months ago at Cannes. And last year, actually it can and the movie poster was for a movie called Attack of the killer donuts. And it looked awesome. The poster was so well done. Quality I was just absolutely shocked at how good he kind of looked and it looks so much. It's so much it was like it looked like it was so much fun. And, and I felt that these guys were absolutely knew what they were doing when they put this whole thing out. And I wanted to bring bring on one of the filmmakers. His name is Rafael Diaz Wagner. And he's an accomplished filmmaker who's worked on multiple films over the course of his career and he's a Miami boy. And we walked a lot of the same a lot of same we were as he says, we we've fought in a lot of the same foxholes from back in the day when I was in Miami, so I wanted to have him on the show. I wanted to talk to him about how someone gets first of all gets financing for a movie called Attack of the killer donuts and his whole process of how he made it and how they're marketing and how they're selling it. And how you kind of put together a coke classic, you know, and in it, how is it how that works. So without further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Rafael Diaz Wagner. I'd like to welcome to the show Rafael Diaz Wagner man thanks for coming on the show brother.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 6:06
No problem.

Alex Ferrari 6:07
It's what we we we've we've walked a lot of the same as I called gravel in Miami, haven't we?

Rafael Diaz Wagner 6:14
Yes, we have. We've been in the same foxholes trenches.

Alex Ferrari 6:19
And you told me when we were before we got on air that my you used to run the Miami underground film festival?

Rafael Diaz Wagner 6:26
Yes, I was the founder and I ran the Miami brown Film Festival for four years and one of your films broken won a Golden coconut. Oh, golden coconut used to give out the golden coconut.

Alex Ferrari 6:38
That's right and it's been the decade so forgive me if I forget. Just said no. I remember no I remember no I remember the festival like did that I had to have gone through there. I'm like, I hit every festival in Miami. Especially in Florida as I'm sure but that's so cool. I'm so glad I won the Golden coconut. So man this let's talk a little bit about how you got into this crazy business. Why do you do this and I get a real job.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 7:07
That's what my wife wants to know. You me both brother. Yeah, I went to school here in Miami, Florida International University and they didn't have a film program and I always loved film but you know where son of immigrants Your parents are always pushing you to be like an accountant or something steady? Yes. And I studied English journalism stuff like that dropped out senior year to start my own magazine that lasted like six months then I did odd jobs for about 10 years from working at a think tank in Washington DC to selling us cars here in Miami and then finally I worked at Do you remember Lyon video in Miami? The No I don't live video was the premier DVD store in Miami. It was um it was specialized in foreign films. And I work there and it was like that was my film school. I mean they had stuff on tape back then. That still is not out on DVD today. I mean like foreign we had an entire wall of French films with no subtitles it was just straight up French and that's where that's where I learned you know, I always loved cinema but that was like whoa, another level you know, Fassbender and stuff like that. And then somehow I got back into it and I shot a short and then from there I did a feature film for $20,000 in 2004 called pork chop and a glass of water. Fantastic title by the way. We we went to a few to a few film festivals but nothing really came of it. And then from there just you know struggling here and they pa sometimes and then I then I was a production coordinator on on film for National Lampoon called The Legend of awesomeness Maximus in 2008. And then the economy went down and did some odd jobs again, I mean I've gone in and out of the business like two or three times and then things really started kicking I would say like around again in 2013 and I went two years back to back filming. We started we ended 2012 2013 filming a movie called shark and saw women's prison massacre

Alex Ferrari 9:15
which I wanted to talk a little bit Can you please talk a little bit about shark shark a shark and saw women prison man because I saw the trailers today it's quite genius. Can you please tell it's a great cast? I'd love to just tell us a little bit about that movie

Rafael Diaz Wagner 9:29
that film I I was looking on IMDB and I want I could so i'm i'm good talking to people and I thought I could get a little bit of money to make a movie. But unlike you I didn't study directing I can't edit so I'm limited I'm a writer by heart I get right till the cows come home and producing comes naturally you know it's the the Miami que anime. So I needed someone who was turnkey, someone who had experience and I looked and I found Jim winnaar ski and if you don't know Jim when our ski is he is Roger Corman most prolific director, he's made over 80 films. Wow. And so I called him and he responded, and we talked back and forth and he's like, you know, yeah, I just low budget and like, well, we could do this and blah, blah. So I got, you know, some monies, and we decided to go to Northern Florida west of Tallahassee and our west case. Oh, yes.

Alex Ferrari 10:21
So just for everybody who knows west of Tallahassee. is I think you've left Florida at that point.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 10:27
Well, it was central timezone. I didn't even know that. Yeah, I was gonna say,

Alex Ferrari 10:31
you really left, you've left Florida at that point. A lot of people argue that after Orlando, you've left Florida.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 10:40
So we went there, and then he brought along his crew is turnkey. We brought in Traci Lords. I knew Dominic swains boyfriend from LA. And then you know, I was talking to him. I'm putting together this project AFM. And he's like, Oh, you should call Dominique. And he was like, come on, dude. I gotta do this. I can't afford her. He's like, Yeah, she still loves stuff like this. So we call her boom, and she was on board too. And we went over the to make this this crazy little film, and I thought this is going to be a cakewalk. This guy when our skis made over 80 movies. I mean, there's books on them. There's a documentary on him. And he, you know, we got there in the first day, and it's like, oh, my God, he's a freakin maniac. A nightmare. Really? It was Yes, it was a night. I really thought I was gonna get a heart attack. Well, it was it was one of the worst experiences I've ever had. Day one, I walked off set. And when I come back, it's lunchtime and he's throwing a sandwich and firing to cater. Now obviously in LA you can do that in West you know, Western Tallahassee in the middle of nowhere. You can't fire the caterer because there are none.

Alex Ferrari 11:43
There's the there's not like 15 more caterers you can call? Yeah, he

Rafael Diaz Wagner 11:47
was just you know, I don't I don't want to talk about about people. But I think that sometimes bravado and Maverick and Oh, he's a hustler gets people away with certain behaviors. Like I've heard, you know, horror stories of Michael Bay. I don't know him personally, but, but I don't think there's an excuse for that. I mean, you know, the makeup girl cried twice. I had to, you know, talk people off a ledge where, you know, going over production, it was just, it was a maniac. Why don't like what, how old one?

Alex Ferrari 12:16
How old? Was he when you made that movie?

Rafael Diaz Wagner 12:17
He's in his 70s. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 12:19
Yeah, I've had I've had I've had experiences with, with, and I'm not gonna say older directors, but a directors that have, like, have had, you know, success in their early days. And they're like in their 70s, sometimes even 80s. I've had projects. And it's very interesting.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 12:39
Yeah, it's very interesting. So very, we got past that. And then I'm the producer on that. But then eventually, we had a difference of opinion with the executive producers and ham and stuff again, I just I walked away from the project. And then they went on to post production and they they sold it and distributed by shout factory. So I saw it on in Best Buy and stuff. Nice night. And as a matter of fact, if you go to IMDb, yeah, I'm credited as the sole producer. But if you buy the DVD or rented, my name is not in the credits. So I just leave it at that.

Alex Ferrari 13:18
That's that's, but that's the stuff they don't teach you in film school.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 13:21
Exactly. And then from that experience, which was really a low point where I really did think I was gonna get a heart attack, it was that bad. I felt sick. I didn't want to go to sleep at night, because I didn't want to wake up the next day, right. And then from that, a year later, I went to probably the best experience I've ever had in a film. And that's Attack of the killer doughnuts.

Alex Ferrari 13:40
So let's talk about Attack of the killer doughnuts because that actually is the reason I called and reached out to you. And then once we started talking, we realized that you know, we'd known each other we'd known each other's work, and we're from Miami and all that kind of stuff. But, dude, I was actually telling you, when we were off air that I saw the poster for Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. While it was at the Cannes Film Fest. Yeah. Sorry, I see. Sorry, Florida, Freudian slip back of the killer doughnuts. And I saw this amazing poster. And I'm like, this can't be real. This can't be a real movie. And I looked it up. I'm like, holy crap, someone made this movie. This is awesome. And I actually posted it all over the place and retweeted it and everything and everyone was like, This can't be everyone's let's say like, no, this is a fake because it looks so good. The poster looks so good that it looked like a fake movie. It looked like a real movie. But then I saw the trailer I'm like, this is brilliant. So that's why I reached out to because I wanted to know first of all, what brought you to make a cat Attack of the killer donuts?

