Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fincher Joins an Elite Club, and The Chairman of New Line Cinema Nearly Dies. Your Tuesday Inanity

A couple of very interesting entertainment stories came down the pike yesterday. Both are from The New York Times.

1.) David Fincher's an ass-hole. I think we all knew that from the stories that filter out from his film-sets (like the professional beakup between Fincher and D.P. Darius Khondji on the set of "Panic Room"), but this is the first time I've seen it laid out in black and white. Jake Gyllenhaal, who stars in Fincher's upcoming film, "Zodiac", had this to say about working with Fincher:
What’s so wonderful about movies is, you get your shot,” he said. “They even call it a shot. The stakes are high. You get your chance to prove what you can do. You get a take, 5 takes, 10 takes. Some places, 90 takes. But there is a stopping point. There’s a point at which you go, ‘That’s what we have to work with.’ But we would reshoot things. So there came a point where I would say, well, what do I do? Where’s the risk?
And Robert Downey Jr. said:
Sometimes it’s really hard because it might not feel collaborative, but ultimately filmmaking is a director’s medium,” he said. “I just decided, aside from several times I wanted to garrote him, that I was going to give him what he wanted. I think I’m a perfect person to work for him, because I understand gulags.
Mark Ruffalo said:
The way I see it is, you enter into someone else’s world as an actor,” he said. “You can put your expectations aside and have an experience that’s new and pushes and changes you, or hold onto what you think it should be and have a stubborn, immovable journey that’s filled with disappointment and anger.”
It's not hard to see what they're all getting at. They all hated being on this movie. In the same article, Fincher is quoted saying, "Every once in a while there are actors you can defeat." And, about "Panic Room": "I was kind of impatiently waiting for everybody [he means the actors] to get where I’d already been a year and a half ago." With "Zodiac", he ditched the meticulously-storyboarded approach he brought to "Panic Room" and decided he would, instead, "be more attentive to watching the actors." Lucky actors.

All that being said, I think Fincher's one of the best directors working today. Kubrick was notorious for shooting crazy numbers of takes, and I wouldn't have wanted him to lessen those numbers by a single one to make the actors feel better, or like him better. And I think Fincher may not be too far out of Kubrick's league. I guess it's just a little depressing that at least three men renowned for making exceptional films -- Michael Mann, James Cameron, and now David Fincher -- are all unrepentant bastards while working. Does excelling in this medium require a myopic perfectionist hard-ass with a special talent for making others feel small? I would say probably not (I still haven't heard a bad word about Peter Jackson, for example), but it seems to help. I'm very happy to see their films ( "Zodiac" comes out March 2nd), I'm just glad I don't have to work with them.

2.) New Line Cinema Chairman Robert Shaye nearly died in 2005. He caught the streptococcus A bacteria, came down with a very serious from of pneumonia (the same kind that killed Jim Henson), and the doctors put him into a medically-induced coma for 6 weeks. Holy crap! Can you imagine? Giving the OK to the doctors to put you under for six weeks knowing the chances of dying while comatose were (and I'm assuming here) pretty damn good? Creepy.

Anyway, Shaye's recovery took a long time, but I'd say he was getting pretty close to fighting weight when he got all bastard-y with Peter Jackson about the audit Jackson requested for the "Fellowship" DVD sales. (Jim Cameron weighed in saying that, even with the most transparent studio, you still do an audit. This leads me to believe New Line's got something to hide here). Because of that lawsuit (which Shaye's fighting), Shaye doesn't want Jackson to direct "The Hobbit", and is trying to get Sam Raimi to do it. Ugh. I could MAYBE say no to a non-Peter Jackson-directed "Hobbit" if Shaye got some nobody to do it (or worse a somebody like Ratner or Story), but a Raimi-directed "Hobbit" would be hard to say no to.


blankfist said...


I wonder how difficult Fincher is to work with? What if he is just a headstrong asshole boss? We all are forced to work with these sorts of assholes, aren't we? So what if actors have to endure the occassional bully boss like the rest of us? Who cares? Surely, there are limits; Michael Mann comes to mind, and that guy sounds to be the grossest human being alive. Him aside, maybe the actors are expecting to run the set, and when they have to work with a director with status, maybe, just maybe, it's too much for their egos. Or maybe Fincher is an intolerable jerk. Who knows? Either way, they're all making money hand over fist, so I don't find myself letting lose a tear for any of them.

On a separate note, Cranesies, I've started into the Dawkins' book, and man is it awesome. Did you ever finish the whole thing?

Gretchen said...

I don't know anything about directors, but I can say from personal experience that in music, the best directors are unapologetic perfectionist pricks. Maybe the good directors are the same way. Most actors, like musicians, are divas as well, so it kinda makes sense that they don't like being told how to do their jobs by the person in charge of telling them how to do their jobs. That said, I also can't feel too bad for them when I consider their paychecks. Have I just agreed with Heath again?
Back to the 24 torture thing, my boss this morning condemned The Departed and said that 24 is the best show on in the same breath . Did I mention that he's a religious right-wing fanatic?

JudgeHolden said...

Why did he condemn the "Departed"? Or better question, why did his preacher or right-wing radio show tell him the "Departed" needed condemnation?

