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Producer Says David Fincher Is Averaging 50 Takes Per Scene Shooting 'Gone Girl'

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by Kevin Jagernauth
October 24, 2013 11:20 AM
21 Comments
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David Fincher

By this point, David Fincher's preference for shooting literally dozens of takes of a single scene is well known, and comes with the territory if you're going to sign on to work with him. Some actors have clearly gelled with the filmmaker, working with him more than once (Brad Pitt, Rooney Mara) while others found the process exhausting and creatively unrewarding (Jake Gyllehaal). All this is to say that on Fincher's currently in production "Gone Girl," it's a not shock to learn that once again he's doing everything he can to get the most he can out of a scene.

The Southeast Missourian recently chronicled an afternoon of shooting in Cape Girardeau, an extras-filled sequence that the paper noted found Fincher filming "over and over again for several hours." The scene featured over one hundred people acting as media and regular citizens, chasing down a police car with someone of interest inside. Approximately 20 takes were done of this scene, which according to Fincher's longtime producer Cean Chaffin is on the low end for this film. 

She told the paper Fincher is averaging about 50 takes per scene in "Gone Girl," a figure markedly up from 27/per scene in previous movies.  "... it's an odd business. A lot of times it's more like doing construction than painting a picture," she said.

So why does Fincher insist on this method? "I hate earnestness in performance... usually by Take 17 the earnestness is gone," he told The New York Times in 2007. And when we spoke to the director in 2010, he shared what he told Justin Timberlake before the singer/actor signed up for "The Social Network" which goes a long way in explaining Fincher's process. 

"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."

In short: Fincher wants the words to feel natural, real and lived in, almost like a reflex, and thus, they will leap off the page more authentically. Whether or not you agree, it clearly has been working for Fincher, so why change what isn't broken? Filming continues on "Gone Girl" with the movie slated to hit theaters on October 3, 2014.

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21 Comments

  • John Brune | October 25, 2013 4:40 PMReply

    Fincher can afford to do this type of thing since he shoots digitally and owns stock in Red Digital Cinema. When you're at the top there is very little left to achieve so why not be a nit picky bastard.

  • Mark Tornits | November 5, 2013 1:35 AM

    its still very expensive to shoot digitally at 5K-

  • S O | October 25, 2013 3:23 PMReply

    as some one who has been thru 30-40 takes shooting a scene and editing. its generally a lack of rehearsals, lack of committed idea for how it should play out. good actors are just that, and they often turn out near identical performances unless asked to do otherwise. the differences between take 10 and take 15 are usually near nil. wearing your talent down is bad day in and day out. while complicated long shots can take a lot of takes, simple ones just shouldn't be. it also helps to be rolling 2-3 cameras as well. in fact its pretty crazy if you aren't.....

  • batesmotel | January 21, 2014 11:05 PM

    Fincher usually has multiple cameras rolling. so he can capture everything. and he is also known for the loads of rehearsal he does during pre-production.

  • LA2000 | October 24, 2013 8:55 PMReply

    Multiple takes are overrated.

    I've been on a set where the director went 78 takes on a single shot and still had to come back the next day and finish it because the actress became so distraught that there was no way to continue. The problem with excessive takes is that it can severely undermine the confidence of the performers. It's one thing to have to do a shot many times for technical reasons or because the dialog is complicated, lengthy, or difficult to deliver. Everyone understands that certain shots or moments can be difficult to nail. It's another matter entirely to get in the habit of asking the performers to go again and again and again without being able to effectively articulate exactly what it is you need them to do to allow them to move on.

    Imagine for a moment that Kevin was required to rewrite this (and every) article 50 (or more times - who knows how long it might take to "get it right") and the only direction he received was a spartan, "Everyone back to one. Let's do that again." How many versions might he be able to manage before finally feeling like he's exhausted for a fresh, better approach, before beginning to question his own efforts (how BAD am I that we still don't have it?!), before eventually balking at the apparently senseless repetition?

    What's that saying about an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of keyboards producing a work of genius?

    If you are a director who needs to do everything 50 times, you aren't a genius, you're just a monkey banging on the keys hoping that the odds will eventually favor you.

