Style Analysis: David Fincher

+++ UPDATE 11/16/2007: There is an interesting discussion evolving in the comments section of this post. Thanks a lot to every contributor for voicing their respective opinion.
And a tremendous "Thank You" to Kevin for his essay:
You put a lot of effort into it -- we appreciate that!

I ran into this wildly interesting, must-share-with-you-guys article about "The Close-Ups Of David Fincher"; a blog-entry primarily about Fincher's work with Madonna, and a brief analysis of some of his editing tricks and lighting styles.

Even though I do not agree with the author that David Fincher reached his creative and artistic peak in 1992 with the "Vogue" video for Madonna, the article is an interesting read and I wish there were more like this out there.

Every time I watch a Fincher work, whether it's one of his music videos, commercials or especially his movies, I cannot help but sense a magical touch to the way each scene is shot, lit and edited.
The movement of the Fincher camera, the mood of the Fincher lighting, the smoothness of the Fincher editing -- I wish somebody came up with a detailed analysis of how all these elements interact in the Fincher universe. Sort of like THE FINCHER CODE; FINCHER FOR DUMMIES; the kind.

On the other hand I guess genius cannot be compressed into formulas. It's clear that Fincher follows priniciples in each field of directorial decision-making. Principles yes. Rules no.

Can't wait to hear your view on this. And if anyone has observations about Fincher's style to share with the rest of the fanatic bunch ... this is certainly the place to do so.

Thanks for writing and commenting.
And don't forget to read the article! It's this way:


  1. So, your "THE FINCHER CODE": Take Alan J. Pakula's KLUTE, THE PARALLAX VIEW and ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MAN, mix with Derek Vanlint's work on ALIEN and Jordan Cronenweth's BLADE RUNNER, and do enough adverts and music videos till you whored out all your artistic instincts. No wonder Darius Khondji bailed out of PANIC ROOM. Though I wouldn't go so far as to say that DAVID FINCHER is FOR DUMMIES...but:
    "THE WORKS AND !!GENIUS!! OF DAVID FINCHER"???? I truly respect your adulation for the man, but please get some perspective.

  2. nice finding!

    and this idea about a "fincher for dummies"kind of thing is amazing.

    let's just hope for it!

  3. Interesting point of view, Mr. Zahnhausen. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and it sure enough is ballsy to present it on a website that is clearly for dedicated fans of Mr. Fincher's work.


    Your movie recommendations surely are sound and include some of the influences that shaped Fincher's style, with some (including ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN and BLADE RUNNER) he has mentioned himself as strong influences or templates for his own work.

    The part I do not agree with is that these films sum up everything that Fincher stands for. And I certainly disagree with you that Fincher was "wh*ring out his artistic instincts" on music videos and commercials.

    Being a dedicated fan of one director does not mean shredding or disrespecting all the great directors that came before him ... at least this is not true for this site.

    If I look at NINE INCH NAILS "Only", ADIDAS "Mechanical Legs", NIKE "Gamebreakers", David Fincher's work on ZODIAC or the upcoming THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON I find enough talent; enough taste and directorial competence; enough unique, personal style; enough technical innovation and pioneering work; and yes -- enough "GENIUS" to get excited about. And that doesn't happen to me with just any director, who watched five excellent movies from the past.

    I appreciate and respect your opinion.
    This is mine.

  4. I thank God that Fincher "wh*red out all his artistic instincts". By doing that he created some of the most iconic images in the history of both, music videos and commercials...

    For me the word GENIUS in the title is very appropriate.

    As for the style. I really like obvious stuff like the color palette, camera moves, editing. But the main thing is: When I hear that Fincher was attached to some project I know that this will be something worth my time. Fincher is a mark of an excellent product.

  5. There has been more than enough information and discussion on this website to support the notion that David Fincher is a creative genius.

    Your post mr. zahnhausen has no information to the contrary. When you want to debunk a claim that is back up by readily available information it would be best to present your opposing view with some sort of information that supports your thesis.

    That post, though you are entitled to your opinion is baseless, has presented no real argument or thesis and is an indication that you may be a jackass.

    Are you seriously arguing that David Fincher is not a genius because he's only seen 6 movies and has worked in commercial and music videos???????????

    Because actually now that I think of it, your argument makes perfect sense.

    Please sir get some perspective you Jackass.

  6. I am very well aware of the fact that this is a Fan-Site.
    And, as I said, I really do respect the ambition and work that
    "FincherFanatic" is putting into it. Great job, keep it up!!!

