Art of the Shot: “Start from Perfect”, with Mindhunter DP Erik Messerschmidt, ASC and “A” Camera Operator Brian Osmond, SOC

Erik Messerschmidt, Director Andrew Dominik, Brian Osmond, and “B” Camera Operator Will Dearborn (Nikolai Loveikis)

Derek Stettler
October 12, 2020
Art of the Shot

“A place to unload all my cinematic truths.” —Newton Thomas Sigel, ASC

How do you cultivate a career in Hollywood? What does it take to make iconic work? There’s an art to everything in life and the Art of the Shot explores the answers to those questions and more through deep-dives into the minds of master filmmakers. Join host Derek Stettler, young filmmaker and writer for the ASC and SOC magazines since 2016, as he learns from the artists behind today’s most strikingly-shot projects. Enjoy compelling conversations on the craft, insights from successful careers, tips, techniques + more!

In this episode, you’ll hear from both the cinematographer and the “A” camera operator of Mindhunter, who worked together throughout Season 1 and 2 to shoot every single episode. Please enjoy this exclusive interview with Erik Messerschmidt, ASC and Brian Osmond, SOC!

Brian Osmond, Gaffer Danny Gonzalez, and Erik Messerschmidt (Nikolai Loveikis)

In this episode, you’ll learn:

– Erik’s career path (00:04:06)
– Erik’s favorite part of the job (00:06:42)
– What DP’s should know to best work with their gaffers, from Erik’s experience working as a gaffer before becoming a DP (00:07:02)
– Unique skills Erik gained from his experience as a gaffer (00:07:56)
– How Brian got his career started (00:11:19)
– Brian’s favorite part of his job (00:12:19)
– What other directors can learn from how David Fincher treats his crew (00:18:39)
– The thought process & techniques behind Mindhunter‘s precise camera movement (00:22:50)
– The strategic use of handheld camera operating (00:34:27)
– The collaborative nature of the Mindhunter set (00:37:34)
– The importance of having a dedicated camera operator on set, especially on a David Fincher set (00:41:19)
– Erik’s role as “quality control supervisor” (00:44:21)
– Why a monitor on a David Fincher set is covered in smudges (00:46:57)
– Why there’s no such thing as a B camera “bonus shot” on Mindhunter & how shots are planned out for multiple cameras (00:48:23)
– What Erik thinks is the hardest shot to do well (00:52:04)
– How Erik lights & shoots with 2 cameras simultaneously (00:53:41)
– Erik’s approach to lighting Mindhunter & techniques used (00:56:55)
– Erik’s preference for real fluorescent lighting (01:03:30)
Mindhunter‘s production design and how much of the locations were built (01:05:01)
– Favorite set of Season 2 (01:06:26)
– How getting scripts in advance helps them work better (01:10:44)
– The innovative car process shooting on Mindhunter & how it works (01:12:38)
– How virtual production helps realize every filmmaker’s dream, stopping time, & how Erik used that to shoot a 9-minute dialog scene at dawn (01:18:02)
– How the car process shooting on Mindhunter evolved from Season 1 (01:22:37)
– How the custom RED digital cinema camera, dubbed the Xenomorph, evolved from Season 1 (01:27:22)
– Why Brian prefers a fluid head over a geared head to achieve those smooth, precise shots David Fincher loves (01:37:34)
– How to shoot a scene & why “Fix it in prep!” should be every filmmaker’s mantra (01:42:08)
– All about the lenses used on Mindhunter & how Erik art directed the artifacts & nuances of every optical aberration (01:48:10)
– Tips from Brian on getting really precise shots with a fluid head, what operating technique Erik has learned from Brian, & how being self-critical is a key to his success (01:56:42)
– What Erik & Brian feel is the most rewarding part of working on Mindhunter (02:02:47)

If you haven’t yet, please be sure to subscribe to be notified of future episodes, and share this podcast with others to help grow the show and spread the knowledge!

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The Art of the Shot podcast is brought to you by Evidence Cameras, an outstanding rental house in Echo Park specializing in high-end digital cinema camera packages, lenses, support, and accessories.

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MINDHUNTER: Mindful Operating

Interview with Brian Osmond, SOC.

Derek Stettler
May 2018 (Spring 2018)
Camera Operator (Society of Camera Operators)

LiteGear Live: Mindhunter Erik Messerschmidt and Danny Gonzalez

Mike Bauman & Paul Royalty
April 24, 2020
LiteGear

Welcome to LiteGear Live, our community outreach portal where we host panel discussions, educate, and discuss all things related to Set Lighting. Join us for weekly conversations with Cinematographers, Gaffers, Rigging Gaffers, Fixtures Technicians, Programmers, and many more. We’ll be sharing behind-the-scenes photographs, production stills, and clips, all while chatting in real-time with the filmmakers who made it happen.

