David Fincher: ‘The Filmmaker’ of our time | Sunday Observer

David Fincher: ‘The Filmmaker’ of our time

1 August, 2021

Most fanatic fans know Fincher’s professional history backwards, by heart and inside out. However, for those who are just discovering the works and genius of this great director or for everyone who simply cannot read enough about the man, I have attempted to put together a lengthy and informative biography.

Starting out

David Fincher was born on August 28, 1962 in Denver, Colorado, and grew up in Marin County, California. Reportedly it were Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’, Ridley Scotts ‘Alien’ and a ‘Making Of’ featurette on ‘Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid’ that made him want to become a filmmaker.

Fincher earned his first hands-on experience working for John Korty at Korty Films in Mill Valley, when he was only 18 years old. Since none other than George Lucas lived in Fincher’s neighbourhood, he went on to work for Lucas’ visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), where he quickly assembled such namely titles as ‘Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi’ (1983) and ‘Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom’ (1984) to this filmography. And to this day the experience of having worked behind the camera before taking the director’s chair can be witnessed in Fincher’s perfectionism and competence all across the board of filmmaking.

Breaking in

David Fincher left ILM in 1984 to pursue his own career, directing music videos and tv-commercials. One of his earliest, if not even his very first work was the now infamous commercial ‘Smoking Fetus’ for the American Cancer Society -- at only 22 years of age!

Fincher was offered to direct Rick Springfield’s concert film ‘Beat Of The Live Drum’ and a few of his music videos, worked for The Motels and Sting and his career took off and reached an early climax towards the end of the 1980’s, working for clients that included Nike, Coca-Cola, AT&T and pop-superstars Madonna, George Michael, Billy Idol, Foreigner and Michael Jackson.

In 1987, at age 25, Fincher co-founded production company Propaganda Films with (among others) fellow director Dominic Sena, which was a platform not only for producing high-quality music promos but also feature films such as ‘Wild At Heart’, ‘Red Rock West’ and ‘Being John Malkovich’.


In 1992 David Fincher accepted the invitation to the big screen, helming the then most expensive directorial debut in history, the $65 million franchise-flick ‘Alien³’.

Due to never-ending script changes and studio involvement, Fincher and critics alike considered the film a creative and commercial disaster -- even though it went on to earn almost $160 million in world-wide box-office.

Most likely the frustrating process and result of making this film led Fincher to become one of the most perfectionistic and uncompromising directors in the business today.


Andrew Kevin Walker’s 1995 spec-screenplay for ‘Se7en’ immediately caught Fincher’s attention and made him return to the cinematic director’s chair. This time creating one of the most chilling serial-killer thrillers ever made and with the deserved success of a cult-following and a $316 million word-wide gross. For every one of his movies David Fincher has been known to choose some of the world’s most talented cinematographers, such as Harris Savides (for ‘The Game’ and ‘Zodiac’), Jeff Cronenweth (‘Fight Club’) and Claudio Miranda (‘The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button’), often recruiting young talent he had previously worked with on commercials. With ‘Se7en’ it was the seemingly odd choice of french DOP Darius Khondji that stirred the film’s ingenious, indelible look.

From the title-sequences, to the direction of the lighting, the camera, the editing, the choice of music and the attention to sound-design and art direction, David Fincher’s films are always at the leading edge of filmmaking-zeitgeist. Kyle Cooper’s title-sequence for ‘Se7en’ was a modern masterpiece that influenced many title-sequences thereafter and was even showcased as a video-installation on the prestigious 1997 Biennale for Fine Arts in Lyon.

The Game

In 1997 Propaganda Films produced Fincher’s next movie, the thriller ‘The Game’ featuring Michael Douglas, Sean Penn and Deborah Kara Unger. The film was well-received by critics and did moderately well, but could not follow up on the world-wide box-office success of ‘Se7en’.

‘The Game’ is a good example for David Fincher’s choice of themes and for his great talent and interest in the cinematic and narrative manipulation of the audience. The film plays on the concept of perceived reality and keeps the protagonist in a constant struggle to determine, whether what he experiences is real or not. Fincher’s films are so well made, so rich in detail and cinematic fabric that they remain appealing even after repeated viewings. This holds true for “twist ending” films like ‘The Game’ or ‘Fight Club’, but also for Fincher’s straight, mainstream thriller ‘Panic Room’.

Fight Club

In 1999, at 37 years of age, David Fincher re-teamed with his ‘Se7en’ star Brad Pitt and actor Edward Norton to tackle Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘unfilmable’ novel ‘Fight Club’. By his own account Fincher has read the novel in one night and was determined to make the film no matter what, if necessary on a low budget without a big studio backing. Surprisingly the film was initially received with mostly negative audience and critics reactions, mostly due to being viewed as a film promoting “excessive violence”, “dangerously instructive information” and “encouraging anti-social behaviour”, and consequently reeled in a disappointing $37 million domestic B.O. The film however went on to be one of the best-selling DVD titles ever and built an enormous cult-following over the years -- so much so that some magazines even recalled their initial reviews of the film.

Commercials And Digital Obsessions

David Fincher wanted to shoot ‘Panic Room’ on digital systems, but felt that technology wasn’t ready at the time. In the intermediate years to his next feature film, Fincher experimented with digital cameras and workflows on numerous commercials, for clients such as HP, Heineken and Motorola. Other works, such as his ads for Nike (‘Speedchain’, ‘Gamebreakers’) and phone company Xelibri earned him the coveted DGA Award for ‘Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials’ in 2003.

With as many as a dozen projects on his desk, that included titles like ‘Mission: Impossible 3’, ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘The Black Dahlia’, Fincher ultimately decided to move forward with ‘Zodiac’, a film about the notorious real-life serial-killer that haunted the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s, and ‘The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button’ in a back-to-back studio deal with Paramount.