  • hank | December 27, 2013 10:46 PM

    Kevin doing a rewrite!

  • André | October 24, 2013 6:12 PMReply

    Well, this is more than necessary when you have Ben Affleck and Tyler Perry in your movie.

  • Noel | October 24, 2013 3:41 PMReply

    If doing an average of 50 takes per scene makes the movie better, why is 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' so shit?

  • Budd | December 28, 2013 9:21 AM

    Haha! Yes!! Just a bad story, to start with, mainly. Having read none of the books, I predicted everything within fifteen minutes. The villain 'befriends' the hero. There are no trick questions: if there is only one person who can send the thing, then it is her! We've 'seen' everyone right at the start. The story should have been secondary to Mara's plight. He should have Zodiac-ed it!!

  • Mr. Gunderson | October 24, 2013 2:04 PMReply

    I remember Fincher saying he likes to do a ton of takes ESPECIALLY when there's lots of extras. He said because they always overact they tend to just be worn down and act more like humans the more takes you do, and that he always uses the later takes in his movies.

  • hank | October 24, 2013 1:43 PMReply

    Yeah.. not sure why this is such a big deal. "Why does Fincher insist on this method?" Maybe because this method results in movies that are a hundred times better than most of the other dreck we're forced to watch each year?

  • Leigh Richert | October 24, 2013 1:42 PMReply

    Do you mean 50 takes a shot or a scene? Because 50 takes a scene could be no big deal, especially if the scene is more than a few script pages long. Kubrick used to take 50 or more takes a shot, also known as a camera setup, and it drove people crazy. That's why Harvey Keitel quit "Eyes Wide Shut". I think this is what you must mean, or else your story isn't really much of a story at all. Therefore, I must add at the end here, get your shit straight, will you? I mean, come on, a lot of movies have 50 shots a scene in the finished product, if not more, right?

  • Jack | October 24, 2013 3:35 PM

    Since this article is quoting from another article, it's 50 takes per scene. Which like you said, depending on the number of set-ups, isn't very much.

  • Mongoosecmr | October 24, 2013 2:51 PM

    You can't really tell someone to shit up and get their shot straight if you end tour post questioning yourself. In what case is Kubrick the norm for directors?

  • CrombyMouse | October 24, 2013 12:59 PMReply

    As long as Fincher provides his top-class movies he can shot up to 1000 of takes.

  • Webster Skyhorse | October 24, 2013 12:31 PMReply

    If the movie's a hit then of course the talent will support Fincher's methods. If the movie comes off as limp and the performances deadpan then what actor isn't going to be a little cool to it?

  • SunPapushi | October 24, 2013 12:28 PMReply

    It works for Fincher but its also why he has trouble getting projects off the ground, especially big budget ones. Studios and producers know his films have a tendency of going over-budget and over-schedule.

  • Glass | October 24, 2013 4:15 PM

    His films don't have a tendency of going over-budget/schedule - he simply plans longer shoot schedules and bigger budgets from the very beginning. It's a take-it-or-leave-it proposition to the studio, and they don't always take it.

  • Alex | October 24, 2013 12:23 PMReply

    I remember Robert Duvall scoffing at the thought of doing 50 takes for one scene.. it's quite absurd as a rule of thumb.. but clearly he knows what he's doing. It just seems to imply a lack of respect for his actor's talents.. for their ability to provide him (Fincher) with precisely what he wants. The opening of 'The Social Network' was shot 80 or 90 times.. the end result is damn near perfect. Conflicted 'bout it.

  • James | October 24, 2013 3:08 PM

    I'm pretty sure it was Fincher himself who once explained it best (or maybe it was someone relating a quote from Kubrick). Either way, the gist of it was that years have been spent preparing for the moment on set, millions of dollars used to get there, hundreds of people have joined together to create the sets and costumes and lighting, etc. The added time of shooting multiple - even many, many multiple - takes seems worthwhile if the result is a better movie. Kubrick and Fincher's films speak for themselves.

  • Jeb | October 24, 2013 11:31 AMReply

    Fincher is the man.

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