Leone and Morricone. Williams and Spielberg. Herrmann and Hitchcock. The list could go on of the fantastic director-composer tandems that have achieved a catalog of greatness, but perhaps we should add a new duo to that list: Fincher and Reznor.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ soundtrack to Gone Girl — the third collaboration with director David Fincher — begins mellow, smooth yet haunting. The congruence of strings, bells, and synths melt together, occasionally giving way to tiny glitches and portals scratching against the concrete covering a cinematic wormhole led by Batman-in-training, Ben Affleck, as his character navigates the backlash following the disappearance of his wife.
When the concrete gives way — initialized by Fincher’s ratcheting tension in the film — Reznor and Ross let us have it. The sounds drip, crawl, and plod out. A digital orchestra is squeezed through a collapsing corridor lined with barbs and thorns, and, at the other end, what we’re left with is a broken music box, hissing chords and notes oozing and dousing our toes with puddles of puzzled platitudes concerning the media and social recognition.
Although it’s only their third pairing on film, Fincher and Reznor have already proven that their tag-team is Oscar-worthy, and also, just getting started.
David Fincher’s knack for directing film seems to be prodigious. In his early 20s, he was already working on major studio films like Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (it didn’t hurt that George Lucas was his neighbor). Through the 80s, Fincher helmed commercials and promos for corporations such as Nike, the American Cancer Society, and Pepsi, as well as immersing himself in music video work for the likes of Madonna, Paula Abdul and Sting. In 1992, he would get his first break in major motion pictures with the poorly received Alien 3.
…if nothing else, it was a situation where I got to see first hand that if I wasn’t going to make the decisions myself, there are plenty of people who are going to line up to chime in and almost no one was going to be there when the shit hit the fan and the movie is judged. You just learn from that situation. You just say “If I do this again, I’m going down with the ship, so I’m going to make those decisions and I’m going to work with the people that I want to work with and I’m going to be involved in everything.
To say that the Alien sequel was a learning process would be an understatement: not one of Fincher’s films, since his debut, have dipped below the 70% mark on Rotten Tomatoes.
In 1997, Fincher, after having used the track “Closer” for the title credits of Se7en, met Reznor on the set of the video for “The Perfect Drug.”
Like Fincher, Reznor’s talent began manifesting itself at an early age. He was playing piano at five, and in high school, he would learn to play the tuba and saxophone. His debut album as the frontman for Nine Inch Nails released in 1989, but it wasn’t until the band’s sophomore album, The Downward Spiral, was released in 1994 that the world took notice of the cutting edge rock group.
During this time, though, Reznor was abusing drugs and alcohol, and the toll of the substance abuse began to mar his ability to write and produce.
I thought I could get through by putting everything into my music, standing in front of an audience and screaming emotions at them from my guts … but after a while it didn’t sustain itself, and other things took over – drugs and alcohol.
In 2000, while on tour in London, Reznor bought what he thought was cocaine, and after ingesting the white, powdered substance, he woke up in a hospital after having been resuscitated; the substance was China white heroin.
It was a moment of clarity for the forward-thinking musician: he completed rehab in 2001 and began his quest for musical immortality, a quest that would be facilitated by one of the best contemporary directors in the world.
Reznor was about to go on the road, touring with NIN, when he and Fincher would finally get the chance to work together in 2005. It was the video for “Only,” a single from the band’s fourth album With Teeth. Fincher already had some ideas about what the content of the video should be.
…we did a video together [for “Only,” in 2005]. He didn’t have much time, because he was going out on the road. We tried to do a video in two days and sort of cobbled it together, because it was an idea I’d always wanted to play with, this pincushion thing.
In 2009, Fincher, after having received an Oscar-nomination for his work on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, began work on the story of Mark Zuckerberg’s quest to create the biggest social media platform to date. At the time, he was listening to Reznor’s instrumental ambiance albums Ghosts I-IV, and had used pieces of the music to score his unfinished film.
I called him for The Social Network because I had been listening to Ghosts I-IV. I lifted from Ghosts to do the temporary soundtrack for the movie. I knew he’d never been responsible for an hour and 28 minutes worth of music that had to fit under another narrative before.
Reznor had worked on a few films; Lost Highway, Natural Born Killers and Man on Fire, but he had never produced the entire soundtrack for a film.
The two films you mentioned, I wasn’t in the trenches of making the films. And I respect those guys [Oliver Stone and David Lynch] very much.
Fincher’s direction in crafting the soundtrack for The Social Network was simple.
I said to him, ‘I want you to think of this as fun and anarchic and anti-establishment. You can do that without breaking a sweat. But on top of it, I want you to have fun with the idea that it’s a coming-of-age movie in the age of the internet startup.’
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross would go on to win the Oscar for best original soundtrack for The Social Network, and the seeds were planted.
Fincher and Reznor have a specific process. First, Reznor and Ross read the source material from which the director is working from. Then, they read the script. After that, the musical duo is invited to a screening of what the famed director has created thus far; it gives them a skeleton in which to build the musical muscles upon.
There will be times we’re working on a scene and we’ll give David a few options. I like one, but he picks the other. But then four out of five times when I see the scene before it, which I haven’t been writing music for, I realize the insanely minute details that he’s paying attention to just to make sure the flow is right for the audience. It’s impressive.
Although Reznor has entrenched himself in the musical world, his experience thus far with the creative process, in both traditional compositions and scoring, has allowed him to realize that the artistic aspects of both mediums lend themselves to each other in a multimedia marriage. At times, Fincher is reminded just how astute Reznor can be.
He makes you better. He makes you say what you mean. He makes you ask questions. He can embarrass you, because he’ll go, ‘Well, don’t you think if she’s saying this on page three and then we have this on page 94, aren’t those two ideas connected?’ And you go, Fuck, of course they are. Above and beyond all the great music he’s made for me, I appreciate him for being somebody who’s seeing clearer and better.
The love affair of director and musician is multi-directional. While Fincher may feel he’s found the cinematic muse to push his creative limitations, Reznor, on the other hand, has found a maestro able to focus and triangulate his talent.
…the goal is making the best thing we can make in an uncompromised fashion. He’s trying to make the best art he can make, and it happens to be in a fairly mainstream place. That’s exciting to me. And he creates a nurturing environment where I’m not fighting with the studio about making it nicer. He protects the people who are making the film and his actors. In a world of art versus commerce and compromises, I find it very inspiring to be around him.
The magic of their pairing is not lost on either one of them. Fincher, for one, is grateful that’s he’s found someone that can provide the score to his dark dreams of mystery and mayhem.
Trent’s a serious voice. I mean that sonically and poetically, but it’s way too dismissive to say he’s the prince of darkness. There are all kinds of things in this guy.
Reznor just appreciates the chance the explore the realm of sound with Fincher as his guide through a dark palate of possibilities.
It really feels good to be in service to David, because the work is both challenging and rewarding,” he says. “In Nine Inch Nails, every decision is mine. Here, I’m working for a guy who knows a lot more than me on a lot of things. Ultimately, it’s all about the movie. What’s best for it. That’s your job.
As for the future, Reznor has finished his latest tour, and Fincher is currently working on an HBO show called Utopia. Will we see their talents intersect on the small screen, or on the silver screen in the future? David Fincher hopes so.
God…yeah. If he’ll have me