“You kind of wonder if I should [have] been in therapy more regularly,” director David Fincher cracked to an appreciative audience Friday night at the Arlington Theatre after seeing a couple clips from his filmography run. This sort of humorously self-deprecating statement and view of himself and his work as gleefully deranged was typical of Fincher’s remarks during the course of the two-hour event.
“I always look for pervert stories,” he further explained of his penchant for directing violent, darkly humorous films that studios are often wary of green-lighting.
Indeed, after viewing excerpts from cult favorites like “Se7en,” “Zodiac” and “Fight Club” as a part of the evening’s festivities which celebrated Fincher’s status as this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival “director in residence,” it’s strange to realize that Fincher is the also the mind behind the Academy Award-nominated “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a film that lacks many of the elements (i.e. murder, twisted male psychology) that make a Fincher film, well… a Fincher film.
It’s also strange that “Button,” which received at best medium reviews from most critics, would be the film that brings Fincher into contention for the coveted gold statues, seeing as his prior films, especially last year’s phenomenal “Zodiac,” have won him the favor of many well-respected filmic authorities. But that’s another story.
Though the evening’s interview-clip-interview structure was fairly conventional, it was interesting to hear about Fincher discuss his pre-Hollywood career working in the oft-maligned field of commercial and music-video filmmaking. Often, people conceptualize or narrativize the careers of prominent filmmakers as some sort of overnight success story or some grand struggle against the oppressive system to maintain one’s ideals, but Fincher offered a refreshingly different, more realistic (and certainly more cynical) story about his rise to prominence.
After spending a couple years cranking out music video after music video for only $50,000 a year, a young Fincher and his friends started their own production company, Propaganda Films, realizing that the music video business could potentially yield considerably higher returns if approached from a different mindset.
“This is totally an ego business,” Fincher said, discussing how record labels and publicists strive to “brand” their musical acts. Fincher realized that instead of spending $50,000 on a music video, bands could afford to be spending millions, and music video directors were suddenly in much higher demand.
Though his music videos did parlay him his career in film, his first job directing a feature afforded him little creative control: His work on “Alien 3” proved to be a good lesson in studio politics for the director, who did not seem particularly embittered about the fact that he was fired three times, by his own estimates.
Eventually, Fincher’s artistic visions were realized in “Se7en,” and he was subsequently allowed more freedom in the films that he chose to make.
The evening came to an end with a rather bizarre speech from Jake Gyllenhaal, who met Fincher on the set of “Zodiac,” which may or may not have contained several interesting homoerotic double-entendres.
“David Fincher can’t fake it,” Gyllenhaal said of the director, a fitting remark about the director whose most remarkable achievement over his career is his dedication to taking what the audience wants into consideration while still making worthwhile and interesting films that pull no punches.