In this video essay I breakdown how David Fincher uses popular music in films like Fight Club, The Social Network and the new Netflix series Mindhunter.
Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt breaks down how the look of Netflix’s “Mindhunter” builds on Fincher’s well-established style.
David Fincher is one of the most distinctive visual storytellers working today. On his new Netflix’s show “Mindhunter,” the director’s well-established visual style and use of film language is carried throughout the entire Season 1 arc, despite Fincher having only directed four of the ten episodes himself. IndieWire recently talked the show’s principal cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt – who was once Fincher’s gaffer, and shot 90% of “Mindhunter” – about what defines the cinematic style of the great auteur and how he built off the look of “Zodiac” to create something we aren’t used to seeing on TV.
Claudio Miranda has had an interesting career thus far. After working as a gaffer on films like Se7en and Fight Club, filmmaker David Fincher (with whom he’d worked on a few commercials and music videos as a cinematographer) asked him to serve as the cinematographer for the wildly ambitious 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. That VFX-intensive effort scored Miranda an Oscar nomination and led to him then shooting visually breathtaking movies like Tron: Legacy and Oblivion, and of course Life of Pi, for which he won the Best Cinematography Oscar.
Miranda’s latest film reteams him with director Joseph Kosinski for the third time and also marks something of a departure—the true story drama Only the Brave. The film revolves around one unit of local firefighters who battled the Yarnell Hill wildfire in 2013 to tragic results. Josh Brolin leads a cast that includes Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, and Jennifer Connelly.
With Only the Brave hitting theaters on October 20th, I recently got the chance to have an extended conversation with Miranda about his work on the film. He talked about his working relationship with Kosinski, the challenges of capturing real fire onscreen, shooting on location, and his approach to shooting realistic visual effects.
But I’m also a big fan of Miranda’s work in general, so the conversation veered off into his early days working as a gaffer for Fincher, and we discussed his “trial by fire” experience shooting Benjamin Button as well as what it’s like to work with Fincher and how his gaffer work with other cinematographers like Harris Savides and Dariusz Wolski has shaped his approach. Finally, with Kosinski next set to direct the Top Gun sequel Top Gun: Maverick, I asked Miranda what the prep has been like on that movie so far.
It’s a wide-ranging and refreshingly candid conversation that hopefully admirers of Miranda’s work, or just those curious about cinematography in general, will find illuminating. I certainly had a great time chatting with the talented DP.
Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Over two decades of big- and small-screen work, John Carroll Lynch has become one of Hollywood’s consummate “that guy” character actors, capable of punching up the margins of whatever he’s in. Theatrically trained, the Colorado native made his first big impression as eternally supportive husband Norm Gunderson in the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning Fargo, before scoring a reoccurring role as crossdressing older brother Steve on The Drew Carey Show. Since then, he’s carved out an eclectic body of film and television supporting performances, playing his imposing stature for both paternal, Gundersonian decency (such as during a moving one-episode appearance on The Walking Dead) and for supreme, skin-crawling creepiness (like in Zodiac or The Invitation). Lynch has also worked with several major directors, from Martin Scorsese to Clint Eastwood to John Woo. Recently, he’s picked up the filmmaking bug himself; his directorial debut Lucky, starring the late Harry Dean Stanton in one of his final roles, opens in New York and Los Angeles this Friday, before expanding into further markets.
Zodiac (2007)— “Arthur Leigh Allen”
First thing’s first. Is Arthur Leigh Allen the Zodiac Killer?
JCL: No, and the reason I don’t think so is twofold. First, in performing the role, David Fincher asked me to play it as an innocent man. [Pauses.] Until the end. [Laughs.]
AVC: Until that last scene with Robert Graysmith.
JCL: And then the other thing was… and this is going to sound like a weird defense, but… Arthur Leigh Allen was a pedophile. To get to be a pedophile, to really choose to do that, consciously in your life, it’s my belief that you have to run through some really severe walls of societal norms and morals. It has to be a mania, an obsession, of such grand proportions for you to ignore the health and safety of children to do it—I don’t see how you go, “I want to sleep with children and kill people.” The only way I can think of it not being that way is if he molested children—[Aside.] this is a horrible answer—and he realized that wasn’t it. He just thought it was. But I find that hard to believe. Now, that’s a terrible defense of Arthur Leigh Allen. He wasn’t the Zodiac Killer, he wasn’t a serial killer, because he was a pedophile. But I will say that the circumstantial evidence that Graysmith presented, and that David Fincher expanded upon during the making of the movie, is pretty overwhelming.
AVC: But there have been so many suspects over the years. People have made these iron, convincing cases against several people.
JCL: Sure. That’s what the movie’s about, isn’t it? I think that movie is about the virus of obsession. And I don’t think that’s stopped. The Zodiac isn’t the first one to do that, obviously. The first one I can think of us is the guy here [in Chicago]. The Devil In The White City.
AVC: Oh, right, with the death hotel. Holmes?
JCL: Yes, H.H. Holmes. That guy may be the first recorded one. Although Jack The Ripper was before that. But it’s like the myth of vampirism. There’s just something attractive to people about these men who see themselves as above humanity. To be released from the constraints of moral society. We might be seeing that play out in other ways.
