On Working With David Fincher

The folks at Criterion added some exclusive content to their site: Production Designer Donald Burt and Prop Master Hope Parrish talk about their experience on working with David Fincher on Benjamin Button.

It's a very cool little bit, again, to see just how meticulous and detailed Fincher works on his movies. We all know the stories about "Zodiac" and the diaries in "Se7en". But on "Benjamin Button", with its epic scope and almost one century of narrated time, Fincher and his art department showed still the same level of perfectionism and love for detail. Just what we appreciate about Fincher's work!

Big thanks to Christophe for this link!

Donald Burt and Hope Parrish on working with David Fincher
A detailed look at the postcards and diaries

... isn't "Hope Parrish" (perish) a very odd name?


  1. one thing that is important to learn from fincher, at least for me as a director, is his capacity to inspire his cast and crew to go to extreme lenghts to get everything right. sometimes it doesn't work (darius khondji), but most of the times he strives for perfection and everything falls into place. i gotta stop complaining about my crew and start looking at what i'm doing wrong.

    thanks again for the link christophe.

  2. I don't know. There are good and bad sides about being so meticulous. Why should they create something that never makes it into the final film, let alone never is being filmed during production? To make the actors feel more immersed in the story? I think they'd do just fine without.

    Anyway, with all the talk from Fincher and cohorts about having trouble to get the money together for the film and them complaining about how they never have enough time to shoot everything they want, it seems paradox to spend (waste?) so much time on a postcard that never gets filmed. It's kind of hypocritical, even.

  3. I agree. Isn't that what acting is about: Pretending like something is there that actually isn't. I remember thinking the same thing back when Zodiac was coming out. Fincher had his art department fill every desk and every drawer with actual items from the period that never get shown. That doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, and Fincher's statement to that was, in case his actors ever opened one of these drawers, he wanted them to feel as if that world was real. Really? Then why not shoot the movie without any lighting equipment and without a two hundred man crew. That sounds like it may distract an actor way more than the right or wrong pencil. that is just taking it too far! it's pointless and it bloats the budget to a level where it need not be. But granted: I don't think these fancies are what makes a film like Benjamin Button this expensive. It's probably the least in the budget. Just to make clear: I love Fincher and I think he's one of the best out there. I just think his obsession with perfection is nuts.

  4. And concerning actors feeling immersed in the world of the story... think about theatre, which is often referred to as being better acted than film (although it's a different style of acting)... they don't have that much production design, but they are nevertheless able to immerse in the worlds of Shakespeare... THAT'S called acting.

    It's their job, and I think they should be able to do without the last single detail (like a pencil in a drawer from that excact period of time). And I absolutely agree with nikolaj, the cameras, the lights and the huge crews with catering are far more distracting than not having an exact replica of a newspaper, from that same day in the time depicted, in the corner of the room, under the third newspaper from the top.

    It really is nuts. Stop complaining about not having enough time for shooting what you want. And don't give actors 20 million $ if you have trouble getting a budget together.

  5. Here's a nice quote from Fincher for discussion's sake.

    "I’ve been on my friend’s sets. Which of course is always agonising because you sit there and you go, you know, “Give me a B camera, let me help you out”, because you see them pulling their hair out, going, “I don’t have the time, I can’t shoot this or that!” [1]

    He's been known to complain about the same obstacle.

    "The fact is, you don't know what directing is until the sun is setting and you've got to get five shots and you're only going to get two." [2]


    [1] http://thisiswhoiam.empireonline.com/Celebrities/View/David-Fincher

    [2] http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000399/bio

  6. A good example: "[...] the messages on the back of them needed to be in Brad’s handwriting (something the audience doesn’t actually see, but it was great for Julia as a working tool to help her with her performance)".

    If a theatre actor reads this, she goes "WTF?! She needs this to perform well??".

  7. It's about creating worlds. Imagine Ridley Scott not paying that much attention to his art department's work on Alien or Blade Runner. Those little details helped to create all of the amazing images we see on screen. It's all the same with Zodiac.

    They spend (waste) so much time on a little postcard... yep, and then they win Oscars.

  8. Yes mikez, but if these little details don't show up on the film because they're in the corner under a staple of other nice details, then the Academy can't see it, and as a consequence can't give Oscars for these tiny time-wasters not even the actors should need.

  9. Thanks for placing the ads on the right, it was very annoying before. Looks much better and sleek now!

  10. You can't show everything, but I can bet it's comfortable knowing that everything is there while you shoot it.

    Cameron wrote this awesome scene for Aliens with Sentry Guns shooting in the corridor. But unfortunately it didn't end up in the final theatrical cut. Now, take the way you think and aplly it to that... Why did he waste his precious time to even write it!! It didn't show up on the film!?!

    We don't know maybe there was a scene written for Zodiac where Graysmith goes through a bunch of newspapers on some desk in the corner. Maybe they decided that they don't need that shot. But it is there in the corner ready to be filmed if needed.

    Come on, Zodiac mostly takes palce in the newspaper offices. You know you're going to spend a lot of time shooting there. Wouldn't you like this environment to be as convincing as possible. I would expect to see some original papers in the corner or pencils in the drawers.

    Sure you can do it without those details. You can go "Dogville Style", put some white lines on the floor and leave the rest to actors imagination. But I don't think that's the way to go.

  11. Hope Perish sounds like an appropriate name for someone collaborating with Finch.

  12. Oh my, that is true! ;-)

    I noticed something else really weird, name-wise, when I last watched ZODIAC. The key assistant location manager's name was "Scott Fitzgerald"...

  13. Where are the controversial discussions and comments?? Please, fellow fincherians, comment!

  14. How's this for controversial. Do you think there can ever be another Fincher?

  15. Um...yes? And no? I mean, I think there's only ever "one" of a particular artist. There will never be another Orson Welles. Or another Billy Wilder. But someone will make a movie that I enjoy as much as "Citizen Kane" or "Sunset Blvd." But not in exactly the same way.

    As for the amount of detail DF demands in his productions: well, yes, of course it's crazy. It makes no sense, economically or [on the surface] creatively. Benjamin Button cost $150M? Are you kidding me? It wasn't all VFX, either. *But*...

    Let's call BB a 90% movie. In that it gets 90% of the way to some non-existent idea of perfect. If DF hadn't shot for 200%, if he'd only shot for 100%, and the movie had only come out at 75% perfect...well, it would be a lot like a lot of other much less memorable movies, wouldn't it?

    So in summary, yes, it's crazy. Yes, DF is probably an obsessive nut. But as long as they keep giving him insane budgets to make his films, it works out for me as an audience member.

  16. Hi I'm Aaron Sorkin!June 24, 2009 at 8:16 AM

    Good lord. Fincher's next (maybe) project is the Facebook movie?

    I mean, I've got faith, but still.

  17. facebok???? oh my good

  18. What the...?!! A Facebook movie?? I can't hear the word anymore! Please Fincher, don't do this...

  19. hey... if it gets fincher to join facebook i'm all in.

    and apparently it's based on a book (the life of the creator of facebook), so it might have some meat to it.

    let's wait until they make it official.

  20. Tyler Durden has joined Scientology and is writing copy for them now:

  21. A Facebook movie??!! OMG!? WTF?! THE END IS NIGH!!!
    It should be called The Curious Choice of David Fincher!
    Marc Zuckerberg is a fucking asshole.

  22. The last thing I want to see is a movie about Marc Zuckerberg.