Frame & Reference is a conversation between Cinematographers hosted by Kenny McMillan of OWL BOT. Each episode dives into the respective DP’s current and past work, as well as what influences and inspires them. These discussions are an entertaining and informative look into the world of making films through the lens of the people who shoot them.
In this episode, Kenny talks with cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, ASC, about the new film “Devotion.” Erik has had a very interesting career including work on series such as “Mindhunter”, “Legion”, “Fargo” and as the DP of “Mank” for which he won an Oscar.
Frame & Reference is supported by:
Filmtools, the West Coast’s leading supplier of film equipment. From cameras and lights to grip and expendables, Filmtools has you covered for all your film gear needs.
ProVideo Coalition, a top news and reviews site focusing on all things production and post coming out of the industry.
Follow the fourth season of Michael Fassbender’s journey to compete at the world’s ultimate motorsport event in this weekly YouTube series.
Starting at minute 2:14, there is a three-minute clip of Fassbender shooting car process scenes for The Killer with Fincher and his team on Sound Stage 2 at Triscenic Production Services. Andrew Kevin Walker, the screenwriter of the film, is also visiting.
The actor discusses working on the film during the off-season of his other passion, car racing:
I had the great privilege and honor of working with David Fincher on The Killer. I have the lead role in his film. To have a small window of opportunity to go to work and then to be able to work with one of the best filmmakers out there was just a dream come true.
It felt really good to go back to work. The film that I’ve done before was just before lockdown. But that was 2019, so I was definitely ready to go back to work.
With somebody of David’s caliber, it was a very special opportunity for me: quite a few locations over a five-month period.
What was interesting for me was taking the experience from what we’re doing on track and bringing it on set, especially with somebody like David who films very precisely and everything is dealing in fractions in terms of how you deliver things and movement and exactly how the frame is occupied.
You have to step on and deliver in a period of time. And David is looking for perfection and to do that within a take, however long that take is. It might be 40 seconds. It might be six minutes long, but within that time frame, you’re looking to do everything exactly as it should be.
You’ve taken on board all the notes and there’s plenty of them to digest, but in the moment when you’re trying to deliver those notes, you’re not thinking at all.
It was a real honor. I felt like I learned a lot from him. It was a full-on shoot, very long hours sometimes six-day weeks. So there was literally not enough time for me to get into car and do any training whatsoever.
So we wrapped up the film in L.A., end of March, and I got directly on a flight the next day and then came straight to the track.
Entrevistamos a Erik Messerschmidt, director de fotografía estadounidense, en el marco del evento MicroSalón AEC, con sede en Madrid. Messerschmidt es habitual colaborador del cineasta David Fincher y obtuvo un premio Óscar a la mejor fotografía por Mank.
Me gustaría preguntarte si consideras que el cine proviene de la fotografía, si te parece que el cine proporciona movimiento a las fotografías o si proviene de una transformación técnica más compleja.
Es una gran pregunta. Creo que el cine es storytelling extendido en el tiempo. Es esculpir en el tiempo, como decía Tarkovski. La fotografía tiene que ver con la historia de un momento singular. El cine manipula y hace progresar el tiempo. Tiene más en común con la literatura y los sueños que con la fotografía.
Award-winning director of photography Erik Messerschmidt, ASC has a natural eye for arresting and spellbinding images, thriving in a role that allows him to combine his love of art, craft and science. Recently, he lensed Devotion for director J.D. Dillard, based on the real-life story of a Black naval officer who befriends a white naval officer during the Korean War, with both becoming heroes for their selfless acts of bravery.
He also finished shooting Michael Mann’s biographical film Ferrari, starring Adam Driver, Shailene Woodley, and Penélope Cruz, and David Fincher’s The Killer, starring Michael Fassbender and Tilda Swinton.
