Welcome to Commentary Commentary, our long-running series of articles exploring the things we can learn from the most interesting filmmaker commentaries available on DVD and Blu-ray.
The adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s second novel, Dark Places, hits theaters this week, but while Charlize Theron gives a strong performance the movie is an absolute mess. The issues rest mostly with the script (and presumably the source material), and it’s guaranteed to receive nothing like the reaction afforded the previous film made from her work, Gone Girl.
It helps of course to have David Fincher in the director’s chair, but the difference between the two films is like night and day. Fincher is never one to mince words, and he always delivers commentary tracks that entertain and inform in equal measure. If you haven’t listened to his Fight Club one with Brad Pitt and Ed Norton do so soon, it’s fantastic. He tackles this one alone resulting in a few collective minutes of silence, but he spends most of the film’s two and a half hour running time-sharing facts, anecdotes, and curse words. It’s pretty great stuff.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Gone Girl.
Gone Girl (2014)
Commentator: David Fincher (director)
1. The opening shot was problematic for Fincher and friends. “We had these long wigs for Amy (Rosamund Pike) as she’s meant to be adored, and they were just — I think almost every single shot of her in this movie has been retouched along the wig line in order to fix it.”
2. The film was shot in the small town of Cape Girardeau a couple hours south of St. Louis, MO. He says he told author Gillian Flynn that they had found the perfect location and named the town only to have her reply that this was the town she had in mind when writing the novel. “You don’t have to keep this a fucking secret. If you have ideas about where these things should take place. If you want to hip us to what you had in your head while you were actually writing it, by all means, feel free to.”
3. Finding someone to play Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) twin sister was a daunting task. “The actor who’s going to play Margo has to really be able to think and verbalize and finish sentences at the same speed as Ben Affleck does, and that wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, and we were incredibly fortunate when Carrie Coon dropped out of the sky and into our laps.”
4. Fincher hadn’t thought of Affleck for this role because he knew that the actor/director was in the process of “crewing up for his Dennis Lehane film.” He’s presumably referring to Live By Night which is currently scheduled for release in the fall of 2016.
5. “You have to market a movie in a way that’s going to bring people into the theaters. Sometimes you have to promise them things that are beyond the opening scenes of the narrative, and when you do that you kind of fuck up. Their minds aren’t blank slates when they come into the theater.” He’s referring to the differences in the first test audiences — those who saw the film before marketing showing Amy underwater was released — and later audiences who had seen those images before seeing the film.
6. The alley scene behind the bakery “was the only time I ever shot on the back lot at Universal, and it was only because it ended up being much less of a nightmare than trying to shoot in Brooklyn.”
7. There was a lot of studio concern about Nick’s likability — “which you can imagine was of preeminent importance to me” — and the issue came to a head during the film’s first sex scene. “It was originally supposed to be this unbelievable, missionary position sex that resulted in cooperative orgasms,” he says, but he shifted it to cunnilingus instead. He broached this with the actors, “and Rosamund said ‘Oh I think Amy would like that very much.’” When Flynn saw the dailies she agreed that Nick would no longer have likability issues “at least as it relates to women.”
8. He says Affleck has a real gift when it comes to pretending to have a phone conversation. “If I was his wife I would be very suspicious of whoever just called.”
9. Fincher had been a fan of Kim Dickens for years but was unaware of it. “I had seen her a million times but had never put it together that it was the same person. I’d seen her in Deadwood, I’d seen her in Treme, I’d seen her in, I think, Hollow Man, and she has a very interesting energy.”
10. He loves the little moments occurring just beyond the main action. As examples he offers the glimpse of Patrick Fugit at the 18:19 mark where he’s alone in a room, behind the window, but still clearly in character, and then the constant arm scratching of Bill Dunne (Leonard Kelly-Young) which actually came at the actor’s suggestion.
11. The photo of young Neil Patrick Harris and Pike is a composite of two old photos belonging to the actors. “I love the idea of introducing the stalker ex-boyfriend in his prom picture.”
12. The scene with the townspeople and children gathering excitedly around the July 4th holiday to search for Amy’s body reminds Fincher of Jaws.
13. He recalls seeing Being There as a projectionist in Ashland, OR “probably 175 times,” and along with The Thing it marked David Clennon as an actor of note. He is “so funny when playing slightly confused and earnest.”
14. The Missi Pyle scenes were shot on the last day of filming. “Ellen Abbott is a creation. She’s not meant to be based on anyone in real life, in particular, but she certainly has aspects of her that are Nancy Grace-ish.”
15. Casting the role of Andie Fitzgerald required that they “find somebody who could divide the audience immediately. Women are going to lean back in their chairs, be disgusted, cross their arms and go ‘He is a fucking prick,’ and that men would lean forward and say ‘Yup, I mean it’s kind of understandable.’” Affleck actually suggested Emily Ratajkowski describing her as “the girl from the ‘Blurred Lines’ video.” Fincher had no idea what that was.
16. The moment at 46:56 “really looks like a Hitchcock blond to me. That really feels like Grace Kelly or something, the angle and the smudge of tears and snot.”
17. They couldn’t find an abandoned mall in Missouri, so the empty mall location they used is in central Los Angeles.
18. He loves the scene of the 6’5″ Nick dressing the diminutive Andie to try and sneak her out the door. “It almost looks like he was getting her ready for a school bus. It was so Lolita-esque.”
