What’s the difference between a film and a movie? What does directing a film have in common with eating a whale? Let director David Fincher, the man behind The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network, enlighten you with these five tips about crafting elite (and less elite) cinema. And don’t worry – the tips are far less intimidating than the rules of Fight Club.
1. Call your own shots
“There’s nothing worse than hearing somebody say, ‘Oh, you made that movie? I thought that movie sucked,’ and you have to agree with them,” Fincher said on why he’s so hands-on in making decisions.
“You are going to have to take all of the responsibility, because basically when it gets right down to it, you are going to get all of the blame, so you might as well have made all of the decisions that led to people either liking it or disliking it.”
2. Give it your best, but stay realistic
‘Do the best you can, try to live it down,’ that’s my motto. Just literally give it everything you got, and then know that it’s never going to turn out the way you want it to, and let it go, and hope that it doesn’t return. Because you want it to be better than it can ever turn out. Absolutely, 1000 percent, I believe this: whenever a director friend of mine says, ‘Man, the dailies look amazing!’ … I actually believe that anybody, who thinks that their dailies look amazing doesn’t understand the power of cinema; doesn’t understand what cinema is capable of.”
Film is a collaborative process. It’s dependent on everything falling into place the way it’s supposed to – no one person, even the director, can exercise complete control over this. All they can ever do is put in their best work and keep trucking.
3. Check for different perspectives
Fincher looks at the set up of each scene with each eye individually – the left, for composition and the right for focus and technical specs.
Why? The left eye is connected to the creative side of the brain and the right is connected to the mathematical side.
4. Movies vs. Films
A movie is made for an audience and a film is made for both the audience and the filmmakers.
“I think that Fight Club is more than the sum of its parts, whereas Panic Room is the sum of its parts. I didn’t look at Panic Room and think: ‘Wow, this is gonna set the world on fire.’ These are footnote movies, guilty pleasure movies. Thrillers. Woman-trapped-in-a-house movies. They’re not particularly important.”
That said, make sure your movie actually contains a semblance of a plot. A series of scenes where characters sit around and reflect on the meaning of life might as well be a documentary.
5. Take it one day at a time
At the beginning of the filmmaking process, your project looks like a heck of a giant to tackle. In the middle it’s hard to step back and imagine what the finished product will look like.
“How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time. How do you shoot a 150-day movie? You shoot it one day at a time,” said Fincher. This advice is applicable across the board in nearly all art forms. Break your projects down into smaller tasks and don’t let the gravity of any situation overwhelm you.
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