‘Mank’ Makeup and Hair Designers Talk Recreating “Magical Period in Filmdom” and Grappling with the “Vernacular” of David Fincher

Matt Grobar
March 1, 2021
Deadline

When makeup and hair designers Gigi Williams and Kimberly Spiteri were approached for Mank, they jumped at the chance to craft looks for an Old Hollywood drama, set in an era they both loved.

“Hollywood in the ’30s and ’40s was something that we’ll never get to see again. That whole studio system, it’ll never be like that again,” Spiteri says. “So it’s a chance to get a glimpse at what it was like, which I find fascinating.”

Directed by David Fincher, the drama is both a love letter to, and a critique of, Hollywood’s Golden Age, following alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), as he finishes the script for Citizen Kane.

It’s on projects like this, Spiteri says, that “what the hair and makeup department does as a craft matters. Whether you’re trying to emulate a character or just get the period right, you may not notice if it’s right. But you’re going to notice if it’s wrong.”

Certainly, in the case of Mank, every effort was made to make sure that the work was right, though period accuracy was not the only concern. Because the film would be shot in black and white, both Williams and Spiteri had to engage in a lengthy series of camera tests, to make sure that their designs would translate properly, and that Fincher would be satisfied with the looks conceived for every actor.

In years past, Williams had collaborated with Fincher on the 2014 film Gone Girl, as well as the Netflix series Mindhunter, climbing the rungs between those two projects from assistant makeup department head, to the head of her department. Spiteri, though, had never before worked with the revered auteur, so it would take some time to come to grips with his famously particular working style.

Below, the designers reflect on the joys and challenges of tapping into a “magical period in filmdom” for Mank. Additionally, they touch on the idiosyncrasies of Fincher’s “vernacular” as a filmmaker, with regard to makeup and hair, and the way in which Williams guided Spiteri through her first encounter with the filmmaker.

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How Mank used visual effects to turn back the clock on Hollywood

Rick Marshall
February 28, 2021
DigitalTrends

There’s something appropriate about David Fincher’s Mank premiering during one of the most unusual years Hollywood has experienced in several generations.

The tale of eccentric, unpredictable screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz’s efforts to pen the screenplay for Citizen KaneMank is a throwback to American cinema’s golden age, meticulously filmed in black and white and set in and around pre-war Hollywood. In order to recreate the historic look and feel of the era (and the film itself), Fincher and co-producer Peter Mavromates, who also served as post-production supervisor and visual effects producer on the film, worked with several VFX studios to turn back the clock for Mankiewicz’s saga.

Digital Trends spoke to Mavromates about his work on Mank, which is available now on Netflix and a contender for an Oscar nomination in the visual effects category, to find out how the film used VFX to create its cinematic time capsule.

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Costume Designer Trish Summerville Captures Old Hollywood Glitz and Gluttony in ‘Mank’

Shot in shadowy black-and-white mimicking the look of celluloid with plenty of Golden Age details, back lot and a Hearst Castle scene, the film streaming on Netflix Dec. 4 is a visual delight.

Booth Moore
December 4, 2020
WWD

The film was a passion project for Fincher, who even references certain deep focus shots from “Citizen Kane” while telling the story of his own tragic figure Mank, laid up after a car accident with a broken leg at a ranch in Victorville, Calif. ,with a looming deadline for “The American,” the script that would become “Citizen Kane.”

His personal drama is set against a pastiche of flashbacks to the time he arrived in Thirties Hollywood, with all its money and power politics, then driven not by liberalism but by the anti-socialist Republican Party. In one eerily familiar plot line, Mayer, Thalberg, Hearst and their cronies derail Democratic candidate Upton Sinclair using doctored newsreels in a moment of proto fake news. It’s this affront that inspires the antiestablishment Mank to base “Citizen Kane” on Hearst.

“Dave was particular about wanting to age film, and work in black-and-white, so for me, it was figuring out lighting and what type of camera he was going to use to shoot,” said Summerville, explaining that the old ways of working are harder than one would think. “I did a lot of swatching fabrics, going to rental houses, laying out different options and photographing them in the three different black-and-white settings of my phone. Then I would send them to him, and say give me a lead of where you are going. The closest thing was the monochromatic setting on my phone, he said, so I started photographing everything in that,” the designer explained.

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The Magic of the Movies: Behind the Scenes of David Fincher’s Mank


Netflix Film Club (YouTube)
February 28, 2021

Join acclaimed director David Fincher, actors Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried, and the cast and crew of Mank, for a peek behind the curtain of Netflix’s black-and-white ode to Hollywood’s Golden Age.

2-time Oscar-winning editor Kirk Baxter on ‘what makes films exciting to watch’

Riley Chow
February 28, 2021
Gold Derby

“It doesn’t matter what the intention was; it only matters what was captured,” muses two-time Oscar winner Kirk Baxter at the end of his exclusive interview with Gold Derby about editing “Mank” (watch the video above). Baxter and former editing partner Angus Wall are the only in Oscar history to win consecutively for Best Film Editing, which they did for 2010’s “The Social Network” and 2011’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” both under David Fincher. Baxter is currently nominated for a Critics Choice Award for “Mank,” his eighth collaboration with the director.

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Insights Into The Lensing of “Mank,” “The Prom,” “Malcolm & Marie”

Cinematographers Erik Messerschmidt, Matthew Libatique, Marcell Rév discuss respective films, collaborating with directors David Fincher, Ryan Murphy, Sam Levinson

Robert Goldrich
February 26, 2021
Shoot

Mank (Netflix) marks cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt’s first narrative feature. It continues a series of firsts for the DP in collaboration with director David Fincher.

