The 2009 Creativity 50: David Fincher

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Credit: Photo by Merrick Morton, courtesy of Paramount Pictures
So there was this baby who wasn't really a baby...

There are few directors who could complete perhaps the most talked about film of the year and have it NOT be the only monumental milestone achieved that year. But this is David Fincher, the almost mythical figure who bestrode the film and ad worlds in an even more colossal manner than usual in 2008. While both of his famous filmic feats this year were visual masterpieces, they were, first, stories of personal journeys.

The F. Scott Fitzgerald tale about a man who ages in reverse was, of course, the director's most curious and most discussed case of 2008. After years of circling around the challenging project, in 2002, Fincher and his visual effects right hand, Digital Domain started to break through on a performance capture process (dubbed emotion capture; read more in the February 2009 issue's Tech feature) that would allow one actor—Brad Pitt—to play the main character throughout various stages of aging. After much technical tweaking and some real world R&D in the intervening years while working on spots (remember undead Orville Redenbacher?) Fincher and DD honed the technology and the workflow that made the impossible possible. The result was that the astonishing effects achievement in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button disappeared behind the story. And that story was the other reason the film got so much attention—here was one of Hollywood's darkest spirits conjuring a bittersweet story of love, loss and time. The effort earned Fincher his first best picture Golden Globe nomination and 13—count 'em, 13–Oscar noms. In his downtime, Fincher also directed a little number called Fate for Nike, judged by many (including this publication) to be the best commercial of 2008. That winner, and Fincher's other ad highlights this year—a celeb filled PSA for Stand Up to Cancerand a slick, subtle launch spot for the iPhone 3G—earned him a DGA award nomination, which looked nice next to his DGA nomination for best feature.

Fincher, on the Button process: "It was a testament to what's interesting about performance. Ultimately, performance is not acting. Yes, a performance is made up of a bunch of moments where a person acts, but a performance is really those odd choices that an actor makes that surprise everyone and get the audience to feel something for the character."

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