Mindhunter: Not Your Typical FBI Crime Series

Steve Arnold, Production Designer
November 13, 2018
Perspective (Art Directors Guild)

While I was finishing the fourth season of House of Cards, David Fincher called me to say he was planning another series with Netflix and to ask if I would be interested in designing it. Of course I jumped at the chance, not knowing exactly what Mindhunter would be, but certain that with Fincher involved it would be a quality project. I soon found out that it was based on the John Douglas book of the same name and that it would be shooting in Pittsburgh, a city I knew quite well since I received my graduate degree from Carnegie Mellon University there, and where I got my start in the film business while still a student in the CMU theater department.

The series is somewhat different than many crime shows in that it’s not a who-done-it, or even how’d they do it, but more of a psychological exploration of why’d they do it.

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Mindhunter is a period show set in the late 1970s, so I knew the choice of Pittsburgh as a location would simplify much of the exterior design work. Many rust belt cities like Pittsburgh were hit particularly hard by the collapse of the steel industry, and all the ancillary businesses that supported steel have suffered as well. The small towns that surround a city like Pittsburgh are often stuck in the past, sometimes for forty years or more. A lot of the exterior street sequences required were possible and looked appropriate with a minimal amount of redesign because there just hasn’t been an influx of business dollars to do architectural upgrades; there were very few modern structures to modify extensively or hide. This, and the fact that there is a wealth of great period dressing elements to be had at reasonable prices at the many local flea markets, estate sales and antique stores, made the task of recreating the period much more manageable.

One of the first things I remember David Fincher saying about the look of the series was that he did not want it to look like other films or series set in this same period where the style of the time is pushed so far that it becomes exaggeratedly over the top and starts to seem camp. The focus would be on the more mundane and ordinary look of American life in the late 1970s. I knew a lot of the characters were from the lower social strata, so there were few places for high style or the cutting edge fashion of the time. One big influence on the design was photographs from the time by people like Stephen Shore, particularly for our many on the road scenes in motel rooms.

Read the full article

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ADG Perspective
November-December 2018 Issue

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In Conversation with Mindhunter’s Cameron Britton

Paula Courtney
November 3, 2018
Absolute Music Chat

Emmy-nominated actor Cameron Britton mesmerised us all with his portrayal of serial killer Ed Kemper, on hit Netflix show Mindhunter. In this interview we discussed everything from romance to his preparation for the role and working with director David Fincher, the real Ed Kemper and so much more.

[…]

PC: When you were sat in that room with Fincher, was it hard not to show your nervousness, what did you do to combat those feelings or were you not nervous?

CB: It was back and forth that I thought, ‘Oh I’m doing a terrible job, he’s going to fire me,’ and Jonathan would talk me down from the ledge. There were days when we had done 50 takes – let’s do 50 more, 70 more I don’t care, I’m having a blast, I’m just lost in the moment, because it’s not just the takes it’s how quickly we get back to the top of the scene. Often when someone says ‘Cut!’ you know you don’t actually get to start the scene again until 10 minutes later, with him it’s 15 seconds! We are back in it. I’d never done that in my life before and that in character, for that long for a whole day of, since you’ve been awake you’re in character. It just starts becoming this sort of spiritual experience where you kind of forget what you planned on doing, you’re surprising yourself, you’re going, ‘Oh oh God! I’ve never delivered it that way before! Where did that come from?’

PC: I was talking about that with Adam Zastrow and he said by the time you do the 50th take you feel like it’s going through the motions, you don’t have to think about it but by then you are delivering something that is more natural, or organic, and that is what Fincher is looking for: that very moment when you are not acting, you are being it, doing it, aren’t you?

CB: You are! And day one I thought, ‘Are they going to fire me? Am I going to get too tired to do this?’ And that is just not the case. I met a few people playing killers who were nervous – anyone who’s worked on Mindhunter and worked with Fincher – they all think, ‘Ah, they’re going to fire me!’ But when you are in there, man you just keep going. Being fired is the last thing you’re thinking about, you are just alive. It’s a hell of an experience and honestly is moving forward my career. I’ve been fortunate enough, because of my character, to get to do bigger projects now, like that’s sort of my standard. When I go to other projects now I go, ‘Okay, are they living up to what Mindhunter taught me and are they making good art?’ And if they are not then I sort of politely find a way to come off what’s going on.

