TV Interview - Panic attack

It’s his way or the highway for Panic Room’s David Fincher

David Fincher calls it “photogra-imagery,” the process of blending actual camera footage with computer-generated effects to create one of several scenes designed to take your breath away in his new thriller Panic Room.

One early example begins with a close-up on actress Jodie Foster, then pulls back through a banister, twisting and turning down a staircase, panning across a living room and settling on a close-up of co-star Forest Whitaker, tracking over his shoulder, zooming into the lock on the front door and then out the other side, panning across a kitchen and passing right through a coffee pot, before resting on a shot overlooking a back yard.

“That shot probably takes up about 90 seconds of screen-time, but it took nine days to shoot and almost a year to composite,” Fincher says with obvious pride during a recent interview. It also further demonstrates the technical proficiency of the 39-year-old director, who cut his teeth making music videos for Madonna and Aerosmith before embarking on a decidedly dark and stylized film career (Seven, Fight Club).

In Panic Room, Foster plays an affluent Manhattan divorcee who moves into a brownstone with her teenage daughter. They soon find themselves entombed in a high-tech “panic room” during a brutal home invasion.

What are the best and worst parts of being a director?

The best is being involved in thinking everything up, deciding what it’s all going to look like on screen. The worst part is actually filming it, because that’s all about making on-the-set compromises and accommodations.

Like having to replace your leading lady three weeks into production? (Nicole Kidman withdrew from the project after suffering a hairline leg fracture performing one of the many stunts required of the role.)

Exactly. It’s funny, because most of the scenes in this movie were totally pre-planned on the computer, and yet when we needed to reshoot a certain scene with Jodie, sometimes it just wouldn’t look the same. I mean little things, like having to lower the wall phone in the kitchen so that it was on Jodie’s level and not Nicole’s. But it was more than that, too. Jodie brought a completely different dynamic to it. Just her physical stature and the way she carries herself altered a lot of the scenes. In terms of the narrative, the part was originally written to be much more helpless, and while I happen to think Jodie Foster can play just about anything, helplessness might be a big stretch for the audience to buy from her.

Although you’d worked with him before (on Seven), you also replaced cinematographer Darius Khondji during filming.

Yeah, we eventually let him go, but it was a mutual thing. It happens sometimes. He wasn’t very happy. Again, this movie was very pre-planned. A lot of what the cameraman wants to do is not about being given a specific shot that we’ve already designed in the computer and then told to simply set it up and recreate it. It was tough, because he’s an experiencial guy who wants to give his input and be part of the whole decision-making process.

And wasn’t there another young actress originally cast as the daughter?

It just wasn’t working out in the rehearsals, so we paid her off and recast Kristen Stewart. What are you getting at?

Well, rightly or wrongly, it seems you have this reputation for being, if not “difficult” to work with, so to speak, then at least for being a “perfectionist,” the kind of director who likes doing 20 or 25 takes of a scene, for instance.

Well, I don’t shoot a lot of takes if I don’t need to, and I don’t shoot a lot of coverage, either. I shoot very specifically what it is I want. Listen, if you have a two-time Academy Award winner like Jodie Foster acting in almost every scene with a relative novice like Kristen Stewart, well, Kristen needs to be every bit as good as Jodie in order for the story to work.

I guess I’m just wondering if you ever felt like making a movie that wasn’t so pre-designed, or maybe that didn’t have a lot of computer- generated camera tricks and what-not. Haven’t you ever wanted to try something brighter or breezier?

I can honestly say that I haven’t. But, hey, look at it this way: By the end of Panic Room, Meg Altman doesn’t live there anymore, either.??