Rafael Diaz Wagner 14:43
Well, while filming shark and saw there was people involved there and you know, when you're when you're on set, you're always thinking what's the next gig? And there were people that were floating around this idea of Oh, you know what, we have this idea for this movie and I was like, I love that and then You know killer donuts and then I said well let's call it attack and the killer donuts because I'm going to I'm going to show you my hand here and the reason it says attack is number one visa starts with an A,

Alex Ferrari 15:10
of course. Yeah. Oh, yeah. distributors list. Yeah. Oh, yeah,

Rafael Diaz Wagner 15:13
let's, I mean, what, when do you go, you're in a hotel room on video on demand, and you start at z never you started a. So boom attack and it and it has also attacking the Killer Tomatoes. It's like, it just rolls off the tongue, you know, attack, stuff like that. So we did that. I read the script. And there was a lot of potential there. But the action didn't really start to like page 45 or 50. And you just, you can't do a movie like that. Like for people that you know, we're just listening or not don't know, every page. In a script. Every every page is a minute. So you're talking about nothing happening for 45 minutes. That's just you can't do a movie like that in a movie called Attack of the killer doughnuts. Exactly. Yeah, like I mean, I love slow cinema, but this is not.

Alex Ferrari 15:56
So this is definitely another French New Wave film.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 15:59
Exactly here are like there's an Austria film A few years ago, I remember called revenge, which is like two and a half hours. And it's so slow. And I was like, I love it. But you know, that's not this. But this is more the Roger Corman school where what I like to say is every 10 to 15 minutes, either something's blowing up, or someone's getting blown. But something has to happen. You know, you can't just sit around. So we tried to do a rewrite. And it was still kind of like, and like I said, my strong suit is writing. So I bought the rights, and then I rewrote it. And then that's what we are now which is what you know, we start off and it's in a laboratory and this critter rat attacks the guy so it's like, you know, because story wise, we couldn't get the doughnuts killing early because they have to be made, which was the problem with 45 minutes, so I had to come up with some sort of action to at least hook you. And what we did is it's a uncle Luthor, he's the Mad professor. He's doing the reanimation serum. And then we see him test the rat and the rat comes to life and it attacks him at least it's like okay, there's something here it's you know, it's kitschy and then it gets the thing going and then eventually he he drops into the fryer layer. 3000 and the donuts come to life.

Alex Ferrari 17:09
Right? That's it That's that's genius.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 17:12
and bad things happen. Yeah, and bad.

Alex Ferrari 17:13
When there's killer ooze that radiates donuts, generally bad things happen. And now you also got to work with the legendary see Thomas how, yeah. How was how was he Thomas to work with Matt.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 17:30
That was also you know, one of those things where you think we'll never get somebody like him. But somebody knew somebody that knew him. And he reached out, and he got it. You know, he's like, I know what this is about. It's not Shakespeare, but it's something you know, he's he's been in the business for a long time since et If not, yeah, yeah, exactly. And, and he, we negotiated, we got him down to a to a ridiculous price that I can't say because I mean, he won't admit to it. He's like, that's a lie. So we had him for three to four days. And he agreed, and then, you know, he showed up and it was great. He was just like, what are we doing?

Alex Ferrari 18:06
So, so so that's a really good point. You had him for about three or four days, right? Yeah. So that's the thing. A lot of people that are listening don't understand that when you see some of these bigger names in these kind of lower budget indie movies, they're not there for three or four weeks. They're there for a day, sometimes sometimes two or three. And though and then you just put their face on the the DVD cover on the poster to sell the movie? Is that generally the way it works?

Rafael Diaz Wagner 18:31
Exactly, yes. That's exactly how it works. And then that's a big advantage because I always get asked, you know, I'm based in Miami, even though I film donuts in Los Angeles. Oh, what's the what's the advantage? What's better? Do I move to LA? And there's good and bad and both the advantage to Los Angeles is, you know, it's easy for me to tell see Thomas out, I need you three days. Just drive up to this address or set a limit and get him Yep. As opposed to we're shooting in Miami. I got to fly him. According to sag, he can't act that day, because he's flown. So that's two days now. Then he acts he can't fly out that day. So now it's three that you know, it's just it's a lot harder as opposed to just drive up, boom, boom, and you're done. You know, right.

Alex Ferrari 19:08
Exactly. And that's, that's one of the things I've when I moved from Miami, and started doing projects here being here, everyone's here as far as actors are concerned. So in this low budget kind of world, it's a lot easier Mike Hey, can you come out for like four or five hours today? And yeah, and just like as opposed to when I was in Miami for get it like trying to get someone you know, let's say uh, Danny Trejo to fly out, forget it. Yeah, you know, but if Danny's at home He's like, yeah, I'm not doing anything on Thursday. Here's my rate y'all show up and there you go. And you've got and you've got a Danny Trejo in your movie. Now you were We were talking OFF AIR a little bit about pay of actors and some p overpaying and underpaying Can you talk a little bit about that?

Rafael Diaz Wagner 19:53
Yes, the movie we shot in 2008. National Lampoon's The Legend of awesomeness Maximus. That was a $2.2 million My budget and that had some names in it. I mean we had a will Sasso ions during Rip Torn Christina lowchen I mean there were there were names in there and one of the things that I tell people because I love giving advice you know people ask me well what do you think this and I tell him you know, you're going to have to overpay somebody someone's going to get overpaid but the flip side of that is that you're you're going to get some deals on somebody I mean, I don't want to say you know, screw somebody but you know, it's it's the other side of the coin. And usually the first person to drop is the one you're gonna have to overpay because nobody wants to be first. I don't care you know, unless you're like you know, Woody Allen or something like that if people drove trip over themselves to be in your movie, nobody wants to be first they're gonna ask you who's directing? Who's in it? And nobody wants to be the first guy so you're gonna have to overpay somebody you know? And sometimes you'd be surprised by some of these older stars that have more clout in the European markets are willing to do certain things you know, for prices like I've heard, you know, like a Malcolm McDowell give you a day for 30,000

Alex Ferrari 21:01
Oh, yeah, I've heard that too. Now, as long as the project he's a little bit more picky but yeah,

Rafael Diaz Wagner 21:07
but it's if it's in LA you know, it's Hey, I'll send a limo 30,001 day I don't care how big you are $30,000 in one day, that's you

Alex Ferrari 21:14
got to be at a certain place in your life to turn that down. Yeah, you got to be I mean as a human being you've got to be in a certain place in your life to turn down 30 grand in a day

Rafael Diaz Wagner 21:23
well look at Bruce Willis and that that fiasco with with Expendables three where he turned on a mill not for a day but he turned on a million bucks and him and sly got into kind of like a you know, a hissy fit about it,

Alex Ferrari 21:35
huh? Well, Bruce is legendary now apparently being yeah being an interesting character to work with though he'll always be john McClane to me and that's who I'd like to think of it

Rafael Diaz Wagner 21:44
as yeah well look at Harrison Ford of like I'll take that million dude I'll be in that you know terrorism for it. So it just depends.

Alex Ferrari 21:50
Yeah, exactly. It's just exactly exactly and and but I've I mean, since I've been in LA I've worked on Cut Pro I don't know 40 features and I've seen a lot of these guys and I always asked the producers like how much did you pay for these guys? You know, I'm like, and I'm shocked shocked sometimes Yeah, at how affordable they are in the grand scope of things you know, 10 grand here for a day, five grand for a day three grand for a day you know, work you know 10 grand for a week, you know, things like that and you're like, really some of these people are you know, household names, older, but household names. I was speaking to one actor and I won't say his name, but I was asking him specifically and he's if I said his name everybody would know who he is. But I was asking him I was like working on a set somewhere and I'm like do you know do you Why do you do a lot of these you know kind of lower end movies He's like, Dude there I call those alimony movies you know, I've got I got alimony to pay for I got mortgages the mortgage to pay for I gotta pay my bills. So that's what they're called, you know, he goes I do them you know, that's why I do them. So and then some guys just like to work like Trey, Trey. Danny just works.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 22:57
I want to I want to emphasize that too. We don't want to make it seem like they're just mercenaries or they're Indian. They want to act in these smaller projects are funner for them.

Alex Ferrari 23:08
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. You mean I mean, if you're working on Shark, shark net shark and I can never say that word shark and saw shotguns I think shotgun saw women's prison massacre. Yeah, you're generally you you feel that you might have a good time on that movie. You know, or Attack of the killer doughnuts? Probably gonna be a fun set.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 23:26
Hopefully. Oh, yeah. Oh, it was I had 30 year veterans tell me I haven't had this much fun in my life. As a matter of fact. I mean, I don't want to give away any of the movie but there's a there's doughnuts. Technically. Yeah. We had someone who made Don Markel. He made an eight foot by eight foot mock up of the donut shop and we blew it up. And he was actually on the team that won the Oscar for blowing up the White House in the first movie. And why don't you do my movie because he's retired. And he's like, Sure, I'll make a I'll make a few bucks, and I'll have fun and he had a blast. He would get into costume and scare the makeup girls. He would like animate a rad remote controlled. He was just like this older kid guys. He was a kid. loving him. He was loving it. And what people don't realize is California is the desert and we're an act in California, which is like 30 minutes north. And in December at night, it's cold. Very cold. So he would dress up in this handsome like Bigfoot suit. And we're in the woods shooting the attack of the killer doughnuts and he jumps out and even grown men like gribbs like, Don Is that you? You know, stuff like that. So it was great. I mean, there's some scenes where we literally told everybody grab 10 doughnuts and when we say action throw that was you know,

Alex Ferrari 24:42
I mean seriously, that's just fun. That's just good. That's good times. That is

Rafael Diaz Wagner 24:46
really is. That's just like, like I said, I went from the worst experience to the best experience and that was, you know, attacking the Cardinals.

