“Do the best you can and then try to live it down,” is one of American director David Fincher’s favorite quotes to live by. Driven, focused, and unequivocally creative, Fincher is known for his suspenseful and emotion-provoking films, such as Fight Club (1999), Gone Girl (2014), and The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo (2011). Fincher’s directing began at just eight years old in San Anselmo, California, when he made movies with an 8 mm camera. Since then, he’s gone on to become one of the most renown and sought-after directors of our time and just seems to be getting better and better.
Fincher’s style of directing is thorough, and it is said that he is an obsessive compulsive perfectionist, as he asks his actors to repeatedly act out scenes, only turning on the camera after the thirtieth run through to get his ideal shot. He also has one of the largest shooting ratios in the industry – his shooting ratio for Gone Girl (2014) was 201:1 (which means that for every 201 hours of raw footage, there was only one hour of screen time). Though it may seem tedious and unnecessary, this diligence is more than outstandingly marked in every one of his finished products. For example, Fight Club (1999) is regarded as not only one of the best films of the 1990’s, but of all time, for its impeccable attention to detail and artistic storytelling.
Fincher was born on August 28, 1962 in Denver, Colorado, to parents Claire Mae and Howard Kelly “Jack” Fincher. At two years old, the family moved to San Anselmo, California, where Fincher met one of his first inspirations in neighbor-form, filmmaker George Lucas. Ashland, Oregon, was the next place the family moved when Fincher was in his teens, where he graduated from Ashland High School. Ever interested in filmmaking and directing, it was during his high school years there when Fincher spent a majority of his free time directing plays and designing sets and lighting after school. Aside from working jobs as a fry cook, busboy, and dishwasher, he was also a non-union projectionist at a second-run movie theater and a production assistant at local television news station KOBI in Medford, Oregon.
At Korty Films, Fincher was hired as a production assistant. After quickly moving up their ranks and working on the film Twice Upon a Time (1983), he joined the Industrial Light & Magic group as an assistant cameraman and matte photographer. There he worked on Return of the Jedi (1983) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). When Fincher directed the 1984 commercial for the American Cancer Society that showcased a fetus smoking a cigarette, he certainly caught Hollywood’s attention for good. Shortly thereafter, he was directing a documentary for Rick Springfield and spots for Levi’s, Converse, Revlon, Coca-Cola, Sony, Chanel, and many other noteworthy companies. By 1986, he was directing music videos for Jermaine Stewart and Madonna (namely, Express Yourself, Oh Father, Vogue, and Bad Girl).
In 1992, Fincher’s feature debut was Alien 3. The film was not received well by the public nor critiques albeit its nomination for an Oscar for visual effects. He has since been quoted saying that ironically, no one hates the film more than he. This personal sense of failure urged Fincher back into the comfortable safety of directing music videos and commercials; however, in 1995, he found his way back to his true calling, successfully directing the movie Seven, which grossed more than $100 million in America alone. Two years later, he directed The Game, which didn’t perform quite as well in the box office but was absolutely received well with big thumbs up by critics everywhere.
Perhaps his most notable movie, Fight Club (1999), was his next project. At first, the movie was, according to Fincher himself, “misunderstood,” by critics and the public alike, which initially landed it in a pile of negative reviews. It was only a matter of time, though, before the timeless picture became a cult classic. His directing genius was and will forever be stunningly evident in the film’s construction. Since then, he has gone on to profitably direct numerous movies, including Zodiac (2007), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), The Social Network (2010), and Gone Girl (2014).
One of the main reasons that Fincher’s films feel so raw, real, and relatable, is because of his use of cinematography to capture his actors’ body language and thus his audiences’ subconscious instincts. Fincher utilizes this camera positioning to tell a story before any words have been spoken. He relies on the human experience to bring his creative projects to fruition. In addition to this specific creative process, he’s also quite well known for his use of lighting and wide-angels. In fact, some of his projects have had to be reshot because the frames were shot at too wide an angel. Because of this strategic cinematography, Fincher’s pictures are inventive, distinctive masterpieces – the way he captures human emotion is unique and truly magnificent. It’s his notorious and aforementioned thoroughness and dedication to his craft that truly bring his works to another level.
In contrast to being a meticulous, relentless filmmaker, Fincher doesn’t like to keep the aura on his sets too tight. He feels if he overthinks his creative processes too much, it removes the film from art and into a “checklist,” which, in his opinion, destroys the finished product. He desires his films to grow organically as opposed to being forced. Fincher continues to make astonishing films, with his latest project being another Netflix series (as he helped direct some of House of Cards), Mindhunter, starring Holt McCallany and Jonathan Groff. He’s currently married to Ceán Chaffin and has one daughter, Phelix Imogen Fincher who was born in 1994 to he and his ex wife, Donya Fiorentino.