David Fincher and Quint talk about everything from A(lien3) to Z(odiac)!!!
Published at: Jan. 1, 2008, 2:41 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with my last interview of 2007. It was a helluva year. I don’t have an exact count, but I know I’ve done over 50 interviews from July ‘til now. Of all the people I’ve interviewed this year, the one I could say without any doubt in my mind that I least expected was this one you’re about to read.
David Fincher is one of those guys that always seemed to exist outside of the world that I know. There was a chance earlier this year that I could have visited his set for BENJAMIN BUTTON, but that never happened and I honestly didn’t think it would. Seeing David Fincher direct? That couldn’t happen.
Right after Christmas the lovely Tamar from Paramount contacted me with a surprise opportunity to get on the phone with Fincher. He was promoting the ZODIAC Director’s Cut hitting DVD and HD-DVD and if I was ready that next day I could talk to the man.
Of course I said yes. Listen, I was working at a General Cinema when FIGHT CLUB came out. That movie was one of the longest running films at this little mall theater. I used to let kids sneak into it. If they were going to theater hop, at least they were seeing a genuinely fantastic movie, right? Our locked poster cases were busted into not once, but twice and the FIGHT CLUB poster within was taken.
We cover a lot of ground here. Mr. Fincher talked for nearly 40 minutes about everything from ALIEN 3 to the movement of his upcoming projects. I hope you guys enjoy the read on this final day of the year 2007.
David Fincher: Hello.
Quint: Hey, how’s it going?
David Fincher: It’s a little bit slow, but how are things for you?
Quint: Actually pretty fast. We’re kind of on opposites.
David Fincher: So have you seen the disc or are they just now supplying you with them?
Quint: I just got it last night and I watched the new cut. Honestly, I didn’t see much of a difference… either my memory has completely gone crazy or I somehow accidentally watched the theatrical cut again, so…
David Fincher: No, it’s not that different. It’s only about a seven minute difference, but you know there are like three little addendums. So, it didn’t feel any different?
Quint: No, I didn’t… But then again it has been almost about seven months since I saw it, so I don’t want to insult you and say that there was no difference…
David Fincher: No no no, that’s fine. (laughs) There were little things, but we thought they were important.
Quint: The movie, as a whole, held up just as much for me. I loved it when I saw it, but yeah we are all big fans of your work over at Ain’t It Cool, so…
David Fincher: Well thank you very much, I appreciate it.
Quint: Do you mind if we go back a little bit? One thing that I’m really fascinated by is that you kind of began your career at ILM… you were a matte artist, right?
David Fincher: No, not as an artist. I shot the paintings; I was a photographer. I was the guy who lined up the rear projector and made sure that the separations were done and then wedged everything and photographed it and then worked with the painters to try to add a little bit of animation, like maybe some water effects or a bird flying by, just to make it look a little more realistic. Luckily, thanks to digital, those days are gone.
Quint: I was just about to say though that I miss the old matte look. I’m a big fan of matte work and seeing…
David Fincher: The Al Whitlocks.
Quint: Definitely and going all the way back to THE WIZARD OF OZ or something. There is just something brilliant… it’s kind of the artistry of filmmaking and the creating of an illusion that…
David Fincher: Yeah, it was kind of great to start out in, because you really dealt with the optical department making separations and you had to be able to operate a rear projector and then you did a lot of motion control programming, so it was kind of a great nexus; you were in the middle of a lot of different disciplines.
David Fincher: Then watching guys like Chris Evans and Mike Pangrazio paint. That was amazing.
Quint: Yeah, well it is art work. I’ve got movie posters all over my walls and I have some original production art now and I’m a sucker for any hand drawn art. My biggest collection now, just because everything has gone so photoshop type stuff with, it’s like I tend to now go for the foreign stuff. I have some great Italian posters that are giant suckers.
David Fincher: Those are amazing… those are so great, and the Polish!
Quint: The Polish posters are so fucking bizarre and so awesome, like how JAWS is my favorite movie and I’ve always wanted the Polish JAWS poster, it’s always been this kind of abstract beautiful…
David Fincher: Did you find one?
Quint: I’ve seen it, but at the time I was definitely not able to afford it, so…
David Fincher: Wow! That’s so funny that they were throwing those things away. Years ago they’d just take them out of the case and folded them up and threw them away.
Quint: Or drew on the back. I even have some of those where they didn’t get the poster for the next week, so they jut took a big black magic marker and turned the poster around. I have a STRAW DOGS poster that’s like that and it sucks because it bleeds through, but on the back it’s like “Coming next week: APPLEDUMPLING GANG RE-RELEASE.”