    But I figured "Style Analysis: David Fincher" is a good start to...
    well, start something. When it comes to ART, just shouting: "GENIUS"! just isn't enough.

    I just thought that it's a good idea that this blog should also be a
    place to attack that "GENIUS" from
    EVERY possible angle. It's healthy you know! (And by doing so you may appreciate
    the man even more!)

    You know there's a short scene in the PANIC ROOM SE DVD's where David Fincher reminds
    this one employe at Pixel Liberation Front to do it "with some dignity".
    So if you're really so fanatic about Fincher (again, I truly respect that fact) do LIKEWISE.
    The amount of information regarding David Fincher on this blog is admirable...but that
    shouldn't be enough, you know. Being a "Fan" should be more.

    About that "whoring out" statement: In "commercial" work (that includes "music videos" as well)
    there is: "DO what WE want, and do it YESTERDAY!!".There is ABSOLUTELY no:"Hmm, very HIGH-BROW, well
    let's give it a shot. We MAY sell something."

    "ICONIC" comes from the fact that you are bombarded with IT umpteen times.
    Reproducing a Silkscreen of a Marilyn Monroe portrait 15 times makes it "ICONIC".
    Besides of that,'s JUST a good idea.

    And THIS is where that "Style Analysis: David Fincher" SHOULD start.

    I would not be here, let alone comment, if I didn't like this blog. Just more "perspective" from a "Jacka.." uh, "fan".

  7. Michael,
    thank you for coming back for a follow up statement!

    From what I sense, what you intend to do is spark a debate about Fincher's work. That is a good thing and sure enough that is what this site wants to be here for.

    I am looking forward to follow up comments from everyone, but please DO NOT personally attack or insult anyone. I support a healthy and subject-oriented debate, opposing views included.

  8. An Essay

    Michael I apologies for calling you a jackass it was uncalled for.

    But I strongly disagree with your assessment of the man.

    The thing that you said about music videos and commercials not being art because there is No high brow, lets try it and as a bonus we might sell something.

    I would argue that you are taking a generalized approach to watching commercial/video work and Fincher's work to boot.

    Commercials are 30 to 60 second stories and it is really hard to tell a story that is Interesting, compelling, entertaining and or dare I say edifying in that space of time.

    there are Principles to filmmaking like there are to any other art form. What the artist does with those principles is what determines how his worked is viewed. there are some artist who have no idea what the principles are and can get away with it because they tell really edifying stories, or they are tell super interesting ones.

    The thing that I love about Fincher is his absolute commitment to the principles of filmmaking and his brazen commitment to fucking with them too.

    If you can watch his spot for "the director" and look at his use of angles, lighting, sound and movement and not see a true student and master of filmmaking at work I don't know what to tell you.

    His Only video for NIN. its a music video that actually has a rhythm. One turns into two, two becomes three, three becomes one, one becomes two, two becomes three, he is patient enough not to give you a piece of the money shot before he's set up the conditions for which the money shot will make sense and have an impact. it might not be genius but look through most music videos and you'll find that many of them don't have the patience or even the know how to how pull that off.

    Most people out there don't know that a dolly shot is a weapon and denying it is a weapon too, denying the close up is a weapon, suddenly introducing a 17mm lens when your entire movie has been shot on a 75 hanging from the actors nose is a weapon.

    Why doesn't Fincher allow for Dolly shots on the +Z axis in Zodiac? There is one but it certainly ain't about letting you into a characters head- the most overused technique in film history. If you take a tool out of your tool box and you still have to do what movies do? How do you do it instead???

    Watch se7en again. When does Fincher cut to show you the thing that every audience member who pays their ten dollars to go to see a thriller is waiting to see. When does Fincher show it and from where??

    Marcus Aurelius of each particular thing ask what is it's nature. What is the nature of a serial killer thriller what are people there for how does Fincher play with it.

    I don't know If I am making myself clear but there are few American directors working today that has as much moxie and smarts as Fincher. He tries some really fantastic things because he understands the form and he's brutal at attacking it.

    Fincher is certainly working in more lurid genres and any artist that does that won’t be appreciated by the establishment until either the French begins publishing essays on their work or that artist dies.

    Hitchcock anyone.

    The thing that I hate about ART-it truly is a word I hate because it is a word for elitist. It’s much easier to call American Beauty ART than it is to call Fight Club ART.

