David Fincher Shares His Thoughts on the Concept of ‘Auteur’ Filmmaking

by John Evans

“Auteur filmmaking”- a term used to describe movies which are the product of the sole vision of their director- has been used to describe the process and works of such masters of cinema as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Martin Scorsese since the concept originated in France in the 1940s. The term “auteur” has since been reserved for directors whose approach is so signature and iconic that their works would simply be altogether different had they been directed by anyone else. While the “single-vision” concept has resulted in some of the greatest films of all time, the approach has since taken a back seat to the contemporary “filmmaking by committee” style employed by many major studios (which is why most of the Marvel superhero movies- with some notable exceptions, such as Guardians of the Galaxy– have mostly been directed by newcomers or hired guns with experience in completely different genres, yet they all have the same unmistakable market-tested sense of humor and mind-numbingly unimportant finales). Fortunately, this doesn’t mean that the auteur style is dead entirely. Some contemporary expert directors are currently turning in their best work, and any student of film knows them by name: Denis Villeneuve, Darren Aronofsky, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, and David Fincher.

But, just like any honorary term, it gets a little tricky to ask a master of cinema to identify him or herself in such a manner. While Kid Rock might be happy to flaunt his prowess in his lyrics, filmmakers tend to be a little less boastful. David Fincher- the director of such modern classics as Seven, Fight Club, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, and Netflix’s Mindhunter– recently sat down with Little White Lies to discuss his approach to filmmaking, and he described in detail why he doesn’t exactly believe in the term “auteur.”  Here’s what he had to say:

“The problem with auteurism is that it presupposes that one person can impress upon 95 people, so clearly, that the manifestation of whatever it is going on in your head can be clearly attributed to them,” Fincher said. “The reality of moviemaking is, y’know, it’s a rat ****. Every day is a skirmish, and you might escape every skirmish, but there are injuries and there losses, and there are things that you had 10 meetings about that go off perfectly, and there are things that you’ve had no meetings about that ended up taking eight of the 12 hours in the day because you didn’t think it was going to be so complicated.”

These are humble words coming from a filmmaker who is so well-known for his expertly choreographed shots that they require one hundred takes or more, and whose use of CGI is executed with such precision that no viewer would ever know it was there in the first place. Granted, the fact that he is so hard on himself, his work, and his collaborators may be what causes him to be so honest about the fact that no project ever goes 100% as planned. Furthermore, a mistake for David Fincher may likely be so minute that it wouldn’t even be discovered by a less detail-oriented filmmaker. Steven Spielberg once told an incredible anecdote about visiting Stanley Kubrick in post production. They way Spielberg told it, he once asked Kubrick why he was looking at the same shot on eight different monitors. Kubrick explained that they were actually eight very slightly different takes and proceeded to explain the minor differences between each take. As a viewer, Spielberg- a clear master of profession as well- simply wasn’t looking for the same thing out of the image as Kubrick, who was attempting to perfect his vision, so the subtleties were lost on Spielberg as a viewer because all of the shots were likely near-perfect. This anecdote could explain why us viewers- many of us with no formal experience in filmmaking- can’t identify the supposed faults in Fincher’s process and the final product he’s describing.

Fincher elaborated on how collaboration and the reality of everything from a tough day of shooting to a miracle in the editing room can lead to a different product that what was originally intended:

“Everybody who comes on to a set looks at it from a slightly different standpoint. You can’t say to the third violinist, ‘This is what the totality of the thing should sound like.’ You just need them to get them to do their thing. When you hear it, it either moves you or it doesn’t, so you have to figure if it needs a little bit more of this or that. That’s happening in the rehearsal, it’s happening in the coverage throughout the day. You hone in as you get tighter and tighter and tighter on people, but you’re also getting tighter in terms of time. You’re honing in on one little thing, and then you do the same again in the edit, with the sound effects, with the music, with the colour grading. Suddenly all this stuff comes together, and the notion that anyone could say, ‘This is precisely what it’s going to look like,’ to me is amazing.”

So he’s humble and he’s currently producing some of the greatest works in contemporary filmmaking… never change, David Fincher!

Stay tuned to Horror News Network for more details on the upcoming works of David Fincher and his peers as they break!


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