While David Fincher’s preference for filming multiple takes puts pressure on his cast and production crew (see Amanda Seyfried’s revelation that one “Mank” sequence was filmed nearly 200 times), it might create the most challenges for his editors. How do you stay sane while crafting the perfect David Fincher scene from dozens upon dozens of take? Patience helps. Editor Angus Wall has worked with Fincher on nearly every film from “Seven” through “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” winning Oscars for Best Film Editing thanks to his work on “The Social Network” and “Dragon Tattoo.” Over the years, Wall has developed the perfect method for editing through Fincher’s multiple takes.
Speaking to The Ringer, Wall said more times than not he is editing together multiple takes of a different scene into one finished version as opposed to just using Fincher’s final take or most preferred single take. Wall created a system that he has passed on to Fincher’s other editors that “allowed me to sleep at night knowing that I had a mechanism in place so I knew I was getting all the best stuff.”
As The Ringer breaks down: “Editors typically look at all the takes of a scene in chronological order from first to last before selecting the best one. Wall would instead look at the starred take, Fincher’s favorite from the day of shooting, and then use that as the gauge against all the other takes. Next he would look at all of Fincher’s circled takes in descending chronological order, then all the other takes from last to first. But not only does Fincher shoot many takes, he shoots long ones, so Wall would often have to break up a scene into separate beats and order them with his system, then pick the best one from each subsection.”
“You may take a line from take 38,” Wall said. “You may take a line from take 13, you may take a line from take 17, and you put the scene together with the best performances and camera work from the body of media you’re pulling from.”
The system requires the upmost patience, as one “scene” in a Fincher theatrical cut could take weeks in the editing room to put together. Take the opening of “The Social Network,” which Fincher filmed in “a procession of single takes.” The Ringer reports it took Wall three weeks to cut the scene together using the aforementioned system,
As for what it’s like to endure Fincher’s multiple takes on set, “Mank” and “Mindhunter” camera operator Will Dearborn told The Ringer that the director’s efficiency means carrying out multiple takes doesn’t equal longer set days.
“The thing that happens on a normal production is that as soon as the assistant director yells ‘Cut!’ chaos erupts on set,” Dearborn said. “People are resetting props and people start their conversations back up and there’s all this blither-blather. The amount of time in between takes is more than the time that you’re actually shooting. That becomes a real impediment for someone like David, who relies upon being able to evolve the shot or the concept or whatever he’s trying to get from that performance. Every single take he’s pushing the ball further down the field. He needs to get that number of takes because he can only push it a little bit each time. And he’s very patient about it.”
Fincher is returning later this year with “Mank,” his first feature film release since “Gone Girl.” Netflix is behind the movie but has yet to announce a release date.