A Dreamer Walking

David Fincher – An Observation – Finding the Meaning Behind the Movement

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on April 24, 2011

One thing you have to admire about David Fincher’s directing style is his constant dedication to finding the meaning behind everything that is seen or heard on screen. It is why, as I talked about in my last Fincher Observation post, he so thoroughly explores his scenes. Fincher wants to talk about every little detail of his films with all the key crew he works with. Everything needs to have a reason behind it. The acting,  props, visual effects, composition, lighting, sound, and cutting all are in efforts for something greater.

For the movie The Social Network Fincher held a three week rehearsal session with some of his key actors and his screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. You would think there would be a lot of staging and going over lines in a rehearsal, not the case with Fincher. Andrew Garfield (key actor in The Social Network) said they only read over each scene once, the rest of the time was spent going into depth on what they thought of the story. Fincher debated with Aaron and the actors about every key movement and every key piece of dialogue.  Because the movie was so heavy in dialogue, the actors needed to know why they were saying what they were saying. Fincher said The Social Network was just as much about the reactions as it was about what was verbally being said. Fincher wanted to have a clear idea of what the characters thought of each other and how the dialogue and movement would enforce the meaning behind those things.

Jesse Eisenberg, the star of The Social Network, talked about his first meeting with David Fincher. He said he was extremely nervous about meeting Fincher so he memorized about half the script in just a few days. He arrived to his meeting only to find out Fincher didn’t want to hear anything he had memorized. What Fincher wanted to talk about was what Jesse thought of his character and the overall story. They spent four hours just talking about the arc and qualities they saw in Jesse’ character and how they could best express those things visually on screen.

One key documentary to watch in order to observe David Fincher’s directing process would be the one and a half hour documentary on the making of The Social Network (here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4). There are many people who do not understand why Fincher’s production time is so much longer then normal directors and why he makes his actors go about even the smallest of scenes several dozens times before moving on. One thing to realize is Fincher has a very precise idea of what he wants and thus he will work his actors and the rest of his crew until he gets it. Everything has a purpose for Fincher thus everything is scrutinized by him.

David once compared directing to painting. However, rather then being able to hold the brush and paint on the canvas himself he needs to rely on his crew to do the actual painting. He said to imagine the canvas as the size of a football field. Then he said to imagine the crew holding the brush while he stood several dozen yards away shouting out extremely specific directions. It is a long tedious process, but if done correctly he and the crew will create something that will last much longer then any one of them.

It is important for us all to know why we want to see what we want to see on screen. There are directors out there who are very talented in many areas of film. They know how to create excitement through camera moves and cutting. They know how to use special effects in order to give the audience an immediate thrill. However the excitement and thrill goes away quickly and the audience usually goes away unsatisfied because the directors had no meaning behind what they were showing on screen.

Fincher’s goal is not to make us feel happy all the way through the film. He doesn’t even like giving us happy endings in his films. In Fincher’s films there seems to be something that goes beyond the immediate  feeling of happy or sad. His films often have characters that provoke thought. His camera movements and special effects are often subtle but have a purpose. The relentless conversation and debate he has with his film crew is in order for him to figure out what the overall meaning of his film will be. As a director Fincher needs to know exactly what he wants so he can clearly express to his crew how they should handle the brush. His goal is to create something with meaning, which makes us think, and encourages us to come back again.

(Here is a link to my other Fincher Observation posts. 1.Exploring the Scene 3. A Cynical Man 4. The “B” Movies)

Clint Eastwood – An Observation – King of the Atmosphere

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on February 19, 2011

It is amazing the kind of atmosphere Eastwood is able create on set. There have been many actors who describe it as being like going into a Church, where everyone is focused and you hardly hear anyone speak above a whisper. Eastwood has been described as a man with a very even temper. He has said in many interviews that as a director he has the job to set a tone, if he can’t stick to that tone he can’t expect anyone else too.

When you visit a Clint Eastwood set you don’t really hear a lot of talking or commotion. You don’t hear anyone on a amplifier, you don’t hear someone screaming “ACTION”, in fact you sometimes don’t hear someone say “action” at all. The way Eastwood directs is very laid back. He wants to create a atmosphere where everyone could be in the mindset that allows for the best performance.

Eastwood believes that using a amplifier or screaming “action” takes actors out of the characters they are trying to portray. Eastwood has explained that he wants to be the last person to stop the actor from concentrating on the performance at hand. Instead of screaming “action”, Eastwood speaks gently when he wants his actors to go into motion sometimes just saying “commence”, or if he wants to lighten the mood he has fun with it by saying something like “actioni”. Because Eastwood wants to get the most out of his actors he sometimes leaves it to them to start a scene by just telling them “any time”. Eastwood has talks with the man holding the clapper board for his movies, making sure they know how to snap it in a subtle way that won’t distract anyone from what they are doing.

To maintain the atmosphere for Eastwood’s old western Unforgiven, Eastwood did not allow any motor vehicles on set. He also had the set built on location in Alberta Canada.  There is something to actually being on location that Eastwood likes. For Unforgiven Clint wanted it to feel for a brief moment as if the whole crew went back in time. He believes that if the location feels real to the actors they will act like it is real when on camera.

Eastwood has been described as a person who takes his work seriously but doesn’t feel the need to always take himself seriously. He is willing to make fun of himself and crack a joke to lighten the mood. Just because some of his films cover dark elements, does not mean the crew needs to be bogged down by the darkness. There is a light atmosphere on a Clint Eastwood set, everyone is there to make a good movie but also to have a good time. The reason why Eastwood still makes movies in his eighties is because he has fun doing it. There is nowhere else he would rather be.

One of the greatest things Eastwood brings to the table is trust. He does not feel the need to have all the answers. Eastwood is able to put trust in the crew. One of the reasons Eastwood  trusts the crew so much is because he has worked with most of them for most of his directing career.  Tom Stern, now Eastwood’s cinematographer, and Joel Cox, Eastwood’s editor, have worked with Eastwood sense 1977 (Eastwood began directing in 1972). It is a testament to Eastwood that so many crew members come back film after film. I believe it is because the crew feels like they are recognized for the talents they have.

A good atmosphere on set is one of the most crucial things to have if you want to make good films and have a long lustrous career. Because of the consistent tone Eastwood has established on his sets the actors and crew have developed a great trust in  him as a director. Everyone knows Eastwood only expects out of them what he expects out of himself. Everyone is willing to go out on a limb for each other’ because everyone has each others backs. They are all there in support of the story.

A place where you are not easily distracted from the task at hand. A place that lets you easily fall into the role and time period you are portraying. A place where you feel you can have a good time. A place where you feel like your leader trusts you and you trust your leader. All this is needed in order to create a great atmosphere. A great atmosphere on set takes a great deal of humanity from everyone involved, especially the leader. I personally don’t think you can get much better then Clint Eastwood. Eastwood’s great atmosphere is the reason why he and his team keep on making one great movie after the next.