Our second edition of LiteGear Live presents a conversation with Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, Chief Lighting Technician Danny Gonzalez, and Rigging Gaffer Bobby Dechellis, discussing their most recent work on the popular Netflix series Mindhunter.

Hosted by Co-Founder of LiteGear Mike Bauman and Vice President of Sales at LiteGear, Paul Royalty, they delve into a wide range of questions for each guest intended to dig deep into the style choices and challenges faced on the show. The group also shares some behind-the-scenes photographs, production stills, and clips from Mindhunter.

Watch Mindhunter exclusively on Netflix.

Thank you to Netflix for allowing the use of Mindhunter stills and clips.

Bad Lands

2018-04 ICG Magazine - Mindhunter 05 (Patrick Harbron)

Erik Messerschmidt and Chris Probst, ASC, also have made “smart” use of LED technology, as detailed in our cover story on Mindhunter (page 36). David Fincher, who first started using LED’s for process work on Zodiac, 11 years ago, not only customized a high-resolution RED camera for the show (dubbed the “Xenomorph”), but also devised one of the most ingenious LED-driven plate projection/interactive lighting processes for driving shots TV has ever seen. Messerschmidt’s description of Fincher’s commitment to innovation mirrors those Sundancers bending technology in the service of new ways to tell a story: “For David, the frame is sacred; what we choose to include is intrinsic to what the audience thinks is important. They are one and the same.”

David Geffner, Executive Editor
ICG Magazine

Visualizing the daring and often scary world of David Fincher requires new technologies and processes rarely attempted in series television.

Matt Hurwitz
Photos by Patrick Harbron & Merrick Morton, SMPSP
April 2018
ICG Magazine

In the season 1 finale of Netflix’s MINDHUNTER, a disturbed FBI agent, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), bursts wildly from a hospital room, as a handheld camera gives chase. The move begins as shaken as ford is, but, as it lands with the agent, who collapses in the hallway, it’s as if the camera has floated to a butter-smooth stop inches from the floor, the maneuver executed like it was on a perfectly balanced Jib arm, crane, or even Steadicam. But it’s none of those. What can viewers assume from this?

David Fincher has returned to television.

FOR THIS SERIES ABOUT A PAIR OF AGENTS WORKING IN THE FBI’S ELITE BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES UNIT in 1979, and attempting to understand the mind of a serial killer, Fincher used a number of leading-edge technologies – interactive LED lighting, custom built high-resolution cameras, and, as in the shot with Agent Ford, image stabilization/smoothing in postproduction – to keep the viewer visually embedded. Fincher’s aim with MINDHUNTER, which has no graphic violence, is for viewers to “access their own attics. There’s far scarier stuff up there than anything we can fabricate,” the filmmaker insists. “I wanted people to register what’s going on in [characters’] eyes and where the gear changes are taking place. At what point do I [as the viewer] feel like, ‘OK, I’ve got an insight,’ and at what point do they feel like: ‘oh, I’m being sold something. It’s all about the nuance in how the balance of power is changing.”

Fincher’s longtime postproduction supervisor, Peter Mavromates, says he creates an “experience of omniscience,” similar to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, “where you’re in a straitjacket with your eyelids pinned open, and David’s forcing you to watch these horrible things.” In fact, the show’s unique visual process began more than a year before production started in Pittsburgh (on area locations and on stages at 31st Street Studios, a former steel mill), with the development of a unique RED camera system.

Christopher Probst, ASC – who shot MINDHUNTER’S pilot and second episode – was asked for his input on a RED prototype system, which had been designed by Jarred Land and RED’s Chief Designer Matt Tremblay according to Fincher’s specific needs. “David wanted to take all of the different exterior add-ons that create a jungle of wires, and put them inside the camera body,” Probst explains.

Fincher puts it even more directly: “It just seems insane that we’ve been bequeathed a [camera] layout [dating back to] D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin that looks like some bizarre Medusa. [The camera] should be something that people want to approach, touch, and pick up.”

In fact, the custom system built for Season 1 [Land created a 2.0 version being used in Season 2] had an RTMotion MK3.1 lens-control system, Paralinx Arrow-X wireless video, and Zaxcom wireless audio (with timecode) integrated into the RED body, with the only visible cable being to control the lens. Slating was all but eliminated, with clip-number metadata being shared wirelessly between the camera and the script supervisor, who used Filemaker software to associate takes and clips. An audio scratch track from the mixer was recorded onto the REDCODE RAW R3D files and received wirelessly.

