When Laura Ziskin Fought David Fincher Over Abortion Joke

When Laura Ziskin Fought David Fincher Over Abortion Joke

Ziskin begged the director to take out Marla's line: “I want to have your abortion”

I met Laura Ziskin, who died on Sunday, numerous times, interviewing her for daily newspapers but also for my first book, “Rebels on the Backlot.”

Laura was a producer on “Fight Club,” one of many important movies on which she was a prime mover, before her life as “SpiderMan” producer overshadowed most everything else she'd done previously.

“Fight Club” was a difficult movie to get made – dark, nihilistic and psychically violent. Laura thought the message of the movie about modern manhood was important, and fought to get it made when she was running Fox 2000. Bill Mechanic, who ran big Fox at the time, was on her side.

Read also: ‘Spider-Man’ Producer Laura Ziskin Dies at 61

But director David Fincher didn't make it easy for her.  From the book:

“Ziskin was an enthusiastic supporter of Fincher's vision for the film. But even she  had some limits. In the book and in the script, after Marla  (Helena Bonham Carter) and Tyler (Ed Norton) meet and have sex for the first time, Marla turns to him and says, ‘I want to have your abortion.’ The line made Ziskin cringe. She thought it crossed the line of good taste – though one could argue that the point of the film was to do just that – and would alienate viewers. It alienated her. Fincher refused. He told her, ‘You approved the script, you approved the cast and the budget. We'll shoot it, and if it's too offensive, we'll let the audience tell us that.’

The line was shot as written and at the test screening, it got a big laugh from the audience. Still, Ziskin came back to Fincher. ‘Look it got a laugh,’ she said. ‘I don't have a leg to stand on. But I'm begging you, please. It's too offensive. You have to take it out.’

Fincher seemed to take perverse pleasure in tormenting studio executives. ‘Ok, here's what I'll do,’ he said. ‘I will shoot something else to replace that line, but you have to promise me that I have the final say on whatever that is. I get to come up with the replacement.’

Ziskin replied, ‘Anything. Nothing could be worse than ‘I want to have your abortion.’ Go ahead.”

Fincher reshot the moment, in which Marla says instead, ‘Oh my God, I haven't been fucked like that since grade school.’ He cut it into the movie, and when it was screened for an audience it got an even bigger laugh than the abortion line.

Ziskin approached him after the screening. “Please, my God,” she begged. “Put the abortion line back in.” (pp 268-9 in “Rebels on the Backlot,” Harper Enertainment, 2005)

  • m.e. taylor


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miko-Panther/100002265054303 Miko Panther

    the grade school line is less offensive though, not more.  because for me, and I am assuming grade school means elementary school, elementary school was never called grade school.  So the term grade school to me and a number of other people probably doesn't mean much of anything. 

    When I saw it in the theater back in 99 I of course assumed, the movie being fight club, that it was meant to be offensive but to a large number of people grade school doesn't have a significant meaning, it could just mean school somewhere between 1st-12th grade, i mean those are grades you are in while in school.  So actually the abortion comment would have been a little more offensive to people obviously.

    Also I read somewhere, or maybe this was on one of the commentary tracks that Helena Bonham Carter when she said that line she didn't even know what grade school was.

  • http://mysite.verizon.net/vzepr1xp/index.html unsean

    You don’t know that. Directors put different words in characters’ mouths all the time. You can’t assume that he defended that particular reading because of some effort to preserve the integrity of Chuck Palahnuik’s work because I can promise you that Fight Club is not entirely faithful to the book (I haven’t read it in a while, but know that directors often have to change things for film, which is an entirely different medium than books).

  • SZJ

    The line used tested better. It's funnier.