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Mank could have easily been a parody of old school Hollywood, but Erik Messerschmidt and David Fincher weren’t going to let that happen. They went for broke on thoroughly reproduced sets, meticulous lighting, smoke filled offices, energetic conversations, and characters that breathe.
Once Mank opens its first scene, the scenery and intelligent dialogue make it hard to look away. As much as I thought I knew about San Simeon, having grown up ten minutes away from Hearst Castle, it was exciting to look into the bygone era when this California location was a lively hotbed of social chemistry, and parties, and movie creation, rather than just a stale museum where no one can touch the furniture.
When preparing to speak with Erik Messerschmidt, I would almost get lost working back through the layers of filmmakers contributing to this story. Mank pays homage to the legend Gregg Toland’s game-changing eye for cinematography. The dynamism between Toland, Orson Welles and the writer Herman J. Mankiewicz would be recrafted 80 years later by this modern team of David Fincher and Erik Messerschmidt, with Jack Fincher writing the screenplay.
In mid April 2021 Erik Messerschmidt took the ASC Award for Outstanding Cinematography, and then in May, deservedly, the Best Achievement in Cinematography Oscar for his lensing of the period piece Mank.
Despite his youthful appearance, Erik’s film career has already spanned decades, working his way up through the ranks as a grip, an electrician, and a number of years as a gaffer. Some of his gaffer work included Gone Girl, as well as DP on Mindhunter, with Fincher, further developing that relationship till the day when David asked Erik if he wanted to shoot this next project, Mank, and Erik said “Of course I want to shoot the movie!”
Mank, Erik’s first cinematography role outside of television, his first movie as DP, has won multiple awards this year. What kind of heavenly dream must that be for any cinematographer? Who hits a grand slam at their first baseball game?
A perspective on the latest film in the director’s filmography.
Warning: This article spoils the ending of Mank.
There’s little doubt that David Fincher and many of the characters he’s interested in — detectives, investigative journalists, screenwriters — are concerned with the search for truth. A point repeatedly raised is how attainable truth really is. What if, asks Zodiac (2007), at the end of years of research, the truth remains, and will always remain, out of reach? What if, in The Social Network (2010), we approach the truth of the main character’s motivations by way of a variety of angles, depositions, and second-hand accounts, but leave significant gaps in that truth that linger beyond the final frame? What would be the effect on audiences? The concern with truth and with the lack of it runs through so much of the director’s work.
From that concern with attainability of truth, the negative inference that might follow when watching these films is that we can’t hope to know a great deal about anything or anyone. In highlighting people who are grasping in the dark and who, as a result, see their obsessive or destructive sides come out, Fincher’s films can be troubling. But they’re also too rich to stay at that.
What I propose in this piece is a different angle through which we can approach the question of truth — one I find more interesting, that emerges with just as much clarity from Fincher’s work, and that can give rise to a more positive perspective on these issues. It’s not a question of finding easy uplift, but the wrestled and difficult kind of move towards positive meaning that I think these works warrant.
May 10, 2021
Do you realize what you’re doing is illegal? The adult animated anthology returns with a vengeance. Love, Death + Robots Volume 2 coming May 14. Consume Irresponsibly. Presented by Tim Miller, David Fincher, Jennifer Miller, and Joshua Donen.
Global release date of Volume 3: 2022
FilmLight hosts a discussion with the talents who have contributed to the stories that are entertaining us the most. Four prestigious colourists from Los Angeles, London and Cape Town present their outstanding work and share their artistic journey.
Discover amazing projects, including provocative comedy thriller ‘Promising Young Woman’, the Netflix original documentary ‘My Octopus Teacher’, multi-nominated biographical drama ‘Mank’ from David Fincher and the superb coming of age drama ‘Rocks’.
Guest colourists: Kyle Stroebel (Refinery); Katie Jordan (Light Iron); Jateen Patel (Molinare); and Eric Weidt.
Eric Weidt spent years in Paris working with fashion photographers transitioning from traditional film to digital capture workflows. He created custom film-emulation ICC profiles, and mastered color work and compositing techniques for print stills and fashion films.
Clients included Mario Testino, David Sims, Patrick Demarchelier, Mert Alas and Markus Piggot, Steven Meisel, Hedi Slimane, Karl Lagerfeld. His motion picture work for David Fincher includes responsibilies as VFX artist (Gone Girl), and Digital Intermediate Colorist (Videosyncracy and Mindhunter).
He holds a BA in Theater Arts from the University of California at Santa Cruz and is both an American and French citizen.
It’s probably fair to say that the 2021 Academy Awards were unlike any others. How do we count all the ways?
A global pandemic that shuttered productions and theaters. Distribution of first-run films over streaming services or with premium per-view rental prices. A raft of indie-style films made on shoestring budgets. Big-budget blockbusters pushing their release dates to 2021 and beyond, taking them out of the race. A ceremony broadcast that was not just delayed by two months, but was entirely reconceived and relocated from the Dolby Theatre to Los Angeles’s Union Station, with acceptance speeches uninterrupted by orchestras and time limits.
It’s also the first year that Frame.io made a big splash at the Oscars, used on three of the nominated films (including Best Film Editing and Best Sound winner Sound of Metal), as well as the broadcast show itself. And we’re even doing our own coverage a little differently, splitting the Best Picture nominees and Best Film Editing nominees into two separate articles to give you a deeper dive into the processes, both technical and creative.
