Netflix Helps Drive the Creative Vision with High-Dynamic-Range Content

Jay Holben
December 22, 2019
American Cinematographer

Some might consider high-dynamic-range (HDR) displays a technology of the future, but the reality is it’s here now and very much a contemporary delivery format. At the forefront of this delivery is Netflix, the streaming and production giant, which reports that roughly a quarter of the devices used to access its service monthly — more than 165 million — are configured for HDR. As a result, Netflix is making a concerted effort to provide HDR content and currently has more than 1,000 hours of such programming available.

One of these titles is David Fincher’s gritty, period procedural Mindhunter, which earned Christopher Probst, ASC an ASC Award nomination for its pilot in 2017. The series is photographed by Erik Messerschmidt, who notes that production incorporated HDR into the second season. “With Mindhunter, we try to be very subtle with the photography,” says Messerschmidt. “The story and themes of the show are complex and nuanced, so it’s really important that the photography never draws attention to itself. HDR helps because it enables me to be very subtle in my use of color and contrast, particularly in the toe of the exposure. Everyone likes to talk about the bright whites in HDR, but I think perhaps the added range in the shadows is more interesting and more important than added range in the highlights.

“I think cinematographers have always advocated for a better experience for the audience, whether it’s fast film stocks with tighter grain, better projection technology, or higher quality digital-capture and display technologies,” he continues. “HDR is just another step in that direction. Standard-dynamic-range video distribution can only show a narrow exposure band of the modern digital sensor’s dynamic range. The opportunity to use more of the sensor’s range when we want to is a very exciting development.”

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‘Mindhunter’ DP Erik Messerschmidt on Working with Fincher, the Show’s Aesthetic, and Season 2

Erik Messerschmidt with Camera Operator Brian Osmond (Patrick Harbron / Netflix)

2018-05-28. Collider - ‘Mindhunter_ DP Erik Messerschmidt on Working with Fincher, the Show_s Aesthetic, and Season 2 06
Merrick Morton / Netflix

Adam Chitwood
May 28, 2018
Collider

The Netflix original series Mindhunter is, by far, one of the best new shows currently running. The true story-based, 1977-set drama chronicles the early days of criminal psychology and criminal profiling primarily through the eyes of three people at the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit: eager newcomer Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), somewhat jaded veteran Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), and brilliant psychology professor Wendy Carr (Anna Torv). That this show is immaculately crafted from top to bottom will come as no surprise to those aware that it’s the brainchild of David Fincher, who serves as executive producer and directed nearly half of the series’ first season.

This is without doubt one of the best looking pieces of entertainment released in 2017, regardless of medium, with classical framing, motivated camera movement, and a tremendous palette that gives a mere peek into the darkness inside the minds of the criminals and serial killers who are the subject of the Behavioral Science Unit’s interviews.

So when I got the chance to speak with cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt about his work on the series, I was thrilled. Messerschmidt shot eight of the first season’s 10 episodes, including the Fincher-directed closing installments, and as he revealed during our interview, this was essentially his first major gig as a cinematographer. Messerschmidt had worked previously as a gaffer on shows like Mad Men and Bones, and then later the feature film Gone Girl where he first came into contact with Fincher. Based on their work together on that film, Fincher called Messerschmidt up when they were looking for a new DP for Mindhunter after the show’s original cinematographer exited over creative differences.

This promotion from gaffer to DP is a familiar refrain with Fincher’s cinematographers, as he did the same with his The Game and Fight Club gaffer Claudio Miranda, who was brought on as DP for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and went on to win the Oscar for Best Cinematography for his work on Life of Pi.

Messerschmidt’s rise to the primary cinematographer of Fincher’s brand new TV show elicits similarly spectacular results, as the DP’s work on Mindhunter is elegantly classical and incredibly motivated by character and theme. During the course of our conversation, Messerschmidt talked about the road that led to him becoming the cinematographer on Mindhunter, the specifics of his working relationship with Fincher, what it’s like to serve as a DP in the world of episodic television, how the work of production designers and costumes designers goes under-appreciated, and trying to maintain a consistent aesthetic with multiple directors. He also teased a bit about Mindhunter Season 2, including revealing their extensive shooting schedule.

Check out the full interview

2018-05-28. Collider - ‘Mindhunter’ DP Erik Messerschmidt on Working with Fincher, the Show’s Aesthetic, and Season 2 07.jpg
Erik Messerschmidt with Episodes 3 & 4 Director Asif Kapadia (Merrick Morton / Netflix)

MINDHUNTER: Mindful Operating

Operator Brian Osmond, SOC and dolly grip Dwayne Barr push in on a dialog scene between Anna Torv and Jonathan Groff (Merrick Morton / Netflix)

With Brian Osmond, SOC.

