I typically have difficulty choosing “favorites.” Although I love films, I don’t necessarily have a favorite. If I were to make a list of movies that I really love, though, a handful of Fincher’s films would definitely be near the top. Among directors working today, the amount of precision and control that David Fincher displays on a movie set is unparalleled. I admire him partly because of his perfectionist approach to filmmaking.
He’s notorious for shooting a lot of takes, which many actors find tedious and frustrating. And it’s not just the long, elaborate, drama-filled scenes that he shoots numerous times, either. I once watched a behind-the-scenes clip in which Fincher shot 36 takes of his lead actor placing a book on the passenger seat of a car. Mark Ruffalo, who worked with Fincher on Zodiac, tried to justify the director’s approach: “Somewhere along the way I think [Fincher] said to himself, ‘Good enough is not f***ing good enough.’”1 As a perfectionist myself, I find this reasoning sound (enough). Plus, the general approach seems both logistical and financially efficient, too. It’s not uncommon for years of planning and millions of dollars to be dedicated toward getting the actors and film crew on set, which might be the only opportunity to get the “right” shot—ever. Why not ensure that you’ve “gotten it,” instead of gambling on the first or second take, the way Clint Eastwood often does?
I also value Fincher’s conception of what the best movies attempt to do. He’s said before that he’s always interested in movies that “scar” rather than simply entertain or amuse. He wants the person who leaves the theater to be different from the one who entered it. For example, the reason he regards Jaws so highly is that he hasn’t gone swimming in the ocean since he saw it.2 Although “feel good” classics such as Forest Gump and Back to the Future have their place in the movie world, that’s not what Fincher’s aiming for. As Ruffalo phrased it, “He’s taking a stab at immortality—he knows that.”3
Here’s a great video that summarizes much of Fincher’s work and his personal filmmaking philosophy: Every Frame a Painting – And the Other Way is Wrong.
1, 2, 3Quotes and paraphrases from David Fincher: Interviews, edited by Lawrence F. Knapp