Messerschmidt, who earned ASC membership distinction last year, got a major break back in the day while serving as a gaffer for cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, ASC, most notably on the Fincher-directed Gone Girl. During the course of that movie, Fincher had Messerschmidt do some promotional still work for Gone Girl and the two struck up a rapport. This eventually led to Messerschmidt becoming the DP on Fincher’s Mindhunter, the thriller series centered on an FBI agent’s quest to track down serial killers in the late 1970s.

Last July, Messerschmidt garnered his first career Emmy nomination for his lensing of Mindhunter. He’s shot the lion’s share of Mindhunter episodes, representing his first major TV gig as his DP endeavors prior to that were primarily in commercials and other short-form fare. 

Fincher then further expanded Messerschmidt’s reach–this time into the feature realm with Mank which centers on screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (portrayed by Gary Oldman) as he races to finish the script for director Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane on a tight timetable, secluded in a bungalow in a desert town miles removed from Los Angeles as he recuperates from a car accident in 1940. Attending to him are his secretary Rita (Lily Collins) and his German nurse (Monika Grossmann).

In the process, through Mankiewicz’s worldview–marked by his abiding social conscience and wit, at times caustic–we are introduced to not only Hollywood but life in the 1930s, ranging from the struggle of the rank and file during the Great Depression to the grandeur of Hearst Castle and high society. We also become privy to Mankiewicz’s own inner struggles with alcoholism, as well as a professional battle with Welles (played by Tom Burke) over screen credit for what became the classic Citizen Kane. The Mank cast also includes Charles Dance (as William Randolph Hearst), Amanda Seyfried (as Marion Davies, Hearst’s wife), Tuppence Middleton (as Sara Mankiewicz, Herman’s wife), Arliss Howard (as Louis B. Mayer), Sam Troughton (as John Houseman), Tom Pelphrey (as Joe Mankiewicz, Herman’s brother), Toby Leonard Moore (as David O. Selznick) and Ferdinand Kinsley (as Irving Thalberg).

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In Creative Company: Q&A on Mank with Costume Designer Trish Summerville

Mara Webster
February 24, 2021
In Creative Company

1930s Hollywood is reevaluated through the eyes of scathing wit and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish “Citizen Kane.”

Q&A with Mank costume designer, Trish Summerville. Moderated by Mara Webster.

In Creative Company: YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Apple Podcasts.

Scenes in ‘Mank’ look familiar? That’s because it was filmed in California’s high desert

Brian Blueskye
February 23, 2021
Desert Sun

If you’re watching the film “Mank,” you may notice some familiar scenes. That’s because it was filmed in part at the Kemper Campbell Ranch in California’s high desert.

A production crew of 80 people arrived in Victorville in December 2019 with trucks containing vintage items, automobiles from the 1930s and more to take the historic property back to the 1940s. 

Mank,” which premiered on Netflix last December, is the story of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz‘s struggle to finish the screenplay for Orson Welles’ 1941 film “Citizen Kane.” He arrived at the property, then known as North Verde Ranch, in 1940 to finish the script.

Nominated for six Golden Globe awards, the film stars Gary Oldman as Mankiewicz, Amanda Seyfried as actress Marion Davies and Lily Collins as Mankiewicz’ secretary Rita Alexander. It was directed by David Fincher.

For production designer Don Burt and set decorator Jan Pascale, it was important to make the film feel as authentic as possible. After some research on the North Verde Ranch, Burt learned it was still mostly intact. 

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Mank: Rosebud…

Photo by Nikolai Loveikis

An Interview with Camera Operator Brian S. Osmond, SOC

Kate McCallum
February 2021
SOC Camera Operator (Society of Camera Operators)

Mank is an American biographical drama film about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his battles with director Orson Welles over screenplay credit for Citizen Kane (1941). The film is directed by David Fincher, based on a script written by his father Jack Fincher, with Gary Oldman in the title role.

Read the full interview:

‘Mank’ Cast and Crew on Jack Fincher’s Script and Shooting in Black and White

Antonio Ferme
February 22, 2021
Variety

While Netflix’s Oscar contender “Mank” was directed by David Fincher, the script was written by his father, Jack Fincher, prior to his death in 2003. Gary Oldman, who starred in the film as “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, said Fincher’s script was one of the best he had read in a long time.

“It is fun to be a detective and go off and read things and find out things and all of that,” Oldman said. “That’s great fun, but I felt that the work had really been done by Jack.”

In the Variety Streaming Room, hosted by deputy awards and features editor Jenelle Riley, the cast and crew of “Mank” discussed how Jack Fincher’s script was able to capture the extensive legacies of some of the icons from the golden age of Hollywood, as well as the challenges of shooting in black and white.

Amanda Seyfried, who portrayed William Randolph Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies, said that Fincher’s script infused new life into the cinema starlet’s legacy.

“None of what I read in my investigation was different from what the sense that I had gotten of her,” Seyfried said. “The essence was captured in that script right off the bat. So if I had nothing, I would have been okay.”

Aside from a handful of music videos and commercials, “Mank” was the first project cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt had ever filmed in black and white. He said the crew bounced many ideas off of each other when it came to figuring out what colors would look like on set.

“It becomes this very exciting kitchen of ideas, which is a very special thing to participate in,” Messerschmidt said.

When it came to fitting photos, costume designer Trish Summerville said she only sent them to Fincher in black and white. She said she did a lot of her research on what worked as far as which colors, prints and patterns translated well.

“Some things became really contrast-y and too kind of like confetti,” Summerville said. “Once we got to do the camera test, which I think helped us all greatly with seeing what the lighting was going to be, it helped with hair, with makeup, with clothes. It was a big tool for us.”

Watch the full conversation