‘Mank’ Editor Kirk Baxter On The Most Daunting Scene To Cut & The Performance That Captured His Heart

Matt Grobar
February 19, 2021

When editor Kirk Baxter boarded labyrinthine, Old Hollywood drama Mank, he was met with multiple timelines, and rapid-fire dialogue from a vast assortment of real-life characters.

While Baxter would be tasked with guiding the viewer through the complex period piece, he never thought of the film as a challenge, per se. “I look back,” he tells Deadline, “and see it as a joy.”

Directed by David FincherMank follows alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), as he endeavors to finish the screenplay for Citizen Kane. Along the way, it also examines the washed-up wordsmith’s relationships with icons of his time, including Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), and Orson Welles (Tom Burke).

First collaborating with Fincher on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Baxter quickly developed a shorthand with the auteur, going on to reteam with him on four other films and two TV series. While Benjamin Button would land him his first Oscar nomination, his first pair of statuettes would come shortly thereafter, for his contributions to The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Poised to return to the race once more with Mank, Baxter spoke with Deadline about the scene in Fincher’s longtime passion project that scared him the most, the performance that captured his heart, and the aspect of the process that felt like “the cherry on top.”

Read the full interview

Artist Spotlight: Mank Production Designer Donald Graham Burt

Edward Douglas
February 18, 2021
Below the Line

Continuing Below the Line’s look at the crafts behind David Fincher’s Mank, we spoke to Production Designer Donald Graham Burt, his sixth go-round with Fincher after the first worked together on 2007’s Zodiac. A year later, Burt would win the Oscar for Production Design for his work on Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Besides performing those duties for six Fincher films, Burt also played a significant role in the designs for Fincher’s Golden Globe-winning Netflix series, House of Cards.

Burt’s definitely a bit of an old school Hollywood vet, going back to some of his work in the ‘90s like The Joy Luck Club and Dangerous Minds. Still, Mank offered Burt a number of new challenges, the first one being the fact that the film would be shot entirely in black and white, the second would be how it would task Burt and his team to recreate some of Hollywood’s most iconic locations from the ‘30s and ‘40s. You only have to watch the movie or look at some of the images below to agree that Burt and his art department came through with flying colors… even without having any actual color.

Below the Line spoke with Burt over the phone for the following interview.

AFI Awards: Mank Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt on Making the Film

February 18, 2021
AFI Movie Club

Mank cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt sat down to talk about shooting one of the most outstanding films of the year, which is about the greatest film of all time.

AFI Movie Club: AFI AWARDS Honoree MANK

The Scribing of Citizen Kane

Donald Graham Burt, Production Designer
January 2021
Perspective Magazine (ADG, Art Directors Guild)

I’ve never read a script from David Fincher that was anything less than smart and purposeful.

This held true with Mank.

Mank is the story of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz and his scripting of the film Citizen Kane for Orson Welles and RKO Studios. While the film primarily deals with Mankiewicz’s tumultuous struggles in completing the screenplay, including his uneven relationship with Welles, it also addresses early filmmaking in 1930s Los Angeles and the behavior of the studio power brokers for whom Mankiewicz had been previously employed. Woven into the story are larger social issues of the era and the influencers—namely William Randolph Hearst—who in conjunction with studio executives (and to Mankiewicz’s dismay) manipulated the populace on political matters through wealth, deception and media control. All of this converges to shape the scribing by Mankiewicz of Citizen Kane.

After preliminary discussions with David about his vision for the film, we began the initial production process by scouting locations together in July of 2019.

Read the full article

Read the full magazine:

Perspective Magazine (ADG, Art Directors Guild)
January-February 2021 Issue

Read the ADG Awards Mank presentation:

Mank. Production Designed by Donald Graham Burt

That Classic Sound. The Sound Design of Mank

Netflix Film Club (YouTube)
February 1, 2021

David Fincher‘s longtime sound designer Ren Klyce discusses the soundscape of Mank, conceived as a companion piece of sorts to Citizen Kane (no pressure). What is it about a classic movie that makes it sound, well, classic? From filtering frequencies to adding elements like optical flutter and overlaid reverb, learn about the work that went into making the film sound as if it was booming from the screen of a grand movie palace.