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

With Mindhunter, Netflix reunites with director David Fincher for the first time since he helped the streaming service launch into original programming with their first series, House of Cards. In Mindhunter, Fincher’s attention to detail proved a perfect match for creating the dark world of obsession and intrigue that is the true story of the origin of the FBI Behavioral Science Unit. Based on the real-life experiences of FBI special agent, John Douglas, who pioneered the practice of psychological profiling, Mindhunter takes place in the 1970’s and follows two FBI agents who radically expand criminal science as the study the methods and motivations of serial killers. But getting so close to real world monsters has consequences, and their encounters with the darkest of humanity begin to change them and the way they work.

Read the full interview:

Thanks to Andrew Moore

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)

“What’s it like shooting for David Fincher?”

Christopher Probst

Logo - The ASC

Christopher Probst, ASC, is curating The ASC’s Instagram for March.

Christopher Probst, ASC
March 2, 2018
The ASC (Instagram)

Hello and thanks for the warm welcome! I’m honored to be hosting this month and look forward to posting a variety of images/topics. Being a nerd, there’ll be plenty of technical posts about cameras/lenses, but I’d also like to draw on my teaching at Global Cinematography Institute and writing/editing for American Cinematographer for the last 24 years. To begin, I’ll start with a little Mindhunter anecdote.

Over the past few months I’ve been asked, “What’s it like shooting for David Fincher?”

Coming up the camera department as a 1st AC/operator then shooting music videos and commercials, I’ve operated most of my projects. Simultaneously, I’ve also been writing for AC since 1994 and its Technical Editor since 98. That enabled me to literally corner many of the DPs I admired and pick their brains under the guise of some altruistic journalistic cause (but always with the underlying motive to learn from idols like Conrad Hall, Deakins, Chivo, Khondji, Harris Savides; and directors like Spielberg, Bay, the Coen bros., and Fincher). Like many of you, I’ve admired/studied David’s work, so thinking myself somewhat clever and not without operating skills, I opted to operate A-camera on my episodes.

Early in the schedule, we were shooting a prison corridor as Jonathan Groff is led to meet the serial-killer Ed Kemper. We had 2 cameras on 150’ of dolly track: a 65mm locked-off closeup and a 29mm low 2-shot I operated remotely. We did a take and David said, “That’s great, but pan a little to the right.” Ok… note taken. Next take. “Pan to the left…” What the hell? Ok, what’s he looking at? We shot Mindhunter in 6K framing for a 5K extraction, so I was mainly looking where to place our lead in this low 3/4 shot. You know, rule-of-thirds kind of thinking:

Mindhunter S01E02 - Christopher Probst 02

Then it dawned on me. David’s looking for balance/symmetry in all aspects of his work. Forget what books say. He’s looking at the shot as a whole. Not just the actors. As the two walk, if I framed only for Ford, the guard may be at the edge or even cut off. Anything but symmetrical! But once I got in David’s head, I moved back from the monitor and tried to NOT look at the actors and just balance the sides of the frame.

That level of symmetry/precision permeates all aspects of a Fincher film. Working with David is full of moments that strengthen you as a filmmaker if you are open to challenging yourself and your preconceived ideas.

Mindhunter S01E02 - Christopher Probst 03

Thanks to Joe Frady.

Christopher Probst, ASC, Nominee for the ASC Awards

2018 32nd ASC Awards

The Nominees Are: 2017 Achievements in Cinematography Earn ASC Accolades

The American Society of Cinematographers

The winners will be revealed at the organization’s February 17 ceremony. The event will be held at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland.

The ASC Awards — attended each year by more than 1,500 guests including Society members, other top cinematographers, their crews and representatives from many industry-leading support companies worldwide — is cinematography’s biggest annual event, celebrating the finest work of the year and its exceptional practitioners.

Motion Picture, Miniseries, or Pilot Made for Television:

Pepe Avila del Pino for The Deuce pilot on HBO
Serge Desrosiers, CSC for Sometimes the Good Kill on Lifetime
Mathias Herndl, AAC for Genius (“Chapter 1”) on National Geographic
Shelly Johnson, ASC for Training Day pilot (“Apocalypse Now”) on
CBS
Christopher Probst, ASC for Mindhunter pilot on Netflix

2018-02-01 Christopher Probst, ASC (Instagram) - Ad appearing in the recent issue of American Cinematographer magazine [Ed.]

Netflix (American Cinematographer)

Harmonica Cinema: Mindhunter

Excellent article on the cinematography of Mindhunter by Spanish DP, Producer and cinematography scholar Ignacio Aguilar. Time to practice your rusty Spanish or get help from a good web translator.

