David Fincher may be a pretty big deal among film geeks today, as his resume boasts classics and fan favorites like Fight Club, The Social Network, and even TV shows like the recently “cancelled” Mindhunter. But his movie directing days started out with an assignment that turned out to be the ultimate trial by fire: the troubled production that would come to sit on the shelf with the name Alien 3. Long at odds with the movie that eventually resulted, Fincher recently found himself in a reflective mood putting his finger on what exactly went wrong with that project.
As he’s starting to promote his latest film, the Netflix original/almost assured Oscar magnet Mank, which centers on the story of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, David Fincher spoke with Vulture about his experience reading his father Jack’s first script for the film, and he explained how the timing lined up with when he was about to go direct Alien 3. Remembering how the first draft of Mank "was [about] a great writer obliterated from memory by this showboating megalomaniac," Fincher remarked,
Once I had gone to Pinewood for two years and had been through a situation where I was a hired gun to make a library title for a multinational, vertically integrated media conglomerate, I had a different view of how writers and directors needed to work. I kind of resented his anti-auteurist take. I felt that what the script really needed to talk about was the notion of enforced collaboration: You may not like the fact that you’re going to be beholden to so many different disciplines and skill sets in the making of a movie, but if you’re not acknowledging it, you’re missing the side of the barn. A script is the egg, and it needs a donor to create the cellular split that moves it into the realm of something playable in three dimensions and recordable in two dimensions and presentable to other people.
It's amazing to think that Jack Fincher’s script for Mank has been around since David Fincher was about to head into the director’s chair for Alien 3. However, through his father’s own script and the horrible experience that awaited him on that infamous 1992 sequel, Fincher understood that writers and directors are more beholden to each other than one would think – knowledge that would have come quite in handy on Alien 3.
Putting it into the mildest terms, Alien 3 was an omnishambles. Armed with a trailer and a release date, 20th Century Fox didn’t know what the movie was going to be about, but knew it was going to come out in 1992. A film that had already seen several writers and directors come and go, with just as many concepts making their way through the revolving door, the resulting story came partially from re-writes done by David Fincher himself. In the end, no one would know just how the experience would turn out, as a pretty impressive, yet misleading, teaser promised quite a bit:
Through his trial by fire on Alien 3, David Fincher emerged as a directorial phoenix, and went on to make Seven as his next feature film. Understanding that writers and directors literally need to be on the same page, the lessons learned from his own career and also from reading his father’s script, Fincher understood that no person is an island in the movie business. If only the Fox executives that trashed his version of Alien 3 could have learned that back in 1991, maybe we'd be talking about the "absolute classic" Alien 3, rather than the very expertly crafted euphemism that David Fincher used to describe what was essentially, a living hell.
Mank will make its mark on movies in limited theatrical release on November 13th, with Netflix running the film on its streaming service on December 4th. If you want to see what else is on deck for a theater near you, check out our 2020 release schedule to see what’s still primed and ready for the big screen!