Interview

By Sean Chavel in Los Angeles

The last thing youíd expect of David Fincher to be is a soft-spoken guy. His dark visions in such films as Alien 3, Seven, The Game, Fight Club gives one expectation that he is a messenger from the Danteís Inferno. Darkly stylized and shadowy in design, his latest film Panic Room once again fits comfortably into that canon of his earlier work.

The film was originally cast with Nicole Kidman in the lead until the third week where she was inflicted with a knee injury. Her replacement was Jodie Foster, who happens to be an actress Fincher has been trying to work with for some years. Foster, a consummate if not discreet movie star, has been ever-selective with her film choices, but was hooked in immediately to have the chance to work with Fincher, a brilliant if not formidable perfectionist of the thriller genre.

How do you go about choosing movies that explore the dark side? Itís the script. If you read it, you like and want to make it into a movie. I donít stop to think about it much. I havenít had a script yet thatís about a day at the beach.

As a director you have a dark, grim visual style thatís distinctively yours. Who were your influences going up? Hitchcock, you know. I was a big Alfred Hitchcock fan. But mostlyÖ well, there were so many. [Martin] Scorsese, George Roy Hill, Alan J. Pakula.

There seems to be a lot of Hitchcock pans and tracking shots and styling that seems influenced in your movie? Did you study the old masterís films? No, Iíve seenÖ. I mean, Iíve probably seen Rear Window sixty times. I know his movies inside and out. And Vertigo.

How old were you when you wanted to be a director? I was about eight-years old when I wanted to be a director. Absolutely.

Were you given a camera? No, a couple of years later. My parents were like, wellÖ

Thatís kind of weird that you knew that early on what you wanted to be, doesnít it? Not on my block. Everyone wanted to be a director.

Why? George Lucas lived down the street from us, so everyone wanted to be like that. Drive a Ferrari and so on.

Did you get to meet George Lucas as an eight-year old? Yeah, I have met him. As a ten-year old I did. I was walking down the street and George was out getting the newspaper in his bathrobe, and I went, Ďhi.í And [he went] Ďhi.í

What did your parents do for a living? My father was a journalist, he was the bureau chief of Life magazine. My mother was a mental health nurse that worked in drug rehabilitation.

With Panic Room, how did you go about creating tension and exciting action sequences in confined space? You know, it was all in the script. I was just following a brick road. The biggest thing is finding, eight or ten weeks in, a new angle in a room that weíve been inside a thousand times. ĎWhat can we do in this room that is reasonably realistic without being banal?í we would [ask]. I mean, itís a fairly stylized approach. There have to be a number of credible set pieces and you have to engineer set piece after set piece. The whole movie is about twists. Itís really an exercise really of how much you can cram in. How many set pieces in a row can an audience handle in this confined space.

How did you get Jodie Foster for this lead role? Werenít you thinking about getting her for The Game? Iíve been a huge Jodie Foster fan since, um, 1975. We were going to do The Game and rewrite it for her that was to be the Sean Penn part. We ended up not doing that for reasons that are too complicated to go into. I asked her to do a part for a film I was doing about Herman Mankiewicz where I asked her to play Marion Davies. We had been talking before that project fell through. But I never thought of her for this because she was busy [directing] Flora Plum. [Pause] We cast Kristen Stewart [as the young girl], and she reminded me of a young Jodie Foster. She has that sort of great droll sense of humor. When Nicole [Kidman] hurt herself, we thought we were going to shut the movie down and get an insurance claim. A [producer] told me that Jodieís movie fell apart, and it was like letís send her the script!

Did you make any changes once Jodie came aboard? Oh, yeah. Itís interesting because we previewed most of the movie on computer animation [storyboards]. We had a scene of Jodie eating pizza. We had actually shot that scene with Nicole before she got hurt. And we put Jodie in the same place and it just didnít look right. It was a completely different dynamic. Itís funny how her physical stature, the way she holds herself it just a different vibe. Sheís a different person, and things have to change even in the script. The original character was much more helpless, but Jodie is anything but helpless.

What is the story behind having two cinematographers credited to the picture, Conrad W. Hall and Darius Khondji [a credited cinematographer for Fincherís Seven]? We let Darius go. I think it was mutual. He wasnít very happy and it happens sometimes in the movies. Movies are very pre-planned. I think a lot of what cameramen want to do is not to be given a shot and be told to go to the light meter. They want to be part of the decision-making process as to where the camera goes. Most of that had already been decided. [Beat] Darius is a very experienced guy. He wants to watch the rehearsals, he wants to give input and be part of where the audienceís eyes plays. And half the job was done, and he felt he was just the light meter guy.

Whatís the best part about being a director and whatís the worse? The best part is thinking it all up. What the [characters] are going to wear, what kind of cars are they going to drive. Where are you going to shoot it from. The worse part is actually shooting it because itís all about the compromises. And there are so many things to do. Problems like the weather, or new actors coming in, cameramen hung over, or making a great take that is out of focus or somebody spills a cup of coffee on the dolly. There can be so many people getting in the way of what youíre trying to accomplish. And you never do get it down completely, youíre lucky if seventy-five percent gets in. Thereís no way to get it exactly right.

Youíve talked about old directors. What do you think about your contemporaries? There are more talented people than ever making movies. But there is the question of more corporate stranglehold on content these days. And there are incredible pressures like whether the film is going to make $100 million. Itís all about directors taking what they got and taking to the maximum effect.

THOMAS CHAU / cinecon.com


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