What a grouping in New York yesterday evening. Last night, Spike Jonze moderated a post-"The Social Network" Q&A with director David Fincher and star Jesse Eisenberg. If that's not enough talent in one room we're not sure what is (photos courtesy of the honorable Mr. Jeff Wells). We were in attendance for what was a spirited and lively discussion of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and the idea of subjective truths in Aaron Sorkin's screenplay (it should be noted, while Sorkin at the New York Film Festival insisted everything in the script was of the utmost veracity, Fincher seemed at ease with describing the film as their version of the events that took place).
There were lots of little gems in the Q&A, including Spike Jonze sort of teasing Fincher that he related to an incredibly obdurate character like Mark Zuckerberg who did not bend to anyone's rules and the fact that the "Where the Wild Things Are" director -- a good friend of Fincher's going back to their '90s music video days -- actually tried to dissuade the "Fight Club" filmmaker out of making "The Social Network" because he too didn't understand the idea at first. "I remember when you told me about this movie, that you were doing a story about Facebook, I didn't really...I tried to talk you out of it," Jonze said with a laugh.
"I read a script and I thought it was really good and the story was really compelling," Fincher said of the reasons why he wanted to make the film. "And this guy at the heart of it was this not-obsequious character looking for approval and he was just doing what he was going to do and damn the torpedoes and you don't read a lot of scripts like that. There's a conventional wisdom that the lead in your movie has to be embraceable and not prickly or too smart or thinks he's too smart or smarter than everyone."
"How did you relate to the movie?" Jonze quipped with a sly wink. Fincher was in fine form and as usual, grouchy and frank (and lord, we love him for it). He does not suffer fools gladly, not even half-wits with decent questions. Fincher told a story about how the Internet rumored Jesse Eisenberg to have the lead in "The Social Network" before Fincher had even met him. "I remember thinking, 'fuck it,' no one's gonna tell me how to cast this movie," he said. "But as soon as we saw the audition tape it became pretty obvious."
Interestingly, one of the people that recommended the young actor to David Fincher was Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, a good friend of Fincher's and the director of "The Education of Charlie Banks," which starred Eisenberg in 2007.
We had the gall to ask Fincher about the amount of takes he shoots -- he responded with a mocking, snoring sound, lol -- but more to the point, Robert Duvall's recent comments that said Stanley Kubrick was the "enemy of actors" because of the excessive amount of takes he made his actors endure. "Look there are certain people that are not going to play with you and I've worked with them," Fincher explained. "And there are certain people who do not get better after six or seven takes and you gotta -- you're putting together a basketball team; you got a point guard, a center, a power forward. Cameramen can by a crybaby, a production designer can be an artiste and you're negotiating all these personalities. Bob Duvall is a national treasure and he should work the way that he wants to work and I respect that and I think that there are certain things that may or may not be wooden about different kinds of performance styles. If you live in the moment, you respect that, that's your truth."
"I had this conversation with Justin Timberlake," Fincher said, explaining his work ethic, approach and his warnings to the actor before he signed on. "I said, 'Look if you're a guy in order to be alive you need 30 ccs of nitroglycerin pumping through your veins and be on the 50 yard line of the Superbowl with 80,000 people... if SNL is what you've gotta have from this situation, it isn't going to be that. We're going to micro-fractally explore this text cause all there is in this movie is people talking. We're going to pick that shit out of pepper. We're going to find the moments between the moments that move and resonate. And if you're not willing to hit that hole a lot of times, don't do this. Because it's going to be agony for you. If the charge for you is wardrobe malfunction, you're not going to get that. There's not going to be a lot surprises here, you're going to surprise yourself. I'm going to have you do it until you have gone past memorizing it, gone past knowing your own name, until we can get all of the the physical nonsense so ingrained that we can get to what the actual text is.' "
Perhaps the best quote of the night, however, was one that probably sums up the irascible David Fincher more than anything else. "Philosophically you either believe that characters are representing themselves as they truly are, or, I believe philosophically that language was invented for people to be able to lie to one another." he said. "So to me, the interesting thing is what someone's eyes are doing as they're swearing their allegiance to Mark Zuckerberg and his creation. That to me is what's interesting. So let's get past the point where you know what you're supposed to be doing and get to the thing where you know that shit inside out and I can wake you up at 2:00 in the morning and I can go [snaps his fingers]." Gotta love this guy.
Note, Jeff Wells really got Fincher's ear afterwards. We asked him to bring up the Eliot Ness "Ness" project (Matt Damon, Casey Affleck and Rachel McAdams were once attached; it was a serial killer-like picture, but another film about tenacity and obsession) that seemed to have died in early 2009 and Fincher pretty much confirmed it, scrunching up his face and basically sneering with a "no." So much for that one.