You know the drill: anytime there’s a new David Fincher movie we are all required by law to talk about how many takes he shot. Cast members of the film in question come forward and say, “I shot a lot of takes!” We report it. Fincher rolls his eyes. Then we move on, only to revisit the story again whenever Fincher gets around to making another movie. After taking a hiatus from feature films, Fincher is back this year with Mank, and sure enough, stories are starting to trickle in about Fincher and all his damn scene takes.
We’ve been here before. Over the summer, I wrote up a story about Mank cast member Amanda Seyfried claiming that one of her scenes required something like 200 takes and about an entire week to film. “I was part of scenes with tons of people in it and we would do it for an entire week,” Seyfried said. “I can’t tell you how many takes we did, but I would guess 200, maybe I could be wrong and could be way off. Um, I could be underestimating by five days of one scene when I didn’t have one line… ‘You think I can just relax?’ No, because there are probably about nine or 10 different camera angles that had been on me at one point.”
To be clear: there’s a good chance Seyfried is exaggerating a bit. But multiple Fincher takes have become a gold standard at this point. And a new issue of Total Film magazine has more people involved with Mank talking about Fincher and his many, many, many takes. “We did take after take after take after take,” said Charles Dance, who plays William Randolph Hearst in the film. “And [Mank star Gary Oldman] said to David at one point, ‘David, I’ve done this scene a hundred fucking times.’ And Fincher said, ‘Yeah, I know, but this is 101. Reset!’”
In the same issue, Fincher doesn’t deny this. “I’m fairly didactic about, ‘These are the things that the scene needs to accomplish for me, and we will continue to play, to look for ways to underline these ideas that are as subtle as we can make them,’” the director said, adding:
“It’s a hard thing to say to actors, ‘I want a cohesive, great performance in the master [shot].’ And then, ‘I want a cohesive, great performance in the alternate master.’ And then, ‘I want a cohesive, great performance in the over-the-shoulder. And I want a cohesive, great performance in his over-the-shoulder on to you. And I want the singles.’ Because I don’t want to cut a scene based on where you are at personally on Tuesday. I don’t think I could go into the edit room knowing that I was going to have to cut around somebody who didn’t deliver. Part of it is you cast really great people and get the fuck out of the way.”
Fincher has addressed this sort of thing before. “I like the idea that the first three takes, you’re just rehearsing,” he said in an interview back in 2009, and when the interviewer pointed out that Fincher was notorious for his many takes, the filmmaker countered: “This is bullshit. Look, you’re spending $150m, unbelievable amounts of money to ship period vehicles from Illinois down to Louisiana and get them working. There are teams of people making these cars work, all this stuff. So you get there and you’re going to shoot three takes and then go home?”
He also added: “Some [actors] resent it and go, ‘My best stuff was when I had a lot of energy after my mochaccino and now my energy’s gone,’ but a lot of actors work it out in their heads, they figure it out and have an idea of what they’re going to do. I can see that and I like to move past that, to where they’ve forgotten why they came, or who they are. And it is about choreography, where the eye of the audience finds that person and that person is revealed and they come forward and say their line. All those things in concert. So, you spend all that money to get there, so you might as well make sure you got it.”
In other words: Fincher is going to shoot as many damn takes as he wants until he gets exactly what he wants, and in his mind, to do otherwise would be a waste. So it goes. Anyway, Mank – which is very good – will arrive on Netflix December 4 following a limited theatrical release starting November 13, so soon you’ll be able to see how all those many Fincher takes worked out.
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