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.

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Ben Affleck Reunites With ‘Gone Girl’ Director David Fincher, Accuses Him of Making a Movie With Heart

Meredith Woerner
February 11, 2021
Variety

For once, Ben Affleck gets to ask the questions.

That’s how the actor-director framed his duty of leading a conversation with longtime friend and “Gone Girl” boss David Fincher, the esteemed director whose Netflix film “Mank” has emerged as a top awards contender for 2021.

“This is a real role reversal from having to just be Fincher bitch, having to go over and over again,” Affleck teased the director, alluding to Fincher’s notorious preference for many consecutive takes of the same scene.

Appearing in Variety‘s “Directors on Directors” conversation series, the pair recently held a virtual reunion where Affleck dug into the decades-long process of bringing the story of famed screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz to screen.

In perhaps the broadest conversation Fincher has had about the film’s themes, Affleck gets to the heart of the original script from the director’s father, the value of creative credit at the dawn of Hollywood’s golden age, and the rare glimmer of heart and hope in a David Fincher film.

Read the conversation and watch the interview

‘Gone Girl’ Duo David Fincher & Ben Affleck Reunite to Dissect ‘Mank’ | Directors on Directors

Variety (YouTube)

American Cinematographer Clubhouse Conversations: Mank

Caleb Deschanel, ASC
February 10, 2021
American Cinematographer

In this 85-minute episode, interviewer Caleb Deschanel, ASC talks to cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, ASC and director David Fincher about their stylish black-and-white period drama.

Written by Fincher’s father, Jack, Mank depicts the turbulent life and career of self-destructive Hollywood screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) — focusing on his writing of the script for the iconic 1941 drama Citizen Kane. He and director Orson Welles shared an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. 

While the filmmakers sought a period look and feel contemporary to their story — in part inspired by Gregg Toland, ASC’s Oscar-nominated camerawork in Citizen Kane and The Grapes of Wrath — they embraced every modern tool to accomplish their creative goal, shooting with Red Ranger monochrome Helium cameras and Leitz Summilux-C lenses while employing virtual production techniques to facilitate recreating a vintage Los Angeles and other locations.

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Sound + Image Lab: David Fincher and Ren Klyce Transport Us to The Golden Age of Hollywood in “Mank”

Glenn Kiser, Director of the Dolby Institute
February 9, 2021
The Dolby Institute

Mank” has been a personal passion project for David Fincher for several decades now. His own father wrote the script, about the famously self-destructive writer of “Citizen Kane,” and Fincher was determined to make the film feel as authentic as possible. Almost like it was an undiscovered artifact from Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” insisting for years to film it in black & white, 1:33​, and in mono. He once again joined forces with his longtime collaborator, sound designer Ren Klyce, to do exactly that. But building this time capsule turned out to be a surprisingly challenging process.

“It’s beyond production value. Sound is a portal into a stranger’s mind that is incredibly influential. And if we don’t avail ourselves of this access, um… then we’re stupid and we should die (laughs).” – David Fincher, director of “Mank”

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David Fincher’s Longtime Casting Director Breaks Down Helmer’s Approach: “He Wants to Be Surprised”

Maya Tribbitt
January 23, 2021
The Hollywood Reporter

Laray Mayfield worked with the two-time Oscar-nominated director on his biggest features and has developed a great relationship as well as a shorthand with the auteur.

When he came back for his first feature film in a half-decade, Mank, David Fincher brought his trusted casting director Laray Mayfield into the fold. Over the past few decades, Mayfield has cast nearly all of the features (and even Fincher’s foray into television, Netflix‘s Mindhunter) that make up Fincher’s portfolio, including Fight ClubThe Social Network and Gone Girl. The pair is quick to praise each other’s style, work ethic and personality.

“Our working relationship is amazing. I am so fortunate to have worked with Dave for as long as I have. We have been working together since 1986. It is creative, lively, challenging in the best sense of the word and warm because we are also dear friends,” Mayfield says of Fincher. “We have a shorthand that has been developed over 35 years. I do usually have an idea of what David will like because we like the same things in actors, but I try to surprise him because Dave always gives me a safe place to experiment and really think outside the norm.”

Read the full profile

Essence and Embodiment | Casting David Fincher’s Mank

Netflix (YouTube)
January 13, 2021

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

Amanda Seyfried embraces the silences in David Fincher’s ‘Mank’

Actress Amanda Seyfried says she’s never worked so hard in her life as she did on “Mank,” but to do so with director David Fincher was a “dream.”
(Michael Nagle/For The Times)

Gregory Ellwood
January 4, 2021
Los Angeles Times

How excited was Amanda Seyfried at the prospect of starring in a David Fincher film? “I would have played a piece of wood,” she says with a laugh. Luckily for all involved, the role as silver screen star Marion Davies for Fincher’s Netflix release “Mank” was nowhere near as stiff. In fact, Seyfried delivers a scene-stealing performance, one that neither of the two initially took for granted would happen for the story of “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his friendship with the actress and companion to media mogul William Randolph Hearst.