19. Steven Soderbergh has a side project involving the importation of a Bolivian alcohol called Singani 63, and Fincher told him he could choose where the drink would be featured in the film. “He chose a later scene where Rosamund Pike violates herself with a bottle.” Sadly, Pike chose a Chardonnay for the scene in question “for actor reasons,” so they included it elsewhere.
20. The anamorphic lens flares were added in post-production “just to fuck with people.”
21. One of the things that kept Fincher from committing to the film for several months was his insistence with studio executives that none of the footage showing what really happened with Amy could be used in the trailer. He knew that even a brief shot of her outside the norm would hint that something was amiss to viewers. “We have to limit ourselves to showing Amy only in flashbacks.” Worries over audience tracking apparently led someone to suggest that they use the shot of Amy returning home covered in blood in a trailer. Fincher fought this asinine idea.
22. Pike gained and lost fifteen or so pounds over the course of a few weeks. “It’s not something you want to do. Just ask Robert De Niro.”
23. He was “lukewarm” on the idea of Greta’s (Lola Kirke) tramp-stamp during production, but he’s cool with it now.
24. Fincher called Tyler Perry and asked him to take a look at the script for a possible role, but Perry was incredulous at the offer. “He’s very, very humble.” Tanner Bolt is “much more of an Alec Baldwin from Malice” in the book, but Fincher loved what Perry naturally brought to the character. “He listens, he puts you at ease.”
25. Scoot McNairy came in and filmed his scene in one day, and Fincher was grateful they made it happen. He loves the idea of a character who asks rhetorically if you could imagine them in prison, and he needed an actor who could wear that line believably. “He makes half of his case just by showing up.”
26. One of Fincher’s “favorite moments in movie history” is the scene in Woody Allen’s Manhattan where Diane Keaton introduces the man who taught her true intimacy.
27. Fincher wanted Nick to put on a NY Yankees baseball cap in the airport scene where he tries to hide his face, “but being from Boston and not being very professional as an actor, Ben refused to wear a Yankees cap. It did not come to blows, but we had to shut down production for four days as we negotiated.” Mmhmm.
28. “Carrie Coon learned the hard way that the last thing you want to do in one of my movies is eat.” He says this during the diner scene where Margo is munching fries, and is referring to his reputation as a director prone to multiple takes. “She probably sucked down at least five and a half pounds of french fries.”
29. Locals began appearing in the neighborhood to watch filming even going so far as to set up folding chairs across the street from the front door. The AD offered to clear them out before shooting, but Fincher felt it was the perfect atmosphere and reminiscent of the crowds who gathered outside the Nicole Simpson’s house.
30. A car drove by while they were filming a night shot outside of a motel, “and the window rolled down and somebody yelled out of the car ‘night exterior, shooting motel’ and they drove off laughing.”
31. The shot of the riverboat casino at 1:41:43 is actually a matte painting.
32. They filmed in a real casino and had no control over the extras, but they had no issues. “The great news about shooting in a casino is that if you don’t have control of the background the last thing you need to worry about is people looking in the lens because they’re all watching their money.”
33. Andie Fitzgerald was Andie Hardy in the book, but Fincher pointed out that Andy Hardy is already a character in movies so they changed it.
34. “So, everybody bitches and moans about how many takes, people I’ve never even met complain about how many takes I shoot,” he says, but he points out that the shot of Desi (Neil Patrick Harris) parking the Jaguar dead center in the frame was the second take, and there wasn’t a third. “We walked away after take two. So please, go fuck yourselves.”
35. Amy and Desi’s sex scene was shot over two days, had thirty-six changes of wardrobe and linens. “It was a particularly complex scene to shoot, not so much for the activity but for the clean-up.”
20th Century Fox
36. Fincher had a precise vision of how he wanted the reunion scene to go, from the cameras and crane shot to the “poster for Gone With the Wind” shot of her falling in Nick’s arms, and “when I showed that to Ben and Rosamund that’s when they were like ‘What is this movie? What is going on?’ It was a very enjoyable moment because I think they finally realized how unhinged the third act of this movie was going to be.”
37. They teased Affleck on set regarding the villainous chin and suggested that the harassment led him to “immediately get on the phone with his agent” to find him a heroic chin role. “And that’s how Batman came about.”
Best in Commentary
- “One of the things we found during editing that we became profoundly aware of is the need for Regency Pictures to get a new logo.”
- “Wig technology has not really changed since Shakespeare.”
- “I love the idea of romance against garbage.”
- “I think one of the things that becomes apparent about Gillian through her writing is that bourbon and sex are very, very big topics with her.”
- “There are definitely moments on a shoot where you can overthink shit into oblivion.”
- “It’s an interesting comment on society when characters in movies don’t have to explain what Luminol is.”
- “Whenever called upon Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross can find a sound for insanity.”
- “So, now the movie gets really weird.”
As I mentioned in the intro, Fincher gives fantastic commentary tracks, and his latest is no exception. I’m still not in love with the film, but his insights and thoughts have led me to a greater appreciation of it all the same. It’s almost enough to make me curious if his commentary can do the same for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Almost.