AVC: David Fincher has this reputation as an intense perfectionist, sometimes demanding 50 takes to get a scene right.
JCL: As a person who came from the theater, I love that. It doesn’t bother me at all. The fact that he wanted to do it again was perfectly fine with me. I was also aware of it, so I didn’t take it personally. I didn’t think, “I suck now” because we were on 50. I think if you get to 50 with Clint Eastwood, you’re doing something wrong. [Laughs.] But Fincher is meticulous. He’s like the other masters I’ve worked with. They understand filmmaking to a degree that I could only dream of. And they are following their passion. This is a poor analogy, but Picasso was a cubist and went through a wide variety of movements in his career. He could have drawn figures better than anyone if he wanted to. He didn’t want to. So that’s what it’s like working with David Fincher. He’s after something. And it takes him 50 takes to get it.
AVC: He knows what he wants.
JCL: He knows what he’s looking for, and he knows how to get it. I also think he likes the performances of exhausted actors. He finds something interesting about that.
‘Lucky’ director John Carroll Lynch talks Harry Dean Stanton’s final role
Podcast: 28:04 min
WASHINGTON — He’s one of the most prolific character actors in Hollywood history, from “Cool Hand Luke” (1967) to “Alien” (1979), from “Paris, Texas” (1984) to “Repo Man” (1984).
Now, just days after his death at age 91, Harry Dean Stanton gives his final performance in the indie dramedy “Lucky,” marking the directorial debut of actor John Carroll Lynch (“Fargo”).
Who can forget his suspect in David Fincher’s “Zodiac” (2007)? His acting chops are on display in two scenes: first as he’s called into the police station where the cops remark, “Nice watch.” They don’t seem to notice the clue right under their noses: the watch is a “Zodiac” brand.
“[Fincher] did a great job,” Lynch said. “That [acting] foursome — Elias Koteas, Anthony Edwards, Mark Ruffalo and I — had one of the best days on set that I’ve ever had.”
His final scene is just as brilliant, as Jake Gyllenhaal’s Detective Robert Graysmith enters Lynch’s hardware store, engaging in a silent staredown that suggests he’s the killer.
“Graysmith so desperately needs to know,” Lynch said. “The scene is written like the end of ‘Moby Dick’ where Ahab is tied to the whale. Melville writes, ‘The whale looks at Ahab, and Ahab looks at the whale.’ That’s how I saw it. They recognize each other in that moment.”
The story of what came to be known as the Zodiac murders began on December 20, 1968, though no one knew at the time how significant that particular shooting was to become. There’s no agreed upon date when the murders ended because the Zodiac—a moniker the killer gave himself—has never been identified. His shadow stretches until it just reaches into 1970, though attacks beyond 1969 have never been substantiated. For a period of just a bit more than a year, the Bay Area was paralyzed by the randomness and viciousness of these crimes. And that viral fear was spreading. Down in Los Angeles, the Tate and LaBianca murders committed by the Manson family were essentially contemporaneous with later Zodiac attacks. Californians at both ends of the state were sleepwalking through a new reality.
This is the context in which the editorial cartoonist Robert Graysmith began a job at the San Francisco Chronicle in the summer of 1969. And though the timeline of the Zodiac murders is a relatively compact one, it’s a thread Graysmith, who became a central part of the narrative, continues to chase. The story depicted in David Fincher’s 2007 film, based on Graysmith’s bestselling 1986 book by the same title, begins and ends with Graysmith. Ten years on, the film that tells his story continues to transfix viewers, and getting caught up in its snare still feels all too easy.
One of the most challenging aspects of storytelling is showing a character thinking. It might sound like a straightforward task, but think about what you look like while studying. Ever watched someone complete a puzzle? It’s a quiet, meditative task marked by trial and error. In reality, there’s remarkably little head-scratching or furrowed brows. Visually, it’s rather unimpressive.
So how does a creator reveal thinking—poring over material, investigative work, head-buried-in-clues research—without absolutely boring the audience? How does a director reinvent frustration, the false lead, the maddening search, particularly over a two-hour film?
David Fincher has made a career of chronicling that very process.
Not only has Fincher produced some of the most haunting detective sequences in film—Se7en, Zodiac, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—but you’d be unlikely to find criticism calling his films boring. He’s a master at tension-building and unapologetic about his resolutions. Perhaps this is why so many of his characters fall prey to their own obsessive madness. The unraveling of a character is something Fincher portrays with patience and deliberateness.
No genre illustrates the evolution of cinema better than the crime film. As recently as the ’90s, Hollywood regularly released stories of cops-and-robber showdowns and mystery-thrillers based on best-selling novels — but as the middle class continues to disappear from Hollywood films, smart crime stories moved to television (see: “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Night Of,” et. al.).
Outside the studios, there is a longstanding tradition – from the B-movies to the Coen brothers – of new directors showcasing their filmmaking chops with dark, stylish, and intense crime sagas. A surge of new filmmakers in the ’90s brought fresh interpretations to the genre, from the pastiche of “Reservoir Dogs” to the unnerving realism in “Boyz n the Hood.”
These days, many of the best contemporary directors — including Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Mann, the Coens, Park Chan-wook and Spike Lee – still love the genre, which has created some of their best work. This list surveys many of those recent highlights.