Fincher recalls an initial 1 a.m. Skype with Seyfried after she’d finished a long day of shooting another film. As hard as it may be to fathom, the seminal director insists he was “sort of panicking” through his pitch to her. He was trying to convey aspects of the film he envisioned beyond what was on the written page but was having trouble expressing his thoughts.

“She was actively participating in helping me to find the right words to pitch her on this project. And it wasn’t like she did it two or three times. She did it, like, three times a minute for 45 minutes. After a while, it became obvious that this was sort of a second nature thing that she does to make other people feel comfortable or to make other people feel heard. And, by the end of it, when we hung up, I thought, ‘the woman who has to give semi-inebriated little Herman Mankiewicz a tour of her [private] zoo, has to have this skill or has to have this tributary to her behavior. It has to be something that’s sort of innate.’ It’s the den-mother thing.”

Even as Fincher was telling himself, “‘If she says yes, take her up on it,’ because there was something really special about that,” Seyfried was feeling an urgency of her own.

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Sounding Out Ren Klyce On David Fincher’s “Mank”

7-time Oscar nominee reflects on his longstanding working relationship with the director and the creative challenges of their latest collaboration

Robert Goldrich
January 1, 2021
Shoot

Sound designer, editor and mixer Ren Klyce is a seven-time Oscar nominee, five of those nods coming for David Fincher movies–Fight Club in 2000, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 2009, The Social Network in 2011 and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for both sound mixing and sound editing in 2012. (Klyce’s other two noms are for Star Wars: Episode VIII–The Last Jedi for sound editing and mixing in 2018.)

Now Klyce is again in the awards season conversation for Fincher’s Mank (Netflix) which centers on screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (portrayed by Gary Oldman) as he races to finish director Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane on a tight timetable, secluded in a bungalow in a desert town miles removed from Los Angeles as he recuperates from a car accident in 1940. Attending to him are his secretary Rita (Lily Collins) and his German nurse (Monika Grossmann).

In the process, through Mankiewicz’s worldview–marked by his abiding social conscience and wit, at times caustic–we are introduced to not only Hollywood but life in the 1930s, ranging from the grandeur of Hearst Castle and high society to the struggle of the rank and file during the Great Depression. We also become privy to Mankiewicz’s own inner struggles with alcoholism, as well as a professional battle with Welles (played by Tom Burke) over screen credit for what became the classic Citizen Kane. The Mank cast also includes Charles Dance (as William Randolph Hearst), Amanda Seyfried (as Marion Davies, Hearst’s wife), Tuppence Middleton (as Sara Mankiewicz, Herman’s wife), Arliss Howard (as Louis B. Mayer), Sam Troughton (as John Houseman), Tom Pelphrey (as Joe Mankiewicz, Herman’s brother), Toby Leonard Moore (as David O. Selznick) and Ferdinand Kinsley (as Irving Thalberg).

For Klyce, Mank posed layers of challenges on top of the conventional goal of having the soundtrack support the story. “We hear all the dialogue, feel the motion of the music, get a sense of surroundings and characters through sound design. It helps us to connect with the characters,” Klyce explained.

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David Fincher, the Unhappiest Auteur

The director makes beautiful bummers in an industry that prefers happy endings. Perhaps that’s why his movies seem like an endangered species.

Manohla Dargis
January 1, 2021
The New York Times

For nearly three decades, David Fincher has been making gorgeous bummer movies that — in defiance of Hollywood’s first principle — insist that happy endings are a lie. Filled with virtuosic images of terrible deeds and violence, his movies entertain almost begrudgingly. Even when good somewhat triumphs, the victories come at a brutal cost. No one, Fincher warns, is going to save us. You will hurt and you will die, and sometimes your pretty wife’s severed head will end up in a box.

Long a specialized taste, Fincher in recent years started to feel like an endangered species: a commercial director who makes studio movies for adult audiences, in an industry in thrall to cartoons and comic books. His latest, “Mank,” a drama about the film industry, was made for Netflix, though. It’s an outlier in his filmography. Its violence is emotional and psychological, and there’s only one corpse, even if its self-destructive protagonist, Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), can look alarmingly cadaverous. Set in Hollywood’s golden age, it revisits his tenure in one of the most reliably bitter and underappreciated Hollywood tribes, a.k.a. screenwriters.

Read the full article

Red Carpet Rookies: Tim Miller

Mike Battle
September 23, 2020
Red Carpet Rookies

Tim discusses his beginnings in animation, his journey to directing his first live action movie at 50 and why he’s glad that for all the challenges that came along the way. If that wasn’t enough, he shares thoughts on why his Netflix collaboration with David Fincher works, why film studios will be ‘fossils’ if they don’t keep up with the streamers, and what to expect from Love, Death & Robots Series 2!

Red Carpet Rookies guests are recorded over Zoom. All efforts are made to get the best quality possible but we are victim to the connection!

Tim’s ‘book that everyone must read’: ‘The Sea Wolf’ by Jack London

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