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‘Seven’ Turns 25: Why David Fincher Felt ‘Awful’ on Set Trying to Rebound from ‘Alien 3’

After striking out with "Alien 3," Fincher arrived on the set of "Seven" with a tormented feeling.



New Line Cinema/courtesy Everett Collection

David Fincher’s first go-around as a feature film director was a failure. As the filmmaker behind “Alien 3,” Fincher battled with 20th Century Fox over creative control and had the impossible task of directing without a finished script. Fincher has since disowned the film, which means that in his eyes his real movie career begins with “Seven.” The New Line-backed serial killer drama, starring Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and Gwyneth Paltrow, opened in theaters 25 years ago on September 22, 1995 on its way to $327 million worldwide (the seventh top grosser of the year) and an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing.

With “Seven,” Fincher finally got his directorial breakthrough after making a name for himself as the music video director behind such classics as Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and “Vogue,” George Michael’s “Freedom ’90,” and Michael Jackson’s “Who Is It?” And with “Seven” Fincher had the kind of artistic freedom and creative control that Fox stripped away from him during the making of “Alien 3.” After the failure of that science-fiction sequel, it was no surprise Fincher retreated for a while back to the marketing and music video world to regain control.

In an interview with The Ringer, Fincher’s former assistant director Michael Alan Kahn looks back at how vigorously Fincher embraced creative control following the “Alien 3” debacle. Together, the two men worked on a series of Heineken advertisements. Wall said, “When I linked up with David I immediately recognized that it was a whole different level.”

“You’d start from scratch and [Fincher] would spend five hours and 57 minutes dressing the fuselage, dressing the background, moving the background around, putting the bottle right in place, finessing the light so it felt like you were in flight, the right amount of spritz on the bottle, the right amount of napkin,” Kahn said. “Every aspect of every aspect was considered and perfected. Then he would roll the camera for three minutes, and that was lunch and that one was done. It was an amazing thing to watch because you see a blank frame and then you see him paint, basically.”

Kahn said Fincher often admitted to him that he wanted another shot at filmmaking, which arrived thanks to “Seven.” But returning to a film set meant Fincher would have to reckon with giving in to artistic compromises and giving up at least some creative control. Kahn remembered Fincher being somewhat tormented by this realization on set when filming started.

“I had one of those moments where I looked around and I appreciated where I was,” Kahn said about the early days of production on “Seven.” “I went up to Fincher and I said, ‘Look at this! Look! It’s here! We’re here! You did it! We’re shooting a movie! There’s Morgan Freeman. There’s Brad [Pitt]. There’s Kevin Spacey…Isn’t this amazing? Isn’t this wonderful? This is what you wanted.’ And he looked at me as though I were from outer space and said, ‘No, it’s awful.’ And I looked at him and I said, ‘Why is it awful?’ And he said, and I mean sincerely, ‘Because now I have to get what’s in my head out of all you cretins.’”

Thinking about all the compromises he would have to make, many of which he could not predict ahead of time, was plaguing Fincher as he returned to filmmaking after the “Alien 3” nightmare. Fortunately, the production of “Seven” went a whole lot smoother and opened the door for Fincher to obtain more creative control as his career went on with “The Game,” “Fight Club,” and “Panic Room.”

Head over to The Ringer’s website to read a handful of set stories from several of Fincher’s previous collaborators.

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