David Fincher: “LAUGHS FOR SHEILA”
Quint: I’m totally screwing this up and going completely off on a tangent here, but…
David Fincher: Oh go ahead, I’m sorry…
Quint: Not your fault at all. Now one thing that I think everybody, at least all of the big guys at the site and all of the readers, they love the stuff that you have done and there is an argument starting with ALIEN 3, which I know you had a notoriously hard experience for you, because of the studio interference, but do you think having had that as kind of a trial by fire, do you think that shaped how you approached building a project and were you able to negotiate more creative freedom after that?
David Fincher: Well, certainly through no desire of the studios to give me anymore creative freedom, but I mean look… yeah I walked naively into this spinning propeller of Hollywood, but what I learned was… The thing is is that the creative executives at studios are not really in a position to tell you who the best cinematographer is to work with and the editors or those things. They all have opinions about that stuff, but ultimately those are the decisions you have to make for yourself and I sort of… on my first movie… I would have been much better off making a movie with all of the guys I had been making commercials and music videos with for years, because they would have been invested.
Now, I worked with some amazing people and you know Norman Reynolds is fantastic and Terry Rawlings was amazing and I got to work with Jordan Cronenweth at least for a short period of time on that movie, but what you learn from that first 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?
David Fincher: So it was kind of a… if nothing else, it was a situation where I got to see first hand that if I wasn’t going to make the decisions myself, there are plenty of people who are going to line up to chime in and almost no one was going to be there when the shit hit the fan and the movie is judged.
You just learn from that situation. You just say “If I do this again, I’m going down with the ship, so I’m going to make those decisions and I’m going to work with the people that I want to work with and I’m going to be involved in everything.”
I sort of did that on SE7EN. We were incredibly instrumental all the way down into getting Darius Khondji his work visas and there were a lot of people at the studio who just didn’t want to go through the trouble. They were like “Why do you want a French perfume commercial photographer to do this serial killer movie? You should get the guy who did SILENCE OF THE LAMBS” and so you learn from that. It’s like “No, I want to do this and I think taking somebody out of this milieu and moving them into this other one is going to bring this whole other thing to it and here’s this costume designer that I worked with on commercials and here’s the editor that I think is best suited” and so that process on ALIEN 3 probably made me more of a belligerent asshole than I otherwise would have been, but we’re only talking about percentage points here. (laughs)
Quint: I got to know Gino Acevado (special effects guy, now one of the higher ups at WETA) pretty well and…
David Fincher: Oh, yeah! Gino!
Quint: … and he was showing me all of these pictures of his work on ALIEN and how he was talking… He showed me something that he did for a webbed face hugger…
David Fincher: Yes!
Quint: I don’t think even made it into the work print, did it?
David Fincher: No, I mean again there were about six months on that movie where things were really exciting and we were going to do all of this different stuff and then the studio took over and that is sort of where things took a nose dive. It was like things were mandated, like blueprints for sets were cut in half and they just said, “This is the half of the set you get.” It all comes down to script. That’s the thing you fight over the hardest and the longest and fight for first, but I mean yeah the stupidity of it was of course… I mean we had a lot of great ideas for a lot of really great stuff. Jake Scott did some amazing designs for a bunch of stuff that I brought to London and flipped everybody out with. They were like, “This guy’s bringing in his own set design.” But there was a lot of really interesting stuff and we just never got to explore it, because we were chasing a start date.
Quint: So he was able to build that kind of aquatic face hugger, but you guys were never able to shoot it?
David Fincher: You know I don’t know if it was built. I don’t really recall. It’s sort of like if you’ve been in a massive car accident where you just kind of remember the aftermath.
Quint: I remember when he showed me that, it was like “Wow, that is so badass.” And when he showed me that, it was before the work print and so I was really looking for it in the quadrilogy that came out and…
David Fincher: Never saw it.
Quint: Never saw it… but no, I love the idea of it adapting to the environment and everything, but I am an ALIEN nerd.
David Fincher: I love the first one, it’s amazing.
Quint: I love Scott’s and I love Cameron’s sequel and I love… I don’t know, it’s just a great and fantastically designed universe and so I just love that stuff. ALIENS was always my childhood thing, but anyways we should definitely start talking about this special edition of ZODIAC. Now the first DVD release that Paramount put out was pretty bare bones, were you always wanting to have the definitive one?