Alex Ferrari 24:52
So let me ask you a question. How did you because what caught my eyes because there's look there's a lot of movies that are made at this budget level. At this kind of genre, kind of stuff, but very few are actually marketed properly. And you actually had an amazing poster that caught my eye because I saw the quality in it and I'm gonna put a link I'm gonna have a copy of the poster in the in the show notes, guys so you guys can take a look at the artwork on this. I'm assuming that you obviously with just the name you were already thinking about marketing way before you ever shot anything.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 25:27
Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, we don't have the funds. Unfortunately, when it's low budget. I mean, you throw everything at the film and then at post production, and we had real doughnuts, puppet doughnuts and CGI doughnuts. So we really put the money's on the screen. And it doesn't leave you much for publicity. And unfortunately, it's part of the equation you know, you have to you have to leave something for that. So I always thought like I said, attack starts with an A we can get out there and then we got our, our foreign distributor and they took it they've been to the brilliant film market Cannes Film market. And it's going to Toronto in next week.

Alex Ferrari 26:02
Nice. Nice. And how has it been received in? Have you guys gone after the festival? circuit? Have you been played in festivals?

Rafael Diaz Wagner 26:09
Well, we're foreign went for the markets. And then we had our world for me or July 1 at the Florida super calm. We won Best Film. So as

Alex Ferrari 26:19
you should, as you should, and I know the guys who run that that's their great that is Terry. So running that.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 26:26
Yes, Yes, he is. And as a matter of fact, I'm now next week we're going to the Rome International Film Festival in Rome, Georgia. Yes, every time I say Rome everyday. But something that I did is I'm very good at at strategy when it comes to the festivals. And everybody worships at the altar of Sundance, and I'll go on a limb and be the crazy guy. I don't care about Sundance, I don't like Sundance, I don't like where they represent. They haven't been indie in over 20 years, and you're wasting your money because there's 1000s and 1000s of applicants and it's it's Hollywood. It's indie Hollywood, it's there. So what I did is I looked at a strategy of When is it going to be done? What what months we want to hit and target you know, local ones, genre ones, like I purposely wanted to Florida supercon to be our first one because it's home cook and it's Miami and it's a it's a comic con, you know, so we were actually delayed for a year we were supposed to go last year and we had trouble in post production and stuff like that. And it's funny because I look at my notepad and I'm old fashioned I'm I write everything down and I had my festival strategy and it's going exactly as I planned. All I had to do was change the dates it's you know, Florida super calm Rome International. We can get in you know, we wanted to get into Fantastic Fest. Sure, sure. But we didn't get in unfortunately. But that would have been a big one. And then you know, now we're going to Melbourne Also in, in Melbourne, Florida.

Alex Ferrari 27:58
Yeah, that's a by the way, anyone who's anyone who's listening to this, the Melbourne International Film Festival in Florida, Terry runs that festival. They are amazing. And they treat their filmmakers like Gods It was so much fun that festival. I can't wait yeah, it's Melbourne independent. Excuse me, man. The Independent independent Yeah, cuz

Rafael Diaz Wagner 28:16
the other ones the one in Melbourne, Australia. Yeah, right. Right.

Alex Ferrari 28:19
So I got confused. Yeah, the independent of their awesome and really great festival,

Rafael Diaz Wagner 28:23
which and also again, it's little tricks and it's like the same way attack starts with an A, when you look at the poster now in a few months, it's gonna say, you know, Florida super calm best film. Rome International, Melbourne. Who knows how many of you know Melbourne, Florida.

Alex Ferrari 28:38
Oh, dude, I was doing that. I was doing those tricks back in the day of broken. Yeah. I got into Rome. I'm like, yeah, row Melbourne. I use the Melbourne it's everyone's like, wow, you got to Australia. I'm like, Yes. Yeah, it's mark. It's marketing. Man. It's marketing. Yeah, you know, you know, back in the day, when I went to when I went to broke into Sundance, I literally just, I didn't get in. But I walked the streets with broken and I when I came back to my website, I said, I put the laurels up and I put Sundance, but then underneath that I put visiting. Yeah, that's good. And people were like, wow, it's done. And I had people write up Yes, straight from Sundance. I'm like, Well, technically, I did come straight from Sundance, you know. So these are the kind of like guerrilla techniques you have to do sometimes in marketing.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 29:22
You have to, I mean, I think a lot of a lot of things. I'm sorry a lot of people that go like, let's say a film school, they teach you the right way, quote, unquote, to do things and if you're gonna do that, and play by Hollywood rules, you're gonna get squashed because you can't you can't compete with Transformers three, man, you just can't

Alex Ferrari 29:38
No, No, you can't. And you can't, you can't compete with their marketing. And you've got to be niche. You have to, as they say, the riches are in the niches. And it's very, very true. And as long as you understand what your movie is about, like you obviously understand your market and demographic for Attack of the killer doughnuts. Like that is a very specific niche genre. It's a niche of a niche. It's a niche of genre movie. So it's kind of that kind of movie and that's what you're selling it to, as opposed to people who make like a movie like a cactus cooler doughnuts and the like why didn't I get into Sundance I'm like, Are you crazy? Like that they don't program that guys like it like South by Southwest and might have a shot and might have a shot at that like the midnight you know, movie at South by Southwest or something like that. But

Rafael Diaz Wagner 30:23
Well speaking of that, we almost got into Tribeca, believe it or no that would have been awesome. I didn't apply though because I knew like I said, but our foreign distributor had someone and they showed it to him and we almost made it to their midnight screening but they're like it's a little too small for us you know, which is like Hey, I'll take it you know, I understand Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 30:42
but hey, that's shoot that you were in the conversations awesome.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 30:45
Yeah. If not getting into Fantastic Fest hurt because it was like man, this is up your alley. How do you not get what this is? You know, so But hey,

Alex Ferrari 30:53
but festivals are like the festivals or festivals man and they all have Look, I'm going to go down that road right now with with my new movie. This is Megan. And you know, I've it's the first time I'm going through it as a director of feature film, not a producer a feature or director of shorts. So you can't take it personally, man. It's just like, Look, it's the right place, right time right project and the right person sees it and says, hey, yeah, let's let's make that happen. I've seen people get into Sundance that had absolutely no idea that would ever it'd be it was a lottery ticket. And then I've had other movies that have like, Oh, that's a shoo in for this festival and they don't get in. So yeah, something like Fantastic Fest. I mean this that's a no brainer. But who knows what was going on that day, the programmer who saw it, you know what I mean? It's it's just rough.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 31:36
I mean, to their credit, I emailed because I'm, I'm kind of Luda, you want to translate that. I'll be hard headed. That man, I guess so I you know, thick skin. Yeah, I emailed them. And I'm like, hey, so what is hurting your feet? Because I want to feedback. You know, you can say no, but it's like, I gotta know what's going on. And they're very nice. And they you know, they wrote back I mean, the letter stung even more, because he's like, our programmers saw it and they just didn't have fun. They didn't get it. It's like out.

Alex Ferrari 32:07
Well, you wanted it. There you go. You wanted it. You know,

Rafael Diaz Wagner 32:10
but but then in Florida, super calm to actually see the movie because you know that as you make a movie, you're watching it for like a year by yourself to actually see it with an audience so much that justify it because it was exactly the right audience. I mean, they're yelling at the screen, they're telling the kids don't get out of the car, and stuff like that. So you know. And there's a lot of 80s references that I right off the top of my head, and yes, I'm taking a line from this movie. It's not like I'm trying to sneak it in there. No, it's an homage. And some people won't get it. But this crowd was like, Oh my god, Ferris Bueller. You did it and stuff like that. So they got all the inside jokes.

