David Fincher is a notoriously meticulous filmmaker. Detail-oriented to the point of obsession, his directorial style hovers on the cusp of perfection. Fincher’s films are often identifiable in their subject matter, tonality, and color palate. But a recent video essay from The Nerdwriter pulls back the veil on the director’s methodological madness to reveal something we were too busy watching to even notice.
Watching a film is relatively demanding, sitting for over an hour and a half fully immersed in images on a screen. We don’t often think about what we’re seeing exactly, beyond just processing it. With Fincher’s direction, however, he uses subtle and timed camera movements so that we follow characters as they move or react, a mirroring of image and action. Fincher captures with a tweak of the camera that a character is astonished, perturbed, or lost. This work raises the stakes for audience investment in the character we are watching, and the filmmaker does this without us even knowing.
David Fincher owes some of this credit to the work of cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, with whom Fincher has worked on “Fight Club,” “Gone Girl,” “The Social Network,” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Cronenweth’s work with Fincher has laid bare a style and image we think of when we think David Fincher. But beyond the masterful work of Cronenweth, these camera movements are much more than thought out rehearsals and are not exclusive to their brilliant work together. All of Fincher’s work has this specific style of following and mimicking characters. Often described as a cold filmmaker, the video essay extrapolates on the idea that perhaps it is the camera movements that add to our connections with characters. Using the basic tilt, pan, and tracking movements, Fincher’s cinematography takes these essentials and makes them his own tools to be manipulated and used in his own fashion.
Fincher’s latest project “Mindhunter” is not exempt from this style. With the first season on Netflix, we will be revisiting the FBI by way of the director’s immersive, pedantic style.