David Fincher: We had always been planning it. It was kind of like the same thing that happened on PANIC ROOM, you know Prior and I got together and said “We want to do this,” and he would run off and come up with a bunch of ideas and then we would take that off to both the home video departments at both studios and said “This is what we want to do” and they would say “great great great” and then checks never got cut and people didn’t get paid for months and months and months and months. So the process slowed to nothing and then finally at the last minute it was like “Hey, we need that stuff in four weeks because we’ve got to put out a DVD” and we were like “You are joking, right? We have to make all of this stuff…” So there was a lot of people just panicking to throw something together and that’s why you end up with the vanilla disks of PANIC ROOM and ZODIAC.
Quint: But you look at something like the Peter Jackson formula for DVD releases, at least when you put out a second version you don’t put out a disk that has some stuff on it and then you put out a special edition that just has an extra commentary or something. This is a completely different package then what you guys have been putting out now, so it doesn’t feel like a double dipper.
David Fincher: Yeah… but… like, we had nothing to do with the second disk for FIGHT CLUB. There was only one disk that we were ever making for FIGHT CLUB, the one with the brown wrapper and then the other one got… You know home video divisions… they’re like little fiefdoms… they’re like the little Banana Republics at all of the studios. They sort of do what they think is right and best and I just like to sniff out little things for people to go… People rant and rave about the amaray trays and bitch and moan about the artwork, just kind of sending them to studio… with the people at the studio going “See? What did we tell you?”
Quint: I love the case for ZODIAC. I got the HD disk and I love the case. It feels like something Criterion would have done.
David Fincher: Oh good. We love to Peter Becker and all of the stuff he has done. He’s an amazing guy. I have those guys and you know they still are the benchmark.
Quint: Oh definitely. I grew up in the Bay Area, but…
David Fincher: Where?
Quint: Little town called Sunnyvale, next to Cupertino.
David Fincher: Hardly little.
Quint: Not anymore, I hear it’s gotten pretty massive, but it wasn’t very big when I lived there, but you know the Zodiac stuff was before my time, but my mom was a teenager when that was going on. She lived in Los Gatos and she was telling me just a story the other day about how during the Zodiac time… it was right when he sent out the thing saying that he was going to start picking off kids on busses, it was like the weekend after that that all of her friends were going up to San Francisco for a day and there was a huge argument with her mom, because to get up there they would have had to have taken a bus and the amount of fear that just gripped everybody there… She ended up winning the argument and able to go up, but the condition was that she had to call every hour on the hour and say “The Zodiac didn’t get me.”
David Fincher: (laughs) “I have not been shot yet.”
Quint: It’s just fascinating and what I think is really fascinating about the Zodiac is the riddle aspect. He’s almost like a real life Batman villain when you think about it.
David Fincher: He came up with his own costume and came up with his own symbol and he did all of that stuff.
Quint: Very theatrical…
David Fincher: The Dark Knight is a pretty good example of the thought process behind it. The moniker and yeah it was an amazingly weird time. It was very very very strange and San Francisco was a strange place and the Bay Area was a strange place at that time, because it was very cosmopolitan and progressive and saw itself as being above that and yet got so whipped into a lather by this crazed postal worker with horn rimmed glasses who hunted and yeah it was pretty odd.
Quint: They were caught up in that state of fear.
David Fincher: Yeah, and there were more people than not who where saying “Hey, what are the odds?” but for kids I don’t know… For me at the time I was in second grade or something, but it freaked me out. I was really like... you felt it and it was palpable. That was the first time that it had been explained to me that it was possible that people could hunt other people and that idea was just… especially the way that he put it. I mean what he was saying “I’m going to be hunting these people… I’m going to be hunting humans… Man is the most dangerous animal of all,” and so in that context for a seven year old it was pretty bizarre.
Quint: Just going back to another story that my mom used to tell me was that she was saying that as a high schooler, she went up to San Quentin a lot to visit a guy named Gregory Ulysses Powell, who was the “Onion Field” guy and she got into some weird San Quentin pen pal relationship with that guy and he introduced her to a guy… She just told me this the other day when I was talking about your movie, but this guy introduced her to a guy named David Margris, who at one point was one of the Zodiac suspects, because he had committed a robbery kidnapping murder and it’s just so weird how all of a sudden all of this stuff is coming out where… If you met my mom, she’s definitely not the kind of person you would ever imagine going up to San Quentin and visiting these guys and she’s like “Oh yeah, all of these famous murderers and stuff, I used to go visit them in prison…”
David Fincher: (laughs) Why did she do that?
Quint: I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.
David Fincher: And this was in High School?
