Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter listens to David Fincher and Michael Douglas and others as they play The Game.
The Game (1997)
Commentators: David Fincher (director), Michael Douglas (actor), John Brancato & Michael Ferris (writers), Harris Savides (director of photography), Jeffrey Beecroft (production designer), Kevin Haug (visual effects supervisor)
1. Fincher loved the initial teaser featuring the marionette puppet being tortured, but the marketing department ‐- always his favorite studio people ‐- came up with the “crumbling face puzzle piece thing.” He added puzzle pieces to the opening credits so that the second teaser would bear a connection to the film similar to the puppet that appears later in the movie.
2. Douglas wishes he had been shown the home movies before production began “because it would have helped a lot.” He thinks they set the tone for how “destructive” Nicholas Van Orton (Douglas) would become.
3. The baby in young Nicholas’ arms wouldn’t stop crying, and Fincher quickly decided “that just seems really real and certainly has a place in our story.”
4. Douglas was going through a divorce while the film was in production, “and it was a time for me to use a lot of myself in the picture.” It must have been one hell of a brawl as it wasn’t finalized until 2000.
5. The character of Conrad (Sean Penn) was originally a best friend from Nicholas’ prep school days. They had always viewed Nicholas as an only child, but the script came together once Fincher suggested that wasn’t necessary. “The brother helped give us a much more visceral emotional core to the story.”
6. They describe the CRS office design as Nicholas’ “skull floating through the environment” thanks to the soft, low ceiling. The horizontal lines running along the walls, desks, and windows are meant to suggest the maze he’s about to go down as well.
7. Fincher says the contrast between CRS’ office ‐ high tech, accomplished, busy, intelligent ‐ and the representative who preps Nicholas for it needed to be visible. “If he came across as James Mason from North By Northwest you’d be like ‘whoa I don’t wanna get involved in this.’” His lack of slickness sells it to Nicholas’ need to feel superior.
8. Douglas understands and appreciates that all professionals — actors and crew — need the time to do their job right. “One of the worst frustrations for an actor is to be called to the set after waiting for lighting” or some other tech issue only to find your time being wasted. “I used to be more forgiving about it, but now I’m now. I resent it.”
9. Nicholas’ home is in Stanford, but the shots of his front gates were filmed in San Francisco’s Presidio. This is a good time to suggest you watch The Presidio as it features one hell of a foot chase.
10. Nicholas was originally seen as someone in the 20s or 30s, but they liked the idea of a character facing his own mortality.
11. Fincher thinks it might have been a mistake showing “CRS” on the key Nicholas finds in the clown’s mouth. “I just liked how much CRS got their logo around.”
12. Daniel Schorr’s cameo was originally meant for CNN’s Bernard Shaw, but CNN wouldn’t allow it as they didn’t want their anchors sullying themselves with film cameos. “Since then I think Bernard Shaw has been in more fucking movies. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Bernard Shaw movie. He’s in more movies than Kevin Spacey.”
13. Ferris & Brancato’s script for The Game was unproduced for some time, but it did get the attention of a producer who asked them to write something like it for him. The result was The Net.
14. Schorr also cameoed in The Net where he had a bad experience, so Fincher promised him this would be smooth sailing. It wasn’t. Schorr didn’t get the notes that he would be basically interacting with Douglas’ character, and worse, the day he arrived in Los Angeles for the shoot was the day the New York Times ran an article about the problem with news personalities doing cameos in movies. The article featured a shot of Schorr from The Net. It sent him into a spiral of doubt as to whether he should even be doing this. “He was just freaked.”
15. Savides cameos as the man in the bathroom stall reaching under for toilet paper.
16. Douglas felt the film needed comedic relief, and it contrasted “David’s fear of comedic relief.”
17. Nicholas’ first encounter with Christine (Deborah Kara Unger) originally featured a follow-up with the pair boarding a horse-drawn carriage outside the restaurant. It was meant as a tease of a love interest, but “I just said horseshit to that. This guy’s $600 million, he’s not getting in a fucking carriage with anybody. He’s incapable of stopping to smell the roses.”
18. They were criticized for the idea that CRS could possibly know what Nicholas would do in every possible situation ‐- how he’d react, which direction he’d turn ‐- but in their minds, the company had numerous backup plans for each event. The only way they could have shown that to the audience though is by going behind the scenes at CRS, and they decided early on that the film would stick with the player.
19. Brief discussion was had regarding the possibility of turning the film into a CD-Rom game.
20. The scene in the script that locked in Fincher’s interest is the moment Nicholas realizes Christine’s entire home has “basically been set-decorated. That’s when I said ‘I gotta see this, I gotta make this movie.’”
21. Fincher sent Douglas a video clip of Unger for his input as to whether or not she should get the role, “and the tape was from the movie Crash, and it comprised about three minutes of her fornicating in about nineteen positions. I thought is this a joke? Is this what her agent’s sending out?” He met her in person though and was sold by her energy, humor, and look.
22. Nicholas originally wakes up in a Mexican garbage heap instead of the cemetery, but Fincher felt it was “a little too ugly.”
23. Douglas isn’t proud of the fact that he doesn’t see a lot of movies, but he’s admitting it anyway.
24. There was a scene with Nicholas visiting Conrad in the hospital and finding his brother to be insane and pleading for him to stay, “but it just made the third act too long and it threw off the detective beat.”
25. Douglas says his co-stars give good performances against him in part because he “give[s] them trust, rather than competing as a lot of actors do.”
26. The rooftop scene as scripted featured a moment where the person Nicholas shot ‐- Conrad in the film, Christine in the script ‐- sits up just as he walks off the ledge to say he’s making a mistake. “We fought, well we fought as hard as we could fight being writers and all, to preserve that moment.” They liked that it left Nicholas regretting the jump and wishing he would live so that when he hits the mattress it’s a final gift from CRS.
27. Again, as scripted, Nicholas’ jump is carefully crafted to remove any appearance to viewers of real risk. “Clearly the version that was shot, although it looks spectacular, is utterly implausible.”
28. They had walkouts during test screenings right at the point where Nicholas walks off the ledge. “People just got up and said fuck this movie.”
29. Douglas wanted the film to end with applause, “but he’s the director, so.” The writers seem to agree.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
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“Movies are like haircuts.”
The Game (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
The best Fincher commentaries are the ones where he’s flying solo and allowed to ramble about whatever the hell he wants, although his Fight Club one with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton is fantastic too. Criterion chose to go a different route with this one and loaded it with too many people, all broken up into sections and segments. It’s still a pretty good listen though, and it’s still a great movie.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.