Watch: What Makes David Fincher One of the Best Music Video Directors of All Time

David Fincher launched his career and perfected his style with music videos. Here's how. 

Like Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and so many working directors today, David Fincher got his start directing music videos in the '80s and '90s. 

As video essayist Patrick Willems argues, Fincher's artistic evolution took place through his music videos. This is how he was able to hit the ground running; by the time Fincher directed his feature debut, Alien 3, he had already honed his voice as an auteur directing music videos for Madonna (Vogue and Express Yourself, among others)

Part of what makes Fincher such a great music video director, Willem notes, is his intimate understanding of the form. Many accomplished auteurs who direct music videos treat them as a veritable short film—a chance to exercise their experimental muscles and try out some new ideas. Fincher, however, works within the pop music video medium, delivering exactly what it calls for: visuals that "look how the song sounds." Each shot is designed to evoke the music and enhance our experience of it.

Unlike most pop music videos, which feature many different angles strung together with the most rapid editing possible in order to induce energy (Willems excoriates one of Ariana Grande's), Fincher approaches the music video with intentionality. Every shot serves a purpose. His rhythmic editing cuts around the vocals and on the beat of the music (as opposed to generic pop videos, like Grande's, which cut through vocals, effectively vivisecting lyrics). 

Willems also argues that Fincher doesn't get enough credit for his prowess in directing choreography. As he does with the visuals in his music videos, Fincher cuts around the choreography in order to display it at its fullest potential.      

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Your Comment


god you just made Joseph Kahns year with that comparison

February 17, 2017 at 7:48AM


This is so much of what's lost on todays youth culture, the art and craft of photography, moviemaking and editing.
Hopefully, the scourge of what is popular today will die a horrible, tortured death asap.

Yea, I'm old and I hate young people.

February 17, 2017 at 8:42AM

Richard Krall

Cutting on the beat or cutting musically is important! I’m not being facetious!! It really is underestimated these days and seen as ‘old hat’ or unnecessary.

Motivated edits are the key to good editing and music give you lots of motivated edit points and things to play with.

Long shots and pacing has been under used but not forgotten.

I’d argue the craft is not lost. Hotline Bling is a great case of a crafted edit, the success of that clip was not an accident, a lot of talent people worked hard on that clip.

Look at the work of people like Director X ( ) and groups like Canada ( )

If you talking pop checkout Katy Perry ‘This is how we do’ ( ) A great execution of a simple idea that works with the content of the song.

Also the budget on these these clips is tiny compared to what it used to be. It does depend on who the artist is and their involvement but you’re probably looking at 20% of the ‘Vogue’ era clips. Thats no excuse rather, it makes the good ones that much more impressive.

February 19, 2017 at 4:05PM

Andrew Stalph