‘Mank’: How the Cinematography of David Fincher’s Film Took Inspiration From ‘Citizen Kane’

Gary Oldman, as Herman J. Mankiewicz, holds forth at a dinner party at William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon home, created at Los Angeles Center Studios. “The room is dark and it’s made to look musty and cold,” says cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt.

While legendary DP Gregg Toland and the indelible images he created for Orson Welles’ masterpiece inspired the new movie, the director and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt aimed for a look that suggests an echo, not a copy.

Carolyn Giardina
December 22, 2020
The Hollywood Reporter

Gregg Toland is one of the most influential cinematographers of all time, and his work on Orson Welles‘ Citizen Kane (1941) — with innovations including deep focus, which keeps the foreground, middle ground and background all looking sharp — is iconic. So when director David Fincher and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt set out to make Mank, the Netflix drama that stars Gary Oldman as screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz in the throes of writing Kane, Toland’s efforts had to be carefully considered.

“David and I talked at length about it. That was something we wanted to echo and reference and pay homage to, but we weren’t really trying to emulate it,” says Messerschmidt, who earned an Emmy nomination this year for Fincher’s Netflix crime series Mindhunter. “We didn’t want people to necessarily look at the film and be like, ‘Oh, it’s Gregg Toland’s work.’ We were trying to keep the photography story-driven and within the narrative of what we were trying to translate to the audience.”

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