Alex Ferrari 32:44
Yeah, this, this is a kind of movie that you know, in its initial release might not get what you want. or hopefully it will but then five years down the line, all of a sudden, you've got to call classic on it, because it has the potential for that without question.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 32:57
Oh, yeah. I mean, I tell my investors, I don't know how much they, this reassures them, but it's like I know, 10 years from now. 20 years from now we'll be making money in this movie. Are we gonna make any money this year? I don't know. But 10 years from now, I know we'll be making money and it's just that's the way it is. You know? Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 33:13
absolutely. Absolutely. Now, how is it I want people to understand what it's like producing movies in Miami.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 33:20
Well, it's good and bad. Like, sometimes and um, I fought myself here. A I don't really like to play with others. So there's people that whenever I go to LA or New York, or even you tell me Hey, do you know this guy? And it's like, I have no idea what that is. Dude, he's been in the industry. It's like, I do my own thing you know? And then I don't you know, Miami isn't really like a film. No culture. Every every it's so hard to get a movie here that it's every man for himself, you know. And then I just put together my crew, I usually go after money myself, and I get people who are not in the industry, because I like that because they're not going to read the script. The one thing I mean, I'm a jolly kind of guy, but I have a bad temper. And the one thing that sets me off is when someone that doesn't know film says Hey, can I read the script? It's like you my producing partner like kicks me under the table? She's like, Oh my God, please don't blow up. And it's like, because it's like, I'm gonna get Frank Gehry to design this building and then I'm gonna ask him to read the blueprints Do you know anything about blueprints now and what the hell are you doing? Have you read a script? No, shut the fuck up then you don't need to read the script you know the bad side is that then they're you know, especially in Miami you know Miami what's the only business here is tourism and construction construction is how much is the building? When is it going up? When do I get my money? and film is it's tough. You don't know what to say, you know, you gotta be and the best thing is Be honest with them. If you tell them hey, yeah, right away, you're gonna get your money back. That's the wrong way to go is not going to happen. Now. So you know, paint a picture and in your contract, be very specific. There's a line in the contract that says, this is an investment, and there's, you know, illegal speak, but you could lose everything. And that's the truth. You know,

Alex Ferrari 35:00
you have to you have to do that. Now let me ask you a question with these kinds of genre movies in your experience how are they being accepted by distributors like I know there was a big run on horror and a big run on sci fi, you know, these kind of genre movies still being accepted and actually still being needed in the in the in the in the marketplace.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 35:19
I think there's fans for them. But the reason I did shotguns on the first place was I saw a sci fi was doing a buy. And I heard the numbers that we're paying. And this is like three years ago, they were paying anywhere from from 253 50 to like half a mil or more and a bit because they would give you incentives on ratings. And that just doesn't exist anymore. I mean, and that right now I'm going through that right now, where my domestic sales guy is telling me, you know, people aren't buying. And what's happening is even Netflix, they're investing in creating original content, which is good. But then we're back to having to pitch and that's what I want to avoid. So really, I'm entering a phase where Attack of the killer doughnuts, I hate to save my, I'd be my last horror comedy. And because I'm really going to go even lower budget in the end, what I really like, like I said is my world is more Noir, more that kind of, you know, Reservoir Dogs that even Pulp Fiction, or or Fassbinder or that sort of, that's where I'm gonna go on. It's very realistic. I like as a director because I'm a writer, that's what I am and then I'm producer by nature and director by necessity and, and I'm going to direct and I'm what I like, how I like to direct is very, like voyeuristic camera. I don't I don't like camera moves. I don't like handheld. I want it to be almost like there's certain Robert Altman movies if you see a chance to see the company. Oh, yeah. See the whole movie, and you don't realize, oh, man, I just saw a movie. I don't like to be taken out of the experience I want you to think you're seeing in real life. So very minimalistic, not too much music. Music is great. And it does it enhances a film. But it's still a film. When you see an indie low budget movie, and there's no music, man, that's really happening. You know? Yeah. So that that's what I'm going to embrace. And that's what I'm looking at that and also documentaries. I'm in post production on a documentary right now and I'm prepping for another one.

Alex Ferrari 37:15
They actually sell all the time, and they sell and they travel very well. From my understanding. Yes, big

Rafael Diaz Wagner 37:21
time. That's what they're cheaper to make. And there's a there's a demand form, you know, and I was lucky to speak to Billy Corbin that he's the one who did Cocaine Cowboys, and he wanted me for the you. And he's a Miami guy. And again, I just heard you talk to Billy Corbin I co called them Yep. And he's you know, he's the kind of guy that he'll answer the phone you know, and his assistant said, you know, he only has half an hour at this day this time. And I was like alright, I'll do it and he ended up talking to me for over an hour and just you know, picking his brain he was I was telling him I want to go into documentaries and what do you recommend on this net? And he was like, yeah, and they're they're selling you know, Netflix wants them everybody wants them so it's the way to go and it's for my type of shooting Like I said, I don't I wasn't trained as a director I don't think oh, let's move the camera here and then you have more documentary and you have already more cinema Verity so I might as well just stick to that so

Alex Ferrari 38:12
yeah, that's that's the thing a lot of a lot of people don't understand that. That documentaries are doing really well and have been doing well for a long time. And you're and I've, I've know, I know guys who've made over a million dollars self distributing their documentaries. Because of that, because of the the whole the cause and finding a cause behind the documentary and then everyone jumps on board.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 38:38
Sorry, look at Adam Carolla. Adam Carolla did a documentary on Paul Newman. And then he's self distributing. Not because nobody wanted a movie, but he's taking the middleman out of it. Oh, he has a million followers on that podcast. Yep, he put he put it up on a thing called VHS. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 38:55
of course I have my stuff on VHS as well there. I

Rafael Diaz Wagner 38:57
love VHS and it's he's selling directly so he has a million followers. If 10% of his people buy it, that's 100,000 times 14 that's $1.4 million in his pocket not to a distributor you know you can't beat that.

Alex Ferrari 39:11
No, absolutely. And then on top of that, then you can go to Amazon Video direct directly and start popping it up on there. You can do Vimeo pro I mean there's so many revenue streams now for but you need that audience is what I preach all the time. You need an audience

Rafael Diaz Wagner 39:25
that's the key and then now the range 15 guys, I don't know if you know about Oh, it's a range. 15 is this movie made by its ex Special Forces guys that they have a clothing line at two separate groups, and they combined and they made a zombie movie. And they have a huge following because it's a loyal fan base. And then they went to Indiegogo and they asked for 350,000 and they ended up getting a million and change. Wow. So yeah, so then and what they did is you know, instead of paying we get to make money, no they threw everything at the screen. So they got William Shatner, Sean asked Then, David Keith, I think Danny Trejo might be in of course, sure.

Alex Ferrari 40:04
I think by law, Danny has to be in every movie.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 40:09
And they put it they put it in theaters they use I don't remember. I'm sorry which one they use, but they use them. So we were taught, you have to, yeah, we had the pre sell certain amount of tickets. And if you make it, they'll put it into theaters. And then now they're self distributing. And they're using a distributor also,

Alex Ferrari 40:27
yeah, distributors. And another awesome I'm actually going to be doing a bunch of stuff with distributor in the future, because they're actually cool. They do. They allow you to kill the middleman. And you can go directly to all the online platforms, and VOD and cable VOD as well.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 40:42
Yeah, it's up to you. I mean, there are there are fees and it's not their fees. It's you know, it's not distributed taking their their cut. They have a very small fee. It's, it's, it's Yeah, so But the thing is, like I said before, you have to as a filmmaker, if you're gonna make a movie, look into distributor beforehand, and see how much money you're gonna need to save for that, and tuck that away. So that when your movie is made, you can do it as opposed to now Hey, I want to be a distributor. I can't afford it. You know, so Right,

Alex Ferrari 41:09
exactly. And then it's also about just, just understanding marketing, understanding a distribution plan, understanding all of that stuff, you make your movie and, and keeping that budget low enough that you can make your money back.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 41:21
Definitely. I mean, I think the budgets are gonna get lower and lower. donatos under 500,000 we shot shark and saw for under 300,000 if you believe that, and I think the budgets are going lower than that. I mean, depending on what you get, you know, you throw money at me, I'll make a movie. It doesn't matter how much money I just it, you can't make the same movie for the same amount of money. You almost have to be like, like food, like deconstructed. It's like, okay, we only have 150,000 Can we make a movie? Yes. there's not gonna be any stars in it. And what do we have? What are our assets? Well, I got three blank guns. A friend has a Ferrari you know so you just start to what do we got then that's what the movies

Alex Ferrari 42:07
you've got you go down the Robert Rodriguez with and mariachi way of doing things, which is like, what do you have? Let's write a script around all your assets. Exactly. And that's the smartest way of going about it. That's what I did with Meg. I literally just looked around like, Alright, I have access to these, this, this, this and this. That's what we're making a movie about. And let's go. Now, let me ask you, from your experience in distribution, what what like as far as foreign sales are concerned, are there? Are there specific countries that like genre movies, more or less you know, what are your What can you tell us any stories from the distribution of worldwide distribution experiences that you've had?