The base camera was one of RED’s DSMC2 systems, the then-new WEAPON DRAGON, with its 6K sensor. The shell design, accommodating the added gear inside, with its angular shape and heat venting fins on top, had a “Xenomorph” appearance (à la Alien), and was dubbed as such by Land and Fincher. “When the camera arrived in Pittsburgh, they had actually engraved “Xenomorph” on the side,” Probst says.

Read the full profile:

Website version of the profile

2018-04 ICG Magazine - Mindhunter 14 (Patrick Harbron)

2018-04 ICG Magazine - Mindhunter 13 (Merrick Morton)

“The Hydra” joins the Xenomorphs

2018-04 ICG Magazine - Mindhunter 11 (Patrick Harbron)
2016. The “Hydra” 1.0 (Patrick Harbron / Netflix)

Netflix Delivers a Killer Serial Killer Series: Production on David Fincher’s ‘Mindhunter’

In addition to serving as co-executive producer for Mindhunter, Fincher directed four hours of the 10-episode season.

By: Kevin H. Martin
10/26/2017
Creative Planet Network / Digital Video Magazine

The first masterpiece from filmmaker David Fincher was his feature film Se7en, a procedural featuring one of the most memorable serial killers ever committed to celluloid. Ten years ago he returned this dark territory with Zodiac, an adaptation of the true-life case involving a still-unknown killer who struck repeatedly throughout the San Francisco Bay area. In the years since, Fincher helped launch House of Cards (an adaptation of the successful UK series) for Netflix. He comes back to the crime investigation genre with Mindhunter, a 10-part streaming series that launched on Netflix on Oct. 13.

[…]

In addition to serving as co-executive producer for Mindhunter, Fincher directed four hours of the 10-episode season, with Christopher Probst shooting the pilot installment. The other directors were Asif Kapadia, Tobias Lindholm and Andrew Douglas.

Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt shot part of episode two, along with the remaining eight episodes. Messerschmidt had served as gaffer on Fincher’s most recent feature, Gone Girl. He pulled double duty on this fall’s Granite Mountain, gaffing and shooting 2nd unit—the latter a duty he performed for next year’s Sicario follow-up, Soldado, as well. “Fincher was very involved in the process, which is to be expected. He was there every day,” Messerschmidt says.

Read the full article

2018-04 ICG Magazine - Mindhunter 11 (Patrick Harbron)
Patrick Harbron / Netflix

Crime Scenes: Evolving the Postproduction Process on ‘Mindhunter’

I recently spoke with Tyler Nelson, one of the four series editors, who was given the opportunity to move from the assistant chair to that of a primary editor on ‘Mindhunter.’

By: Oliver Peters
10/26/2017
Creative Planet Network / Digital Video Magazine

The Ultimate Plate Van for MINDHUNTER

From Jarred Land (Facebook) with Matthew Tremblay (Facebook), and Christopher Probst (Instagram)

Mindhunter - Green Screen Car Scenes
Christopher Probst: “The idea behind the setup is, 11-12 cameras are rolled simultaneously covering all pre-determined angles, focal lengths, heights and degrees of tilt that will be shot of the actors in the corresponding picture car on our custom greenscreen process stage.”

Jarred Land (President at RED):

David Fincher‘s insane Plate Van for Mindhunter. 11 Epic Dragons on Global Dynamics United Tilt Plates all triggered by one detonator. Great Design Colab between Fincher, Myself and Christopher Probst.

All things considered, this wasn’t actually as expensive as it would seem.

I had a bunch of the 80/20 extrusions left over from previous projects and those Black Magic monitors I bought for super cheap online. My engineers built the 11 camera trigger out of a left over battery shell for about $40 in parts.

The initial design process was super efficient because 80/20 has plugins for SolidWorks so Fincher and I spent a lot of time on the computer pre-visualizing everything and we could figure out the weak links very quickly before we even had the van.

The GDU low profile bombproof tilt plates which Fincher, Matthew Tremblay and I designed we built just for this (which became the GDU tilt plates) seemed exotic but was actually way more cost effective than buying or renting dutch or tango heads that were expensive and not really made for what we were using them for. Remember this is a multi-year show so they actually are saving a ton of money designing it and building it rather than just renting everything for such a long period of time… it likely has already paid for itself.

This is just the prototype of something Fincher and I have been working on for a few years now and it’s going to get way way more badass as time goes on.

2018-04 ICG Magazine - Mindhunter 11 (Patrick Harbron)
Patrick Harbron / Netflix

Christopher Probst:

Click to enlarge and read descriptions