How ‘Mank’ Shot Day for Night, and in Hi-Dynamic Range Black-and-White

Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt had two challenges shooting the moonlight stroll at San Simeon: black-and-white and day for night.

Bill Desowitz
December 7, 2020

There was never any doubt that David Fincher was going to shoot “Mank” in black-and-white. His biopic about alcoholic and acerbic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) struggling to churn out a first draft of “Citizen Kane” cried out for monochromatic treatment. And yet Fincher and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt (“Mindhunter”) were not about to indulge in a “Kane”-like re-enactment, or be confined to shooting on film, or composing in the period accurate aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Not with Fincher’s digital prowess and penchant for the 2.39: 1 widescreen format.

So Fincher and Messerschmidt struck a balance between retro and modern, taking advantage of the director’s efficient digital workflow to approximate the look of a movie made around the time of “Kane” in 1940 yet “Photographed in Hi-Dynamic Range” (as the title card proclaims).

“Filmmaking has always been a medium where we selectively employ the techniques that are available on the day,” Messerschmidt said. But shooting in black-and-white was a lot to unpack for the cinematographer, who had only done a few music videos and commercials outside of still photography and film school projects.

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