September 6, 2019

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. 

David Fincher Career Alien 3

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. 

David Fincher Career Se7en

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? 

Perseverance. 

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!      

Your Comment

5 Comments

There's a typo in the second paragraph after the fetus video that says, "where we," instead of "where he."

On Fincher, dude's a beast.lol

September 6, 2019 at 3:18PM, Edited September 6, 3:19PM

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Daniel Custard
Editor>Director>Writer
186

The million dollar question of 'how did Fincher make it' isn't addressed at all in this article. Everyone who wants to direct, watched films and decided to go for it. Everyone works or worked as a PA with a 'no job too small' attitude.

Here's where it skips over what's relevant:

"He launched his company, Propaganda, with a few other filmmakers. They started making music videos and billing around 2-3 million dollars."

Uhh... hello ... this is the part we want to know about. How do you go from launching a company to billing that kind of money? Did they do specs? Did they know someone? The answer is hidden somewhere between these two sentences. Get the answer, and then tell me how Fincher made it.

September 6, 2019 at 7:34PM

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Kevin
16

Hmm, it's all in the clip – he started at Zoetrope as PA, got recognized for his VFX skills, went to Industrial Light and Magic, had a hit commercial for the cancer society and THEN tried to make it in LA. So, a semi-established commercial director when he starts his own company with 3 other guys – which was billing 2-3 million $ a year AS A PRODUCTION COMPANY. That's not so much – what you bill is not profit, that money goes straight back into the business, keeping the lights on.

September 7, 2019 at 1:49PM

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Maybe I’m soft but I can’t ever imagine telling a young person that they have “no talent.” That’s really awful.

September 8, 2019 at 6:56PM

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BD
834

They really jump in there with the close-ups lol

September 9, 2019 at 10:43AM

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David Schiller
Director/Producer
16