PC: What about learning your lines: how easy is that for you? Obviously you had quite a bit of dialogue: how do you make it stick?

CB: There’s knowing all your lines, that’s fine and that comes really quickly, what really takes repetition is to do it enough so you don’t need to think about them. There just coming out and that is so necessary to me, if I’m just thinking about the line then I’m not living ‘in the moment’ and that’s just the kind of acting that I do. I need to have nothing happening to distract me. I just take every opportunity to be where I need to be ‘in the moment’ because I’m still working on it. If I don’t feel connected to the scene, or ‘the moment’, I can kind of panic and then you can sort of see me acting. Some actors, they are able to go, ‘Well I’m not connected right now but I can sort of fake my way through this,’ and that’s just part of life: if you have a job there’s some days you are just not feeling it even if it’s your favourite job in the world. I’m still working on that but no matter what, I have to know the lines backwards and forwards.

PC: With regards to David Fincher’s style of directing, is there any room for a bit of give? Do you feel you could suggest to him that perhaps you’d like to try something different or is it all very controlled by him or the other directors?

CB: With David there’s a line here, a line there, in this big, giant script where he says, ‘I want this to be arrogant,’ or, ‘I want this in a form of a question.’ And I think, when he says ‘arrogant’ there are many, many, many ways to do that so it’s up to you how you want that to be conveyed – the rest of the script is all yours. And maybe that’s just my experience. David puts you in: he guides you in the right direction. So if an actor strays too far this way or that way he’ll sort of put you back on track, but the point of all those is not to do anything you’ve prepped and just be truly alive ‘in the moment’. If you’re over-directing somebody then it won’t be that: then you’re just using all those takes to get this exact delivery or performance out of them, which is fine, but it’s not allowing… like he’s so trusting that inspiration will come; you know if he has too much vision for a moment he’s not allowing for a better vision to show up. If he’s saying it has to be this way then how do you know if something better wouldn’t have come along? He’s very trusting and it empowers you; you can tell [when] your director is letting you do your job. There’s been times he’s had to put me back on track: the hospital scene in the final episode when I stand up and turn around he let me go two or three takes where I just went ballistic. When we first started shooting that part I stood up like a maniac and then by the third he said, ‘I can’t think it up with the rest of that part of the scene. You can’t do that’. It needed Kemper to stay calm and collected but, in a way, I needed to go crazy for a second, I needed to really feel that wild, impulsive energy, that’s sort of Kemper though isn’t it: even when he’s calm you can feel his urge to hurt; he’s almost masking a lot of violence, no matter how mellow he looks.

Read the full interview

2018-11-03. Cameron Britton

Read the other Absolute Music Chat conversations with the Cast of Mindhunter (more to come):

In Conversation with Mindhunter’s Jonathan Groff
An Interview with Mindhunter’s Holt McCallany
In Conversation with Cotter Smith. Actor (MindhunterThe Americans)
Jack Erdie: Actor (MindhunterBanshee) & writer
In conversation with actor Adam Zastrow (Mindhunter, High & Mighty)
In Conversation With Alex Morf: Actor (MindhunterDaredevil)
In Conversation With Tobias Segal: Actor (MindhunterSneaky Pete)
Spotlight Interview. Chris Dettone: Actor (Mindhunter), Stuntman/Coordinator

Zodiac

Steven Benedict
October 28, 2018

When a film breaks with tradition, it is often rejected by audiences. Which may be why Zodiac was not recognised as the groundbreaking masterpiece it is.

Listen to the podcast

More David Fincher related podcasts and video essays by Steven Benedict:

Se7en
Credits
Fight Club
The Social Network
House of Cards
Gone Girl

Other mentions

ALL CAPS, all the time: why are so many shows bombarding us with giant fonts?

From Killing Eve to Mindhunter and Narcos, there’s a trend in TV for colossal captions. It’s a confident style choice that nods to noir fiction.