Harmonica Cinema - Logo

Serie creada por David Fincher para Netflix, basada al parecer en investigaciones y trabajos reales del FBI y que está ambientada hacia 1977. El protagonista es un joven agente (Jonathan Groff), quien tras una operación fallida es relegado a dar clases formativas junto a otro agente más veterano (Holt McCallany) viajando por el país y estudiando casos concretos de crímenes reales. Para intentar resolverlos, los agentes comienzan a entrevistarse con asesinos en serie a fin de estudiar su psicología y tratar de aplicar lo aprendido para resolver los nuevos casos que se van presentando. Pero la cercanía con los asesinos y sus mentes provocarán un fuerte impacto en el protagonista. Hannah Gross, como su novia, así como Anna Torv, como una psicóloga que en principio colabora con el equipo y posteriormente se une al mismo, forman el reparto principal, en el que Cameron Britton, como uno de los peligrosos asesinos que aparecen en los diez episodios de esta notable primera temporada, crea una gran impresión.

Ignacio Aguilar
25 enero 2018
Harmonica Cinema

Fincher se ha hecho cargo de cuatro de estos diez episodios de arranque (los dos primeros y los dos últimos), mientras que Christopher Probst [ASC] rodó los dos primeros y Erik Messerschmidt los ocho restantes. Probst es un viejo conocido de los lectores de “American Cinematographer”, ya que desde hace más de dos décadas colabora con la revista con entrevistas y artículos y, desde hace años, viene siendo su editor técnico. Seguramente en alguna de estas entrevistas conoció a Fincher en los años 90. Desde entonces, en paralelo, ha venido desarrollando una sólida carrera como director de fotografía en videoclips, con trabajos para artistas como Taylor Swift o Eminem entre muchos otros. “Mindhunter” es su primera gran oportunidad en la ficción, como lo es también para Messerschmidt, ya que hasta la fecha su oficio venía siendo el de “gaffer” o jefe de eléctricos. Como ya le sucediera a Claudio Miranda, “gaffer” en parte de Se7en, The Game y Fight Club al que Fincher dio su primera gran oportunidad con “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, Messerschmidt ocupó este cargo para Jeff Cronenweth en “Gone Girl” y Fincher le ha ofrecido con esta serie la oportunidad de rodar una importante serie de televisión.

Desde hace muchos años, en concreto desde los tiempos de “Zodiac” (2007), con la que esta serie guarda bastantes similitudes temáticas y estilísticas, David Fincher ha venido siendo un abanderado de la tecnología digital para adquirir sus imágenes. Desde 2010, Fincher ha sido fiel a la empresa de cámaras RED, habiendo empleado casi todas sus cámaras en sus proyectos: la Red One MX en “The Social Network”, una mezcla de Red MX y Epic MX en “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011), así como la Epic Dragon en “Gone Girl” (2014). Incluso también su serie “House of Cards” (2013) empleó los sensores Mysterium-X y Dragon. Fincher, por lo tanto, es uno de los más prestigiosos cineastas del universo RED, de modo que no resulta del todo extraño que la empresa le haya fabricado tres cámaras customizadas (denominadas Red Xenomorph, que recuerdan estéticamente al “Alien” de Giger, saga en la que participó Fincher como director). Estas cámaras incorporan el mismo sensor Dragon que Red Weapon convencionales, pero además de una forma más ergonómica, proporcionan más conexiones, vídeo y motores inalámbricos, etc. En cierto modo, lo que a estas alturas Red debería estar ofreciendo ya a sus consumidores, en lugar de sus cámaras modulares tradicionales con las que nunca parece poder competir con ARRI, excepto para Netflix, ya que sus cámaras son las únicas de “alta gama” (además de las Sony) que cumplen con el requisito de los 4K nativos (que llevan a absurdos como el hecho de que la única Alexa que se puede emplear sea la Alexa 65).

