The Filmmaking Craft of David Fincher Demystified in Two Video Essays

David Finch­er is an auteur in the same way that Alfred Hitch­cock is — you can tell a Finch­er film from see­ing a sin­gle frame. His shots are col­ored with inky blacks and sick­ly flu­o­res­cent greens and they are always com­po­si­tion­al­ly per­fect. His cam­era moves with an eerie dis­em­bod­ied smooth­ness that makes a Kubrick film seem down right warm and invit­ing. His movies mine the murky recess­es of the human con­di­tion; you are more like­ly to see a gris­ly mur­der in a Finch­er movie than a pas­sion­ate kiss. Even movies that have a rel­a­tive­ly low body count, like The Social Net­work, are imbued with a dis­tinct­ly Finch­er­sque grim­ness.

A grow­ing num­ber of crit­ics are start­ing to pay atten­tion. Above you can see Tony Zhou illus­trate the director’s styl­is­tic restraint in a video essay called “And the Oth­er Way is Wrong.” Finch­er him­self once said, “They know you can do any­thing so the ques­tion is what don’t you do, not what do you do.” And Zhou ele­gant­ly shows what Finch­er does not do, which is such sta­ples of Hol­ly­wood film­mak­ing as hand-held cam­eras and close ups. He likes his cam­era locked down and aloof.

In anoth­er video essay series, Aaron Aradil­las and the great Matt Zoller Seitz focus sim­ply on the open­ings of Fincher’s films. The series starts with Fincher’s first, and most maligned, movie Alien3. Aradil­las and Zoller Seitz argue that the film is dis­tinct­ly dif­fer­ent from the first two Alien films. Rid­ley Scott, direc­tor of Alien, kept the shots long and the edits large­ly invis­i­ble. Finch­er, in con­trast, used fast and jar­ring edits. He start­ed as a music video direc­tor and was still in MTV mode when he made Alien3.

In a lat­er episode on Zodi­ac, arguably his mas­ter­piece, Aradil­las and Zoller Seitz show that Finch­er bril­liant­ly packed the film’s two open­ing sequences with an impres­sive amount of expo­si­tion, set­ting up not just sto­ry ele­ments but also the film’s com­plex, sub­jec­tive point of view.

There are four videos in total in this series with a promise of a fifth. You can watch them all here.

Ear­li­er this week, we showed you Cameron Beyl’s five-part, three-hour Direc­tors Series study of Stan­ley Kubrick. Who is he tack­ling next? Finch­er, of course.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Every Frame a Paint­ing Explains the Film­mak­ing Tech­niques of Mar­tin Scors­ese, Jack­ie Chan, and Even Michael Bay

Sig­na­ture Shots from the Films of Stan­ley Kubrick: One-Point Per­spec­tive

Watch 7 New Video Essays on Wes Anderson’s Films: Rush­moreThe Roy­al Tenen­baums & More

The Per­fect Sym­me­try of Wes Anderson’s Movies

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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