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

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

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)

‘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)

Time Hunters

David Fincher went looking for the 1970s — and found them in Pittsburgh. but that was just the start for the esteemed producer-director and his team, who recreated the era for Mindhunter, the Netflix series about two pioneering FBI profilers.

Liane Bonin Starr
April 13, 2018
Emmys (Television Academy) / Emmy Magazine

Watching the Netflix series Mindhunter, you may shudder as convicted serial killer Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton) casually chats about his string of brutal murders, or flinch when — spoiler alert! — a bird hits the fan courtesy of mass murderer Richard Speck (Jack Erdie).

What you’re less likely to notice is the precision with which the show’s late-’70s landscape has been created. David Fincher considers that a win.

“It’s really important that it feels like two people having a conversation — and that 40 people aren’t on their iPhones simultaneously just outside of frame,” says Fincher, who is executive-producing the series with Joshua Donen, Charlize Theron and Ceán Chaffin. “The great news is, I lived through the ’70s, so I remember what that looks like.”

Created by Joe Penhall — and based loosely on FBI agent John Douglas‘s book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit — the series explores the birth of criminal profiling.

Special agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff, playing a fictionalized version of Douglas) and his partner, Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), work alongside psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) to dig into what makes murderers tick. Shot in Pittsburgh, the show is a window on a time before the term serial killer had been coined, much less become the focus of TV shows and casual conversations.

While that seemingly more innocent time is reflected partly in the show’s relative lack of gore, the decade’s thornier complexities required a critical eye (or, in this case, eyes) to see past the polyester-covered clichés.

“David is the most holistic filmmaker I’ve ever met,” director of photography Erik Messerschmidt says. “The tone of every scene is important, and [so are] how the costumes and lighting and set decoration and everything play a part in creating the finished product.”

Fincher, who directed four of the first season’s 10 episodes, is famously meticulous, but he says the secret to getting it right is finding the right people.

“I don’t think you keep a project in a kind of design and aesthetic wheelhouse by being a dictatorial influence. Just stomping your feet and holding your breath is not going to make stuff work,” he says. “A lot of times, you have to empower people who are the advance troops and the follow-up troops to make decisions that are based on conversations that you have.”

In this case, one of the first decisions — where to shoot — was daunting.

“Our biggest issue,” Fincher says, “was: where do we find 1978?”

Read the full profile

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Thanks to Mindhunter News