One of contemporary cinema's most dazzling visual stylists whose dark vision of human nature colors his images, David Fincher knew he was going to be a director at the tender age of eight when he began experimenting with an 8mm camera. The sight of neighbor George Lucas picking up his paper in the morning helped demystify the process too, proving that ordinary people made the magic happen. Filmmaking seemed the perfect outlet for a kid who could spend all day drawing and loved to make sculptures, take pictures and tape-record stuff. Fincher eschewed the film school route, getting a job loading cameras and doing other hands-on work for an animation company. He next finagled a position with Lucas' esteemed special effects production company, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), when he was only 18, and stayed there for four years, learning the trade from the ground up and earning some screen credits, including one for matte work on "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (1984).
Fincher, however, was not cut out for technical subservience. As he told the New York Times (September 2, 1997), "I have problems with authority, and I'm definitely not a team player. I.L.M. was very team-oriented. But it was a good place to try things out." He left the company to helm TV commercials, shooting his first one for the American Cancer Society, a grim hint of things to come showing a fetus smoking a cigarette. Though he would go on to direct spots for Revlon, Converse, Nike, Pepsi and Levi's, Fincher soon discovered that the slightly expanded format of music videos was an even better place to try things out. As a founder of Propaganda Films in 1986, he quickly took that company to the top of the field, helming memorable rock videos for Don Henley ("The End of the Innocence"), Paula Abdul ("Straight Up,” "Cold Hearted"), Billy Idol ("L.A. Woman") and Aerosmith ("Janie's Got a Gun"). He did some of his best work for Madonna, creating a sleek noir world of muscle hunks, black cats and bondage for "Express Yourself" (1989) and staging the equally memorable "Vogue" (1990), with its gorgeous black-and-white photography evoking a variety of movie divas of yore, slickly edited to Madonna's pop appropriation of the "vogue" dancing of Harlem's drag queens.
Having always wanted to direct science-fiction movies, Fincher jumped at the chance to make his feature debut with "Alien3" (1992), naively assuming Fox would let him make the movie he had pitched to get the job. He soon learned that his music video skirmishes had not prepared him for the all-out war of piloting a lucrative franchise previously steered by Ridley Scott and James Cameron. With the shooting script a scant 45 pages on Day 1, he knew he was in trouble but soldiered on when his agent told him he'd never work again if he quit, remaining allies with star Sigourney Weaver throughout while clashing repeatedly with studio executives nervous about their jobs. Individual sequences had much to recommend them, and Fincher sustained his dark visual assurance over a full-length film, but too much interference from higher-ups worried about production costs and trying to imitate past formulas resulted in a less-than-stellar release. Doubting he would ever direct another feature, Fincher returned to music videos, earning a Grammy for the Rolling Stone's "Love Is Strong" (1994).
Fincher kept reading screenplays though, and one finally crossed his desk that excited him from beginning to end. Unlike "Alien3,” "Seven" (1995) was a coherent script by Andrew Kevin Walker without any baggage, and the director pulled no punches delivering an extraordinarily gripping, unrelenting story of a serial killer murdering his victims according to the seven deadly sins. Dark, moody and malicious, it was unsettling from its mind-bending opening credits straight through to its downbeat ending which Fincher had fought to keep, informing reluctant producer Arnold Kopelson: "Forty years from now, nobody's gonna remember you and nobody's gonna remember Brad Pitt, but they're gonna be talking about a bad guy delivering the good guy's head in a box. Nobody's going to forget that." (From Entertainment Weekly, September 19, 1997). Often only the flashlights of the two detectives could penetrate the gloom of its inky-black darkness (a trick Fincher first used in Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun"), and many critics dismissed the picture as murky and pretentious. Audiences, however, did not agree. Almost overnight, on the strength of its overwhelming box office, Hollywood's favorite whipping boy became arguably the town's hottest director.
