Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Here's why David Fincher makes his actors do 50 takes

“[David] Fincher is meticulous,” John Carroll Lynch, who co-starred in the director’s Zodiac told us during a recent Random Roles interview. “He’s after something. And it takes him 50 takes to get it.”


Pretty much anybody who works with him will attest to his relentless takes, but the questions remains: What, exactly, is he after? We’ve written before about his use of CGI, wide shots, and extreme closeups, but this latest video essay from the Nerdwriter provides some especially inspired insight into his process, one that you won’t be able to forget as you’re binging his excellent new Netflix series, Mindhunter.

Basically, it boils down to the precision of his camera movements, with the Nerdwriter noting that an especially subtle staple of Fincher’s oeuvre is the way his camera matches “the velocity and direction of the character moving in the frame.” As the essay points out, the camera moves when the character moves and stops at exactly the moment they stop. This applies not just to sprints and strides, but also to the slightest changes in countenance. The effect is not just intimacy, a word most wouldn’t apply to Fincher’s direction, but also the ability to unconsciously tap into the evolution of a character’s behavior. Slow pans became quick, jarring ones as behaviors become erratic; you may not realize they’re happening as you’re watching, but your mind is picking up on it.

If such an approach sounds like it would be difficult to get right, well, look at his reputation. It is difficult to get right.

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.