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There are many different philosophies in the movie world when it comes to the number of takes that are generally taken for a scene. Some directors, like Clint Eastwood, typically never ask for more than one or two; but others, like Stanley Kubrick, will get into the triple digits if they feel its necessary. David Fincher is a filmmaker who is famously in the latter camp, and apparently it created a bit of tension on the set of his latest feature, Mank.
Charles Dance, who plays notorious media mogul William Randolph Hearst in the Netflix film, recently spoke to Total Film about his experience working with David Fincher on the project, and he recalled a particular day when there was some friction created between the director and star Gary Oldman. The cast and crew were shooting a scene that is crucial to the climax of the story, with Oldman's Herman J. Mankiewicz crashing a dinner party hosted by Hearst, and at one point the Oscar winner seemed to hit a point of exhaustion. Said Dance,
We did take after take after take after take. And [Oldman] said to David at one point, ‘David, I’ve done this scene a hundred fucking times.’ And Fincher said, ‘Yeah, I know, but this is 101. Reset!’
The scene in question here is a big one for Gary Oldman, as Mankiewicz drunkenly stumbles around a room while pitching an idea for what is essentially a rough draft of Citizen Kane. It must have been a ridiculous challenge for the actor, as it can be hard to do normal things ad nauseam let alone something as incredibly hard as delivering a pages-long monologue.
Of course, the other side of the coin is that David Fincher is a perfectionist who demands the most out of the details of his movies, and getting what he wants means asking for a lot out of his performers. This also wasn't a methodology special to the making of Mank, as Fincher has a long-standing reputation of massive take counts on his projects.
Amanda Seyfried, who plays actress Marion Davies in Mank, has previously spoken about doing takes upwards of 200 times in the making of the movie, and she reiterated her sentiments to Total Film expressing how difficult hte production was. Said Seyfried,
It was definitely hard. But at the same time, it’s like theatre in that you have the luxury of really nailing the tone and the emotion. It does feel like Groundhog Day, in a way, but that’s how he captures things that most people don’t.
Doing all of the hard work only to discover that the movie is bad surely would have seriously stung, but fortunately that is not the case. Instead, Mank is actually one of the best films that David Fincher has ever made, and truly every contribution to the movie is phenomenal. And the aforementioned dinner party scene? It's arguably the greatest in the whole piece.
Mank is arriving in theaters for a limited release starting this weekend, and in a few weeks it will be launching exclusively on Netflix (on December 4 to be specific). Given that it's one of the best movies of 2020, you can expect us here at CinemaBlend to be discussing it quite a lot in the coming weeks and months, so get excited!