Erik Messerschmidt with Camera Operator Brian Osmond, SOC (Patrick Harbron / Netflix)
Merrick Morton / Netflix
The Netflix original series Mindhunter is, by far, one of the best new shows currently running. The true story-based, 1977-set drama chronicles the early days of criminal psychology and criminal profiling primarily through the eyes of three people at the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit: eager newcomer Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), somewhat jaded veteran Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), and brilliant psychology professor Wendy Carr (Anna Torv). That this show is immaculately crafted from top to bottom will come as no surprise to those aware that it’s the brainchild of David Fincher, who serves as executive producer and directed nearly half of the series’ first season.
This is without doubt one of the best looking pieces of entertainment released in 2017, regardless of medium, with classical framing, motivated camera movement, and a tremendous palette that gives a mere peek into the darkness inside the minds of the criminals and serial killers who are the subject of the Behavioral Science Unit’s interviews.
So when I got the chance to speak with cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt about his work on the series, I was thrilled. Messerschmidt shot eight of the first season’s 10 episodes, including the Fincher-directed closing installments, and as he revealed during our interview, this was essentially his first major gig as a cinematographer. Messerschmidt had worked previously as a gaffer on shows like Mad Men and Bones, and then later the feature film Gone Girl where he first came into contact with Fincher. Based on their work together on that film, Fincher called Messerschmidt up when they were looking for a new DP for Mindhunter after the show’s original cinematographer exited over creative differences.
This promotion from gaffer to DP is a familiar refrain with Fincher’s cinematographers, as he did the same with his The Game and Fight Club gaffer Claudio Miranda, who was brought on as DP for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and went on to win the Oscar for Best Cinematography for his work on Life of Pi.
Messerschmidt’s rise to the primary cinematographer of Fincher’s brand new TV show elicits similarly spectacular results, as the DP’s work on Mindhunter is elegantly classical and incredibly motivated by character and theme. During the course of our conversation, Messerschmidt talked about the road that led to him becoming the cinematographer on Mindhunter, the specifics of his working relationship with Fincher, what it’s like to serve as a DP in the world of episodic television, how the work of production designers and costumes designers goes under-appreciated, and trying to maintain a consistent aesthetic with multiple directors. He also teased a bit about Mindhunter Season 2, including revealing their extensive shooting schedule.
Erik Messerschmidt with Episodes 3 & 4 Director Asif Kapadia (Merrick Morton / Netflix)
In 2014, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross scored Gone Girl, the duo’s third collaboration with director David Fincher (following 2010’s The Social Network and 2011’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).
Gone Girl’s music consists of dark ambient pieces with layered synths, guitars, and electronic noises, and was inspired by the background music Fincher heard at a chiropractor’s office that was “inauthentically trying to make him feel alright,” according to Reznor.
To this end, the soundtrack juxtaposes lush new-age synths and percussion with distortion, noise, and stuttery beats. I’ll explore the synth behind many of the film’s sounds, as well as how to create these tones using software instruments in your own DAW.
April 12, 2018
Blender Guru (YouTube)
A homage to one of my favourite David Fincher films: Gone Girl! In this summary tutorial, I’ll show you how I recreated the lounge room from Gone Girl.
I loved the lighting and cool palette of Gone Girl, and wondered if there was any “secret” to making it look like this. So as a learning exercise, I recreated the lounge room entirely in Blender and rendered with Cycles.
Took about 30 hours to create in total + another 49 hours for the tutorial.
Thanks to FincherFanatic
January 16, 2018
Ian has colored major films “The Social Network,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and “Gone Girl.” And more recently, he has colored the TV shows “Baskets” for FX and “Glow” on Netflix.
Originally from Chicago, Ian focused on photography, then moved on to digital compositing. He later co-founded two post facilities in Los Angeles: Plaster City, then Light Iron. Out of necessity, he moved on to color at his company. He found his combination of photography and compositing matched perfectly for a career as a colorist.
In this podcast, we talk about:
December 6, 2010
Tech Media Planet
Colorist Ian Vertovec from Light Iron Digital takes us through the ins and outs of color grading one of this year’s biggest hit films “The Social Network”.