Jack Seale
October 26, 2018
The Guardian

David Fincher’s work is full of fine details. You could conceivably watch his entire back catalogue without realising, for instance, that the camera tends to mimic the actors’ smallest movements. But during the editing process for his 2017 TV drama Mindhunter, he had an idea that nobody can have failed to notice. “I’m not sure which episode we were watching,” editor Tyler Nelson told the Art of the Cut website, “but he said, ‘Let’s fill the frame with a big location card.’”

Whenever Jonathan Groff’s behavioural psychologist Holden Ford visits a new town, we’re told which one it is in massive letters that take up the whole screen: welcome to (eg) BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, and to a trend in TV and film for enormous location titles.

Mindhunter fans are split between loving its colossal captions and hating their overbearing presence, but they’ve caught on.

Fincher hasn’t just upped the stakes by making his location titles fill the entire screen, rather than merely a large proportion of it: the size of the text, combined with the chosen typeface (it’s Heroic Condensed, font fans) recalls tabloid newspaper headlines of the 1970s, when the show is set. It also evokes pulp/noir detective films from a few decades earlier.

Read the full article

In Conversation with Jennifer Haley, Writer (Mindhunter)

Jennifer Haley (Peter Konerko)

 

Pop Culture Confidential. Episode 90: Jennifer Haley – Writer, Mindhunter

2018. Pop Culture Confidential (Podcast)

Christina Jeurling Birro
November 29, 2017
Pop Culture Confidential

Thrilling, dark, gripping and tense are just some of the words used to describe the hit Netflix series Mindhunter. Playwright Jennifer Haley is a writer and co-producer on the series, and joins us this week to share her experience getting into the minds of FBI agents and serial killers.

Mindhunter is a meticulously paced crime drama based on the writings of the pioneering serial killer profiler John E Douglas. Along with his team, they interviewed the likes of Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, and Ed Kemper during the seventies and eighties which resulted in a redefining of criminal profiling forever.

The series has wonderful casting, beautiful cinematography, and some of the creepiest conversations you will hear this year. Lead by David Fincher who is Executive Producer and director of four of the episodes, the writers on Mindhunter have delivered an amazing array of characters.

 

L.A. Not So Confidential. S1 Ep. 4: Writing Minds – Jennifer Haley Interview

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Dr. Scott & Dr. Shiloh
December 3, 2017
L.A. Not So Confidential

Forensic psychologists, Dr. Scott and Dr. Shiloh, interview award-winning playwright Jennifer Haley who was a writer on Season 1 of Netflix‘s 2017 hit Mindhunter. In their first interview episode, they dive into the excitement and obstacles of bringing John Douglas‘ book to life and dish on several story arcs that leave us not-so-patiently waiting for Season 2! What’s with Wendy and that cat? Will there be a musical episode to see Jonathon Groff in action?

Listen to the full interview

L.A. Not So Confidential: S1 Ep. 3: Hunting Minds

Dr. Shiloh and Dr. Scott dissect their new favorite show, Netflix’s Mindhunter, and compare their own first experiences interviewing and working with the criminal population.

 

2012. Jennifer Haley - The NetherJennifer Haley .com

In Conversation with Actor Adam Zastrow

Paula Courtney
October 14, 2018
Absolute Music Chat

I had the pleasure – and a lot of fun – interviewing actor, Adam Zastrow, who recently excited us playing the role of Darrell Gene Devier on Netflix’s hit show Mindhunter. During our conversation we talked about Adam realising his dream of becoming an actor, the shows he was part of leading up to Mindhunter and what it means when David Fincher says, ‘Take 50!’

[…]

PC: Getting back to David Fincher. I was reading the other day someone saying the reason he shoots a scene 70 times is because he suffers from OCD but that isn’t the case at all is it. He wants to get the best possible scene, it’s not because he has perfectionist issues.

