Articulated, polished and complex – these are the three words I’d use to describe the work of David Fincher. Critically acclaimed and recognised as one of the finest directors working today, Fincher is notorious for his ruthless quest for perfection. With a wide range of genres under his belt, Fincher’s style is instantly recognisable and consistently reaching a high standard in every aspect of filmmaking. Fincher works meticulously with his actors as well as making sure the technical aspects of the film match the performances given. He has won a BAFTA for Best Director and has earned both Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations.
Fincher’s Point of View
Fincher’s career began as a production assistant working for John Korty, before being hired a few years later by Industrial Light and Magic as an assistant cameraman, working on Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. After directing a commercial for the American Cancer Society, which featured a foetus smoking, he garnered attention from producers in Los Angeles. This led to a directing job on the 1985 Rick Springfield documentary, The Beat of the Live Drum. This led to more commercial directing for large companies such as Coca-Cola, as well as many highly acclaimed music videos for artists such as Madonna.
Forming Propaganda Films, Fincher continued to follow directing as a career path. The company was also the place where many other directors started their careers directing music videos, such as Michael Bay, Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry. His first Hollywood feature as a director was Alien 3, which was not met with high praise due to disputes over the film’s script and budget. Famously, Fincher hates the film and went back to directing music videos until directing the critically acclaimed Seven in 1995. Since then, he has directed many highly praised films such as The Social Network, Gone Girl, Zodiac and cult classic Fight Club.
Fincher has become well known amongst movie fans for his approach to directing. It is no secret that he records many, many takes of a scene until it is perfect. For example, the first scene in The Social Network took 99 takes to complete. In an interview with Armie Hammer, who plays the Winklevoss twins in the film, he states there is a reason for this extreme technique:
“There’s a method to his madness,” says Hammer. “Yes, you do a lot of takes, but you feel extremely protected. He told me he knows that actors are inherently vain—we sit in front of a mirror and think to ourselves, Oh, in this moment, I’m gonna give him this look. And he didn’t want us to bring that to set.”
– Armie Hammer on the filming of The Social Network
Thematically, Fincher’s films often fall under similar categories. Outcast characters, unhappy endings, betrayals and often feature a lack of closure for the audience. An example of the latter is the killer in Zodiac does not get caught. The end of The Social Network does not coincide with the conclusion of the film’s legal battle plot. In fact, it ends with Zuckerberg repeatedly refreshing the Facebook page of a girl he used to date to see if she had accepted his friend request – a perfect and succinct metaphor for how Zuckerberg’s personal life was affected by the creation of Facebook. His lead characters are often detached in some way, either from society, relationships or even themselves.
His films often feel anti-Hollywood. Typical Hollywood tropes are often refused and reversed within his films as discussed above. His early films pushed limits of controversy, and his work often does not shy away from sexual violence and murder. His later films such as Gone Girl and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo are prime examples of this, with many uncomfortable scenes in both.
Notably, the colour palettes in his films are instantly recognisable. Hazy, muted and dark – black is often a dominant colour in a lot of his films, resulting in very moody and often dimly lit scenes. For example, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’s colour palette revolves around shades of black, white and blue, matching both the icy environment of Sweden, where the film is set, as well as the tone of the story and characters. The Social Network’s colour palette highlights the glow of computer screens and the stifling atmosphere during the legal talks.
Known for his love of technology, Fincher often uses computer-guided camera movements and computer generated imagery to map them out. The benefit from this comes with the intricate set design he often uses. Another example of this is in The Social Network, where Armie Hammer plays both of the Winklevoss twins. His face was digitally added to the movements of Josh Pence. Fincher’s camera techniques often come in the form of long takes, with either smooth pans and zooms or static shots. He doesn’t utilise hand-held movements often, if at all. Insert shots are also used in his films often to signify themes in his films. In Fight Club, they are used as subliminal messaging, which is in keeping with elements of the film’s plot (Tyler Durden’s job in the cinema) as well as themes of the value of advertising.
David Fincher remains as one of the fiercest and most intimidating directors working today, with comparisons to the methods of Stanley Kubrick. However, it should be noted that these methods produce results. Despite the surgical precision and meticulous craft, his films never feel empty or overworked- he just understands how much work it takes to create an excellent film.