David Fincher Explained by the People Who Know Him Best

David Fincher is a perfectionist, but what else do we really know about him? 

The Ringer recently declared a "David Fincher Appreciation Week" and released an excellent breakdown of who Fincher really is and what motivates him. I read it and found it to be so enlightening. 

As a fan of everything he's done, I often find myself searching for who he is in his work and what he wants us to know. But usually, I am left without answers. Now, we have some from some of his friends and from people who know all about him. 

I wanted to pull a few quotes from the article and look at them here. 

So let's get started! 

Unpacking David Fincher From the People Who Know Him Best

We all know the stories. How Fincher thinks about every detail and every element. Well, they're mostly true. Michael Alan Kahn worked as David Fincher’s first assistant director. Here's some stuff he said that supports the legend. 

“You’d start from scratch and [Fincher] would spend five hours and 57 minutes dressing the fuselage, dressing the background, moving the background around, putting the bottle right in place, finessing the light so it felt like you were in flight, the right amount of spritz on the bottle, the right amount of napkin,” says Kahn. “Every aspect of every aspect was considered and perfected. Then he would roll the camera for three minutes, and that was lunch and that one was done. It was an amazing thing to watch because you see a blank frame and then you see him paint, basically.”

That sounds like David, but how did he manage to move from commercials into being on of Hollywood's biggest directors? 

Fincher has made a name for himself with commercials and music videos. He had a reputation. "You could tell all the little directors were in awe of him, most of the producers were scared to death of him,” says Kevin Tod Haug, who would become the visual effects supervisor on Fincher’s films The Game, Fight Club, and Panic Room.

When he made Alien 3, it was a disaster. The studio had control, the movie didn't turn out his way, and Fincher still does not like to talk about it.

That's mostly because he spent the rest of his time in Hollywood learning not to repeat those mistakes. His legend grew, He did many takers, he liked to control every set, he had a hand in everything. 

And the stuff he made was excellent. 

But it terrified some people. 

Angus Wall, Fincher's frequent editor ad collaborator, said, "Sometimes in a craft you can become the collection of your tricks. When you become a collection of your tricks, you’re dead, you’re kind of over from a developmental, creative standpoint.” He continued, “So I think he always liked working with people who may not have known what the fuck they were doing all the time, or even some of time but were willing to learn and listen and work really hard.”

Peter Mavromates, who has been the postproduction supervisor on six of Fincher’s films, as well as a co-producer on House of Cards and Mindhunter understands that Fincher's reputation was almost infamous, but the people who knew him always came back for more. 

“He probably had a reputation as being hard on the set, and in that respect, I think he’s mellowed and is more confident and calmer about stuff. I think the thing that was true then and is true today is that he is relentless in wanting to improve everything to the very, very last second that he can.”

That's the kind of thing I think we call can appreciate. 

I also think we can appreciate the chances Fincher takes, see for him, it all boils down to a great story. It doesn't matter who told it. Take 2007's Zodiac. It was written by Jamie Vanderbilt, who at the time was a lower level genre writer. 

“I had had three movies made at this point,” says Vanderbilt. “One was about a killer tooth fairy, one was a John Travolta–Samuel L. Jackson movie that I describe as ‘the one they did together that wasn’t Pulp Fiction,’ and one was The Rundown, which I love, but is the Rock’s second action movie. Doing a serial-killer procedural with David Fincher was a very different world to be in.”

But that movie vaulted both of them into the mainstream by defying convention and focusing on the visceral hunt for a killer. 

And even when it was hard, Fincher never fired Vanderbilt, in fact, it seems like he empowered him. Vanderbilt continues, “David just expects everyone to be good at their job,” he says. “He wanted me to be the writer. He wasn’t the guy who wanted to come in and tell you how he wanted the scene. He wanted you to go figure out the scene. If he felt it didn’t work, he’d tell you he felt it didn’t work and he’d give you a suggestion. I’ve worked with directors who want to rewrite the script themselves through you, but don’t know how to. This wasn’t that process at all.”

These are the kinds of stories we don't get to hear about Fincher. The ones that show him as a guy who works so hard to get things right, and demands the same excellence from those around him. The kid of guy who has earned the mythos around his name, and continues to deliver. 

His new film, Mank, will debut on Netflix in the Fall. Will this be the one that finally nets him his Best Director Academy Award? 

Only time will tell. 

Give us your best Fincher stories in the comments.      

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