It's easy to think about a director like David Fincher and forget he is an actual person. His art is obsessive. His style can be a bit of a bear. And when he gives interviews, he speaks his mind. There are few artists among us who do the same thing.
That's why listening to him speak, even when you don't agree, matters.
In a recent interview with Variety, he held nothing back.
“I don’t know anyone who makes movies who is concerned with being an auteur. ‘There’s plenty of blame to go around’ has always been my philosophy. I believe filmmaking owes a lot more to demolition derby than it does to neurosurgery. It’s a miracle when it goes off the way you had it in your head. For the most part, it doesn’t.”
Fincher spent the last 30 years trying to get his new film Mank made. He's worked with total control and no control, and he prefers collaboration over anything else. After close calls with the film in the early 90s, when studios refused to make it black and white, and false starts later, when he wasn't sure the story was right, Fincher is finally getting ready for the worldwide release of his movie on Netflix, Dec. 4.
It's the movie he most wanted to make. And it came about in a way he didn't think it would happen.
Fincher made Mank using digital cameras. He wanted to make it so it looked like an homage to the cinematography of Citizen Kane, so he and his creative team took pains to make it appear as though it was shot on celluloid by digitally scratching up the images so that they looked like film grain.
“Film is not a particularly good medium to work in if you want a very consistent result,” said Erik Messerschmidt, Mank cinematographer, also speaking to Variety. “The decision was quite clear, and that wasn’t even a question in our heads that we were going to shoot digitally.”
Once the look of the movie was solidified, Fincher spent time trying to figure out the characters. There, he spent a little less time on what looked "authentic." Like the fact that Gary Oldman is twenty years older than Herman J. Mankiewicz was when he wrote Citizen Kane, and looked nothing like him.
“I said ‘No. We’ve got to watch you be this guy, and there can be no artifice between us and you,’” Fincher said. “I needed someone who walks into a room and everyone would say, ‘That’s the guy.’ You need an actor’s actor. If you’re casting based on height and hairline, you’re missing the side of the barn.”
Still, the most surprising thing about this project is that it exists on Netflix, which feels like the place to be for directors right now. You get control, cut, and don't have to worry about opening weekends.
I wish I could see Mank on the big screen, but I am excited to see Mank in general. Fincher seems to feel the same way.
“Let’s be real: The exhibition experience is not the shining link in the chain right now,” he said.
While the TVs we have at home have gotten larger, clearer, and better, it's also gotten more expensive to go out.
This year, it's not even an option. And unlike the other 2020 movies, Mank didn't need to be pushed. It had a permanent home. That home means nothing but excitement for Fincher and his future.
“I’ve never been happier working at a place than I am at Netflix,” Fincher said. “They’re building a repository. It’s a nice thing that movies have a place to exist where you don’t necessarily have to shove them into spandex summer or affliction winter. It’s a platform that takes all kinds. You can be a dark, sinister German movie or a bizarre Israeli spy show. They want them all.”
This has opened Fincher's imagination, and while he swears he wants to sleep and rejuvenate after this latest venture, he's happy knowing there's a studio out there ready to embrace his visions without shoving them into boxes.
It's nice for Fincher to be able to be Fincher.
“I know that I’m no picnic,” he told Variety. “They want people who are self-starters; they want people who want to tear it up and try different things and show up for work and tax the system.”
For the first time in the 30 years Fincher has been working, he's allowed to be himself. He can invent his own genres, and the sky is the limit for the kinds of stories he can tell. He's not bogged down by wading into the studio system and begging for money.
You can sense the excitement in his tone.
He jokes about how Mank might spawn off a bigger universe of movies about making movies, as Ben Affleck is set to direct The Big Goodbye, a behind-the-scenes look at Chinatown, and Barry Levinson and Oscar Isaac are making a movie about the creation of The Godfather.
“There are so many amazing stories about the making of movies. There’s a place for that,” he said. “Will there be a rush of these: ‘What about the making of Stunt Man?!’ No, but I’m intrigued by the idea of both those. I adore and revere Ben Affleck and Barry, so let’s see what they do with it.”
Whatever comes next for Fincher, there seem to be no limitations. For artists, sometimes parameters are good, and sometimes locking down what you can and cannot do breeds creativity. But right now, for someone who has struggled and labored over projects, it's interesting to think about what they work on next will look like with their wings spread wide.
There's no telling what Fincher will do in the future, but the sky is wide open.
Let us know what you think in the comments.