What’s it like to work with David Fincher? Well, he’s reportedly a challenging director that demands a lot of takes, right? We’re talking sometimes 60 or more. During “Zodiac,” Robert Downey Jr. described the set as “a gulag,” and in protest of the grueling number of takes the director put the cast through he left urine-filled mason jars around the set. Jake Gyllenhaal has also discussed the filmmaker’s exhausting approach, venting his frustrations in a 2007 New York Times article. Have times changed? Has Fincher mellowed and found a new approach, or did the “Gone Girl” cast simply know what they were getting into?
Ben Affleck: “I’m at this point in my career where I’ve decided it’s all about the director. So when David called me… I would have done the phone book with David, so you can imagine my relief when I read ‘Gone Girl’ and it wasn’t just an alphabetical list of names,” he joked. “It had a story and stuff. I want to be director one day. Before all three of my movies I would watch ‘Seven.’ I think it’s the most perfectly, meticulously, Swiss watch made movie. [I thought], ‘What kind of person makes a movie like this?’”
“So it was great to work with him and I learned a great deal and it was a pleasure to be around him and it was a true learning experience,” Affleck stressed. “I love it. And I would do it again and again and again, a million times. It was a joy. David, despite his reputation, is a very funny and nice guy. Not just a demon. That’s the pull quote.”
Tyler Perry: “For me it was the greatest learning experience I could have had. And I can’t imagine learning more in any other [context] or any other director. Just the level of his brilliance… his eye, the way he sees things. People say, ‘he does a lot of takes!’ but what I realized very early on is that he sees everything. I don’t think he sees things like regular humans and he’s trying to paint this perfect tableaux and if one thing is out of place, it’s gotta be redone. And the level of genius that it takes to make that happen was so impressive to me. I walked away hopeful that one day I would do better in my own films from just being able to work with him.”
Neil Patrick Harris: “I love that David is so—he has an amazing vocabulary and he demands a high level of excellence while you’re performing. And so everyone on set: it’s very quiet, everyone’s very focused. And yet, the way he communicates with everyone is very calm and confident. So it’s not demanding excellence and ratcheting up the stress level, because I don’t think when we were working it felt intense. It felt like we wanted to execute well for him. But between lots of takes, he would give you lots of notes that were calming notes that were pointed—he would tell you to do something or not do something or eliminate this or do this faster—but the way he said it was in a way that made you feel like you were on the right path. He wasn’t talking at you, he was taking with you and so that’s what I got from him: an empowering ability to work harder and yet a calm, comforting confidence that you were in good hands.”
Rosamund Pike: “That’s exactly it. That is the experience,” Pike said echoing Harris’ comments. “It’s not unbelievable pressure on a sort of moment to moment, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to survive. You feel like you have the time and you feel like you have someone who is really, really watching. I remember the first week, I was walking into an [extravagant] house and the camera was looking at me from behind and David just said, ‘You’re not impressed enough.’ And I thought, that’s on the back of my head! And yet, he sees all that. He taught me a tremendous amount.”
Pike even alluded to her latest film, “What We Did On Our Holiday.” “The other day I was in London seeing the premiere of a film I did right before this,” [the movie had its U.K. premiere on Sept. 22.] “I watched it thinking, ‘Oh, God David would hate that. David would have absolutely whipped that out of me.’ I think you have pre- and post-Fincher in your work.”
Fincher weighed in about the “number of takes” conversation and tried to stress it’s about making a film perfect because if you’re spending all that time and money on it, everyone should bring their A-game. Not only that, but he emphasized everyone on the team being on the same page to deliver their best.
“I always feel it’s a silly thing to talk about: what you do to actors,” he said. “I don’t think you ever enter into the shepherding of something that’s this expensive and complicated without letting them know upfront that we’re all doing this together. The pressure on the set is there before the actors show up, so everything is done. There’s no re-lighting happening within the take. It’s how many bites of apple we give the people who are perfect for the part to make it more concise, more human, less presentational. I feel like this whole thing of [lots of takes] is inflicted [on actors]. But it’s not. We’re all doing this together. We have to work as a ballet company, the boom operator, the dolly grip. Everyone has to make it sing, and then you can get a lot of data across to an attentive audience in a short period of time.”
“Gone Girl” opens up this Friday, October 3rd. Watch a few excerpts from the press conference below. [Photo via Anne Thompson]