Previously, Messerschmidt shot Fincher’s passion project Mank, chronicling the screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz’s turbulent journey to write Citizen Kane alongside Orson Welles. Messerschmidt’s meticulous and striking black and white recreation of the period’s aesthetic earned him the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, an ASC Award for Outstanding Cinematography in a Feature Film, a BSC Award for Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Release, a BAFTA Award nomination for Best Cinematography, as well as Best Cinematography award nominations from the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle, the Broadcast Film Critics Association Critics Choice, and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists.
In addition, Messerschmidt co-lensed several episodes of the HBO Max original series Raised by Wolves from producer Ridley Scott. He also shot the first and second seasons of Fincher’s hit thriller series Mindhunter for Netflix, earning a 2020 Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (one-hour) for episode 206.
With a background in the fine arts world, Messerschmidt honed his skills while working with such renowned cinematographers such as Dariusz Wolski, ASC, Jeff Cronenweth, ASC, Phedon Papamichael, ASC, Claudio Miranda, ASC, and Greig Fraser, ASC. Messerschmidt now lives in Los Angeles and is a member of IATSE Local 600. He is represented by DDA.
When digital cinematography was in its infancy, around 2005, it was like the Wild West; new cameras were appearing seemingly every week, whether from University’ concept’ programs or start-ups with a movie making a revolution on their minds.
In this white heat of technology, director David Fincher started to craft his movie-making skills. He was a risk taker with new technology but driven by the promise it gave him. As much as Fincher and his crew were proud of the films they made, they were also proud of how they made them.
Zodiac’s Digital Gamble
Fincher had already used digital cinematography for his commercials and decided to commit early to this technology for his movies. But his long-time producer Ceán Chaffin brought some hard business sense to brace against his pioneering creative decisions.
Ceán had been involved more in costing this digital workflow out and had looked at introducing digital for a feature before Zodiac but found that it wasn’t cost-efficient at that time; Zodiac was different. “At the moment of Zodiac, storage was so cheap that we could push it; it was also about the savings at that point. The sticking point was really about storage for us up to Zodiac.”
Has any cinematographer had so fast an ascendancy as Erik Messerschmidt? While no newcomer—his IMDb dates back to 2001, his first cinematography credit from 2003—work on Gone Girl earned the attention of David Fincher, by whom Messerschmidt was then enlisted to shoot his Netflix series Mindhunter. (Impressive then, all the more sterling since as an example of streaming television that doesn’t look or move like streaming television.) Which led into Mank which led into The Killer, Fincher’s much-anticipated thriller arriving next year.
Somewhere along the way Michael Mann called. I talked to Messerschmidt at ENERGACamerimage, where he was promoting the new feature Devotion and mere weeks from wrapping Ferrari, Mann’s first feature in longer than you’d believe and a passion project of equal gestation—nothing you leave in the hands of an amateur. Certainly not if you’re as obsessive, fastidious, demanding as Michael Mann. Meeting in Toruń’s CKK Jordanki, we were quick to start.
[Editor’s Note: The following interview contains spoilers for “Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities” Episode 3, “The Autopsy.”]
A little while ago, director David Prior got an unexpected gift. A package showed up in the mail. Inside was a tiny figurine of a bearded man.
“I got it in the mail before I even knew what it was. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s nice. A little souvenir. Did Guillermo whittle this himself?’” Prior said. “I assumed it was Dr. Winters when I got it.”
Dr. Winters is the main character in “The Autopsy,” the episode of the Netflix series “Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities” that Prior directed. In this version of Michael Shea’s short story, adapted with the help of screenwriter David S. Goyer, Winters is called on to help an investigation into what local police believe is a tragic mining explosion. By the time he gets a chance to examine the bodies pulled from the wreckage, Winters discovers that something about those deaths wasn’t exactly natural.
But as Prior discovered when he watched the completed episode, the small statue was of him, not his protagonist. In each of the “Cabinet of Curiosities” installments, Del Toro continues in the tradition of past anthology hosts with a short introduction. Each ends with him tipping his hat to the director of the episode audiences are about to see, with their figurine likeness front and center.
