February 7, 2021
One of the most acclaimed films of all time is Citizen Kane, released in 1941 and starring a young Orson Welles, who also directed. David Fincher’s epic Mank examines the role of another influential player, screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. Released in select theaters in November before a December debut on Netflix, this black-and-white film is full of eye-popping sets and costumes. I had the chance to speak with production designer Donald Graham Burt and costume designer Trish Summerville about their approach to this ambitious project, their affinity for each other’s processes, and working with frequent collaborator David Fincher.
Abe Friedtanzer: When did you first see Citizen Kane, and how much did you want this film to look like that one?
Donald Graham Burt: Wow. I don’t know when I first saw it. It was years ago. And then of course I looked at it again before this film started. I don’t think it was so much about making it look like Citizen Kane. Obviously, the narrative involves Citizen Kane. It was more about making this be a film that felt like it was made during the same period. It was more about the 30s. We weren’t trying to replicate Citizen Kane in any way, shape, or form. That wasn’t the purpose of it. I don’t think we ever sat down and said, okay, in Citizen Kane, they did this, and they had a set that did this, and costumes that did this. That wasn’t the approach to it. Would you agree, Trish?
Trish Summerville: Definitely. I also, like Don, can’t remember when I first saw it. I was pretty young. I rewatched it, but wasn’t trying to mimic any of the costumes in it. It was just information for us to gather. We also looked at a bunch of other 30s black-and-white films.