AZ: I hate when people use the word ‘perfectionist’ when they are talking about David and the amount of takes he does because I was told about that – I don’t want to say ‘warned’ but I was ‘told’. Before going out I was told be prepared for long days Fincher likes to do a lot of takes. After having done it – those 70 takes fly by, it does not feel like you are doing 70. Fincher himself addressed this in an interview – he really hit it right on the head – it’s not that he’s a perfectionist (that’s not the issue at all) it has more to do with your pre-production staff. The guys will build sets for months, the art guys, you have all these people spending the better portion of a year just to make sure a scene looks the way it’s supposed to or to just make sure the drinking fountain in the back works even if nobody is using it. All these people put all this time and effort into this production and how dare you rush through shooting! It’s almost like a slap in the face to all these people. It’s like, ‘Okay, you spent 6 months building this scene and we’re going to come in and just shoot three takes in 12 minutes, now we are going to walk away and ask you to tear the damn thing down.’ No. No. No. I think it’s as much trying to find the best performance as it is taking the time to finding the best performance. You owe it those people not to rush through anything. When I heard that I thought, ‘Oh my God! That makes so much sense.’

PC: It’s like when you spend hours making dinner and someone wolfs it down in like 5 minutes.

AZ: Yeah exactly, exactly. I 100 per cent agree that you find stuff on take 70 that you did not even think about. As someone who’s never experienced that kind of dedication to the shoot, you get to take twenty or thirty and you’re like, ‘Okay. I rehearsed this for months. We rehearsed this together for a week. We’ve gone through this thirty times, there’s nothing else for me here to find. I’ve giving you everything that there is.’ Also from take 30-45 they are all the same, they are kind of all blah, because at that point you’re either over-thinking or under-thinking your character and you really feel like there is nothing else to give. And then, right around that point, there’s a weird moment that happens where you just stop thinking about it at all: you’re no longer under- or over-thinking it, you are just doing it because you are just going through the motions. And you’re like, ‘Okay, let’s just do this because I have to,’ and then this beautiful, beautiful thing happens where, all of a sudden, as soon as you stop thinking about it, all of this shit comes out of you that you never even knew was there! I think that’s what he’s going for. He does it enough times to where you are so used to it that you are not thinking about it, and that’s where the best stuff comes from. If you film a scene where you come home from work, you throw your keys on the table, you take your jacket off and you put it on the hook, you take your shoes off and you walk into the kitchen and you do whatever it is you do. If you were to film that scene, every single one of those moves is going to seem so cold and so calculated because it’s written in the script and you know what you are supposed to do and it’s fine, and most of the audience are not going to notice how calculated it looks – but a good audience will – and that’s what separates great shows from okay shows, and amazing shows from really decent shows, amazing directors from half-decent ones – it’s that kind of thing that half won’t notice but the ones that do are going to call you out.

PC: That’s a great explanation actually.

AZ: It’s one thing to say you shoot a scene 70 times and it looks more ‘natural’ but what does that mean? That exactly what ‘natural’ means. You are putting your keys on the hook because you’ve done it a million times, it’s like getting all of your emotion to that point where you forgot that you did it, like when you leave the house and get half-way down the road and have to turn back because you don’t remember if you have locked the door. It’s that exact thing. Fincher wants your emotions and everything on camera to be stone natural – that you are not even 100 percent sure that you did it.

That’s what I think makes all of his stuff so, so good. I’ve heard so many people talk about the 70 takes thing and how it’s unnecessary, but after doing it I’m almost wishing everyone would do it: because everything looks so much better, and so natural and yeah, you might not see it, but those that do, it makes that difference.

Read the full interview

2017-11-18. Adam Zastrow (Facebook) - Adam Zastrow, Cameron Britton, and Jack Erdie
Adam Zastrow, Cameron Britton, and Jack Erdie (Adam Zastrow / Facebook)

Read the other Absolute Music Chat conversations with the Cast of Mindhunter (more to come):

In Conversation with Mindhunter’s Jonathan Groff
An Interview with Mindhunter’s Holt McCallany
In Conversation with Cotter Smith. Actor (Mindhunter, The Americans)
Jack Erdie: Actor (MindhunterBanshee) & writer
In Conversation With Alex Morf: Actor (MindhunterDaredevil)
In Conversation With Tobias Segal: Actor (MindhunterSneaky Pete)
Spotlight Interview. Chris Dettone: Actor (Mindhunter), Stuntman/Coordinator

In Conversation with Mindhunter’s Cotter Smith

Davina Baynes
September 14, 2018
Absolute Music Chat

Cotter Smith was born in Washington DC, the son of a federal judge. He is an actor with a stage and screen presence spanning over 40 years. Most recently he can be seen on our screens as Unit Chief Shepard in David Fincher’s Mindhunter and as the Deputy Attorney General in The Americans but his on-screen career stretches back to Hill Street Blues (1982) and Blood Feud (1983) when he played Robert F. Kennedy. I was recently very privileged to talk with Cotter about his life and career in both acting and teaching, working with David Fincher and Steven Spielberg and much, much more.

[…]

DB: When you actually got the call from David Fincher: how did that come about?

CS: It was a call from my agent, initially, saying, ‘There’s interest. Would you be willing to read for David Fincher, for this series?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely. I’m a big fan.’ They said, ‘Well, first of all, let me tell you, it’s a guaranteed ten episodes already ordered for Netflix, but it would be a required eight months, in Pittsburgh.’ So I called my wife and said, ‘So here’s the deal, there’s this possibility, it’s not an offer but they’re interested in me, to come in and audition and we would be eight months in Pittsburgh.’ And she said, ‘Cotter, go get it, and get me out of here!’ (Laughs)

DB: She was packing her bags!

CS: She was so keen to leave New York. (Both laugh) So I auditioned. Then the wonderful casting agent, Julie Schubert, who was so helpful to me – she is really lovely, a casting agent who really loves actors and believes in the whole process – we had prepared, I think it was, these three or four scenes (I never met David) it was all on tape, that third one went off to him. She said, ‘You know, he takes a very long time to cast, so just relax. Everything he does he takes a very, very long time: from casting to shooting.’ So I said, ‘Okay,’ and a week later my agent called and said, ‘You got the job.’ I said, ‘What?’, ‘Yeah, you got the job!’ That was the first time it was ‘real’. I didn’t honestly believe I was going to get the job: I knew many, many, many people would want this job and, as an actor, you do these auditions and you don’t actually put much on them because it’s too heartbreaking if you don’t get them. I was so thrilled, and stunned. It’s exactly the kind of work that I want to do, with a kind of director that I want to work with: I love serious drama; he’s a master, master filmmaker. Just knowing he had cast me made me realize: ‘He knows what he’s doing, so this is going to be good.’ And it was. He’s so fun to work with. He’s challenging. He’s tough. He’s fast. He’s improvisational and you’ve really got to come with your A-game – which I like. He does endless takes: 30, 40, 50. My record was 64 takes on one scene. Endless shooting: we took eight months to shoot ten episodes. That’s a long time! Usually a director will be given eight days for an episode so that’ll be three months – he had eight months. But he’s David Fincher.

DB: And aiming as near to perfection as you can get?

CS: He’s a perfectionist. When you look at his work the proof is in the pudding.

DB: What about marks for the camerawork, are they really rigid?

CS: They’re necessarily rigid, at times, but it changes. On the spot, he will change things, change intention, change everything. It was fun.

DB: You don’t have to smoke as a character, do you?

CS: Thank God no! They sent out notices and said: ‘It’s the ‘70s, so who among you would be willing to smoke?’ And I just wrote back and said: ‘Absolutely no.’ And poor Holt McCallany said ‘yes’ and I think he regrets it to this day. This season he’s going to taper off. He really smokes.

Read the full interview

Read the other Absolute Music Chat conversations with the Cast of Mindhunter (more to come):

In Conversation with Mindhunter’s Jonathan Groff
An Interview with Mindhunter’s Holt McCallany
Jack Erdie: Actor (MindhunterBanshee) & writer
In Conversation With Alex Morf: Actor (MindhunterDaredevil)
In Conversation With Tobias Segal: Actor (MindhunterSneaky Pete)
Spotlight Interview. Chris Dettone: Actor (Mindhunter), Stuntman/Coordinator