David Fincher Was Called a 'No-Talent' But Wouldn't Take No For An Answer
In his own words, one of the great directors of recent times explains how he built his career and forged his path.
Everyone's breaking in story is a little different. It's great to hear from your idols to see how they "made it" into the industry. The David Fincher story is no exception. He was a struggling projectionist trying to figure his life out, now he's one of our great auteurs.
Today we're going to look inside Fincher's rise and see how it can inspire your next moves toward Hollywood.
Check out this video from BAFTA Guru and let's talk after the break!
David Fincher on When and How he Started Directing
David Fincher was a projectionist watching movies like 1941 over 200 times a week when he decided he wanted to pursue directing. He'd been creating movies on Super-8 cameras since he was a child, but those were random and fun projects.
When he was watching movies from the projection booth he decided he needed to actually begin to study the craft.
Watching movies dozens if not hundreds of times allowed him to ask the big question:
"Why does the director do it this way?"
The more he watched the more answers he got. And the more he was sure he was supposed to be a director.
But how can you become a director?
Fincher got a job working for Omni Zeotrope as a PA and rose to head of visual effects in a little over a year. He did this by listening, being a fly on the wall, and having a "no job is too small" attitude. This promotion led him to ILM where he did an anti-smoking campaign with a fetus smoking a cigarette.
It was not appreciated by the American Cancer Society but made national headlines and went the equivalent of "viral."
This led Fincher to Los Angeles where we wanted to get into music videos. After being rejected by Limelight, he swore to himself he would put in the work and make them rue the day.
It's that kind of attitude that I think a lot of people can identify with as they work up the ladder.
Fincher vowed to prove he was not the "No talent" they labeled him.
Just imagine. David Fincher labeled as having no talent.
He launched his company, Propaganda, with a few other filmmakers. They started making music videos and billing around 2-3 million dollars. In a few years, it became the biggest music video company in the world, billing in the 60-80 million dollar range.
Fincher used this success to get in the room for Alien 3.
While Fincher's Alien 3 experience was negative, it got him on set and broke him into the industry.
Even though the film failed, it bought him some goodwill around town. Enough that he was still sent screenplays. He read and read scripts, searching for a project that really spoke to him. That's when Seven crossed his desk.
Seven was a complicated movie, with a ton of drafts, but Fincher jumped at the chance. He decided the movie should be like The French Connection and pitched Brad Pitt who was onboard right away. Pitt helped them get Freeman and personally picked up the phone to get the studio to pay Spacey.
After Seven became a breakout hit Fincher suddenly had clout and the ability to pick his next projects carefully. While they weren't all massive hits, his determination and craft helped the movies keep coming and solidified him as one of the most impressive directors working today.
What can you learn?
This industry is built on "no" and "no chance."
It also has a ton to do with luck and being in the right place at the right time. But consider the key steps in David Fincher's path. He learned by watching other films. He decided that no job was too small. He listened to what the people around him said and did. He wouldn't accept the label that he had 'no talent' and used that as motivation rather than a criticism that would crush him. He whiffed on his first big turn a bat, only to get up off the mat and deliver the movie that would launch his auteur status.
Fincher didn't let Alien 3 define him, he didn't let being a projectionist stop him, and he went on coffee runs and took out the trash.
This "whatever it takes" attitude help him chase success even when things got bad.
So find that gumption inside yourself and keep at it.
What's next? Tips from Fincher on Gone Girl!
David Fincher is the master of the brooding and slow build. Learn some directing tips from Gone Girl and see how he made this thriller capitalize on twists and turns.
Click to learn!