Because We Love Making Movies: Production Designer Donald Graham Burt. Pt. 2, Mank

Eren Celeboglu
February 14, 2021
Because We Love Making Movies (Instagram, Facebook)

Because We Love Making Movies is an ongoing conversation with filmmakers who work behind the scenes to make the movies we love. These are the invisible warriors we don’t think of: Production & Costume Designers, Cinematographers, Editors, Producers, and the whole family of artists who make movies with their hands and hearts.

Today, we have a special treat… Production Designer Donald Graham Burt returns to talk about designing and making MankDavid Fincher’s love letter to old Hollywood & California, and the portrait of a man in conflict with everyone. It is a masterclass in filmmaking and the power of limitations from the most humble of masters.

Recommended Viewing: Citizen Kane, Sunset Boulevard, and Mank.

Listen to the podcast:

Because We Love Making Movies
Apple Podcasts

Listen to Pt. 1 of this conversation

Making Mank

Director David Fincher and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt shoot a black-and-white masterpiece for the 21st century.

February 12, 2021
Netflix Queue

It’s a milestone for any up-and-coming cinematographer, landing that first feature film assignment. For Erik Messerschmidt, that all-important project turned out to be Mank, David Fincher’s ambitious chronicle of Herman Mankiewicz and how the irascible screenwriter came to pen the first draft of what became Orson Welles’s cinematic landmark Citizen Kane.

On paper, Mank could not have been more daunting. Messerschmidt would be working side by side with a famously exacting filmmaker, on a high-profile drama starring Oscar winner Gary Oldman in the title role. He’d also be shooting entirely in black and white.

“I was like, Oh cool, I get to do black and white,” Messerschmidt recalls. “Then I realized how naïve that was, and it freaked me out. It really freaked me out.”

Fortunately, Messerschmidt had some history with Fincher. He had worked as a gaffer on the director’s 2014 thriller Gone Girl, and deeply appreciated his direct communication style and the specificity of his vision. Impressed by Messerschmidt’s pragmatism and work ethic, Fincher subsequently hired him for the F.B.I.-profiling drama Mindhunter, and the professional relationship deepened from there.

When Fincher turned his sights to Mank, he knew whom to call. “I’m a big believer in multidisciplinary thinking,” he explains. “Erik was obviously somebody who knew how to run his manpower, but he could also speak to his crew in myriad ways that imparted slightly different nuances. He can split hairs in terms of foot-candles or T-stops or F-stops but also have a conversation about Carol Reed or how Marlon Brando never hit his mark.”

Together, Fincher and Messerschmidt plotted how best to shoot the character-driven period drama, which was written by the director’s late father, Jack Fincher. One of the most challenging sequences was a nighttime stroll taken by Mank (Oldman) and the screen siren Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) through the palatial grounds of Hearst Castle. Onscreen, the friends are bathed in moonlight, yet those scenes were actually shot during the day using a classic Hollywood camera technique known as day for night. (The sequence was filmed largely on location at Pasadena’s Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens; the menagerie of animals in the background was added in digitally during post-production.)

The scope of the production might have proved overwhelming were it not for the rapport between director and cinematographer. “All we do all day is ask questions of the people that we’re working with. I was completely thrilled to be working for someone who had answers to those questions and who was genuinely interested in and curious about what it was that we were doing,” Messerschmidt says. “Being in a situation where you can have a really productive conversation with the director, that is so rare and so important.”

The duo spoke to Queue about what makes their partnership work.

Read the full interview

Settling the Score

Director David Fincher talks the music of Mank with composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

Jon Burlingame
February 12, 2021
Netflix Queue

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have written a dozen film and television scores together. Not just partners in Nine Inch Nails, they have won multiple awards for music in visual media: an Oscar and a Golden Globe for The Social Network, a Grammy for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, an Emmy for Watchmen. But they had never tackled a project quite like Mank.

Director David Fincher, whose films The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl Reznor and Ross also scored, came to the duo with a period piece set between 1930 and 1940 and shot in black and white, the story of Hollywood screenwriter Herman “Mank” Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman).