Rafael Diaz Wagner 42:47
Unfortunately, everybody wants names now. So when you if you make a known like, not, not with anybody named any names, movie, even genre, it's, it's hard. Japan, Japan always likes monster movies. Germany loves anything American. They're very kind. And ironically, of course, the two territories we've already sold as Germany and Japan, so but they're both very big markets in the big picture yet, then there's, we're an English speaking movie. So England is always going to be big, but then the other ones. It's kind of tough. It depends how much again, if it was a straight horror slasher movie, I think it would maybe have more legs if you had a nudity. But this is horror comedy. So you know, which is always a tough sell in general, it was very, very people are like, why are you doing that? It's like, well, that's just what we're doing here. So that's where it's a little slow coming. And then it's almost like does domestic, you know, if you make it big and domestic, then does that turn into foreign but believe it or not more and more the domestic market USA and foreign, it's splitting, it's a road and they're not meeting and it's just totally different. Like there's movies that are bombing here, and they're rockin in China. And then it's like, what, what's more important,

Alex Ferrari 43:59
you know, like Warcraft, Warcraft was an absolute bomb here. But, but overseas, it It killed?

Rafael Diaz Wagner 44:06
Yeah, and not only genre movies, but sometimes, you know, the, the more the more dramas, stuff like that, that it's that's a nightmare to sell here. But they're into that informed and something that I like, and it comes back from my live video days is I love foreign movies. So I get the I know these actors, it's like, well, I recognize this guy, I recognize that guy. And if you have an opportunity, again, it all depends on cost. But this one guy, let's say you're doing a movie, and it's the chef, instead of just putting a known name chef. If you can get this guy who's in Germany, but he hasn't made an American movie. Now when you go sell it, hey, Germany might be a little bit more

Alex Ferrari 44:42
interested. And they give you a lot. You know, there's

Rafael Diaz Wagner 44:44
a big German star. Exactly, or this person who's, again, remember everybody wants to play here. Like in Miami. The big thing is, there's telenovela stars left or right, they want to break into the market. You know, again, unfortunately, Latin America is not so big as a Europe In other countries but it's still Hey, it's still my how exactly and I got a I got so and so on this you know and a lot of these telenovela stars are like me either they were born here so they have zero accent

Alex Ferrari 45:11
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. So yeah, I was I was I did a movie with Kate del Castillo and Eva Longoria and they sold it in South America huge because gate gate that let's get la Castillo before the whole choppy thing. Yeah. No one knew or really as much here in the States but she is she's a monster over in South America.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 45:43
Yeah. And even here in some he in the states domestically for some markets. Like there's there's a story of I don't know if you know, Carlos Ponce's

Alex Ferrari 45:51
of I know Carlos. Yeah, actually, I've never worked with him. But I've met him a couple times. He's awesome.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 45:56
nicest guy in the world he was in for people who are out there he was in Couples Retreat is the shredded guy in the speedos accident.

Alex Ferrari 46:03
He was also on that crystella TV show started that as well. Yeah, he's super sweet guy, super sweet guy.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 46:10
And he says a story once that he went with I don't remember what big time actor they were in LA and they're having lunch or whatever. And somehow they went to a restaurant and who works in the back of the restaurant. You know, somebody took a peek into like, oh my god appoints it and the entire kitchen comes out. And they're like, Can we take a picture? And the guy the actor he's with thinks it's with him. And the guy hands him the camera. He's like, you know, with Carlos and then they take a picture and then they go back and they and I forget who the name of the actor is. He's he tells Carlos Hey, dude, how old are you? He's like, Hey, man, I'm big.

Alex Ferrari 46:42
I'm huge just right here but huge big in the kitchen. Yeah, Carlos is his couponado right?

Rafael Diaz Wagner 46:50
He's a Cuban parents born in Puerto Rico. Okay, Cuban parents in Puerto Rico so and he's he's excellent at accents in Spanish or English. Like in Spanish man. How cool from neutral. To Cuban to Mexican to Argentinian to it's like, Papa, He's really good.

Alex Ferrari 47:05
He works all the time. He's one of them. works all the time. And he was born with ridiculously good looks. Like absurd absurdly good looks for a man. It's ridiculous. So let me ask you one. Like, if you had one, if you had a classroom of fresh, I'd wondered, like sparkly eyes. I want to be in Hollywood, kind of film students. What would you say to them before they got launched into a film career.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 47:36
Right now what I would tell them is Shoot, shoot, shoot, always be shooting. If you wait for the script is too good. I can't do it. Now. you blink and 10 years passed by and you haven't done anything. You know, I just this last weekend. Jonas Trevor was in town. When he spoke. He's a director and his father's been under through who won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film for about a book, then he's like in his 20s. And he's making movies now he's made four movies. And this is a man who has a name in Europe. I mean, he he can get people to give him money. And one of the movies he did took him seven months, because he was trying to get funding. And he got tired of that. And he's like you don't want I'm going to get together with a group of people, Mike, my core keys, which is six people. And we're going to shoot for free. And we're going to shoot one day for six hours. And I don't know when we'll shoot again. But this day, we'll shoot for six hours. And he did that for seven months. 22 shooting days, and he got a movie. Now if I tell you let's make a movie and seven months, that's a nightmare.

Alex Ferrari 48:38
Oh my god, can you imagine it just did you just have to do what's the the endurance, you have to just keep that momentum going?

Rafael Diaz Wagner 48:47
Oh, but the flipside is, it's September now. And what have I shot this year? Nothing. If I would have done the same thing starting in January and said, I'm going to one day a week, just one day a week we're going to shoot something for free. What would I have by now, you know, and to students who don't have money who don't have a you know, if you're a student still in school, you have an arsenal of equipment at your disposal. I mean, University of Miami has, you know, some of the movies I've shot. That's, that's how I shot it because my dp worked for us. So I mean, if you're young, and you have that, you know, shoot, always be shooting and don't be afraid to shoot something that's not as good. That's what being in your 20s of being in film school is all about, you know, experiment. Now that's the problem with film, I think, in general that, you know, Picasso didn't wake up. But when he was 12, and said, Hey, Cubism No, he was classically trained. And it took me years to get to that. As filmmakers, we don't get an opportunity to experiment and to grow, because everything has to be a hit, and it's too much money, and that's too bad. I think we need that. And that's

Alex Ferrari 49:50
what and that's the thing that I actually mentioned before is on the show, as well as that I use the analogy of baseball, where everyone, anytime you walk up to the plate, filmmakers think they have to hit a homerun. But they only go up to the plate once every two or three years. But those guys that go up all the time and you know what they might be singles but every single gets you closer to that home run and you just got to get up to the plate and by getting up to the plate you just got to keep shooting got to keep making and don't worry if it doesn't turn out great All right, you've learned and you move on and that's something that it takes years and you know you and I are both from the same vintage so I think that's something you learn with age you know we you know I'm in my 20s I couldn't I couldn't even fathom that but it's something that as you get older you're just like you know what what's the worst that will happen you make a movie that doesn't doesn't do everything you want it to do but it's okay. You made a mistake every one of these every one of these big directors all made mistakes every one of them and they learn

Rafael Diaz Wagner 50:49
and it's getting to you it's getting you to where you want to go it's getting to that point look at Mark Douglas he said that you know he he's the he should be the inspiration for everybody out there. Yeah, that speech he said at South by Southwest Two years ago we said the Calvary is not coming. Those days. If you're going to Sundance we're going to write a check for $3 million are not going to happen and he knew that so what he was is instead of being good, I'm going to be prolific. And he went him and Swanberg yeah just Rosberg, Lynn Shelton that whole crew right that mumblecore group they were cranking out you know three four sometimes Swanberg five movies in one year, one

Alex Ferrari 51:23
year he did seven that was just you know, crazy

Rafael Diaz Wagner 51:27
man. But it's feature films again, you know, I'm sometimes I'm a little harsh on people do shorts. Yeah. But it's because a feature film is something you could sell. It's real. You know, I'm not saying I'm not knocking shorts, if you do a short that's great. You know, you're still shooting. But you do a Swanberg or a Douglas, and you crank that for five years, let's say for movies for five years. Hey, after five years, you get 20 feature films under your belt? Someone's gonna someone's gonna take notice.

Alex Ferrari 51:51
Yeah, no, that's the thing and that's what's winesburg said like it took him about I think probably about four or five features, shooting on VHS like you know, on many DVDs and stuff like that didn't care about sound. I think that whole mumble core movement is kind of the inspiration for what I did with Meg. But at a hopefully at a higher production quality than they did when they first started within the when they first started out. But the technology now you could just go out and shoot man, you just can't just go on. Shoot. It's, it's crazy, man. It really is crazy. But that's great advice.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 52:20
I've gotten I will. And as a matter of fact, there's 10 to 20 film festivals around the world split specifically only for stuff you shoot with an iPhone or with with your phone. So that's, you know, oh, I don't have a camera, no money. You got a phone. They sell lenses a lens, little mini lens package for phones for like 40 bucks. So there's no excuse, you know, no, it's not going to be pretty, but it's something.