Next came "The Game" (1997), a nightmarish, "Twilight Zone"-style thriller which projected the same sense of suffocating enclosure and mounting despair as had "Seven.” The sterile universe of ruthless tycoon Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) spirals out of control when he accepts the invitation of his younger brother (Sean Penn) to indulge in an unusual "entertainment,” courtesy of the mysterious Consumer Recreation Services. Sucked into a vortex of paranoia and uncertainty, Van Orton eventually wakes up somewhere in Latin America as a penniless nobody and spends the rest of the film trying to get to the bottom of things. Admittedly a stunning technical achievement, audiences still found the movie a little too coolly cerebral, and after a strong first week, word-of-mouth kept the crowds away. With "Fight Club" (1999), Fincher latched on to his most disturbing material yet, delivering an adrenaline-charged satire sending-up both corporate-consumer culture and the men's movement. The complacent, well-ordered world of Edward Norton comes apart when he encounters the destabilizing force of Brad Pitt, who prescribes brutality and mayhem as an antidote to the inauthenticity and mediocrity of modern life. Whether zeitgeist item or cult movie, "Fight Club" is pure Fincher, an inventive and bold visual display that begs the question: "What's next?”
Fincher answered with a gimmicky, but standard thriller, “Panic Room” (2002), starring Jodie Foster as a newly-divorced mom confined to a built-in panic room with her daughter (Kristen Stewart) when three burglars (Jared Leto, Forest Whitaker and Dwight Yoakam) break in and begin to terrorize the seemingly defenseless inhabitants while trying to find a secret stash hidden inside the house. Fincher relied heavily on fantastic images and camera moves—flying through keyholes, snaking along wires inside walls—amplifying the visual palette, but neglecting other crucial elements, namely character development and emotional depth. The director faced several problems during production—the original lead was supposed to be played by Nicole Kidman, but she left after 20 days of shooting because of a knee injury suffered on her previous film, “Moulin Rouge” (2001). With a pending actor’s strike on the horizon, Foster jumped aboard and played the role with her typical intensity. During filming, however, Foster informed Fincher that she was pregnant with her second child, making the long and physical shoot more demanding. Reshoots were scheduled so Foster could give birth—her stomach was too big to cover in some scenes. Despite all the production problems, “Panic Room” opened to favorable reviews and ultimately took in close to $100 million in domestic box office.
Fincher’s next film, the long-awaited “Zodiac” (2007), returned to familiar territory, tackling the famed Zodiac Killer, who was credited with five grisly murders in the Bay Area during the late-1960s. An elusive killer who reveled in taunting the media and police, The Zodiac’s identity was never discovered, while several other similar murderers were loosely—but not officially—attributed to him, adding an interesting twist to a genre sorely in need of innovation. The movie, though not highly appreciated as Seven or Fight Club, did introduce Fincher to the elite Cannes selection list for the Golden Palm.
As Fincher made the media rounds for Zodiac, he was deep into production on the New Orleans-set The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, an adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald story of the same name that reunited him with Brad Pitt, and co-starred Pitt's onscreen spouse from Babel, Cate Blanchett. The story revolves around a man born in the early twentieth century who ages backwards, causing complications when he falls in love with a 30 year old woman. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was originally slated for release in May of 2008, but was pushed back to November 26, 2008. The release date has since been moved to December 19, 2008.
May 10, 1962 in Colorado
* Job Titles:
Film director, Commercial director, Music video director
* Daughter: Phelix Imogen Fincher. born in April 1994; mother, Donya Fiorentino
* Father: Jack Fincher. worked as a writer and bureau chief for Life magazine
* Ashland High School, Ashland, Oregon
* 1984 Left ILM to begin making commercials
* 1985 Made first commercial, a spot for the American Cancer Society which showed a fetus smoking (date approximate)
* 1986 Co-founded Propaganda Films with Steve Golin
* 1992 Feature directorial debut, "Alien3"
* 1994 Earned a Grammy for helming the Rolling Stones' music video "Love Is Strong"
* 1995 Had surprise box office success with the psychological thriller, "Seven" starring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt
* 1997 Helmed third feature, "The Game", starring Michael Douglas and produced by Golin
* 1999 Helmed "Fight Club," a screen adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's novel of the same name starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton
* 2001 Executive produced a series of short film advertisements for BMW shown over the Internet at bmwfilms.com
* 2002 Directed the thriller, "Panic Room" starring Jodie Foster
* 2005 Executive Produced "Lords of Dogtown" a feature film based on the Documentry "Dogtown and Z-Boys"
* 2007 Helmed "Zodiac," an adaptation of Robert Graysmith's books about the hunt for the Zodiac Killer starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr.
* Directed music videos for Madonna, Michael Jackson, Rolling Stones and Nine Inch Nails
* Entered the film industry by getting a job with an animation company loading cameras
* Will helm "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," an adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald's short story of the same name (lensed 2007)
* Worked at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), George Lucas' special effects production company