IndieWire Influencers: David Fincher & Sound Designer Ren Klyce

Influencers: Through their decades-long partnership, the pair have constantly refined how sound can be used to shape a viewer’s emotional response.

Chris O’Falt
January 13, 2021
IndieWire

David Fincher and Ren Klyce came of age during a seminal time for Hollywood: when the pair were just kids, a group of ’70s filmmakers was reshaping what it meant to make movies, right from the pair’s native Bay Area. In a biographical detail almost too perfect to be true, George Lucas rented a house in Marin County to edit his “THX 1138,” that just so happened to be located right next door to the Klyce family’s home. A single suburban lawn is all that separated a then-9-year-old Ren from the great Walter Murch, just as he was starting to change modern movie sound forever, work he’d continue throughout the decade with another NorCal auteur, Francis Ford Coppola. And it would be on a Lucas-produced animated feature, “Twice Upon a Time,” that future sound designer Klyce would meet his Coppola, a then-19-year-old Fincher.

Over the last 25 years, as Hollywood has utilized the multi-channel surround technology pioneered by Murch to create bombastic soundtracks that all too often mask a lack of craft, Klyce has helped Fincher explore the subconscious underbelly of his own films, constantly refining how sound can be used to shape a viewer’s emotional response.

“To me, sound design is not about 96 channels all at 11, and two side cars giving you this sound pressure-gasm; to me, it’s very much about the detail and the nuance and maybe things that you wouldn’t even be aware that you heard until the second or third time you saw it,” said Fincher in an interview about his collaboration with Klyce. “I can’t talk more enthusiastically about someone [Klyce] I feel has very subtly pushed what sound designers do.”

Read the full profile and watch the 3 exclusive video essays

Interiors: Donald Graham Burt, Mank

Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian
January 13, 2021
Interiors

David Fincher’s Mank (2020) depicts 3 incredibly unique locations in California with a multitude of interior and exterior architectural spaces. The visual presentation of the film, combined with the Art Direction and Set Decoration, creates a masterful, multifaceted level of Production Design that is rarely seen in cinema. It is a film that warrants multiple viewings and its attention to architectural details should be commended.

In an exclusive interview with Interiors, we spoke with Donald Graham Burt, who is the Production Designer for Mank.

INT: You’re a longtime collaborator of David Fincher‘s but what was it about Mank specifically that interested you in taking on the project?

DGB: First and foremost it was an opportunity to work on a project that was a period Los Angeles project – and even more specifically a period project about the film industry.  To be able to delve into the history of the studios and the roots of the industry in its early years in Los Angeles – when portions of the city were still undeveloped – was an experience to cherish.  David’s projects are always of high caliber and there is a professional level at which he works that is rewarding to be a contributor to.  

Read the full interview

Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt on Mank and Collaborating with David Fincher

J.D. Connor
January 13, 2021
Film at Lincoln Center

With his transfixing digital black-and-white cinematography, DP Erik Messerschmidt, ASC, breathes gorgeous life into the world of 1930s Hollywood in Mank, David Fincher’s vivid retelling of the genesis of Citizen Kane and the tumultuous partnership between screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and director-star Orson Welles.

Messerschmidt joined us for an extended conversation to discuss the craft behind Mank, the legacy of Citizen Kane, and the work of visualizing Hollywood’s ideas of itself. The discussion will be moderated by J.D. Connor, Associate Professor of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.

Film at Lincoln Center Talks are presented by HBO.

Film at Lincoln Center on: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Support our work

Trent Reznor and More on Scoring a Movie During COVID: ‘Like Trying to Be Intimate in Hazmat Suits’

Reznor, Atticus Ross, Daniel Pemberton and George Clooney talk about the challenges of recording music during a pandemic.

Steve Pond
January 12, 2021
The Wrap

When it comes to the postproduction process on movies during a pandemic, much of the work doesn’t have to change dramatically. Film editors, after all, are used to sitting in dark rooms, often by themselves; sound editors and visual-effects artists can also do their work in front of computer screens and share it with co-workers without needing to be in the same room.

But recording a movie’s musical score is different. Unless a composer both writes and performs everything him or herself, a film score involves getting people together to play music — in the case of orchestral scores, getting lots of people together to play music. 

Trent Reznor, composer of the score to David Fincher’s “Mank” with Atticus Ross, had a succinct and evocative phrase for working on the music to that film in the early days of the pandemic. “It wasn’t impossible, but it felt like trying to be intimate in hazmat suits,” he said.

Read the full profile

How Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross Became 1930s-Style Tunesmiths for ‘Mank’

TheWrap magazine: The Nine Inch Nails composers were hired to write the score but ended up also creating music to play over radios in David Fincher’s film, “(If Only You Could) Save Me,” a big-band ballad with a sultry vocal by Adryon de León.