And yet, there are the ways in which the spirit of the Oscars remains very much the same. First-timers and foreign films challenging established directors with an acclaimed body of work. The novelty of having a woman (never mind two) nominated for Best Picture—with Chloé Zhao as only the second woman to claim the win. The snubs of Black directors like Spike Lee, Regina King, and perhaps most pointedly, Shaka King, whose Judas and the Black Messiah was nominated for Best Picture.
But all of that aside, the Oscars are still a much-anticipated yearly tradition for those of us who love cinema.
We’re excited to present our fourth-annual Oscars Workflow Roundup! We’ll dig into the workflows of the eight films nominated for Best Picture and consider how this strange and unprecedented year has played out—and what it might mean for the future of how movies are both made and consumed.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher’s latest antiblockbuster, is a baroque rethink of the serial-killer subgenre; a subtly retuned adaptation of the first novel in Stieg Larsson’s penny-dreadful Millennium trilogy; a technical achievement of narrative compression and pacing in a mainstream thriller; and the most recent proof of the director’s trademark habit of unleashing bad vibes in the multiplex. It’s a sick kind of holiday movie. The story is bookended by two Christmases—a year its two protagonists pass among murderers, sexual predators, and a wealthy family with a history of sadistic brutality (and Nazi sympathies), all stirred up by a cold case involving the disappearance of a sixteen-year-old girl from a private island. With good reason, Fincher called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo “the feel-bad movie of the season.” The director renders its source material in the coolly droll yet fundamentally shocking and disturbing style of his previous films about psychos, Seven (1995), Fight Club (1999), and Zodiac (2007). In the manner of Tod Browning’s subversive 1931 take on Dracula, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo frightens the viewer while injecting grimly fiendish jokes into an earnest literary artifact with an intractably complicated storyline.
MANK Accepts the Oscar for Cinematography
Director of Photography Erik Messerschmidt received the statuette at the Academy Awards for his work on Mank.
He had already won the American Society of Cinematographers’ Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Feature Film, and the Satellite Award.
The other nominees were Joshua James Richards (Nomadland), Dariusz Wolski (News of the World), Sean Bobbitt (Judas and the Black Messiah), and Phedon Papamichael (The Trial of the Chicago 7).
Mank was nominated in 10 categories: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Production Design, Cinematography, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound and Original Score. Production Designer Donald Graham Burt and Set Decorator Jan Pascale also won in the category of Best Production Design.
Erik’s acceptance speech:
“Wow! I wish I could cut this into five pieces because it’s such an honor to be nominated amongst all of you. It’s an incredible honor. David, thank you for creating an environment where we could do our best work. I got to go home and feel like I gave it my all, every night (David Fincher: ‘You did’). Ceán [Chaffin], thank you for the endless support. Eric Roth, thank you for the guidance. Amanda, Gary, what a privilege and a joy to watch you work. The entire cast, thank you for hitting your marks. It mattered! This really belongs to an extraordinary crew who I could not do anything without: Brian, Will, Alex, Dave, Gary, Dwayne, Danny, Jerry, and all of your team. You make my job easy. Thank you. And thank you to my beautiful wife, Naiara, who tolerates this crazy business and helped me get through this movie. So thank you so much. Thank you.”
MANK’s Thank You Cam Speech: Production Design
Erik Messerschmidt Backstage Interview
Erik Messerschmidt ‘Oscars: After Dark’ Winner Interview
MANK Accepts the Oscar for Production Design
Production Designer Donald Graham Burt and Set Decorator Jan Pascale received the statuette at the Academy Awards for their work on Mank.
They had already won the Art Directors Guild Award for Excellence in Production Design, Best Picture and Best Achievement in Decor/Design of a Period Feature Film at the inaugural Set Decorators Society of America Awards, a BAFTA Award and a Critics’ Choice Award.
The other nominees were Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Production Designer Mark Ricker, Set Decorators Karen O’Hara and Diana Stoughton), The Father (Production Designer Peter Francis, Set Decorator Cathy Featherstone), News of the World (Production Designer David Crank, Set Decorator Elizabeth Keenan), and Tenet (Production Designer Nathan Crowley, Set Decorator Kathy Lucas).
Mank was nominated in 10 categories: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Production Design, Cinematography, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound and Original Score. Director of Photography Erik Messerschmidt also won in the category of Best Cinematography.
Pascale had been previously nominated in 2006, for her work on George Clooney‘s Good Night, and Good Luck (another black & white film) but this was Burt’s second Oscar, after his triumph in 2008 with David Fincher‘s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, so he let Pascale have the full time for her acceptance speech:
“It’s a long way down here! First of all, thank you to David Fincher, Ceán Chaffin, and Don Burt, for trusting me with this amazing project. It was such an honor to work with such an amazing group of people. Thank you to my crew, who worked their tails off on this just to make it right. When I was young, I never realized that this was a career that was even a possibility. There were so many people who helped me along the way, and guided me, and I’m so grateful to all of them, and especially to my wife, Louise, who inspires me every day. Thank you so much.”
Don Burt could give his speech in the backstage:
MANK’s Thank You Cam Speech: Production Design
Join us for a panel discussion with this year’s Academy Award-nominated production designers and set decorators. Nominated films are: MANK (production design: Donald Graham Burt; set decoration: Jan Pascale), MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (production design: Mark Ricker; set decoration: Karen O’Hara and Diana Stoughton), NEWS OF THE WORLD (production design: David Crank; set decoration: Elizabeth Keenan), TENET (production design: Nathan Crowley; set decoration: Kathy Lucas) and THE FATHER (production design: Peter Francis; set decoration: Cathy Featherstone). Moderated by Thomas A. Walsh and Jan Pascale Presented by the American Cinematheque and the Art Directors Guild and Set Decorators Society of America. Sponsored by Variety.