David Fincher talks about the film's new cut

David Fincher is one of the few filmmakers out there whose work I enjoy so much that I own every one of his movies. Well, every one except Alien 3 but even Fincher himself disowned the flick after massive studio interference so I just don't count that. He has ammassed a marvelous body of work from Se7en all the way up to his most recent wonderful flick Zodiac. The Zodiac Director's Cut hits the DVD shelves this Tuesday, and I had the honor of speaking with the director over the phone.

There have been a few different movies in the past that have dealt with the Zodiac killer. What would you say stands out from your version more than previous versions?

David Fincher: I've only seen Dirty Harry so I can't really comment on the others. I would not have anticipated that people, especially who knew anything about the Zodiac case, would've wanted to see a movie about the Zodiac. He's only defined by the people who chased him. Obviously, the Zodiac appears in a radically altered narrative in Dirty Harry so I don't think what we were doing had anything to do with Dirty Harry except that we comment on it. I don't really know. Aside from Dirty Harry I haven't really seen any of the others.

It looks like this Directors Cut really goes the whole nine yards for the special features. What are some of the special features we should keep an eye out for?

David Fincher: Well, let's see. I thought that the behavioral and some of the profiling stuff was interesting. The thing that I was most interested in, and the thing that we were really adament about, was let's get these guys who were there on tape, or in some kind of way, telling what happened. No one has really talked to them all. There's an interview with Hoffman. There's an interview with Ken Narlow. These are all important guys to the investigation and I think it's a nice thing to finally get their side of the story. That I think is the most interesting feature. I also thought hearing Norm Boudreaux speak. He's really interesting and funny and human. Same with Ralph Spinnelli and he's gotten a really bad rep amongst those who comment on the investigation and to see him actually speak you go, "Wow, that's not wholly unbelievable to think."

I also noticed there was a commentary track on here with novelist James Ellroy. I didn't see him credited anywhere on the film. What was the extent of his involvement?

David Fincher: (Producer) Brad Fisher I think did that. I've known James from The Black Dahlia and The Night Watchman and trying to work with him for years and years and years. He saw the movie and really liked. Besides being one of the most articulate people you'll ever meet, he was so articulate about the film and gave us really a lot of great insight. He's such a PhD in crime fiction and it was great to see his take on what he saw and what he was thought. We were flying by the seat of our pants when we were including or not including certain parts of the story, just because we thought, "This is interesting to us" or "This is not interesting to us." It was great to hear Ellroy go back and go, "No, what's great about this is you're doing X and it flies in the face of convention because you're supposed to be doing Y at this point." It's always great to listen to James Ellroy talk. I could do it for days.

I was sent the special features that deals with the costumes and I thought it was interesting that the costume designer used his father as a reference point for Robert Downey Jr.'s character. What kind of other reference points were used for the costumes in this?

David Fincher Yeah. Casey (Storm) did all the work-up. A lot of it was based off people in his family. There were actually a lot of pictures of Avery. I'm not sure in 1969 if he was wearing ascots, but when we found a picture of him wearing an ascot, we were like, "We've gotta use this. This is too great." (Laughs) A lot of it is based off Casey Storm's family. It was like, "Look what my mom did to me when I was six. We've got to do that to this kid." A lot of it is research and a lot of it is just gut. You just go, "I remember seeing kids with that haircut. Go ahead and give that kid a bowl cut."

Nice. It looks like we get five extra minutes of footage in the actual movie itself?

David Fincher: I think it's more like seven.

Seven? O.K. So were these just time issues then, why these were cut?