Lee el artículo completo

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Behind the Scenes of Mindhunter with Christopher Probst, ASC

Christopher Probst, ASC (Instagram)

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A monitor grab from a scene appearing in Ep. 3 of Mindhunter @netflix… Scheduling necessities required several sequences for Episodes 3 and 7 to be fitted into the schedule for our Eps. 1 and 2 "pilot block" shooting schedule. This scene takes place in the Sacramento storyline continued from Ep. 2, where our intrepid heroes (@holtmccallany and Jonathan Groff) help catch a killer of elderly women. This scene and others in the detective's bullpen downstairs, and outside (where their car has its wheels removed) were all shot in the former Daily News newspaper headquarters in McKeesport, PA. This shot was lit almost entirely with the selective use of practicals. I had the overhead bulbs switched to legacy Warm White tubes, added some desk lamps and used a fair amount of haze on set… In fact, a little more about the look: During prep, I created master visual bible for the evolution of the series, which will ultimately span three decades, and laid out an evolution in the visual design of the show. The 1970s would use Warm White tubes and Sodium Vapor streetlights outside, as well as heavy use of atmosphere from cigarette smoke. We also had custom 92mm screw-on 1/2 Low Con filters from @tiffencompany made for the @cwsonderoptic Leica Summilux-C lenses to be used throughout the first season… The 1980s in future seasons would see a progression toward Cool White fluorescents, Mercury Vapor streetlights and losing the low cons. The 1990s, would switch to color corrected fluorescents (no green) and neutral street lighting. Resolution and gamma may also evolve as the show progresses… w/ @camgrip @mtnbikethis @alex_w_scott @murnorama @reddigitalcinema. . #mindhunter #davidfincher #reddigitalcinema #redxenomorph cameras

A post shared by Christopher Probst, ASC (@probstdp) on

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Here's another behind the scenes pic from the set of Mindhunter @netflix. This was one our fabulous sets constructed by production designer Steve Arnold on our "tin shed" stages in Pittsburgh. Shepherd's office had the wall located behind his desk built with an invisible track that could raise the wall up, allowing us to get this angle behind the often flabbergasted FBI chief. Outside the windows we had large greenscreens, but in instances where we didn't see the green, I opted to wheel in day-blue frames to provide a more natural color temp coming in through the windows… and do note that daylight often has two components, direct sunlight and sky… you can see this effect play on the vertical blinds… effectively creating the feel of exterior light MUST take all of these ides into account. . #mindhunter #davidfincher #netflix #cinematography #reddigitalcinema

A post shared by Christopher Probst, ASC (@probstdp) on

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This scene from Mindhunter doesn’t appear in season one in this particular environment. Though I quite liked the visual tone of the bar scene, Fincher ultimately decided that we reshoot it in a parking lot (blasphemy, I know) where the characters miss their flight and are stuck in California longer (so Holden decides to see Ed Kemper @cameronbrittonh.) David’s process often involves evaluating his work and having the option to change direction with it if needed. I was sad to see this one hit the cutting room floor. Shot on Red Weapon (Xenomorph) camera’s and Leica Summilux-C lenses. w/ @holtmccallany @alex_w_scott @camgrip, @mtnbikethis @reddigitalcinema @cwsonderoptic. . #davidfincher #mindhunter #netflix #reddigitalcinema #redweapon

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Director David Fincher is known for subjecting his actors to a lot of takes… this scene from Episode One was the most takes we shot during my tenure on the show. The shot in question was a long walk-and-talk between Holden @jonathangroff and his boss Shepherd. The shot begins in a FBI instruction room, pans to our characters on-looking from a hallway, and then they turn and walk through several corridors in the FBI headquarters. It’s well known that David doesn’t like Steadicams and despises a lack of stability and symmetry, therefore we shot this on a free-wheeling Chapman PeeWee dolly (he also hates bulky equipment) pulled backwards by our intrepid A-camera dolly grip Dwayne Barr @camgrip. The floor of our FBI sets were low carpet, so there was a fair amount of drag on the wheels causing resistance AND vibration, so we put a vibration isolator (basically a spring-mounted Mitchell plate) below the fluid head and Dwayne just had to steer and muscle it. I operated A camera on the show so I was riding the dolly and keeping a feather touch on the head to not transfer my own vibrations back into the camera that was been smoothed out to a degree by the shock-absorbing springs. I think we went for 3 more takes after I shot this slate. Fortunately, Dwayne got a weekend break after we completed this scene, he needed it. w/ @alex_w_scott @mtnbikethis I @reddigitalcinema. . #mindhunter #davidfincher #netflix #reddigitalcinema

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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.

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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

How Mindhunter filmed using a customised camera

by Hannah Gal
30/10/2017
KFTV

Erik Messerschmidt was director of photography on Netflix‘s Mindhunter – he talks about using a customised camera with David Fincher.

As a hard working gaffer, Erik Messerschmidt has reached the top of his profession, but his ambition has always been to work as a cinematographer.

His break came when David Fincher asked him to join Netflix’s new project. The director had previously worked with the cinematographer on the 2014 domestic thriller Gone Girl and signed on to Mindhunter, a story that traces the development of the FBI’s understanding of criminal science in the 1970s. Fincher directed four of the show’s ten episodes and was an executive producer on the full series.

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