Steve Pond
January 15, 2021
The Wrap

A version of this story about Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and “Mank” first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

The Design of ‘Mank’: How Costumes and Sets Energized David Fincher’s Homage to Old Hollywood

TheWrap magazine: Costume designer Trish Summerville and production designer Donald Graham Burt take us behind the scenes.

Joe McGovern
January 12, 2021
The Wrap

A version of this story about “Mank” appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

“Fincher-vision” is the term that costume designer Trish Summerville uses while discussing her experience working with director David Fincher. “His mind is so clear about what he wants, but there’s still room for spontaneity,” she said. “That’s why there’s so much happiness in the craft departments on his films. And so much repeat business.” Production designer Donald Graham Burt echoed her sentiment. “When David starts telling me about a new film, he visually sees the whole thing in his head,” he said. “But there’s room for expansion creatively.”

Those qualities were essential to “Mank,” Summerville’s third project with the director and Burt’s sixth. (Burt won an Oscar for 2008’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; Summerville’s other credits include “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and “Red Sparrow.”) Fincher’s look at the screenwriter of “Citizen Kane” is a rich evocation of 1930s Hollywood that’s grounded in the reality of its time and place, though the film was shot in silvery black-and-white.

The two department heads talked often, ironically, about color. “There are some colors that don’t translate well,” Summerville said. “Salmon and chartreuse and acid greens are jarring in black-and-white. So Don and I talked a lot about our color palettes.” Summerville also reminded Fincher, making his first black-and-white feature, not to place too much trust in his eyes and instead view everything through the camera monitor.

Read the full profile

David Fincher: The Rolling Stone Interview

The boundary-pushing filmmaker behind ‘Mank’ reflects on his career, his journey into Hollywood’s past and the industry’s uncertain future

David Fear
January 12, 2021
Rolling Stone

When David Fincher sat down with Netflix executives in the spring of 2019, he did not expect to be handed the equivalent of a blank check. Sure, the 58-year-old filmmaker — a former music-video wunderkind best known for pushing the envelope with baroque serial-killer thrillers (Seven), toxic-masculinity satires (Fight Club) and social-media origin stories (The Social Network) — was a name-brand director, and had helped kick off the golden age of streaming with the outlet’s first original series, House of Cards. But Fincher was used to resistance. You can’t have this budget. You can’t tell that story. What do you mean, you’re doing a TV show, for a mail-order DVD company, and all the episodes come out at once?!

So when Fincher was told by his patrons at the company that they were interested in helping him make anything he wanted, he thought of a long-dormant labor of love: a script his late father, Jack Fincher, had written about the making of Citizen Kane. Not the tale of the brilliant director, producer, star and co-writer who, at a precociously young age, took Hollywood by storm with his rise-and-fall drama. This was the story of the alcoholic screenwriter who was hired to pen the script, originally titled American, and then inserted a personal grudge against the powers that be into the greatest movie of all time.

Fincher wanted to shoot it in black-and-white. He wanted to use a lot of old-fashioned stylistic nods to Hollywood movies of the ‘40s, as if the film had just been discovered in a vault after 80 years of gathering dust. Also it would involve an obscure chapter in California’s political history concerning Upton Sinclair’s 1934 run for governor and a disinformation campaign allegedly masterminded by studio execs. It was a shot in the dark. By his own admission, Fincher couldn’t believe it when Netflix said yes.

To see Mank, Fincher’s throwback ode to the Golden Age of Tinseltown USA, however, is to know why they did. Chronicling how the broken-down writer Herman J. Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) helped permanently change film as an art form, his movie is an audacious, complicated, stylistically daring and thoroughly entertaining yarn — the kind of retro nod to a bygone era that makes you feel like you’ve injected a day’s worth of TCM programming into your veins. But it’s also a challenging drama about complicity, the price of speaking truth to power and the manipulation of modern media, which couldn’t make the film feel more urgent.

Over a two separate two-hour conversations from his home in Los Angeles, Fincher discussed bringing this tribute to his father (who died in 2003) to the screen, his reputation as a taskmaster on set, why he’s sorry Fight Club pissed off a fellow filmmaker, and more.

Read the full interview

Wet plate ptotograph by Gary Oldman

‘Mank’ Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt Aims For Subtle Use Of Period Technique On Old Hollywood Drama

“You don’t want it to be a parlor trick”

Matt Grobar
January 11, 2021
Deadline

On David Fincher’s Mank, cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt channeled the aesthetics of Hollywood’s Golden Age,  in order to tell the story of one of its legendary figures.

Written by Fincher’s late father, Jack, the drama follows brilliant, alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), as he pens the script for Citizen Kane.