Alex Ferrari 52:44
I mean, look at tangerine. And I use tangerina all the time when Shaun Baker did who won Sundance shot on that iPhone. But a lot of people thought that like Oh, now I can go shoot a movie with an iPhone. I'm like, Well, if you want it to look like tangerine, you really got to do your homework and understand what he did. But you can do it. He did it. You can do it. As long as it works for the story that you're trying to tell. If you're trying to make Transformers The iPhone might be right. Yeah, but if you're making a character piece, it's fine. It's great. It's absolutely great. So my friend I asked the same questions of all of my guests. Last two questions. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life

Rafael Diaz Wagner 53:25
to just do it? Like I said, I've spoken to agents and ca I've spoken to Billy Corbin I spoken to two other people and I just picked up the phone and call called the worst that can happen is no and also just to be persistent. My favorite word is relentless. I won't stop one investor that invested in one of my films. I would email him in the morning and call them at night every day for nine days straight including Sunday and one day he said like we have to meet You're driving me crazy and I'm like good because if you don't say no I'm coming after you

Alex Ferrari 53:59
oh no so if you see if you would have said no you would have stopped

Rafael Diaz Wagner 54:03
if he says no yes I would have stopped unless I feel like maybe they're just a little bit more but yeah, you're gonna see a hard to know

Alex Ferrari 54:11
sometimes no really mates baby.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 54:13
Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 54:16
Now what are three of your favorite films of all time?

Rafael Diaz Wagner 54:20
Oh, this is a difficult question because there's so many good ones.

Alex Ferrari 54:23
But three That tickles your fancy today's

Rafael Diaz Wagner 54:26
there's just something you just have to mention. I mean my all time favorite is Casa Blanca because you see it now and yeah, there's midgets in the background and it's a miniature and yeah, he did so much with so little thing about there's no sex in it. I mean, it took me years to figure out Oh, Rick, did sleep with her. But you know, it's so subtle. I didn't know that. But it's just it's such a great movie and it's I don't know if we have those kind of decisions or that kind of like love and a cause now Is there a cause you would really do that for Hell no. So Casa Blanca, definitely number one. more modern godfather I think that's just such a masterpiece. Yeah. And then God I gotta go I click that cuz I love like, like foreign films and stuff like that. So I think I almost got to go breathless by genre, some crazy film and the thing is it's very it's a flawed film and it's not perfect, and people see it now sometimes younger people are like, I don't get it. I'm like, you know what, go watch another French movie from 1959. Or like pillow talk from 1959, where it's like they're in separate beds, and it's polished turd. We're breathless is so real. And it's like, if you watch that movie, and it doesn't inspire you to go out and shoot something, you're not a filmmaker.

Alex Ferrari 55:45
Now, and I'll tell you to make a point to that. And again, since you and I are both at the same vintage and I wanted to ask you this, this has happened to me, where when you see something when you're in your teens or 20s, and you don't get it, but in your 30s, you might start feeling a little bit, but maybe in your 40s I'm not saying you're in your 40s but, but I'm 42 Okay, Sammy, so you're the exact same vintage as I am. So now you're in your early 40s and you watch a movie like Eyes Wide Shut, where when it came out in 99, you might have gone don't don't get it but don't get it or you watch Clockwork Orange, or you watch just using Stanley Kubrick references but but those kind of movies that you know that age well, and they age like in other words, like great art should change as you grow. So looking at the Mona Lisa, when you're 15 should be a lot different than when you look at it when you're in your 50s different appreciation different kind of kendo kind of sort of have the rip it down like that. Yeah,

Rafael Diaz Wagner 56:53
and also taking like I said things instant in context. Like for example, there's some younger guys now that see Pulp Fiction, they're like, Oh, yeah, it's alright. It's alright, because it's been so redone afterwards.

Alex Ferrari 57:05
My father like the Godfather, yeah,

Rafael Diaz Wagner 57:07
put it in 1994. And you're like, wow, like brother. Plus 1959 you're like, Whoa, you know, I mean, certain things like coming home. How hardly in 19 I don't remember for 6970 around there. I mean, let's let's put this into perspective. There's a scene where I'm counting cow what's Angelina Jolie's dad's name is john boy Oh, boy. Yeah. Jon Voight is eating out Jane Fonda. Let me let me repeat that he's having he's performing oral sex on Jane Fonda. This is an R rated movie in the cinema. Nominated for Best Picture. I think he won Best Actor for that. Now fast forward to 2016 you can't put a freakin boob on TV. I mean on the movies, like I mean, what is it? How is that possible that we've regressed so much? You know, but definitely definitely what you said some movies age better, like back in 94. Again, Pulp Fiction Forrest Gump. I mean, I was in the pulp fiction camp all the way. Now, you asked me which is the best one and you know what? It might be Shawshank Redemption. It might be nobody talks.

Alex Ferrari 58:11
Oh, no, it is starting it. I mean, I mean, don't get me wrong. Let's not talk about if Pulp Fiction is better than full force or better than than Shawshank, but Shawshank is one of those movies that holds and will hold for eternity. While I think Pulp Fiction You're right. It was of that moment. And it was a it was a nuclear bomb that went off. While Shawshank was not that nuclear bomb. He was the tortoise and that tortoise has been slowly to now on IMDB. It's ranked higher than godfather as the best movie of all time. And a lot of people, a lot of people put it up there with the frickin godfather. Because it is just one of those movies. He's just watching. Just go Okay, this is as perfect of a movie as you can get for my opinion. You know, and I think I'm not I'm not I'm not alone on that. But yeah, that definitely, that definitely happens. And like, from our time, you know, I thought Bloodsport was the greatest movie of all time when I saw. Now don't get me wrong, Bloodsport frickin rocks, man. It's still it's

Rafael Diaz Wagner 59:11
like, I don't know Bloodsport. But how many movies are there that you remember as a kid and think this movie's awesome and you see it now and it's heartbreaking like oh my god it's so bad

Alex Ferrari 59:22
I mean, hard to kill. I'm gonna go down to Steven Seagal junk club on campus all of those movies when they came out I was just like does it double impact this is awesome this is great and then you're like oh like I remember when that you watch it like it's on TNT or something as you're you know watching when that you like how much that doesn't hold doesn't hold well

Rafael Diaz Wagner 59:43
to that pop up is Flash Gordon you remember that?

Alex Ferrari 59:46
Oh God Jesus man Flash Gordon. That did not act well at all.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 59:51
And crawl. Oh my god. Oh

Alex Ferrari 59:52
my god, bro. Like I still only remember it being the most awesome movie of all time. When I saw I don't watch it. Never going to To watch it Liam Neeson was in that was he Liam Neeson? A young Liam Neeson was one of the like sub sub characters like he's one of the like this co stars of that movie if you go back but yeah crawl for anyone who that I'm gonna put links of the description to these films in the show notes guys because crawl arguably was the greatest movie of all time when like it was just like absolutely amazing I remember

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:00:26
speaking sorry speaking of Liam Neeson I have the Miami Vice episode he was Oh yeah.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:32
Anyone know if you guys watched Miami Vice anyone listening? Everybody who's a big star walk through Miami Vice doors for those to be like everybody Bruce Willis, Helena Bonham Carter, Liam Neeson and then there's 1000s of names I just don't remember off the top of my head. But all alums Phil obviously Phil Collins. There was a movie I'm and I'm going to geek out for a second Do you remember watching a movie called showdown A Little Tokyo?

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:00:55
Oh, that don't wait, don't tell me that is Dolph Lundgren. Yeah, and Bruce Lee's Brandon Lee

Alex Ferrari 1:01:01
the late the late Brandon Lee Yes, yeah. Greatest action movie I'd ever seen at that point. I literally remember watching it stopped it at the end of the VHS rewound it watched it again. It was just like such a great film. And I've seen it lately and you know it just it's camping out now. It's just like all that kind of nostalgic campy, it holds better surprisingly than a lot of 80s action.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:01:22
Well, I mean, if we're gonna geek out I'm gonna go into martial arts route.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:26
Oh, let's go Jim. Jim.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:01:31
No showdown A Little Tokyo. What I'm saying is if you really want to see authentic jeet kune do, which is the form that Bruce Lee developed showdown Little Tokyo is probably I don't know if they've done something after that. But that was the best example of G kundo. Because what Brandon Lee is doing is g kundo. And if you don't know martial arts, it's gonna it's very similar doesn't goes over your head, but it's a lot of like front lead. A lot of like, the name of G kundo means the way of the intercepting fist. So the whole concept was not to do the traditional kung fu masters like whoa and a lot of movies it was just more direct. But if you know if your martial arts enthusiast and you want to see real g condo that's, that's where

Alex Ferrari 1:02:10
did he do it in rapid fire as well.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:02:13
He did. Well, he did anything that has Brandon Lee, that he did that.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:18
He only unfortunately only had a few movies. And the crow Of course, whoever has not seen the crow the original I know they're talking about remaking it, but they shouldn't be

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:02:28
the first one. Why? Why do they make remakes? I mean,

