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Learn How Legendary Filmmaker David Fincher Tracks His Characters

Logan Baker

Through clever tracking, panning, and tilting, David Fincher immerses his audiences by crafting characters like no other working director.

Image via Warner Bros.

With the recent release of the Netflix series Mindhunter, David Fincher returns to the world of television with a tense, oddly comedic detective tale of murder and obsession. The increasingly popular YouTube channel Nerdwriter1 dives into just how immersive and thoughtful David Fincher’s films are and why they continue to engage audiences in new and exciting ways.

The study is simple: Fincher’s films operate on an entirely different level, commanding our attention in ways other directors are unable to emulate. The director uses a “trick” or “style” that has proven wildly effective, making him one of the most exciting to watch. The trick is to capture audiences’ eyelines and bring their attention to the screen, and it all lies in how the cameras move in relation to the characters.

Moving with the Characters

How David Fincher Tracks His Characters – Moving With Characters

Fincher has the camera operator match the exact velocity and direction of the character. This takes the audience, literally, step-by-step alongside the actor. As a viewer, this totally immersive method lets you experience exactly what the character experiences as the story unfolds. You feel what they feel, you see what they see, you hear what they hear. In many ways, you become the character. As Nerdwriter1 puts it, these movements “lock you into the behavior of the characters.” From a storytelling perspective this approach is just one incredible way the director adds to the tension of his narratives.

Following the Emotion

How David Fincher Tracks His Characters – Following the Emotion
The stories of Fincher’s insane shooting habits are true, but they happen for good reason. The precision required of his camera movements demands both the actors and the operators to do rehearsal after rehearsal after rehearsal. The star of House of Cards, Robin Wright said Fincher gave her this little piece of advice on directing her first episode in the series:

Every scene you direct…it’s the same thing. Behavior over time – it’s a fraction. Behavior is the most important thing of every piece of material that you read, that you perform in, and direct. Look at the behavior.

Fincher uses this exact methodology, making sure that when a character behaves a certain way, and moves a certain way, the audience feels that way, too. If somebody is scared or angry, the camera movement should reflect these emotions. Bring your audience into the fold, making them just as much a part of the story as the characters.

When it’s all said and done, the end product Fincher gives us is usually a masterclass in style, form, and groundbreaking storytelling. His new show, Mindhunter, is available on Netflix now, and it’s worth your time. Check it out for a unique and inventive story that only Fincher could have made. For more information on perfecting the tracking shot, as well as other camera movements, check out our past coverage:


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