Fincher never went to college himself. He always knew he wanted to be a filmmaker. He grew up in Northern California, in Marin County; George Lucas was his neighbor. Movies like " The Godfather," "American Graffiti," and Phil Kaufman's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" were always being shot or finished nearby. Part of what made "Zodiac" so haunting was that it has the impact of a memory play of the Bay Area in the 1960s and 1970s. Those who know the area can smell the eucalyptus just watching that film. "It did bring back memories," says Fincher, "and not all bad ones. People come together against a threat like the Zodiac Killer." His first job was assisting Marin County filmmaker John Korty (best known today for "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman").
Fincher's take on campus life should be fascinating. In "Zodiac," the story of a couple of San Francisco Chronicle staffers trying to crack the case of the Zodiac Killer, Fincher showed a refreshing alertness to newsroom dynamics. His father had worked as a science writer and bureau chief for Life magazine. Fincher says he used his familiarity with characters like the Smartest or the Funniest Men in the Room, anxious to push their stories or their bylines into the paper, to fuel Downey's performance as a star reporter without hemming his performance in. Doubtless he'll do the same with the old and new archetypes of Harvard's Big Men on Campus and actors like Eisenberg and Garfield.
"The Social Network," in any event, will be the rare big-studio movie that aims to draw a large audience without sacrificing ambition or nuance. In that way, Fincher is a glorious throwback to the directors who created Hollywood. He says he learned a crucial lesson from his father, who told him: "Learn the craft. It will never get in the way of your art."