A Dreamer Walking

David Fincher – An Observation – Exploring the Scene

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series, Uncategorized by Jacob on March 6, 2011

David Fincher 2One of the directors I have chosen to study for this month is David Fincher. Fincher has made many extremely successful movies both critically and publicly in his career. He is a man who has come from some interesting origins. He did not go to film school like most Hollywood filmmakers. Instead he got a job in the 1980’s at Industrial Light and Magic where he worked on movies such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. There he learned many of the film techniques he applies so well to the films he directs today. After Industrial Light and Magic Fincher worked at Propaganda Films and directed many music videos for the company. I believe a lot of the energy and rhythm you see in Fincher’s films today came from his experience at coordinating image with music at Propaganda Films.

This post is about one of the great qualities I have found in David Fincher. Fincher has gotten a lot of flack for his directing style when it comes to working with actors. There are many who consider him to be too controlling. He often gives actors  very specific directions for his movies and expects them to be fallowed. He is also known to exhaust many of his actors by doing several dozen takes for almost all of his scenes. In his most recent film The Social Network, there were times where the takes for a scene went above eighty. This kind of directing would not work very well with actors  such as Clint Eastwood and Robert Duvall. In fact in one of the Actors Roundtables I posted a while back Robert Duvall almost freaked out after hearing Jesse Eisenberg explain how many takes he had to do for for some scenes in The Social Network. Duvall explained that the director who does a lot of takes is the actors worst enemy. Duvall sighted Stanley Kubrick as a director who did many takes and got bad acting as a result of it. This is a clip of the interview right after Duvall explained his frustration about Stanley Kubrick.

This video poses both arguments quite well. I think Duvall has a point when he talks about not messing with something that works already. However that simply is not the way Fincher seems to work. For better or for worse Fincher goes into a scene wanting to explore as many possibilities as possible. I just listened to a very insightful commentary Fincher did on his movie Se7en. In this commentary he talks specifically about what he feels his job is as the director in regards to directing the acting. Fincher explained one of his jobs is to know how each scene fits into the whole of the story. However Fincher does not want to have scenes solely to move the plot along. What Fincher wants is to find is the life in the performance. He is concentrated, as Mark Ruffalo pointed out, on everything that is happening on screen. Fincher wants to makes sure the background characters are just as believable as the main characters.

Contrary to what some might think Fincher is not trying to hurt the actors by making them to do a scene again and again. He actually explained on the Se7en commentary that he wants the actors to be selfish about their characters. Fincher has a good idea of many of the things he wants to see visually however he realizes the actors are the experts on who their characters are. Fincher explained that if you try to control it too much the acting gets stale and you are just going to be miserable. He explained how the director needs to realize the performance is going to be imperfect and Imperfection is ultimately what is going to make the performances personal.

David Fincher explained directing as a juggling act. There is the job of keeping the narrative going however there is also the job of exploring the life of the scene. As Mark Ruffalo explained, you get to the point that you just want him to fire you. However, there is also the point where you get over that hump and start getting good again. This is what I think Fincher wants. He wants the actor to lose their preconceived idea of what the scenes should be about and start to explore what the scene could be. Sometimes, as Duvall said, you can never get better then what you had in the first few takes. However, sometimes you might find out there is much more to the scene then what you originally assumed and you will be happy that you kept going and explored all the possibilities.

(Here are links to my other two Fincher Observation posts. 2. Finding the Meaning Behind the Movment 3. A Cynical Man 4. The “B” Movie)

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