‘Mindhunter’ cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt on ‘expanding the scope’ in Emmy-nominated episode

Daniel Montgomery
August 13, 2020
Gold Derby

Erik Messerschmidt earned his first Emmy nomination this summer: Best Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (One Hour) for his work on the true-crime drama “Mindhunter.” It’s bittersweet, though, since Netflix put the show on indefinite hold after its second season, which aired last summer. “I loved working on the show,” he remembers. “It’s a unicorn in a way. It was a unique situation where everybody was working towards the same goal and everyone was very in sync in terms of what we were trying to accomplish.” Watch our exclusive video interview with the director of photography above.

He is nominated specifically for his work in episode six, during which FBI agents Ford and Tench (Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany) search for missing children in Atlanta while Dr. Carr and Agent Smith (Anna Torv and Joe Tuttle) interview convicted killer Paul Bateson. “I just felt like we had a lot of variety in the episode,” says Messerschmidt. “You have all of the classic ‘Mindhunter’ stuff with the Paul Bateson interview, but you also have the characters out in the field. So we’re expanding the scope a little bit, and we had some new set pieces which the audience hadn’t seen before.”

For instance, there is a memorable scene in which law enforcement teams search for murder victims in the eerie pre-dawn light, and another where a grisly discovery in the dead of night is lit primarily with flashlights. “It was a good opportunity to show a little bit of the depth of the show. And it was an episode we were generally pretty proud of.” The season’s focus on the Atlanta child murders influenced the show’s aesthetic in general. Messerschmidt wanted to convey the “hot, humid environment … so we warmed the camera up quite a bit. We made use of atmosphere in some of the interiors. I tried to light it with as much hot, searing sunlight coming through the doors as possible.”

“I would love to go back and do more ‘Mindhunter,’ but who knows? Time will tell, I guess,” he says. In the meantime his creative partnership with “Mindhunter” director/producer David Fincher continues. Messerschmidt is the cinematographer for the filmmaker’s upcoming movie “Mank,” which takes them from murder in the 1970s and 1980s to show business in the 1940s. “That’s what’s great about our job is we get to sort of pick a story apart and figure out what we’re going to do and how we’re going to tell the story.”

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