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David Fincher: The Complex Mind of 'Social Network's' Anti-Social Director

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The desire to avoid that exhaustion came into play with Social Network.

Initially developed as a project for writer Aaron Sorkin to direct, the screenplay was brought to Fincher by Rudin. "I was given it on a Friday, I read it on a Saturday and on Monday I was in a room with [Sony Pictures co-chairman] Amy Pascal," he recalls.

After making sure Sorkin was willing to step aside, "I said, 'I want to make the movie, but I don't want to make it next spring. We have to be as close to ground zero with this phenomenon as we can. We have to be in Cambridge in the fall.' "

Sony agreed. Following the usual back and forth -- the studio wanted to make the film for $25 million; Fincher insisted on $42 million -- shooting began three months later. Unlike Zodiac, where Fincher and Sony had parted ways over casting, the studio accommodated the director's wishes.

"I said, 'You gotta have 20- to 25-year-old kids. You have to give me free rein to find the best people for these parts,' " he remembers. "Now, I said this on Zodiacand I got the list and it's Russell Crowe
and Tom Cruise. This time, Amy wanted me to meet people in the Sony fold. I said, 'Let's cast it widely.' They came back and said, 'We get it. Go.' "

"Go" meant allowing Fincher to shoot Sorkin's 162-page script uncut. After 68 days of filming in Boston and Los Angeles, when Sony saw his rough edit -- missing only the Henley regatta sequence that would later be filmed to fit Trent Reznor's prewritten music -- "They didn't ask for any changes," he says.

The studio's marketing executives were more resistant. "We had the one-sheet and we had to get that through," Fincher notes. "[Key art designer] Neil Kellerhouse came to us with one that had the tagline, 'Punk prophet genius billionaire thief.' It was fantastic, but for about four months it was, 'You can't do that! We're not going to get involved in a lawsuit!' "

Fincher smiles. "I wanted 'Punk prophet genius billionaire Judas.' "

Now he's back in the Sony saddle with Dragon Tattoo.

It's two weeks after our first meeting, and we're in a tiny trailer at Paramount, where Fincher is filming Dragonon six soundstages -- even more than Button -- and is huddled with his longtime companion and producer, Cean Chaffin. An initial offer to visit the set has been scuttled at the last minute, possibly because of Craig's reluctance to be spotted with Rachel Weisz, though Fincher avoids the subject.

Despite getting a huge budget and precisely the actors he's wanted, Fincher seems frazzled, dealing with an overheated studio where air conditioning has to pump in cold air to simulate the bitter Swedish winter -- an ironic contrast to his Swedish shoot, where the actors had to pretend the sun was baking while temperatures stooped to 40 degrees.

"I've been shouting at everyone all morning," Fincher grouses, only half-joking.

Chaffin glances over, concerned. They've worked together for 18 years and been a couple for 15, since Fincher split with his first wife following a brief marriage that left him with one daughter.

Meeting Chaffin casts Fincher in a whole new light. She's as warm and open as he can seem chilly and remote. "We're oil and water," he jokes. But in fact, Chaffin reminds you of all the things it's easy to overlook with Fincher: His complete rejection of the Hollywood trappings; his loyalty to those closest to him; his strong bond with family; his utter immersion in the work.

"Cean is very supportive of David," Kopelson says. "She makes it possible for him to be totally enmeshed in his life of making movies."

He'll be enmeshed in Dragonquite a while longer. With a shoot that includes locations in Stockholm, Zurich and England, he still has 90 days of filming ahead. It's a giant project that Fincher initially avoided when his Buttonproducers, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, broached it.

"I had just been through five years pushing a rock," he explains. "I sort of felt, 'F---, I can't see anybody wanting to make a movie of this scale about a tattooed, bisexual hacker in Stockholm.' I can't go tap-dancing again."

He continued to resist even when Rudin obtained the rights. "I was skeptical because the book is huge and there are so many characters," he says. "But what put it over the top was [Sony chairman] Michael Lynton and Amy's insistence that they loved the idea of a franchise for adults. If you can't do a piece like this as a franchise, there's no chance of ever doing one."

Not that it's been easy. First, there was the issue of casting the lead, Social's Mara. Then Fincher had trouble with his director of photography, replacing him with Jeff Cronenweth. And finally came the reality of filming in Sweden. "In the EU, you can't shoot a 12-hour day," he explains.

Between that, the weather and the actors' complicated schedules, Fincher has had his hands full, though he's thrilled with Mara. "We got her an apartment in Stockholm and she kind of disappeared," he says. "She learned how to ride a motorcycle and got all of her piercings and tattoos. Also, I asked her to learn how to skateboard because you need to stand like a 13-year-old boy. I said, 'I don't want you to stand like a girl.' "

Insiders who've seen Steven Zaillian's script say it focuses far more on her character, Lisbeth Salander, than the Swedish adaptation of the book. So Fincher desperately needs Mara to deliver -- just as the studio needs him.

"There are degrees of wrong, but ultimately I'm responsible," he says. "I'm either liberated or hamstrung by the material I'm trying to make. But if I'm hamstrung, it's my f---ing fault." He runs his hand through his hair, thinking. Even with that rifle back in his studio, should he ever need it, there are limits to what he can do.

"You're in charge, but you're not in control," the famously controlling director says. "Anybody who thinks they are in control is nuts."  

FINCHER'S GLOBAL BOXOFFICE

The Social Network, 2010: $213.6M

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 2008: $334M

Zodiac, 2007: $84.8M

Panic Room, 2002: $196.4M

Fight Club, 1999: $100.9M

The Game, 1997: $109.4M

Seven, 1995: $327.3M

Alien 3, 1992: $159.8M

WORLDWIDE TOTAL:$1.53B