David Fincher: My answer would be two-fold. It's based not only on what it played like in the theater, but it's also knowing that certain things play differently in a home theater environment. You have different expectations when you're sitting with 700 people than when you're sitting with your friends or family. It's just a different world. You have the power to pause stuff and you have the power to go to the bathroom. You can do whatever you want in your own home. It's a much more relaxed thing. It's more like a book, it seems to me. That's kind of the way I watch movies. If I see a movie for the first time on DVD, I watch it all the way through, the lights are down, I don't pick up the phone. The third or fourth time you see a movie, sometimes you just have them on and you check in every once in a while with things that you liked. I think it's a different expectations from that environment. The first time we previewed it, it was probably closer to three hours and it was just hard for people to sit still for it. We honestly felt that there was material that was redundant. When we started to go through, to get down to the 2-45 version, we started honing in on what we had to say. A good portion of the case requires you to go over the information. They have to see them gather it. You have to see them collate it and make sense of it and present it to someone else. You then have to see them get slapped in the face and then you have to see Graysmith go back over the same material. Now, you don't have to, but that's the story that we were telling. We were telling a story about how they kind of got to a certain place, kind of gave up, and he kind of got back to the same place. In the presentation of that idea, there were things that, even at 2-45, when the image faded out and the music played for 45 seconds and then the title card comes up and says "Four Years Later"... and the audience groans, you have to address that. I think in the home theater environment, I think people will sit still for that, more than they will in the theater.

Can you clarify the Gary Oldman situation? It was reported that he was in the movie, and then...

David Fincher: Yeah. We had talked to Gary about playing Melvin Belli. I think it was predominantly scheduling issues, but Melvin was kind of like Raymond Burr, big and burly. We were going to do prosthetics and stuff for Gary and do wigs and in the end, he wouldn't have time to come in and do fittings and things like that, so we shitcanned that idea.

This is really one of the most impressive casts of the year in this movie. I probably can't even list all the names, I'll run out of time.

David Fincher: (Laughs) Well good. The thing is, that great actors are everywhere. They're everywhere. They're doing good parts on television. They're doing television commercials. They're doing local theater. There are so few opportunities. When you go and you tell a studio and that it's an ensemble, that doesn't mean a lot to them. But, my hats off to Paramount and Warner Brothers, because when we told them that these were the kinds of people that we want to get, across the board, they were unbelieveably enthusiastic about it.

This is definitely the longest movie of your career and probably your darkest as well. What are some of the challenges in making a movie like this, compared to your previous work?

David Fincher: I don't know. I knew it was going to be a long movie. I knew that I needed to make a movie that took its toll on the audience in the same way it takes its toll on the characters. We needed to feel that expanse of time. But also, there's no plane crashes, there's nothing really going on. It's people going into a room with a styrofoam coffee cup and somebody goes, 'Tell me what you know and tell me what you think you know.' So, in that case, it was trying to find any shred of confidence in that conceit. You shoot 80 days of people going into a room with a formica table and a styrofoam coffee cup and telling their side of the story, by Day 81 you go, 'Oh my God. I wish that you would've killed more people.'


David Fincher: (Laughs) I say that totally facetiously, but I'm being sarcastic for a reason. Our Pavlovian response to movies has gotten to its lowest point ever. You look at a lot of movies that are successful and a lot of movies that studios hold up as examples and you go, 'My God, that isn't even a story. It isn't even two acts. It's eight set pieces drawn out with slow motion.' The difficulty for me was that you had to hope that people were interested in this kind of a story.

Can you give us any scoops on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or Rendezvous With Rama or anything else you might be working on?

David Fincher: I don't know that there's any scoops. We're waiting for a script, on Rendezvous With Rama, and Benjamin Button, we've got six months of CG works, sort of digital make-up effects. I think the movie is rigourously slated for Thanksgiving or Christmas or something next year, so hopefully, there will be some time off.

Finally, I read something from you where you said that you don't know anything about consideration for awards movies, and that you don't know what an "awards movie" is. It looks like Zodiac is picking up some nominations here and there for the awards season. It was nominated for the Palm D'Or at Cannes and I've seen it mentioned in some of the critics circle awards. Do you think that Oscar might be knocking on your door for this one?

David Fincher: No, I honestly don't. Awards movies are normally sort of... life-affirming and noble. It's probably too much of an intellectual conceit and, you know, people don't like it when you don't lead the bad guy off in cuffs. Look, it's nice. I like the fact that critics liked this movie, but most of the movies that I've made, you'll find a handful of people that love it and more than a few other handfuls of people hate it. If I was invested in that, I would've given up long ago.

Well, I've been a very big fan of your work.

David Fincher: Really? Thank you very much.

I think that's all I have for you. Thanks a lot for your time.

David Fincher: Hey, thanks very much. Thanks for the interest.

You can find David Fincher's Zodiac Director's Cut on the DVD shelves on January 8.