6 Filmmaking Tips from David Fincher


1) “What you learn from that first [film] - and I don’t call it ‘trial by fire’; I call it ‘baptism by fire’ - is that you are going to have to take all of the responsibility, because basically when it gets right down to it, you are going to get all of the blame, so you might as well have made all of the decisions that led to people either liking it or disliking it. There’s nothing worse than hearing somebody say, ‘Oh, you made that movie? I thought that movie sucked,’ and you have to agree with them, you know?”

2) “I never fall in love with anything. I really don’t, I am not joking. ‘Do the best you can, try to live it down,’ that’s my motto. Just literally give it everything you got, and then know that it’s never going to turn out the way you want it to, and let it go, and hope that it doesn’t return. Because you want it to be better than it can ever turn out. Absolutely, 1000 percent, I believe this: Whenever a director friend of mine says, ‘Man, the dailies look amazing!’ … I actually believe that anybody, who thinks that their dailies look amazing doesn’t understand the power of cinema; doesn’t understand what cinema is capable of.”

3) “A friend of mine once, he was directing his first film and he called me and said, ‘How many takes can I ask for?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well I’m working with this actress and she said that she’s only going to give me six takes.’ And I said, ‘As far as I’m concerned, you ask for whatever it is you need.’ I’ve never understood… It’s not about an actor presenting their work to forty people around them. It’s about, you know, it’s the boom operator, it’s the camera operator, it’s can you tweak the light better, can the person hit their mark better, can they be in focus. There’s so many aspects, it’s not just about the actor. That’s the focus of what you’re trying to get, but it’s a ballet between so many different people. And to me that’s the thing, to make it all coalesce, to make it look effortless.”

4) In the commentary track for Se7en, Fincher explains that when he was working at ILM, he was taught that a director should look at each scene’s set up with each eye individually. Left eye for composition (because it’s connected to the creative right side of the brain). Right eye for focus and technical specs (because it’s connected to the mathematical left side of the brain).

5) “A movie is made for an audience and a film is made for both the audience and the filmmakers. I think that The Game is a movie and I think Fight Club’s a film. I think that Fight Club is more than the sum of its parts, whereas Panic Room is the sum of its parts. I didn’t look at Panic Room and think: Wow, this is gonna set the world on fire. These are footnote movies, guilty pleasure movies. Thrillers. Woman-trapped-in-a-house movies. They’re not particularly important.”

6) “You can’t take everything on. That’s why when people ask how does this film fit into my oeuvre. I say ‘I don’t know. I don’t think in those terms’. If I did, I might become incapacitated by fear … How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time. How do you shoot a 150-day movie? You shoot it one day at a time.”

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David Fincher is maybe my favorite director of all time. Here are six reasons why.

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