That kind of onscreen salute is far from the support that Prior’s debut feature, “The Empty Man,” got when it was released almost exactly two years before. A victim of studio merger jockeying, a theatrical distribution model in chaos, and a whole host of marketing bungles, “The Empty Man” took a groundswell of devoted fan support to gradually reach the audience it deserved.
“The Autopsy” doesn’t have quite the immense and global scope of that debut feature, but the same meticulous, precise spirit of Prior’s visual storytelling comes through. It’s a detective story of a different kind, with Winters (played by F. Murray Abraham) bringing a key emotional match to the jargon-heavy work of his profession. What this doctor finds is beyond the anatomical puzzle he expected.
And it’s another story that marries the technical craft of unsettling audiences (split fingernails! corpses in bags covered in insects!) with heady thematic ideas about what life is worth and how to spend it. From the mine explosion set piece to the insert shot of whiskey splashing into a coffee mug, everything in “The Autopsy” serves a purpose. Prior spoke with IndieWire about the process of joining a horror playground in progress and adding another impressive tale to his own collection.
Cinema is often referred to as painting with light — but it could be said that David Fincher’s movies paint with darkness. Beginning with Alien 3, and moving on through Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, Mank, and the TV series Mindhunter, the acclaimed director has made use of low-key lighting and anemic palettes to explore the darker recesses of the human mind.
Now, Fincher has taken his characteristic chiaroscuro to “Bad Travelling,” a grisly maritime adventure involving a dishonest, paranoid crew — and a giant crustacean lurking below decks. The Love, Death & Robots episode marks Fincher’s first completely computer-animated short film, as well as his first directorial contribution to the Netflix anthology series he executive produces alongside fellow director Tim Miller.
To create the nautical world of “Bad Travelling,” Fincher teamed up with Blur Studio, the animation and VFX production company founded by Miller. We spoke to Compositing Supervisor Nitant Ashok Karnik and Co-CG Supervisor Jean Baptiste Cambier about working with a living legend of modern cinema, and how V-Ray’s lighting tools helped Fincher embrace the darkness.
It’s easy to see why David Fincher chose “Bad Travelling” as his first foray into directing animation. He made his feature debut with the ill-fated “Alien 3,” after all, and the premise of this third-season episode of “Love, Death + Robots” is a bit like setting the plight of the Nostromo on the high seas: A giant, slimy crab devours the crew of a shark-hunting vessel, with only the cunning navigator surviving to battle the beast. (It also makes up for Fincher’s aborted take on “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” at Disney.)
Fincher also likens “Bad Travelling” to “Ten Little Indians” meets “Deadliest Catch,” with the ship’s navigator, Torrin (Troy Baker), contending with mutiny, betrayal, and a starving Thanapod crustacean that bizarrely communicates through ventriloquism.
“You don’t necessarily want to see them come to unnatural ends,” Fincher said about the crew in the production notes. “The idea was not to make them despicable, but self-serving. That’s the thing I always loved about Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto in ‘Alien’….”
Jarred Land has spent his career in close collaboration and connection with filmmakers, supporting the execution of their vision with powerful and ground-breaking tools.
Jarred Land runs RED Digital Cinema, the company whose 4K camera went from scepticism to admiration on a run of prestige movies like David Fincher’s Oscar-winning Mank and series like The Queen’s Gambit. Since 2013, Land has led a team focused on precedent-setting technology for filmmakers.
Land didn’t found RED but joined Jim Jannard before the launch of the first camera and during the hardcore, technology banging sleepless nights part of the story, where a small group failed, learned, succeeded. From the first conversation Land had with Jannard and still today, the focus is on providing a more complete tool for filmmakers.
Born in Edmonton, Canada, Land’s father ran gas stations and shopping malls, imbuing in him an entrepreneurial spirit. The teenage Land’s passion was mountain biking which he segued into his own bike courier company in Vancouver.
A chance encounter with a client inspired him to take up videography using the Panasonic tape camcorder DVX100. “I couldn’t go to film school because I was running my company and biking 100km a day, so I set up a bulletin board for help,” he says.