    One has the taste makers, the guardians and champions of good taste celebrating with their ten second critics clips on CNN or CBS, while the other has ordinary everyday people talking about it on the bus or over a burger and beers in a bar-those people don’t get there point of view on CNN. So critics call those movies, those novels…trash

    But I will tell you this-- TRASH is ART TOO. I have had far, far, far many more discussions with people about Fight Club than I have had about American Beauty. I’ve had far many more people say "yeah I can’t watch Se7en again it freaked me out" than I’ve heard people say yeah Schindler’s List shook me to my core.

    They are great films but I think you should be careful with term like HIGH BROW , it is a questionable REMARK.

    Yes Schindler’s list affirms what we want to believe about ourselves that ultimately we are good. And we can award that film Oscars and Golden Globes

    But a film that says “Do you really care?” “Are you really capable of making a difference? Maybe not” that movie is trash art because it’s base and not everyone wants to dwell that far down into the root of who and what they or their society might be. But I love that shit to no end and that’s why Fincher is an artist. He's unafraid to be that lurid and that base. His film live on a nerve that I don’t see a lot of filmmakers being willing to embrace.

    Zodiac denied us the very thing a post 911 culture wanted most, especially from a thriller. And it was BRAZEN as hell in how he accomplished this. Far more brave and far reaching than what the Coens did with No Country For Old Men because at the end of the day No Country was still the very thing it was denying or critiquing in the culture. Zodiac never crosses that line.

    But come award season time and time to confer the title of ART the elite will certainly pick No Country. Because one film confirms our ablity to recognize and mourn the passing of a simplier America that we all love. While the other film never gets there it dare to not comment, it dares to say the boogiman got away and the price of that is something you gotta judge, it's higher art to me but then again it's about the boogie man so yeah it's lurid too.

    I see so many movies and commercial and music videos that are what you described undisciplined and for the sake of selling itself.

    As flamboyant as Fincher's style can be, as big and loud, I've never seen an undisciplined frame in his movies or commercial work.

    Well that’s not true. I still can't figure out why the camera goes into the flashlight in panic room. I think it just over sells the idea.

    But even Hitchcock sometimes tried strange things sometimes.

    Hope I said enough.

  9. Thanks everyone for a great discussion.

    Thank You Kevin.

    If only my english was good enough to come up with such precise words... You pretty much summed up everything. Good job.

    What I respect the most about Fincher movies is that they have those different layers stacked on each other.

    There is this perfect visual layer, that we all love. Where every single frame is pleasure to watch.

    And there's also this hidden layer of the story, that he is telling. Where he tackles with some extreme subjects.

    I can only imagine how hard it is to make a movie that is a visual masterpiece and in the same time a movie that has something to say about our world and about us.

    Fincher managed to do a couple of such great movies.

  10. Kevin: Great!!! That's EXACTLY the kind of insight a fan site needs!!
    I just can't seem to shake off all that "Style-Jazz".
    Kevin, we are on the same page here (literally).
    So this is a cry out to everybody who's blinded by the glitz.
    You see, here's the thing: Nowadays it too often boils down to the "visual aspect".
    Yes, David Fincher movies look beautiful. Because we're acostumed to his beautiful looking commercials.
    So what's better than a beautiful looking 30 second commercial? A beautiful looking 110 minute film.
    But: that's not where genius resides. Making it look beautiful is the job of the DP (among others). That's craft. And the DP is paid to do what the director wants to see. And HAS SEEN in the past!! (Again, studying the in's and out's of PANIC ROOM is paramount in understanding the mechanics of an artistic collaboration.)
    So, what's so "Genius" about David Fincher?

    Every true Fincher fanatic (Kevin for instance) knows the man's admiration for Hitchcock. (again PANIC ROOM is one of
    the best Hitchcock movies that Hitchcock never made.)
    The quintessential (shortly after the most famous) PSYCHO scene is where Anthony Perkins is attempting to tank Janet Leighs car into the swamp. The car gets stuck for a moment...and we hold our breath.
    Moments ago we witnessed the brutal murder of Janet Leigh in the shower and all of a sudden
    we are rooting for Anthony Perkins to successfully destroy the evidence.
    Jodie Foster is trapped in the bunker, and at the same time we are amazed by Forest Withaker's
    skill in breaking a breach. (Not to mention the ending where all goes to waste, juxtaposed to Jodie
    Fosters face looking accusingly at US because we are supposed to care about HER.)
    Thats brilliant manipulation of the audience...and THAT IS GENIUS!!