Quint: I think she was High School or College aged, yeah. I don’t know and maybe I don’t want to know why… It’s fascinating and I just love that there’s this whole kind of… It’s almost become mythological in proportion in what happened here with Zodiac and with all of that and I think a lot of it has to do with that there was never a definitive arrest and that’s kind of what has led to the obsessiveness about it.
David Fincher: Oh it was insane. They printed this guy’s handwriting and they did all these things that now they have some sort of federal oversight whenever there’s a situation like this and I understand B2K and NightStalker and things like that, but the (San Francisco) Chronicle was in the fact that the conduit for this guy and they… They weren’t protecting him, but they certainly didn’t want anybody else to get this story and it’s funny how he sort of gravitated to them because of the things that they not allowed him, but the things that they did for him.
The protocol now for dealing with this kind of person, certainly with Son of Sam, was that they never… the only thing you got was the guy’s handwriting. You just don’t print his handwriting, you can’t do it. It was a nutty time. It was before… I don’t even know if the term “Serial Killer” had been coined yet. I don’t think so… 1969, but anyways it was particularly nutty and again Bundy was working the Santa Cruz circuit.
Quint: And Charlie Manson in Southern California…
David Fincher: Manson was out in the valley like planning their incendiary race war riot… You know, it’s like “Wow.” It was crazy and this was two years after the summer of love, so.
Quint: It’s like it was almost tailor made for film. That’s what is so weird about it, that it feels kind of alien now, like we are in a different kind of state of fear now.
David Fincher: Remember, right in the middle of the investigation is when DIRTY HARRY came out. DIRTY HARRY was… that was a big movie and it was a seminal movie in terms of.. it was the first time the audiences embraced the notion that we could fight back against those people who would insight fear in us by being less than tolerant about how we were going to… You know, people’s roaring approval of Harry Callahan said a lot about where people were about Manson and Zodiac, but you know it’s weird that right in the middle of investigation, maybe I shouldn’t say middle, but eleven months into this investigation that somebody had already taken the thread of the story and turned it into fiction that was… It was a weird thing, too, that in the Bay Area, because it felt like after DIRTY HARRY came out, it felt like the case had been closed or that whenever you would talk to somebody, like 1974, I remember asking friends “What happened to the Zodiac…” “Oh, I think they shot him or something…”
Quint: “Dirty Harry got him!”
David Fincher: Yeah, exactly. It wasn’t as lame as that, but it was nearly… It’s like “Yeah, I think he got it by the gravel pit..” because again I knew all of those locations, like where Dirty Harry jumps off that trestle into that gravel quarry that used to be out in Larkspur Landing. Now it’s this place you can go and get gourmet cookies and coffee and stuff, but it used to be this rock quarry that was literally a block from San Quentin.
If you look in that footage, San Quentin has its fences, cyclone fences, right at the point were he shoots Scorpio and that was right by San Quentin and so it became at the same time that kids are mythologizing the whole “Oh yeah, he climbed out of the tree like a spider dressed all in black and he had knives and he’d tie people up and he would slit their throats and stuff” and the whole thing had been changed into this bizarre superhero. You also had people by the mid seventies who were going “Yeah, they caught that guy in Bakersfield or something like that…” So when I got the script and I hadn’t read Graysmith’s books, when I got the script I was like “Oh my God, that’s what happened. It just fizzled out.”
Quint: I think it’s a great script and I think that you’ve put together one of your best ensemble casts, too. Your casts have always been really strong, but this one… It’s not so much the great leads. Of course Downey is great and Jake’s great, but I just love the people that you pack around them, specifically like Elias Koteas and my favorite is what you did with Charles Fleischer. You made Roger Rabbit scary!
David Fincher: So, you’ve never met Charlie…
David Fincher: He’s hilarious.
Quint: And John Carroll Lynch…
David Fincher: Oh, he’s amazing. I think Mark Ruffalo and oh my God, Tony Edwards is just so much fun.
Quint: Yeah, and Brian Cox. There’s so many people that are just so great in this film, so is that…
David Fincher: Candy Clark! Can’t forget Candy Clark!
Quint: What’s the saying? Ninety percent of the director’s job is casting the movie. Is that something that you subscribe to?
David Fincher: Well, I mean it is like putting together a basketball team and you know you’ve got to have a point guard and you’ve got to have a center and you think about how they’re going to gel and how they’re going to work and support one another. I don’t know if 90 percent, but a good half of your job is getting the actors who will help tell your story, because you want… Look, John Getz did a lot more for this movie than we did for John Getz, but to get a guy like that who is that skillful to come in and give you 25 or 30 takes in this round robin scene where everybody has two lines and it’s like twenty pages of yak yak yak. You know, that’s a great feeling when you know that you have got people, like John Terry, people of that quality to make the thing sing.
