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David Fincher's Club

The FIGHT CLUB and SE7EN director discusses his latest success, the Jodie Foster thriller PANIC ROOM

By SCOTT COLLURA     April 02, 2002


PANIC ROOM director David Fincher
© 2002 Columbia Pictures
For a time it was rough going for PANIC ROOM director David Fincher during production of his new hit thriller. Several weeks into shooting, the film's star Nicole Kidman injured her knee and had to drop out of the production. With some 19 days worth of film in the can, and millions of dollars spent, the director suddenly found himself without his lead character. Everything had to be scrapped, and although Jodie Foster soon came on to replace Kidman, Fincher reveals that the stress of the situation brought him to the brink of almost quitting the project altogether.

"I was perfectly willing to walk away from the whole thing," he says. "It was a drag. This movie was a nightmare."


Of course, he didn't walk away, and PANIC ROOM has proven to be another notch in his illustrious resume of thrillers. Having helmed such distinctive films as FIGHT CLUB, SE7EN and ALIEN 3, Fincher has become a "director's director," known for his unique look and stylized visual touches. Usually, a filmmaker of his stature chooses to develop his own projects from the ground up, but he explains that wasn't the case with PANIC ROOM.


"It's a

PANIC ROOM director David Fincher

script that I read and thought, 'Oh, this could be a good movie, this could be a movie,'" he recalls. "It's a movie movie, it's what movies do. It's the dramatic irony of the audience knowing more than all the characters together because not all the characters can be together."


The characters can't be together because of the title area, the panic room that is found in the Manhattan townhouse that Foster's character has recently moved into with her daughter. When Forest Whitaker and his cronies invade the house in search of a small fortune that is hidden inside, Foster and her daughter take refuge in the impenetrable panic room. A battle of wits ensues between the characters, but the very nature of the plot called for the charactersand the actorsto shoot their scenes separately since they were rarely in the same room together.


"It's a logistical nightmare," says Fincher. "You have so many elements. Every time that you shoot the burglars, you have to shoot the entire scene and go through that process, making the dialogue and making the cutting work for them, and then you have to take all of the lighting equipment out of the room and all of the grip and electrical equipment and shoot the thing with the security cameras which see everything and you have to re-light with the security cameras because they're very infrared intensive."


This complicated process is a result of the panic room's security cameras which display much of Whitaker and company's actions in the scenes that Foster is seen in the room.


"And then you have to cut that tape element," Fincher continues. "You have to play that tape element back on a monitor and have a scene play out and God forbid the scene that's taking place in front of the monitors takes longer than what you planned... So, you have all these things that you have to work out and you have a ten-year-old on the set who can only be there for seven hours or six and a half hours... So yeah, the only thing that would've made it worse, as I keep saying, is to do it on a house boat!"


A much

Jodie Foster in PANIC ROOM

more simple operation involved casting Foster in the Kidman role after the latter actress dropped out. Fincher recalls that at the same time Kidman was getting x-rays done on her injured knee, word came through that Foster's FLORA PLUM project was not developing as quickly as expected. The PANIC ROOM script was sent to the actress, and the rest is history.


"We met like the next day... at the Four Seasons, in the bar," he says. "And I said, 'You've got to be shooting next Wednesday,' and she was like, 'Okay.'"


The film became a different entity at that point, according to Fincher, since Foster brought a distinct feel to the proceedings all her own.


"It changes the tone," explains Fincher. "I mean, we were doing a much different kind of movie with Nicole. You know, it's more of a Hitchcock movie, it's more of a kind of, 'It's a movie,' wink, wink thing. There's a glamorous kind of aspect there that you have to sort of incorporate with the burglars and so, to put someone who's much more naturalistic and realistic and smart and capable and all that... there's all this good baggage that [Foster] brings to it because she can play anything, but helpless... helpless is hard for her, and it's just hard for an audience to buy it."


The director also says that Foster was everything he expected her to be, almost as if her onscreen roles have an aspect of the real life Foster lurking just beneath the surface.


"I pretty much felt like I knew her going in," he says. "I feel like she's more of the same. She's totally down to earth, very work oriented, very work conscious, and that was interesting to watch because she became less so as she became more pregnant. It's like, 'I have to protect the egg.' You would expect anyone, at any age, and when they're six months pregnant, to go, 'I don't think that I want to fall down the stairs. I think that you're going to have to get someone else.' But she would actually think twice about it. Like, 'I can do two takes,' and I'm like, 'No, no, go back to your room.'"


Did he

Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart are under siege in PANIC ROOM.

say pregnant? Yes he did. It turns out that the production took another loopy turn when Foster learned that she was with child about five weeks into her portion of the shoot. As Fincher tells it, with a laugh, "She was like, 'I've got good news and I've got bad news.'" Obviously, once again the PANIC ROOM production was going to have shift gears to accommodate this new addition to the cast and crew. For one thing, the shoot lasted for almost half a year, so obviously Foster was showing by the time they wrapped. Of course, her character couldn't look pregnant though...


"We went to New York and it was 100 degrees outside," he recalls, laughing. "She's dressed in wool, she's got a sweater on, and it was just a disaster. She just looked so sweaty and slick and... her hips had started to turn out because she was six and a half months pregnant. So, she was walking down that sidewalk like Redd Foxx, and I was like, 'This isn't going to work.' I called the studio and I was like, 'We can't make this work. She doesn't look like the same person. We're going to have to come back and shoot it.' 'No, no, shoot it anyway, we'll decide.' And so we shot it and showed it to them, and [ultimately] went back and did it again."


There's also one other player who never gets enough credit for their contributions to a picture like this: the stunt double. And with Jodie Foster pregnant and all, it fell to her double to truly handle most of the physical scenes according to Fincher.


"Jill Stokesberry, she's in a lot of the movie," he says. "All that stuff of [Foster's character] diving around, that was her. I mean, there were times when people would walk on the set and everyone would be all quiet and it's like, 'What's the deal?' And they would be like, 'Jodie's here,' and I'm like, 'No, she's not.' 'Oh, oh, I thought that was her.'"

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