Robert Downey Jr. was fine pushing the Zodiac team to the limits for David Fincher, encouraging more takes of a scene.
David Fincher has developed, like some of the great directors before him, a reputation for doing numerous – and we use that term lightly – takes. This was certainly the case for 2007’s Zodiac, where Fincher had dozens of one scene locked away but found encouragement from star Robert Downey Jr., who was fine adding to the exhaustion of his fellow castmates…now that’s some psychopathic behavior.
Speaking with Vanity Fair, Downey Jr. said when it came time for more takes for Fincher while filming Zodiac, he figured, Why not? “You will learn [working with Fincher] that you’re more durable than you thought. A scene can devolve into where it just feels really perfunctory and you’re kind of almost on automatonic mode but it doesn’t matter…There was a scene where he was trying to get it done in one shot and we had to have done 40 or 50 takes and people were a little bit exasperated. He said, ‘Downey, come here, do we have it yet?’ And I watched the takes and at the end of it I said, ‘You want to use this is one?’” After a brief moment of contemplation, Fincher turned to his cast and crew announcing, “‘Downey’s right, we don’t have it yet. Delete all 40 of those takes and we’ll start again after lunch.’ And everyone looked at me like, What the f*ck is wrong [with you]?”
While Downey Jr. must be aware that David Fincher didn’t quite hit the numbers associated with the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Charlie Chaplin (who he played to an Oscar nomination in 1992 so would be quite familiar with his techniques) on Zodiac, putting his team to task while also recruiting one of the stars to do his bidding shows just the sort of director he is: a calculated perfectionist who sees input as vital to the process…or he just likes to torture everybody on set…Fincher has previously explained that one reason he does so many is that the dialogue will feel more natural after having lived with it for so long.
As it stands, Kubrick is actually recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records as doing the most takes of a scene with dialogue at 148 for The Shining – and it didn’t even involve Shelley Duvall! He also made Tom Cruise walk through a door ~90 times for Eyes Wide Shut, which probably explains why he runs so much instead.
How do you feel about directors like David Fincher doing so many takes of the same scene? Do you see this is a flattering or damaging reputation? Give us your take in the comments section below.