Reznor and Ross’s previous scores had been created with synthesizers, samplers, and sequencers in their Los Angeles studios, where they recorded all of the music themselves. Mank required something different: a more traditionally orchestral score, with swing-jazz and dance-band elements appropriate to the era. It was an arena in which neither Reznor nor Ross had any prior experience.

So they listened to the popular music of the 30s and 40s and, intriguingly, the early film scores of Bernard Herrmann, the longtime Orson Welles collaborator. His music for Citizen Kane proved inspirational in terms of the style of orchestral writing that frames Mank.

Ultimately, they created more than 90 minutes of original music, played by the equivalent of a 70-piece orchestra and big band. Because of the pandemic raging through the summer and fall of 2020, all of the musicians performed individually in their home studios and were mixed together into a seamless whole.

“It was an incredibly intoxicating, inspiring environment,” Reznor says of working with Fincher. “We felt like artists, not artisans, being challenged to try to make something awesome.”

We talked to the musicians and the director about creating the music for Mank.

Read the full interview

True Colors

Costume designer Trish Summerville enters the world of black-and-white filmmaking for Mank.

Jessica Shaw
February 12, 2021
Netflix Queue

Costume Sketches by Gloria Young Kim

The first thing Trish Summerville heard from her friends when she signed on to be the costume designer for David Fincher’s Mank was, “That is going to be so easy for you!” People wondered how difficult it could possibly be to dress a cast for a black-and-white film set in the 1930s and 40s, about Herman Mankiewicz, the screenwriter who penned the first draft of what would become Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. “I kept hearing, ‘You can just use any color you ever wanted and never worry,’” Summerville recalls, laughing at the thought. “That was definitely not the case.”

In fact, it couldn’t have been further from the truth. Summerville is a Hollywood force herself, having costume-designed films like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Fincher’s Gone Girl and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, among others. Before Mank, she had worked on projects that incorporated black and white through flashbacks, but she had never done a complete picture sans color.

She immediately immersed herself in the style and learned some tricks of the trade. For instance, a light blue might be beautiful in person, but it’s going to look light gray onscreen. A true black can be too severe; navy reads as a softer alternative. A dark or saturated color that’s striking in real life will seem equally flat in black and white. On top of that, some fabrics strobe and some patterns with contrasting colors resemble confetti. Even a color that looks great can distract an actor in a dialogue-heavy scene and should therefore be avoided.

“Any project with Dave is a dream and you know it’s going to be challenging and exciting, Summerville summarizes, calling me from the set of Slumberland, her next film, “but my brain definitely had to adjust.”

Read the full profile

The Minds Behind the Sets of “Mank” Share Their Experience Re-Creating Old Hollywood in Black and White

Netflix’s film starring Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, and Lily Collins has been nominated for a host of accolades, including a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture.

Lauren Wicks
February 9, 2021

For those in the television and film industry with dreamy job titles like production designer or set decorator, the fun begins long before filming, deep in the throes of research. And that was especially the case for Netflix’s Mank, a period piece filmed in black and white in 2020.

“Any opportunity to work on a period film has everybody in our business, especially those in our department, salivating to hear that we get to go back in time, discovering how society functioned and the nuances of the period: the furnishings, the architecture, the lifestyles,” says Donald Burt, the film’s production designer. “It felt like we were living in the film, and that’s what it’s all about: presenting a story in a format that feels like it was actually made then.”

Burt spent much of his design preparation time at the Academy of Motion Pictures library, scouring through documents from filming methods to formal letters, sorting out old gambling debts between executives to decipher thought processes regarding films from nearly 100 years ago.

“This is not a documentary, so we needed to take some license, but I always say I put research and information into a blender and see what comes out to best help tell the story we are trying to tell,” says set decorator Jan Pascale. “It’s so exciting to not only do a black-and-white film but to dive into the history of Hollywood and L.A., learning how people communicated back then.”

Pascale recalls offering typewriters to the casting agents, and it proving a greater challenge than originally thought to find people to type efficiently on them. Though “QWERTY” was created long ago, managing a modern keyboard is much easier than the models of yesteryear. The same goes for making a movie in color.

Read the full profile