Alex Ferrari 1:02:32
don't get me. Don't get me started. I'm MacGyver the new show. Come on lethal weapon. A show. reel. I

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:02:38
don't get that.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:39
Come on. Come on. Sorry. Sorry, guys. We have gone off the rails. We've just started to geek out.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:02:48
Before we go like another movie, I have to recommend PT Anderson. Mm hmm. Of course love me. I mean, Paul Thomas Anderson. He has a lot of great movies. Go see Hard Eight, his first movie? Oh, yeah, that's my favorite movie of his I own it. And I'll pop it in. I've seen that movie like 12 times. Because it's so subtle. And it's so how to make a good small movie. Yes, Gwyneth Paltrow has done it. And they have some names and ends and Samuel Jackson, whatever, but but look at the filming. Look at the shots. And a lot of times another advice that I give out when I really want to see shots in a movies. I'll watch a movie in mute. Yep. Because then then you know, you're not following the stories just visually, like I saw with my wife. I went to the movies to see what is this movie? Scott? The movie with with Michael Fassbender, that he's an attorney.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:43
Not the not the anatomy crews,

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:03:45
the counselor. Oh, the counselor.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:47
Do you remember the counselor? That there was a Ridley Scott movie,

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:03:50
wasn't it? Yes, Ridley Scott. It was such a mess. My wife leaned into me and said, Do you understand what's going on? And I whispered, and I said no, but look how pretty it is. It was and I was really it's really Yeah, when this comes out on DVD. Yeah, I'm so gonna watch this and mute and really enjoy it because it was just, the script is just a mess. I'm like, What is going on? I don't get it. But there's a scene when he sees the Mexican lawyer. It's a Rembrandt. I mean, what he does with lighting is fantastic.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:18
No, I mean, but Ridley Scott, I mean, he's Yeah, he's a living legend. And I hope he continues to make there's a few directors that I hope that can that are with us like Clint Eastwood. I hope he's with us for a while longer, because every time he does something, it's just you know, for the most part he always does amazing stuff. Ridley is one of those guys Spielberg Of course, though, I heard BFG was a little off.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:04:40
I hit this. We were on such a good note. I don't want to be a hater, but I've never been a real Spielberg fan.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:47
Alright, so that'd be the end of the episode guys. Thank you. So calm jack and Joe

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:04:52
is a great filmmaker. Because what he does good is when he wants you to cry, you're gonna cry when he wants you to jump. You're gonna jump. He is a good filmmaker. I Just don't like his his style that's that's all it is like for example, I would like what I was saying like when I film I don't want you to know him there and move my camera around here. He always has to have a little something where he lets you know hey, I'm here like for example, this is a big pet peeve of mine. Catch Me If You Can great movie Leonardo DiCaprio, the big climactic scene he's packing the money in the second store and they're gonna run out and that money floats away where you know you had to do that with CGI because money doesn't do that it's like why did you do that? Why are you taking me away from the film you know, but in his style but the style no yeah i mean that's that's that's just taste you know? Sure is the fence if you see Munich which is a dark film it's very not like Steven Spielberg it's just shot incredibly that's that's an incredible movie to it. It's really dark.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:48
Yeah, and jaws of course is still Yeah, jaws again.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:05:51
It's the perfect You know, you're not gonna see the monster and you're still gonna be very scared you're gonna jump what I tell you to jump he he's great at that credit where credit is due

Alex Ferrari 1:05:59
and just holds I mean for movies. There's not a lot of movies from the 70s that hold today?

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:06:05
Well, depends I mean, there's a lot of like the 70s was the golden age of like, this is you're talking late 70s one week

Alex Ferrari 1:06:11
yeah, yeah. Taxi Driver. Yeah, taxi driver is the writer those things but like, just like the effect, like, like Pulp Fiction was a very specific movie in the 90s that kind of blew up and there's like taxi drive taxi driver still holds very, very well. These are masterpieces. Obviously all of the godfathers in the 70s but jaws as a horror movie. Like how many how many Thriller Horror movies from the 70s hold today? You know, it's a very short

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:06:38
book Yeah, they're not that good

Alex Ferrari 1:06:41
yeah, this Yeah, something that just would still like if I pop that in it'll still scare the hell out of you and it's just done so well. So so so well, but anyway, we have gone completely off the rails. No worries. So where where can people find you online?

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:06:56
Well on Twitter and Instagram it's blackphone Miami ra FAMI ami Rafa Miami and then that's pretty much what I put out there it's I try to keep it either very positive Phil will make I don't get into politics or anything like that or just everyday life like there's a an Instagram I can have will be now that I'm drinking or stuff like that. And then Attack of the killer doughnuts we're gonna conclude our festival run and hopefully be available at by the end of the year, if not December, January around that time, and probably I won't point a VHS because I love VHS. I can't talk enough about it.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:31
No VHS is a great again if you have that. It's it's a great platform if you have an audience and if you can drive traffic if you can drive traffic it's I mean, I would if I can send a million people to VHS I would self distribute everything.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:07:43
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. There's not even a million and that's nothing like before we go like a good point to put out there have you got to build your audience and really in this day and age, what you need is 10,000 true fans there's there's a business Trapper that

Alex Ferrari 1:07:57
that's actually 1000 true fans. Oh, there you go. It's the tech the it's based on the the the article from the founder of Wired Magazine. It's 1000 true fans 1000 true fans, I could pay you 10 bucks a month on 100 bucks a year. 100 bucks

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:08:11
100 bucks a year whether it's one one thing for 110 for 10 because then it's 100,000 I say 10,000 because then you start flirting with that, you know 10% failure. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, so right yeah, you gotta get you got to get them out because I there's there's models that have millions of followers on Instagram, and I used one of them for a project and I'm like, well, temporary. Sen followers, and it's like, that doesn't translate you have to have true fans. No, right? true fans are

Alex Ferrari 1:08:36
exactly just because you're you know, a beautiful girl on Instagram, you have 3 million followers. Like I was talking to somebody the other day about it. Like if you put Kim Kardashian in a movie. That doesn't mean anything. Yeah, it doesn't. She has 77 million followers on Instagram and Twitter and all that stuff doesn't mean a thing. You know, it doesn't it really doesn't mean a thing. So it's all it's about true fans, people who really, really care about what you're doing as an artist, or as a company depending So, my friend I won't take up any more your time, brother. Thank you so much for for being on the hustle, man. Thanks so much.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:09:09
I know thank you and I look forward to seeing you in LA in person. I'll probably be there for you FM in November, so

Alex Ferrari 1:09:14
Alright, sounds good brother well see you soon.

Rafael Diaz Wagner 1:09:16
Bye Bye

Alex Ferrari 1:09:18
Man Attack of the killer doughnuts. That's all I have to say. You guys gotta go check it out. Make sure you check out the show notes at indie film hustle.com Ford slash 108. You have links to all of his movies I think we talked about on the show, and so on. So definitely check it out and check out Raphael's other work as well. But back to the killer donuts, man. Seriously, it's got you just got to love it, man. Gotta love it. And I love doing what I do here at any film hustle. Because you get to meet so many amazing people from different walks of life with different creative visions, and getting their art out there man. However they want to do it. So it's pretty it's pretty crazy. So don't forget to head over to filmmaking podcast calm and leave me A good review for the show guys please, it really does help us out a lot getting the word out on what we do at the indie film, hustle and getting the hustle out to as many filmmakers as humanly possible. It is my goal in life to help you, the filmmaker, you the artists to get your work, get your your art out there, man. And as I've always said, It is your responsibility to get your art out there because you have no idea how it can change someone's life. Keep that hustle going, keep that dream alive, and I'll talk to you soon.

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IFH 084: How Filmmakers & Artists Should Deal with Haters!

Right-click here to download the MP3

Haters, a problem that artists, filmmakers or anybody who puts themselves out there have to deal with. I know of many filmmakers who are crippled by what other people think or say about them. The fact is that you are going to create anything; a poem, write a novel, make a movie, write a song, cook a meal or build a house, there will be people who have opinions.

Now opinions are fine. As they say, ever has an opinion and the internet has given everyone with an opinion a voice. Now there are constructive, mature opinions and there are straight-up haters. People who want to bring you down for a myriad of reasons.

I decided to shine a bit of light on this topic because it is so important on your filmmaking journey to be free of the good opinions of others, as the late Wayne Dyer used to say. You can not allow other people’s opinions or thoughts to bring you down or stop your forward momentum when making art of any kind.

Take a listen to my experience with haters I’ve dealt with over the years. I hope it inspires you to continue creating regardless of the good opinion of others.

