Family Story

Director David Fincher looks back on how Mank made it to the screen.

Nev Pierce
February 19, 2021
Netflix Queue

Portraits by Michael Avedon

When Jack Fincher became a parent, he shared his lifelong love of cinema, and his regard for screenwriters in particular, with his son, David. “Jack felt this was a really difficult kind of writing, and something he had great respect for,” David Fincher says, looking back. “He also believed that the beleaguered writer was not a cliché due to personality type, but because they often had to bite their tongues as they watched idiots take their ideas and mangle them.” (On that point, the Oscar-nominated director begs to differ.)

Eventually, David encouraged Jack — who was by that time retired from his journalism career — to try his own hand at screenwriting. Those efforts have now solidified into one of David Fincher’s most acclaimed films to date, a project that also serves as an homage to his father, who died from pancreatic cancer in 2003.

Mank chronicles how screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz came to pen the first draft of what would one day be Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. Like so many films, Mank was years in the making, and it long loomed in David’s consciousness. Father and son initially discussed the idea in the 1990s, when David was graduating from music-video director to rising-star filmmaker. As Jack completed various revisions, they had many fruitful clashes over the direction of the screenplay.

Over the years, it became clear that the project was unlikely to see the light of day. It fell by the wayside and Jack fell ill. “He ended up having chemo to worry about, and not so much the rewrites,” David recalls. “We would talk about it from time to time. I would take him to his chemo — he was in therapy a little bit in the last couple of months of his life — and we would talk about it in the car, shoot the shit. But it was understood that this would not be something that would ever get made. And that was O.K.”

David Fincher moved forward, building an acclaimed body of work that includes Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl. Ultimately he arrived at a place where he could turn his focus to that elusive project from his past. Suddenly, Mank was something that could get made, and made the way he wanted: in dazzling black and white, with a superior cast carrying it forward.

Nev Pierce spoke to David Fincher in this edited excerpt from the book Mank, The Unmaking

Read Mank, The Unmaking

‘Mank’: Read The Screenplay For David Fincher’s Movie About The Writing Of ‘Citizen Kane’ Penned By His Father

Patrick Hipes
February 19, 2021

EXCLUSIVE: David Fincher’s Mank has been near the top of the heap this awards season, scoring the most nominations at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards and a place on the AFI Top 10 movies of 2020 for the take on the relationship of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles during the writing of the iconic Citizen Kane.

Those noms include posthumous recognition for the screenplay, written by Fincher’s father Jack, who died in 2003. It was David who encouraged his dad to explore the story between the two men, along with it the idea of taking responsibility for one’s ideas put into the world, and the reality-altering power that creates.

Read the Mank script

Precision Cutting: The Editing of Mank

Netflix Film Club (YouTube)
February 3, 2021

Two-time Oscar®-winning film editor Kirk Baxter details the assemblage of David Fincher‘s acclaimed new film Mank. He digs in on navigating the director’s wealth of coverage, building transitions, piecing together Mank’s climactic tirade at Hearst Castle and much, much more.

‘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

ASC Insights Premieres

Jay Holben
February 17, 2021
The American Society Cinematographers

In a new series of in-depth interviews with Society members, ASC Insights provides the cinematographer’s perspective on today’s most pertinent topics. The first two episodes cover High Dynamic Range (HDR) from the director of photography’s view.

Episode One discusses the implementation of HDR in postproduction as a deliverable and features the insights from Markus Förderer, ASC, BVK; Polly Morgan, ASC, BSC; and associate member and colorist Dave Cole. The episode examines scenes from Independence Day: Resurgence, the F/X series Legion and the short film Mandy. 

Episode Two examines the implementation of HDR throughout the entire workflow from set to post and features thoughts from Erik Messerschmidt, ASC; Marshall Adams, ASC; and colorist Dave Cole. The members discuss scenes from Netflix’s Mindhunter and El Camino: The Breaking Bad Movie

For both episodes, ASC associate member and American Cinematographer contributing editor Jay Holben discusses the ins and outs of HDR, the benefits and pitfalls and how important it is for the cinematographer to be involved in the postproduction implementation of HDR. The key to the format is in expanding the palette of creative intention for the filmmakers, not in merely delivering a brighter picture.  

Watch both episodes now right here.

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.