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Take a Deep Dive Into the Career of David Fincher

Jonny Elwyn

Enjoy this insightful five-part video series that covers the ups and downs of David Fincher’s acclaimed filmmaking career.

Top Image: David Fincher on the set of Zodiac via Merrick Morton

If you’re a fan of David Fincher, then you’ll definitely want to check out this excellent five-part series from filmmaker Cameron Beyl. The whole series spans over two hours and twenty minutes and catalogues the ups and downs of director David Fincher’s entire filmography to date. It’s a fantastic way to get a full understanding of the directorial trajectory of Fincher’s feature-film work and his numerous music videos and commercials, which provided the bedrock for his future success.

The first part of the series covers his early work in music videos and the unfortunate production process of 1992’s Alien 3. 

Each part of this series is meticulously researched and methodically analyzed with some genuinely interesting insights.

The runaway success of James Cameron’s Alien Sequel in 1986 turned the property into a major franchise for Fox, executives wanted to strike with a third Alien film while the iron was hot. But coming up with the right story proved tricky. Adding to the three-qual’s development woes — a revolving door of writers and directors who experienced immense frustration with a studio that was too meddlesome with its prize jewel of a franchise. After a long search for an inexperienced-yet-talented director that they could control and micro-manage, Fox settled on Fincher — a rising star with a professed love for the Alien franchise and its founding director, Ridley Scott.

Cameron has been embarking on a second Director Series focusing on director Paul Thomas Anderson and you can support him on Patreon here.

The Success of Se7en

The shortest of all the installments, this video focuses on Fincher’s commercial work in the early 90s that allowed him to get back into the feature-film game — and this time with total control, which led to the breakout success of Se7en (1995). As an aside, the four commentaries from the department heads on the Se7en special edition DVD are a cracking watch, particularly the one featuring editor Richard Francis Bruce.

To accomplish his stark pitch black vision, Fincher enlisted the eye of cinematographer Darius Khondji, who was able to translate Fincher’s signature blend of high-contrast lighting, cold color palettes, silhouettes and deep wells of shadow onto the 35mm image. The film was presented in the 2:35-1 anamorphic aspect ration but it appears this was achieved via a matte in post-production layered onto full 1:85-1 Academy frame. This plays into Fincher’s reputation as a visual perfectionist, who uses digital technology to exert control over the image down to the smallest detail.

From The Game to Panic Room via Fight Club

With a triplet of some of my personal favorite Fincher movies – I know Panic Room isn’t amazing, but I love it for what it knows itself to be – this part of the series covers his next three feature films starting with The Game (1997), then Fight Club (1999) and finally Panic Room (2002).

Fincher’s music video work often explored the boundaries of the film frame, transgressing arbitrary lines to see what was being hidden from view. Most of the time this meant the artifice of the production process was made known to the viewer. The Game is an appropriate avenue to explore this idea in feature film form because the story concerns itself with what happens when Nick is essentially placed inside of his own movie.

Fincher Goes Digital

Zodiac (2007) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) are the first ‘all-digital’ filmmaking experiences for Fincher and potentially some of his most personal work. It’s interesting to note how much of Fincher’s technical abilities and grasp of the potential for digital filmmaking came off the back of his experimentation in his commercial work.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button furthers Fincher’s foray into the digital realm. Working with the new visual collaborator and cinematographer Claudio Miranda, Fincher once again utilises the Viper Film Stream camera to establish an all digital workflow… For a lot of people, the Curious Case of Benjamin Button doesn’t feel like a Fincher film, mainly because of its optimistic and sentimental tone that stands at stark odds with the rest of his emotionally cold and nihilistic filmography.

The Bleeding Edge

The final part of the series covers the harder edge of Fincher’s filmmaking catalogue, stretching from The Social Network (2010) to Gone Girl (2014) and encompassing The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) and House of Cards (2013) and more of his recent commercial and music video work. One of the (many) impressive things about Fincher’s directorial work is the output, with almost every year producing a remarkable piece of work. The biggest ‘gap’ in his feature film career are the five years between Panic Room in 2002 and Zodiac in 2007.

You can also check out my lengthy round up of post-production-related articles on the making of Gone Girl here.

Editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall are key collaborators within Fincher’s filmography. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo would become their second consecutive Oscar win under the director’s supervision. They readily utilised the advantages that digital filmmaking has to offer, creating a tone that’s moody, but yet unlike conventional missing person thrillers. Angus and Wall establish a patient, plodding pace that draws the audience deeper into the mystery before they’re even aware of it.

What are your favorite David Fincher moments on screen? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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