Shooting digitally, in native black and white, Messerschmidt would place viewers inside Mankiewicz’s era by playing with the vocabulary of films from the ’30s and ’40s. At the same time, he would look to pay homage with his choices to Gregg Toland, the pioneering DP behind Kane, who popularized deep focus photography. “I think it was more [loose] inspiration, and we certainly weren’t recreating anything from Citizen Kane directly,” Messerschmidt notes. “When I was feeling insecure about the choices I was making, I’d be like, ‘Okay, what would Gregg Toland have done?’ But we were certainly making our own movie.”

After collaborating with the younger Fincher on his serial killer drama, Mindhunter, Messerschmidt was well prepared to take on the demands of this passion project, which he’d been looking to bring to the screen since the beginning of his career. “You know, David is interested in the pursuit of excellence,” he says, “so we are endeavoring for that on every take.”

At the same time, the project was intimidating, on a certain level—the challenge being to bring period style to Mank, without ever taking it over the top. Below, the DP breaks down his approach to shooting the Oscar contender, which marks his first narrative feature, along with the many highlights of his experience on set.

Read the full interview

Making of ‘Mank’: How David Fincher Pulled Off a Modern Movie Invoking Old Hollywood

The director had to employ digital advances to achieve a vintage aesthetic in telling the tale of ‘Citizen Kane’ screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz: “If we had done it 30  years ago, it might’ve been truly a bloodletting.”

Rebecca Keegan
January 11, 2021
The Hollywood Reporter

Screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz never sought credit for conceiving one of the all-time great ideas in the history of cinema — the notion that the Kansas scenes in The Wizard of Oz should be shot in black and white and the Oz scenes in color. In fact, for much of his career in Hollywood from the late 1920s to the early ’50s, Mankiewicz seemed to view his scripts with about as much a sense of ownership as a good zinger he had landed at a cocktail party.

But what fascinated David Fincher was that when it came time to assign credit on the screenplay for Citizen Kane, which Mankiewicz wrote with Orson Welles in 1940 (or without, depending on your perspective), the journeyman screenwriter suddenly and inexplicably began to care. Precisely why that happened is the subject of Fincher’s 11th feature film, Mank.

“I wasn’t interested in a posthumous guild arbitration,” Fincher says of Mank, which takes up the Citizen Kane authorship question reinvigorated by a 1971 Pauline Kael essay in The New Yorker. “What was of interest to me was, here’s a guy who had seemingly nothing but contempt for what he did for a living. And, on almost his way out the door, having burned most of the bridges that he could … something changed.”

Shot in black and white and in the style of a 1930s movie, Mank toggles between Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) writing the first draft of Citizen Kane from a remote house in the desert and flashback sequences of his life in Hollywood in the ’30s, including his friendship with newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), who inspired Citizen Kane, and Hearst’s mistress, actress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried).

A filmmaker known for his compulsive attention to detail, Fincher had even more reason than usual to treat every decision with care on Mank, as he was working from a screenplay written by his father, journalist Jack Fincher, who died in 2003. Jack had taken up the subject in retirement in 1990, just as David was on the eve of directing his first feature, Alien 3, and the two would try throughout the 1990s to get the film made, with potential financiers put off by their insistence on shooting in black and white.

Read the full profile

Culture Pop: Arliss Howard, “Mank”

Steve Mason & Sue Kolinsky
January 9, 2021
Culture Pop Podcast

Culture Pop is a look at pop culture through the mind of Steve Mason, co-host of the #1-rated sports talk show in Los Angeles. Joined by stand-up comic Sue Kolinsky, they hear from their friends, plus comics, actors, filmmakers and celebrities talking about movies, television, technology, trends and completely random stuff.

Arliss Howard joins Steve and Sue to talk about his work with David Fincher in Mank playing Louis B. Mayer, with Stanley Kubrick in Full Metal Jacket, his directorial debut Big Bad Love, and the future of film theaters.

Listen to the podcast:

Apple Podcasts
Spotify
PodBean

Mank: Why David Fincher Embraced Old Hollywood Artifice

Julian Palmer & Manuela Lazic
January 5, 2021
The Discarded Image (YouTube)

In this video essay we look at David Fincher‘s Mank, and explore how the director uses artifice to comment on old Hollywood, and Citizen Kane. The video also features other Fincher films such as The Social Network, Fight Club, Se7en and Zodiac.

Co-written by Manuela Lazic
In association with Ça Existe Productions
Support the channel on Patreon
All music licensed from Musicbed. Get a free trial
Try MUBI Free for 30 Days
With the support of Creative Europe – MEDIA Programme of the EU Plus.

Follow Julian: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
Follow Manuela: Twitter, Instagram

There’s More To Orson Welles Than Citizen Kane