For most Hollywood directors, five to ten takes of a given a scene are usually all they need to get what they want from the cast and crew. Time is money, after all, so why linger when you don’t have to?
For other filmmakers though, a scene might require a few more takes... OK, a lot more takes.
“Fight Club” director David Fincher is one such filmmaker. Fincher is known to run a pretty tight ship on set, and has become somewhat notorious over the years for shooting countless takes of certain scenes. The director, who was previously reported to average around 27 takes per scene, is now making news for pushing his penchant for multiple takes even further.
Speaking with the Southeast Missourian, “Gone Girl” producer Ceán Chaffin says that the average number of takes for each scene in the Ben Affleck/Rosamund Pike kidnapping thriller will be closer to 50. (Oof!) The film is currently shooting south of St. Louis, and word from the set is that the cast and crew has been in for some very long days. Previously, Fincher infamously required “The Social Network” stars Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara to do 99 different takes of a six-minute conversation and nearly drove the cast of “Zodiac” up the wall with numerous scene re-shoots.
“David knows what he wants, and he’s very clear about what he wants, and he’s very, very, very smart,” Gyllenhaal told the New York Times in 2007. “But sometimes we’d do a lot of takes, and he’d turn, and he would say, because he had a computer there, ‘Delete the last ten takes.’ And as an actor that’s very hard to hear.”
Other actors working on the project were rumoured to be less diplomatic than Gyllenhaal. Accustomed to more downtime between takes, Robert Downey Jr. allegedly left jars of urine around the "Zodiac" set to protest Fincher’s strict and excessive shooting schedule. No word on whether the cast of “Gone Girl” have been angrily stockpiling bodily fluids for the director this time out.
So, why does Fincher go to such lengths to get the right take?
“I hate earnestness in performance,” the “Zodiac” director said in the same New York Times interview. “Usually by Take 17 the earnestness is gone.”
Things on the set of “Gone Girl” must be pretty earnest.
Fincher isn’t the only director to ever endlessly obsess over of the same scene. Charlie Chaplin once did 342 takes of a single scene while making the 1931 classic "City Lights," and multiple takes were practically a trademark of legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. The director once demanded actress Shelley Duvall do 127 takes of a single scene in "The Shining" and requested 93 do-overs of a scene entrance from Tom Cruise while shooting "Eyes Wide Shut." That's a lot of work when you consider that those guys were shooting on film. Fincher, who favours digital these days, really needs to step up his game!
Several years ago, Hollywood veteran Robert Duvall attacked filmmakers with a habit of multiple takes, calling directors like Fincher and Kubrick the “actor’s enemy.”
“I can point to movies [Kubrick]'s done, the worst performances I've ever seen in movies: 'The Shining,' 'A Clockwork Orange,'” Duvall said during a 2010 actors roundtable for The Hollywood Reporter. “How does he know the difference between the first take and the seventieth take? I mean, what is that about?”
In the same interview, Duvall called out Fincher when actors Jesse Eisenberg and Mark Ruffalo were asked about the director.
“I turned down a part in 'Se7en,' maybe that's the reason I did,” the actor added. “Subconsciously I knew.”
Duvall may have a point, but Fincher's films often get rave reviews for the performances contained therein. The "enemy of actors"? Not likely. A slave-driver on set? Maybe. Whether actors like those multiple takes or not, Fincher is obviously doing something right.
"Gone Girl" is set for release on Oct. 3, 2014.