But buy the same token it’s like you have to do that behind the camera too. You have to make sure that you’ve got people that are supporting the concept or the conceit of it, so yeah I mean I think casting is a large part of it and finding the right faces that can help tell the story and the right kind of egos, but I think if you’ve got… you know the script was a pretty good worm to get all of these people to say yes and I think that they saw that. It was like “this is truly an ensemble.” When you say to somebody “Yeah, it’s kind of an ensemble and they look and one guy’s name is on every other line on every page, they’ve got to go “right right right…” This really was. You can go through it and see Graysmith disappears for twelve pages or twenty pages and then he comes back. I also think that people read the script and where like “Wow, I did not know that this had happened!”
Quint: I know that’s how I felt while watching the movie.
David Fincher: Yeah, casting is a big part of it at every level, but even with wardrobe you’ve got to cast the right people in those gigs, too. Luckily we got Casey [Storm] and Victor [Zolfo] and Donald Burt, so yeah it was everybody. You’ve got to choose right and get people who are committed and want to be there and want to help make the thing what it needs to be.
Quint: That’s cool, now are you still attached to TORSO?
David Fincher: Yeah, we’re waiting for the strike to end.
Quint: I love the graphic novel.
David Fincher: Yeah it’s good, but the script is very different. Have you read the script?
Quint: I have not.
David Fincher: It’s pretty cool.
Quint: It’s another great kind of fictional angle on a…
David Fincher: It’s not fictional. It’s pretty much the true story and I mean it’s compressed true story, but it’s a true story. People say “Ah that’s a serial killer movie” and it’s really not. It’s really the Eliot Ness story and the fall of Eliot Ness and it’s pretty great.
Quint: I think people are really fascinated by the true life crime thing, especially with people as notable. In the case of ZODIAC, that was a huge thing and everybody knows about it and everybody knows about Eliot Ness, but they might not know… What’s fascinating to me about it is like you were saying is about his decline, but it’s not his heroic hour.
David Fincher: Yeah, that’s for sure.
Quint: I think that’s pretty good. Is that what you are aiming for to be your next project post strike?
David Fincher: Oh I don’t know. It’d be great, but I’ve got a lot of stuff I’m looking at and you just never know what’s going to take flight, because it’s an odd alchemy, trying to put a movie together, because it’s not just about people’s schedules. It’s also about regime changes at studios and people get weird like “We’re not making these kinds of movies anymore…” “No characters with facial hair…” (laughs)
Quint: Really? That’s awesome… Well, that’s not awesome, but it’s still funny. “You can’t have a mustache, teenagers don’t go for that these days…”
David Fincher: You don’t really know, like some people have a weird aversion to period movies and some studios go and make a big expensive movie that take place in the forties and it goes in the toilet and then they come back and the thing that they learned from it was “No movies that take place in the forties…” So, who knows? It’s one of the things I’m definitely looking at and one of the things I would love to make.
Quint: You’re also attached to RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA, right?
David Fincher: Yeah.
Quint: That’d be pretty fascinating, too.
David Fincher: Yeah, it’s a great story. It’s just… I mean talk about a piece of work that’s been… talk about a corpse where the bones have been stripped. There was so much of it that was taken for STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE and ALIENS… So many movies owe their plotting and stuff to that story, so we have to be careful about what’s the part that we’re going to use, because a lot literary conceits in there that maybe aren’t ultimately the most cinematic.
Quint: Yeah and well I think that’s about all I’ve got. I won’t take up any more of your time, but I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me, so…
David Fincher: Did you get a chance to look at that DVD? You saw the documentary and stuff like that?
Quint: I literally got it last night, so I haven’t watched it yet, but I’m going to watch the whole thing and review up the disk for the site, so I will. I’m very much looking forward to it just reading about the feature length documentary that you have. That kind of stuff is interesting to me, so I’ll definitely be watching it.
David Fincher: Well I hope you like it.
Quint: I think I’m pretty predisposed to.
David Fincher: (laughs) Well, thanks very much, man.
Quint: Thank you.
David Fincher: Bye.
So there you have it. The DVD and HD-DVD both hit on the 8th.
I hope you guys liked the chat and I have to thank the lovely redhead at Paramount for setting this interview up as well as Mr. Fincher for putting up with my nonsense for 38 minutes. And a special thanks to Muldoon for slaving away at the keyboard preparing this one for you.
I hope everybody has a very happy New Year and a prosperous 2008!