Somewhere between San Francisco and Los Angeles…
check out my boy Neville cleaning up.
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David Fincher’s Directorial Debut
American Cancer Society - Smoking Fetus (Commercial) — 1984
The first thing I ever got to direct was when I swindled my way into a commercial for the American Cancer Society. It was in motion-control: a puppet that was smoking a cigarette in utero—it’s a very odd little thing.
I was working at ILM at the time and I was kind of fed up and tired of being the special effects lettuce picker, the itinerant laborer. There were seasons at ILM—you know like, “Oh the new Star Wars movie is ramping up.” I was assistant camera or working in various departments or whatever I was doing.
Q: ILM hired you as what actually?
An assistant cameraman, loading mags. I did this cancer thing in my spare time. There was my friend Kirk Thatcher who was in the Monster Shop, working with Phil Tippet and Tony McVey and several others. Then there was a friend of mine that I had known since I was five and that went to State with him. And we were all sitting around going, “We should just do commercials, ‘cause at least we’d be doing our own stuff and we wouldn’t be so neurotically waiting for what’s going to happen at ILM next. Let’s have some kind of say in our own destiny!” So we came up with this idea of contacting people who would be in a position to spend money on public service announcements. And so obviously we thought of the American Cancer Society. We came up with this idea for this commercial that had this 2001 Star Child with a cigarette in its mouth; we thought it was really amusing and funny. This guy that my friend Chris knew—his name was Joe, he was a truck driver delivering text books—and he wanted to be, I mean he fancied himself a producer. He called the Society in some state and said, “Hey, we have these guys, they all work at ILM, they are bored, they have this idea for this non-smoking commercial.”
We had done some storyboarding and he pitched the idea to them. They asked how much it was going to cost. I think we did it for like 75 hundred bucks or five grand. And they said great and gave us a check for the money and we did the thing at cost.
There was a facility in Richmond at the time. It was a low-rent motion-control place. It was an ILM wannabe. We brought them this job, because ILM didn’t want to let us use their facilities or stages. So we built the creature—I think it was built in the Monster Shop at ILM—and then we took it to Richmond, photographed it, and put the whole thing together. We used their optical printer and printed the whole thing. Then I had Ren Klyce—the guy who I worked with doing all the sound for all my movies. At the time he was in music school. He did this soundtrack so that we finished the thing and gave it to them. We thought they were going to laugh and think it was funny and amusing.
Of course, it got banned on all these networks, because they were so appalled by it. And that was sort of the beginning, as much of a sideways move it was, because we were not doing that interesting work or that profitable work. I think everybody worked for free. If you had the man-hours totaled up, it would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make this thing, but we did it for seven grand. It kind of opened up the notion of being something like a director.
—David Fincher, The Director’s Cut