“Don’t let compliments get to your head and don’t let their criticism get to your heart.” – Anoyomous

Alex Ferrari 0:00
So guys today, you know I wanted to do this episode, because I think it's something that every artist and anybody who puts themselves out in the public at all has to deal with. I'm talking about haters. Now. I always like to say that haters you know, drinking you know haterade by the by the by the palette, they're buying the haterade of Costco that's how much they hate sometimes and you know when I first did my first movie back in 2005 and you know I got I'm really put myself out there pretty heavily with with that short film broken. And I got a lot of reviews, a lot of great reviews on the movie and just a lot of love. And the second I got a Roger Ebert quote, I'm not kidding you I had four or five bad reviews back to back the back to back right after that. And the haterade the haters, if you will, came out with such vengeance and just veracity that was it's still out there somewhere online if you want to check them out. They're hilarious, the the reviews and comments and things like that it was actually quite brilliant. And if these guys would just put a little effort into making their own movies, as opposed to all the effort into hating me back then. Maybe things will be a little different. But I wanted to talk about haters and people who don't believe in what you're doing. And a lot of times just trolls or haters that just go after you because of whatever reason they want to go after you for whether it be jealousy, whether it be just who they are. And that's the one thing I want to kind of really stress out about this. You're not going to make everyone happy as an artist. As a filmmaker, you're going to make movies that cannot you can't make everyone happy period. Some people might not like your style. Some I pick my people not like the way you do things, or the way you make your movies. But can you imagine the amount of haters that Robert Rodriguez, uh, Quinn, Tarantino, uh, Kevin Smith, a spike lee, a David Fincher, Chris Nolan, all these guys have had their haters. I know it's hard to believe. But all you got to do is just go on google and type in. Let's say this Shawshank Redemption, arguably one of the greatest movies of all time. I've yet to meet many people, if any at all. Who don't either like it love it. I think it's the greatest movie of all time, or at least it didn't enjoy it. They acknowledge it being a very well told story. I've never heard of, I've never met anyone who disliked it, like just really disliked it. Well, if you just go on to Google and go, Shawshank Redemption, bad review, you will read bad reviews of Shawshank Redemption, and it'll make you feel better if someone's crapping on your stuff. I mean, not that your stuff is, or my stuff for that matter is as good as Shawshank Redemption. But it just shows you that no matter how good something is, there's always going to be someone hate and always going to be haters out there. And I know it affects a lot of people differently. Specifically, you know, I've been around for 20 odd years, and I've gone through this multiple times with my projects, anytime you put your projects out there, especially on the internet, people will hate people will leave comments, people will do whatever they want to do. And that's fine. And that's who they are. And, and you have to understand that you can't, you won't, you have to understand that people are going to be who they are. So if they're nasty people, they're going to be nasty. If a frog is going to be a frog, you can't be angry at them for being the frog. You know, you just can't, you know, if you are hanging out with a snake and the snake bites you, you can't be angry at the snake because that's what snakes do. You know, that's what their nature is. So if people are going to hate that might just be who they are. They might be dealing with other things that they're dealing with, in their own personal lives. And this is the way they get it out. Who knows, maybe they just want to hate just for the sake of hating. And that's fine. It's completely acceptable if you want to, I mean, not acceptable, I don't accept it. I think it's horrible. You know, everyone has an opinion. And I've always tried to be very constructive with my opinions. I try not to be juvenile with my opinions, on on movies on on people because it's very difficult to make a movie, it's very difficult to make art to put yourself out there as an artist, it's very difficult to have a podcast to have a blog, a public blog, where it's you know, 1000s upon 1000s of people read it every day. And you know, people will have their opinions on what you have to say about things and that's okay opinions are everyone has them you know, just like they say opinions are like assholes. Everyone's got one you know, I don't mean to be rude crude about it, but it's the truth. You know, so, you know, I have a couple sayings I love to hear anytime I get haters or people dislike something I'm doing. And it says basically, a tiger doesn't lose sleep over the opinion of a sheep. And, you know, and I think that was such a great, great saying, because, look, I've studied so many different filmmakers over the course of my career. You know, the Ridley Scott's the Chris Nolan's The David Fincher is the Tarantino's. And I've noticed that among all these people, especially anybody at the top level, anybody that's made it to the higher echelons of whatever field they're in. One thing they all have in common, is generally speaking, they don't let other people's opinion really matter that much. They just go forward. You know, Ridley Scott has not read a review of his movies, I think since some of the early ones he made prior to Blade Runner. Because I mean, someone like Ridley Scott has been, you know, bashed so many times over the years for the kind of movies because you know what, you know, you're not going to bat 1000 on all your movies, every artist, every filmmaker, you're not going to be making, you know, homeruns Oscar winning things every single time. It doesn't work that way. Art doesn't work that way. So, you know, someone like him, he just kind of just puts his head down. He's like, I don't listen to it. I just do me. And that's my advice to you guys. You're always gonna have people around you who don't believe in you who are hating on you just literally just because they have their own issues and they want to hate on you. There's other people who are going to try to bring you down and of the day guys, is just listen to yourself. And, and, and just do you just do you do the art you want to do, do the movies you want to make. Do you think that someone like Lloyd Kaufman, who runs troma films, who's been a guest on our show, and I'll leave a link in that in the in the in the show notes. Lloyd makes movies like Toxic Avenger, and class of nukem Hi. And you know, by all accounts, a lot of people do not like his movies. They're not for everyone. You know, they're not supposed to be mass consumption. They're not for mass consumption. They are for a niche crowd. There's a lot of people who just don't like him or how he's been doing things. And you know, he's been doing it for like, 30 odd 40 years now. And he doesn't care. You know, as you get older, by the way, comedian Wanda Sykes always says, As you get older, you give less of a fuck. And it's very true. Because what they don't care, they don't care what they look like, they don't care, but they just don't care. They just don't care. And as you get older, you you kind of give less of a shit about what other people think. And some people are crippled by artists, I know a lot of artists, a lot of filmmakers who are crippled by it. And it's something that it bothered me very, when I was early on in my career bothered me a lot. But it doesn't bother me anymore. You know, of course, you you want, you don't want people to talk bad about you about about about your work as an artist or bad about what you're doing. But you know what, at the end of the day, you know, they're not paying your bills, they're not looking at, you're looking at you in the mirror at the end of the day, they're just doing them. So instead of just concentrating on them, concentrate on you concentrate on what you want to do, and don't exert any energy, by reading comments, by looking at what they're doing, or what they're saying. Just do you, you know, can you imagine all of these big music stars like a Justin Bieber or Drake, or Beyonce, or Jay Z, or m&m or any of these guys, I mean, people have just completely tried to tear them down, and they just shake it off, they don't care. You know, they just keep doing it. Because it's not positive for themselves. It's not positive for their own artistic journey, their own personal journey, they just got to keep going. So my advice, guys, is to just do you. Don't worry about what other people are saying about you. People are going to hate, don't try to defend yourself, to try to go after anybody. Because at the end of the day, it's all about you on your journey. As a filmmaker, as an artist, as a human being as a soul, whatever you want to call it, you got to do you, and not worry about what other people are going to do, because other people are going to do what they are going to do. And you have no control over that. All you have control of is how you react to when things happen to you in life. Not you can't control the circumstances. All you can control is how you react to the circumstances. How do you react to the haters? Drinking that haterade by the gallon. It's up to you guys to keep going because I've seen too many artists in my career and my travels, I've seen too many artists who get sidetracked because are really crippled sometimes because of negative comments, people trying to bring them down, all sorts of stuff. And that's just the way things are. So please, do you guys. Don't worry about what other people think about what you're doing. Just do you. Now, with that said, Okay, with that said, as an artist, if you're listening to constructive criticism, yes, listen to constructive criticism, because that helps you grow as a filmmaker, as an artist. If it's something constructive, if you're doing something and there's just a wave of people who just like, Look, this is not if you're trying to achieve reaction a and 80% of the people who watch your movie are not getting reaction a well you should probably understand why they're not getting it and maybe listen to what they're saying. And then maybe adjust accordingly. But if there's just people who are just hate and be like, oh, look what he's doing. Oh, look at that. Oh, they add Ooh, boo, boo boo. That's not constructive. By the way, that was a great impression of a hater. I'm just I'm just But anyway, so guys, don't worry about what other people say about what you're doing and who you are, and any of that kind of crap. It's a lot of times it's just bullies. And the internet is full of these trolls and bullies who who love to sit behind their keyboard, anonymously, just spewing crap just to spew You know, and I really wish not only them but everyone only good things in their lives. I hope that every every hater out there eventually gets to where they want to go, you know and if they do that maybe they'll stop hating on other people and maybe stop criticizing other people and trying to bring other people down. I really wish them nothing but love and support and good things on all their future projects. So from the bottom of my heart everyone listening, just do you and don't let anybody else try to bring you down guys to download the show notes go to indie film hustle comm forward slash zero 84 for all the links and things we talked about in the show. And don't forget to head over to free film book calm that's free film book calm to download your free film audio book from audible. So guys, thank you for listening. Please spread the word on indie film hustle on the podcast and on this as Meg if you can, I really appreciate it. And keep that hustle going keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.

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