‘Mank’ Cinematographer: ‘My Memories of Making the Film Are All in Black and White’

Erik Messerschmidt, Oscar nominated for his debut feature film as a cinematographer, talks to TheWrap about working with David Fincher on the 1940s-era period piece

Joe McGovern
April 13, 2021
The Wrap

Though he’s been active in the industry for nearly two decades, cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt made his feature film debut last year with David Fincher’s silvery period drama “Mank.” Messerschmidt’s credits include television work in projects as diverse as “Everybody Hates Chris,” Ridley Scott’s “Raised by Wolves,” and Fincher’s “Mindhunter.” Fincher, in fact, had hired Messerschmidt three years ago to lens his sequel to “World War Z,” but after that project was cancelled in early 2019, the director called the cinematographer with a different proposal.

“David said, ‘I’ve got this black and white movie I’m thinking about. Do you want to do it?” Messerschmidt recalled to TheWrap. “He’s kind of coy like that. So I didn’t really know anything about what the film was. But I said, ‘Sure.’”

The film, of course, was Fincher’s biopic of “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman), and “Mank,” which is available for streaming on Netflix, led the pack in terms of total Oscar nominations with 10, including Best Picture, Best Director, and one for the 40-year-old Messerschmidt.

The cinematography category is a fresh crowd this year. Messerschmidt, Dariusz Wolski (“News of the World”), Joshua James Richards (“Nomadland”) and Sean Bobbitt (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) are all first-time nominees. Only Phedon Papamichael (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) has ever been nominated before. For context, at the previous Oscars, two nominees (Robert Richardson and eventual winner Roger Deakins) had a tally of 25 career nominations between them.

Messerschmidt is currently working in Georgia on the upcoming Korean War drama “Devotion.” We caught up with him to talk about his work on “Mank” after a long week of night shoots. “If my answers are incoherent,” he said with a laugh, “just ask me to clarify.”

Read the full interview

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