September 2, 2011
Thanks to Joe Frady
Erik Messerschmidt and Chris Probst, ASC, also have made “smart” use of LED technology, as detailed in our cover story on Mindhunter (page 36). David Fincher, who first started using LED’s for process work on Zodiac, 11 years ago, not only customized a high-resolution RED camera for the show (dubbed the “Xenomorph”), but also devised one of the most ingenious LED-driven plate projection/interactive lighting processes for driving shots TV has ever seen. Messerschmidt’s description of Fincher’s commitment to innovation mirrors those Sundancers bending technology in the service of new ways to tell a story: “For David, the frame is sacred; what we choose to include is intrinsic to what the audience thinks is important. They are one and the same.”
David Geffner, Executive Editor
Visualizing the daring and often scary world of David Fincher requires new technologies and processes rarely attempted in series television.
Photos by Patrick Harbron & Merrick Morton, SMPSP
In the season 1 finale of Netflix’s MINDHUNTER, a disturbed FBI agent, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), bursts wildly from a hospital room, as a handheld camera gives chase. The move begins as shaken as ford is, but, as it lands with the agent, who collapses in the hallway, it’s as if the camera has floated to a butter-smooth stop inches from the floor, the maneuver executed like it was on a perfectly balanced Jib arm, crane, or even Steadicam. But it’s none of those. What can viewers assume from this?
David Fincher has returned to television.
FOR THIS SERIES ABOUT A PAIR OF AGENTS WORKING IN THE FBI’S ELITE BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES UNIT in 1979, and attempting to understand the mind of a serial killer, Fincher used a number of leading-edge technologies – interactive LED lighting, custom built high-resolution cameras, and, as in the shot with Agent Ford, image stabilization/smoothing in postproduction – to keep the viewer visually embedded. Fincher’s aim with MINDHUNTER, which has no graphic violence, is for viewers to “access their own attics. There’s far scarier stuff up there than anything we can fabricate,” the filmmaker insists. “I wanted people to register what’s going on in [characters’] eyes and where the gear changes are taking place. At what point do I [as the viewer] feel like, ‘OK, I’ve got an insight,’ and at what point do they feel like: ‘oh, I’m being sold something. It’s all about the nuance in how the balance of power is changing.”
Fincher’s longtime postproduction supervisor, Peter Mavromates, says he creates an “experience of omniscience,” similar to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, “where you’re in a straitjacket with your eyelids pinned open, and David’s forcing you to watch these horrible things.” In fact, the show’s unique visual process began more than a year before production started in Pittsburgh (on area locations and on stages at 31st Street Studios, a former steel mill), with the development of a unique RED camera system.
Christopher Probst, ASC – who shot MINDHUNTER’S pilot and second episode – was asked for his input on a RED prototype system, which had been designed by Jarred Land and RED’s Chief Designer Matt Tremblay according to Fincher’s specific needs. “David wanted to take all of the different exterior add-ons that create a jungle of wires, and put them inside the camera body,” Probst explains.
Fincher puts it even more directly: “It just seems insane that we’ve been bequeathed a [camera] layout [dating back to] D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin that looks like some bizarre Medusa. [The camera] should be something that people want to approach, touch, and pick up.”
In fact, the custom system built for Season 1 [Land created a 2.0 version being used in Season 2] had an RTMotion MK3.1 lens-control system, Paralinx Arrow-X wireless video, and Zaxcom wireless audio (with timecode) integrated into the RED body, with the only visible cable being to control the lens. Slating was all but eliminated, with clip-number metadata being shared wirelessly between the camera and the script supervisor, who used Filemaker software to associate takes and clips. An audio scratch track from the mixer was recorded onto the REDCODE RAW R3D files and received wirelessly.
The base camera was one of RED’s DSMC2 systems, the then-new WEAPON DRAGON, with its 6K sensor. The shell design, accommodating the added gear inside, with its angular shape and heat venting fins on top, had a “Xenomorph” appearance (à la Alien), and was dubbed as such by Land and Fincher. “When the camera arrived in Pittsburgh, they had actually engraved “Xenomorph” on the side,” Probst says.
Read the full profile: