Mindhunter is not like other crime shows. In this video essay, Thomas Flight explores some of the inventive techniques creators Joe Penhall and David Fincher employ to inject drama and conflict into the show.
This is a detailed analysis of the ways in which Mindhunter pulls the audience into the lives of its characters as they explore the minds of some of the worst criminals on earth.
Jason Hill is the hypnotic composer, producer, recording artist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, admired for his arcane musical stylings and idiosyncratic approach. He is the frontman and thought leader of controversial post-punk band, Louis XIV, member of alternative supergroup, Vicky Cryer, and founder of The Department of Recording and Power, a voluminous vintage studio in Glendale, California. A contrarian musical nomad, Jason has thrived in myriad roles within the music business, working with David Bowie, The Killers, Robbie Williams, New York Dolls, Jet, Sky Ferreira, Macy Gray, The Virgins, Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs, and many others. After being tapped to fulfill the official trailer and teaser for Gone Girl, legendary director, David Fincher invited Jason to conjure a musical macrocosm for Netflix’s gripping criminal psychology thriller series, Mindhunter. Over two critically acclaimed seasons, Jason’s score negotiates the liminal space between masks of normalcy and unbridled savagery, masterfully evoking unseen traumas. In our sprawling discussion, Jason details his lifelong rejection of sonic mores and how he made Netflix history with his haunting re-imagining of the Mindhunter theme for the season two finale.
Before becoming a composer for media, you explored many artistic avenues in the music industry — Louis XIV, Vicky Cryer, and beyond. Could you describe some of your most fulfilling pursuits before you changed your professional trajectory? What are the advantages of having a strong pre-existing relationship to storytelling through music?
Well, it’s an interesting thought about the storytelling aspect. With songwriting, you’re trying to tell these mini stories, but I’ve had many, many fulfilling artistic projects. Louis XIV, I absolutely loved doing, and in fact, for the first time in 10 years, we’re in the middle of making another record. We’ve got a few songs so far, and it’s fun to come back around to it after we went pretty hard, toured the world, and made records. “The Best Little Secrets are Kept” is one of the records I’m very, very proud of. I just loved making it.
Looking back, I lived in this little, tiny…it wasn’t even an apartment, and it overlooked a Shell gas station. It didn’t have a shower or anything. I would literally connect a hose to the faucet and drag it out on the balcony that overlooked the gas station. In the middle of the night, I would hose myself to take a shower unless I was staying at girlfriends’ houses. I had a futon in the corner, but the rest of the place was just my recording gear. I was broke, but I was happy to be making music. That’s where all the Louis XIV material came about. It was essentially from those late nights, and that was a really great experience.
I’ve actually had so many great experiences related to music. There were times when me and my past bandmates moved to a place called Jamul up in the mountains, about an hour outside of downtown San Diego. We lived in this old adobe house on forty-six acres that an artist built. That was one of the places where we learned to sing harmonies and write together. That was also where I really learned how to record. We just had reel-to-reels, and I figured out how to do it. I’ve always lived in pursuit of trying to figure out how to do things by myself. If I signed a record deal, instead of giving another producer a bunch of money in the studio to make a record, it was like, “No. Let’s just buy a bunch of gear ourselves, and now, we can make records for the rest of our lives.” That’s why I have the arsenal of stuff I have to this day.
There are so many incarnations of my life in music, starting from the moment I first fell in love with it. I remember as a little kid; I was actually plagued by these things in my head, which later I learned were melodies. It would drive me nuts. To be honest with you, as a nine-year-old kid, I would have all these tiny, weird symphonies playing in my mind, but I didn’t know what they were until I started figuring out what music really was. Of course, I knew what music “was,” and I even wrote a song around age five, but at that point, I didn’t know how to make these melodies I was hearing come to life. It was like, “How do I get this out of my head and into the cosmos? How do I play it on a guitar or a piano?”. Oh god, it was so tough. That was a thing like, “I gotta figure this out because otherwise, it’s going to kill me.”
I think it’s always been a pursuit of the fog. It’s like a foggy mirror after a hot shower. Little by little, the fog comes clear, and you are able to see your reflection. That’s what music has been, for me, for my entire life, and now, I just have a lot more control over it. That said, it’s still this elusive thing, and I love that elusive thing. I love the feeling of not knowing, so I still dance in that realm.
The Glass Armonica, invented by Benjamin Franklin.
Taking place in the late ’70s through the early ’80s, Mindhunter charts the origin of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit and the practice of criminal profiling. Together, agents, Holden Ford and Bill Tench, alongside psychologist, Wendy Carr interview and analyze incarcerated serial killers across the nation, applying this groundbreaking knowledge to solve cases. In your collaboration with David Fincher, what concepts and musical references does he bring to the table, and how does that inform your approach?
[David Fincher] is so articulate. He’s a brilliant man. I can’t stress that enough, really. He gives you these prompts, but they’re rarely specific. Nowhere in there is he saying, “Do this,” or “Make this piece exactly like this.” He just gives you these open-ended questions.
This time around, one of his prompts was ‘the death of disco’ and what that sounded like. It was a very interesting thing to consider when you think of our score and where it ended up. How does finding out what the death of disco sounds like translate to season two of Mindhunter? I still don’t know, but it led me in a place of trying to figure it out, which was a bit of a mind fuck.
Jason Hill fue miembro de los relativamente efímeros Louis XIV, ahora volvemos a tenerle por aquí en una faceta bien distinta. Suya es la banda sonora original de la serie televisiva de Netflix “Mindhunter“. Aprovechamos el estreno de su segunda temporada para charlar con él.
Es la década de 1970 y los coches, brillantes y alargados, recorren las ciudades de Estados Unidos bajo la macilenta luz de las farolas. Jimmy Carter es presidente, J. Edgar Hoover lleva muerto varios años y la guerra fría sigue en marcha. Salir a la calle ya no parece tan seguro como lo era en la idealizada década de 1950, pero el país vive, entre todas, una particular pesadilla: los asesinatos en serie. El miedo al otro se instala en la sociedad norteamericana. ¿Conseguirá el FBI modernizarse a tiempo de una forma adecuada y eficaz? Sigamos la serie para descubrirlo. Una serie, por cierto, que destaca entre los thrillers televisivos actuales. Y uno de los motivos es por la atractiva banda sonora de Jason Hill, vocalista y guitarrista de Louis XIV, una banda que publicó tres álbumes en cuatro años durante la década pasada.
La banda sonora original de “Mindhunter” parece siempre sutil, delicada. Es como en la introducción de la serie, con la pieza de los créditos, en la que la subversión se esconde detrás de esa música y la perfección y cuidado de los agentes manejando la grabadora. Eso debe haber sido difícil de lograr. ¿Cómo fue el proceso creativo?
Era cuestión de encontrarle la voz, de encontrarle color al movimiento. Fue como un enigma. Yo desde el principio comencé a sentirlo como una bruma, una especie de niebla o agua. Era líquido, resbaladizo… pero también era como esa característica ilusoria de los pensamientos, que también es algo de lo que se trata en la serie, especialmente en la primera temporada: las cosas que ocurren y tienen lugar en las mentes de las personas y luego el camino y la acción que toman. Los pensamientos son muy extraños, no puedes tocarlos. Eso sucede muchas veces con la música también. Quería que la música fuera así, cuando no puedes tocarla exactamente, resbalándose entre los dedos.
Entonces, la banda sonora tiene una fuerte carga psicológica.
¡Sí! Por suerte, llevo trabajando con Fincher alrededor de cinco o seis años, y mucho de ese tiempo ha servido para identificar el sonido y la estética de las cosas y los temas [en particular]. Desde entonces ha sido fantástico; más o menos siempre lo encontramos juntos. Con “Mindhunter” he empezado a trabajar desde una fecha bastante temprana, incluso ocho meses antes de ver siquiera una sola imagen. De hecho, empecé desde el momento en que me dijo: ‘¿te apetecería hacer esto?’. Me mandó el guión y lo leí… ¡pero fue difícil! Me considero una persona muy relacionada con todo lo visual y sonoro, pero no es como que al leer el guión se me haya ocurrido la música. Nada de eso. Gran parte del proceso, por tanto, fue para encontrar algo que yo sintiese que era correcto. Cuando vi una imagen, entonces sí, todo adquirió sentido. La “sensación” o esencia que debía transmitir la serie surgió de mí al momento.
Parece que funcionó, porque la música encaja a la perfección con la serie. Había dado por hecho que habías comenzado a partir de las imágenes.
Oh no, no. Hay una canción titulada “The Crime Of The Century” que fue la primera que compuse a partir de una imagen. Fue como: ‘whoah, vale, este es el sonido de la serie (aunque por entonces ya había trabajado largo tiempo en ello). Esa fue la parte en la que sentí que había encontrado lo que buscaba, algo de un aspecto y movimiento acuoso, espeso. Se asemeja a cuando lanzas una piedra en un lago y ésta va formando pequeños círculos o anillos. Así sentía yo esa pieza en relación con la música y con el resto de canciones que estaban por venir. A veces me sentaba al piano y, aunque es difícil de explicar, sentía que la forma en la que estaba tocando era la que se suponía que debía de ser. Es decir, que ese ritmo era el que debía haber en la serie. Extrañamente, a pesar de que desde pequeño siempre creaba canciones, yo nunca entré en el mundo de la música para ser compositor.
From the infamous tales of his multi-take shooting style to the sheer technical precision consistently on display in his work, it is apparent that Fincher is methodical in his craft, a director who knows what he wants and sees very little point in doing the job if he is ever willing to settle for less than that.
Which is why, in a truly unique way, the opening intro to Fincher’s latest Netflix series, Mindhunter, is essentially a distillation of his entire filmmaking career into a single minute-and-a-half of unnervingly brilliant and precise cinematic craft.
Fincher’s first credit as a filmmaker may have technically been Alien 3, but his career didn’t really begin properly until 1995, with the release of Seven. The tale of a pair of detectives investigating the grisly murders of a serial killer, Seven is in many ways, in hindsight, the perfect introductory statement for Fincher’s body of work as a whole. On the surface, it’s a tightly-woven and meanly constructed narrative about a serial killer and the men trying to catch him. But just beneath the surface (and for our purposes, much more importantly) Fincher is using the narrative as a framework through which to explore themes such as the perverseness of mankind, the lasting wounds of grieving, and obsession.
That last one is important: obsession. Because it’s one he’s come back to again and again, and explored in increasingly interesting ways. Fight Club saw him creating a pop-cultural satire, one that delved deep into the depravity of its time and how the obsessions of a generation essentially derailed the concept of mental stability. Zodiac saw him confronting it in his most direct way yet, showing how Robert Graysmith’s and the nation-at-large’s obsession with the Zodiac murders came to engulf them.
What’s so intriguing about Mindhunter is that it tackles this thematic staple of Fincher’s work in a very similar way, yet it does so without even necessitating a single minute of footage from the series proper.
Having been handed the true crime book “Mindhunter” by friend Charlize Theron, executive producer David Fincher began the collaboration and long developed project we now know as Netflix‘s “Mindhunter“. Today on The Treatment, Fincher announces the release of season two of the series where discussion of serial killers became common place among American mainstream and how the soundtrack plays with the timeline of this eerie American history.
Joe Tuttle is well known amongst the fans of David Fincher’s Netflix show Mindhunter, for his role as FBI Agent Gregg Smith in both seasons 1 and 2. He has also appeared on other top-rated shows such as The Blacklist and Unforgettable. Joe and I had an in-depth conversation discussing his influences growing up, his career, and so much more.
JT: My secret weapon is my wife, she’s not an actress but she does have a writing background, so sometimes I think I can get caught up looking at these scripts as an actor like, ‘Oh this could be a really beautiful moment,’ but my wife is always about the writing, sort of, ‘Don’t forget these are human beings.’ It’s nice to have your moment as an actor, but don’t forget, are you really serving the story?
PC: And from speaking to many of the actors on Mindhunter that’s exactly what David Fincher wants when he shoots take after take of the same scene, for you not to play them out as an actor but to be, or react, as you would naturally in real life, and that really ties in to what your wife is saying.
JT: I think that’s part of it… I wish just for one day I could get in the head of David. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like him before; I probably won’t meet anyone like him again. He’s sort of brilliant at all these different things. I think that’s true he does a lot of takes for a lot of different reasons. One of them is certainly because it’s, ‘Okay let’s make the performances kind of finely crafted in a way, sort of uncrafted in a way. We don’t want to see the actor, we want to see a human being having the experience’.
PC: Yeah exactly!
JT: Also another reason David Fincher does a lot of takes is because I think he has a vision and he wants it to be exactly how he visualises it. It’s not always about the actor, sometimes it’s: we are slightly out of focus; it’s the wrong moment; actually I want to change one word, or the lightning is slightly different, or l want to frame up the camera in a different way, or I don’t like the coffee cup you are using, or that chair, we need to switch that out, or the background actors weren’t perfectly in sync. He notices everything, things that no one else would notice!
PC: In shooting numerous takes he wants the scenes to be the best of the best and to be fair it pays off doesn’t it.
JT: I think so. I don’t think David is making movies or TV shows for the 95%. I think people universally love his work and for good reason. He’s not making them for the 95%, he’s making them for that top 5, that top 2% even, who are going to notice these kinds of things. They are going to say, ‘That cup doesn’t make sense in this world. The lighting was a little bit off in that shot,’ or, ‘that background actor didn’t see his mark exactly.’ He’s making it for people like him, who are going to really notice that stuff. And when you do notice a glaring error or mistake, or something that doesn’t seem right, it takes you out of the story. I think he just wants a total immersive experience. He wants you, I presume, to be so involved that you almost forget, so that you really do feel like a fly on the wall, watching these people having these experiences.
PC: I have just interviewed Garry Pastore and his other job, when he’s not acting, is as a set dresser (leadman). He said he notices stuff like a blank wall behind a person which would clearly have a piece of art or a photograph on it in real life.
JT: The trouble with David is it means we notice that stuff now too; he’s sort of a force of nature; he raises everybody’s game. I’ve really noticed that about him – and not just with the actors, but the cinematographer, the technicians, the dolly grip, the sound folk – because he’s operating at such a high level you have rise to the occasion. I think that’s why people are drawn to working with him and will pass up other job opportunities, just to be able to work with David.
PC: I have arranged to have an interview with a guy called Dwayne Barr who operates the A camera dolly grip, because I’m just as interested to get his take on the technicalities of Mindhunter and Fincher, not just actors. I would love to talk to Erik Messerschmidt about cinematography.
JT: He’s a talented guy. It’s the first time in my working life as an actor I’ve been like ‘Wow!’ I wish my education had included more about cameras, editing and lighting. We touched on a lot of that stuff in acting school but wow, the technical aspects of making a TV show or film is frankly probably more important than some stuff we were taught. Just being able to ask the DP or the cinematographer why this, why now? Because I’ve had this work opportunity, I’ve started to notice.
The concept of an anthology animated short series, made by different artists from around the world, was a near-impossible pitch for executive producers David Fincher and Tim Miller to sell. Following the SXSW premiere of six of their 18 shorts — which will air on Netflix under the “Love, Death and Robots” banner — the duo revealed they had received countless rejections (though one unnamed studio said yes, before, as Miller described it, “they chickened out”) until the show eventually landed at Netflix.
“It was a very difficult thing to pitch a movie studio because it’s not often we’ll see it with all the credits in the middle,” said Fincher, referring to the fact that the 90-minute program the SXSW audience had just watched included end credits following each of the six shorts. “You want to move on to the next. For a streaming service it’s perfect.”
The idea that the shorts could be different lengths and have no narrative connective tissue was perfect for the on-demand nature of a subscription streaming service. According to Fincher, dating back to “House of Cards” and “Mindhunter,” his conversations with Netflix, including Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, have been centered around the need to break free of the half-hour and hour-long format.
“We have to get rid of the 22-minute [length of a half-hour show with commercials] and 48-minute [length of an hour-long show with commercials] because there’s this Pavlovian response to this segmentation that to me seems anathema to storytelling,” said Fincher. “You want the story to be as long as it needs to be to be at maximum impact or entertainment value proposition.”
Jesse C. Boyd has graced our screens playing roles such as Frank Janderman in David Fincher’s Mindhunter, the lead role of Jake in Day 5, a Queen’s Ranger in TURN and a wolf in The Walking Dead. We had an in-depth, and really fun conversation, about his childhood in rural North Carolina, his career and roles, upcoming projects, music, his love of hot sauce and lots more besides.
JCB: For Mindhunter I auditioned for it for, I think, a year – it was really long time. I remember I did my first tape when I was at a film festival in Idaho and, I think, while I was there I found out that I got Day 5. Then when I was filming Day 5 season 1 I got my second audition and they added another 8 pages to it. That was just ongoing and ongoing over time until, finally (and I think I was wondering whether it was actually happening) they were like, ‘They want you to come in to the office and do another read.’ I went in for another read. I think that Laray Mayfield (who does the casting) she actually does prefer self-tapes because she wants to weed through and see what she gets. They did just such an incredible job with that casting. When I saw it myself I just thought, ‘Wow! This is just so authentic and good!’ Laray is so talented too. Getting finally into the room you’re like, ‘Don’t screw this up!’
DB: When you were in the room was it just one or two run-throughs, or did she tweak how she wanted you to play it?
JCB: She did tweak. I know she did a version where she wanted it really fast. You’ve got to realise we’ve been doing these auditions over a year and the names are changing and the dialogue changes so you are consistently reframing what you’ve already learned. And then you’re finally going into the room and they’re like, ‘Can you do a fast version?’ (I think they want to see how [actors] can be on their feet, because of the way they filmed that show. When I ended up filming it they had so many different versions that we did of dialogue, I think they wanted to see whether you could handle these quick switches). There was one take that was super-fast and one that was more slowed down.
DB: How did you prep for that role? For who Frank Janderman actually is.
JCB: First of all I [had] spent a lot of time in Pittsburgh which was great (I did work and lots of things there), so that Pittsburghian accent was all around me. Then I just saw Frank as just like so many people that I feel that I already kind of know in life. This ‘nobody-fucking-asked-you’ kind of guy, but also he believes he’s a hotshot. He was accessible to me through so many other people I had met in my life that I know, that I think are really so much about the façade of not showing who they really, truly are – some of that, broken-downness in them.
DB: There’s a long interrogation scene and then a shorter one: how many takes did they do?
JCB: Oh my God! I wish I could tell you! Can I say a million takes? They did that big interrogation scene – we had three cameras running at all times – I think we filmed it for 12 hours the first day (it’s a 9-and-a-half page scene) three cameras, so you’re getting every angle on either side, and you’re doing it over, and over, and over, and over, and over… and just when you’re done, you’re doing it over, and over, and over again. Then I think the next day we went back and did another 6 hours. So it was a really long time of doing which is, I think, what makes it so great. First of all you’re breaking down a lot; you’re coming back; you’re refreshing with new things; you’re constantly finding new things to play with; and also you have so much coverage that when he [David Fincher] chooses what he’s going to put together he really has every colour of the box to paint his picture with.