This week sees the premiere of Mindhunter, Netflix’s new original series from David Fincher. The show is executive produced by the Se7en and Fight Club director and Charlize Theron, and is based on the 1996 book Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, by former special agents John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. Joe Penhall has penned all 11 episodes of the first season.
The project, though, initially started out somewhere else: HBO, with Dexter’s Scott Buck reportedly attached as writer of the series. Now, Fincher has opened up about why the show went from the prestigious cable giant to its streaming rival.
Speaking at the European premiere of the series, during the London Film Festival, he explained that it began in 2010, when Theron sent him the book.
“It sort of felt like I had never done television,” he said. “I didn’t understand what the compromises would have to be, I didn’t know… if I felt it was something I could wrestle to the ground, so I went off and did House of Cards, and learned a lot!”
Upon his return, Theron had a script for him.
“The script was by a very talented TV writer and it was just nothing that I related to, in terms of the story, in terms of how it was laid out. I said I think I know how to do this, but I don’t wanna do this”, he continued. “And so we found Joe Penhall, who she had worked with on The Road, and he came in and we talked about what it could be and he went away and came back with a pitch, that was pretty much the only way to do this. Which is to dramatise the time, the place, the crater that was created by this new thinking.”
Ditching the hassle of faithfully sticking to the facts – “it was an inordinately complex sortof bowl of spaghetti to unwind” – the new approach meant they weren’t “bootstrapped to the footnotes”.
They took the script to HBO, but too much interference ultimately caused them to pull out of the project.
“I can’t remember exactly the chronology,” Fincher commented. “The project was set up at HBO and they kept trying to move the project… there were a lot of notes, ‘Does it have to be two guys in suits?’, ‘They have to walk through tall grass’, and we were kind of like ‘What?’ – and then the show True Detective came out! So we took the show back and we went to Netflix and Netflix said great, give us 10 scripts.”
Netflix has already ordered a second season of the drama, despite the first not having premiered yet. There is potential, though, for it to got for even longer: Fincher said that Penhall wrote a five season bible for the series when they took it to HBO.
Netflix is known for giving creators freedom on their work, which is one of many factors that has seen the streaming service disrupt the entertainment industry. After House of Cards, it’s easy to see why Fincher seems to click with Netflix so well; he had this to say about the shifting TV landscape.
“We’re in a really interesting time where we’re sitting on the fence between television and film. If we play our cards right we ca build a whole new backyard… There are so many techniques from both that don’t necessary apply to storytelling in the 21st century. We don’t read newspapers the same way we used to. Why would we watch TV the same way we used to?”
Mindhunter premieres on Netflix on Friday 13th October. Stay tuned for our review, more from David Fincher, and interviews with the series’ two leads.