You guys are right (yes, Gretchen, you've agreed with Heath again), none of these people deserve our pity -- they have great jobs and get paid ridiculously well to do it. I guess what I think's lacking with these guys is an understanding of courtesy, and why people bother with it in the first place. When David Fincher says to whomever while trying to get a particular shot featuring Gylenhaal, "Delete the last ten takes," knowing full well his star's hearing that -- it just bespeaks a needless insensitivity to others that, to my mind, has to be counterproductive. If Fincher were polite AND a perfectionist, not only would he get the performances he wanted, he'd also have a set filled with people happy to be there and eager to do their best. I guess it's kind of a hippie argument to make, along the lines of "Can't we all get along?" but I really think these masters of the medium set a bad example with their bad behavior.

I think also (to drag this out a few extra yards beyond the point of being interesting) that having a bad reputation as a director has an effect on the artistic product. Cameron was such a giant bastard on "the Abyss" that Ed Harris vowed never to work with him again. How many other actors did that scare away? (Remember how Harris didn't clap when Cameron won his Oscars? That was awesome.) Orson Scott Card who wrote the classic sci-fi novel "Ender's Game" worked briefly with Cameron on a post-"Titanic" project and shortly after vowed never to work with him again. "Life's too short to work with people like him," he said. How many other writer's did that scare away? (Admittedly, probably not too many. They're a desperate bunch.) And because of Fincher's pigheadedness, he lost Darius Khondji on "Panic Room" -- a talent Fincher will never work with again. It's hard to complain that great movies could be even greater if not for these discourteous directors, but there it is.

As for Dawkin's book, I've only read the introduction so far. I'm looking forward to reading it though.

harwell said...

Well, as someone who has personally (ahem) met David Fincher I can say that he was nothing but polite to me in the thirty seconds it took me to yell his name, shake his hand, tell him I'm a fan, ask him where the Fight Club premiere was going to be held, and then run away in a very nerdy fashion. Nothing but nice. He did ask me to "do it again and do it slower," but I didn't mind. He's David Fincher!

There's an interview with him in this month's Premiere mag if you want more. There's nothing really in there to hint that he's a prick, only mention that yes he does a lot of takes in some cases. He also admits that he probably squeezed some of the juice out of Panic Room by pushing for something technical instead of emotional (at least that's how I read it). It also strikes me as a little odd that Brad Pitt would work with him twice if he were such a giant douchebag. Your point about courtesy is well made though. Hard not to wonder what kind of films these guys could make if more folks were enthusiastic to work with them. Personally, I don't think any job or title gives you the right to be a jerk but that's just me.

As for Gretchen's boss, he objected to the language in The Departed I'm told. You know the old story: language and nudity are always worse than violence to some folks for some reason. I don't expect that will change anytime soon.

Back to Fincher though, am I the only one who really, really wants to see Zodiac and yet doesn't really care about ever see his other movies again? It has nothing to do with the reports of his prickishness or the quality of his films. I just feel like I've seen them enough already. He's a terrific genre director and I think he should wear that tag as a badge of pride (like Hitchcock). But damn his movies are cold. I find they don't really invite me back in, even though I've got three of them staring at me on my dvd shelf.


blankfist said...

I'd watch Fight Club, Seven and The Game again and again. They're solid. Alien 3? Not so much. Same goes for Panic Room - not a favorite. To Crane's point about Fincher not filtering his opinions in front of Gylenhaal on which takes to keep or not, I have to say that we don't honestly know what his intentions were. He could either be completely oblivious to the feelings of actors surrounding him, to which I unflinchingly say, "who cares?", because he's doing a job, and for this he has to ensure only the good takes are printed and used no matter whose fragile ears are within audible range. Or, he could be manipulating the actor, a la Kubrick, by keeping them second guessing themselves in order to acheive a different performance. Then again, he could just be a big, fat bully.

As for the Dawkins' book, for some reason I thought you had read the whole thing. I guess I heard wrong. I skipped over the introduction and went straight for the 1st chapter. Man, it delivers! Even though I'm no where near making a substantial dent in the book, the beginning is a clincher. You'd appreciate how he cites early treatice written by George Washington and John Adams clearing illustrating that America was not a Christian founded nation. They should teach that in our public schools.

Speck said...

I'll take a different interpretation on Ruffalo's quote. Remembering he has also worked for Mann among others.

I thought he was jabbing more at whiney complaining actors then he was at the director. Granted he is the least "experienced" of the group. I think he was basically saying you can go to work being miserable, or you can try and turn in to a learning experience.

Anyway, my two cents.

And on a film set...its not always just the directors who are perfectionist assholes...it all rolls downhill.

Craig Moorhead said...

It's funny how we sometimes give a person (in this case, three actors) our total trust because what they're saying is a) measured, b) gossipy, and c) something we sorta already believe is true anyway. I fall into that trap a lot. But without a certified Asshole Director auditor on that set, I'd bet this has a lot more to do with clashing egos than anything else.

There's also a great interivew in Esquire with Fincher that lays out sort of why it is he's an asshole. And it makes sense. He lost all control on "Alien 3" and says, basically, that a bad movie doesn't follow an executive producer or a suit at the studio. It follows him. So he's got to fight to make sure it's the movie he wants it to be. And that's hard logic to argue.

Also, I like how precise and technical his movies are. I enjoy all of 'em, even 'Alien 3' and 'Panic Room'. I never found Hitchcock movies terribly moving, either, but I like how intricate they are. Same with De Palma's stuff.

Eh... anyway...

blankfist said...

Hey Craig, was that your latest blog entry just there? Because I haven't seen any activity on your real blog since the trilogy thing went up way back in the summer of 1999. Hey dude, maybe you should stop jocking Crane's blog and jump back into writing up another post on your own blog.