    But all I hear is style, lightning
    People, THERE IS NOTHING NEW. Fincher states in PR that he wants to make everything "look precious,anyway".

    I think the best lesson for "style-locked" Fincher fans is ZODIAC.
    This movie has to be the most depressing (and true) statement of disparity ever.
    It is not about a serial-killer. It is about how different we all are.
    And the "looks"?: It's a Gordon Willis (DP: The Parallax View/All the President's Men) redux.
    (I hear Fincherfanatic sighing)
    But that's icing the cake. Nothing more.

    It is not how THE GAME looks. It is the first scene with Nicholas Van Orton and the last scene with
    Nicholas Van Orton. Inbetween there's a universe of change. "Constant change" if you will (too funny). And it makes no
    fucking difference if its filmed in super35 or super8. (like in the beginning, where he attempts to
    "wash" that old footage/memory off his face)

    Now THAT IS why David Fincher is a Genius.

    Style Analysis?...Big deal! I'am modestly impressed.
    Close ups in music videos....oh boy!(But I know, that belongs to another blog.)

    Now, with people like Kevin attending, we all should look to a bright future discussing what
    a GENIUS storyteller David Fincher is!
    I feel happy!
    Now, about that ZODIAC SE DVD. As if 158 minutes isn't long enough (just kidding folks!!).

  11. Folks, please don't be offended by my clumsy English.
    I'm not a native English speaker.
    Lighntning should be LIGHTING, of course.
    For all other certainly know what I mean.
    I'm trying to do my best.

  12. I agree Michael that style isn't the end all and be all but I think style is extremely important to any artist. I mean there are only so many stories to tell.

    The Matrix didn't reinvent the wheel, it's story that has run through every culture since the dawn of man. "Eternal Return" Death and resurrection.

    At this point in time We've pretty much exhausted all the stories we have. At their core the movies that we see are NO different than the stories our distant ancestor told each other around a warm camp fire.

    The thing that has changed is the mediums, the technologies ablity to close off the window between the real world and the story world.

    I am hoping that 3D technology saves the movie business for the next 50 years because A) A new language of cinema can emerge with a genuine emersive cineman. The commercial gimmick is "why watch Nicole Kidman make love when you can make love to her yourself."

    You'll be a fly on the wall when two dectives are in a room talking about that dead body over there to the right.

    What I am saying is that Technique does play a vital roll in informing who the artist is.

    Spielberg is a master technition and stories he tells are rather childish but he is a great artist because of his storytelling chops.

    In Existentialism there is a saying that what a thing is, is what it is. You don't do what spritualist do and say well a thing is it's spirit that the essence of the thing. Man is is spirit.

    Well what happens to his body what man is a man without his body? For existentialist the complete and total apprearence of a thing is the thing.

    A light bulb is a light bulb not just electricity or a filiment but all the parts working together to produce the thing and give it it's essence it's being.

    the same with film. it is cinematraphy it is editing it is sound design, it is costuming, it is production design, it is score etc.

    So when we want to take a guy like Fincher and Break down the esscence of his art, his genius we have to look at his style because all those things in concert produce film.

    the second thing is. Is that I think and I had a professor who always used to preface his advise by saying "Now this is just the bozo on the bus talking" meaning this is just my opinon.

    But for me style is story. The shower scene in psycho for instance. How many shots does it take to tell you Marian Crane is dead?

    One shot? two shots? three? Hitchcock is brilliant because he knows the audience won't want to buy it. they are going to say "No this is not happening and hitchcock is saying "No she is dead and if you don't believe me here is another angle of it. here is another one and another. You see her eyes they are dead, I'm going to hold on her eyes so that you can see for yourself that she's a dead as they come." Dead Dead Dead.

    It's this insistance on her being DEAD that fucks with you so much when you first see. How the fuck could that happen but fuck it happened, it really happened. the realness of it is in how many shots of the aftermath hitchcock gave us.

    How many two shots are in fight club??

    How many times do we see two buddies just chatting. marla comes down says good morning, when she is done and leaves the frame fincher has tyler enter the frame she just occupied why? It's about space and time they are joined, held in a reality by that shot, all for the point of making tyler more real than he is.

    I had a friend who shot a directing exersise for
    school and he did a scene from true romance. He didn't have the lighting correct and the smoke but he did the scene shot for shot and he said the thing he learned was that the details mattered a lot more than he anticipated.

    Now with all that said Nothing beats a killer fucking story no matter how old it is and worn through it is. If its a good fantastic story an audience will eat it up no matter what.