‘Mank’ costume designer Trish Summerville: It’s not just black-and-white, it’s ‘Fincher-vision’

Daniel Montgomery
January 20, 2021
Gold Derby

“I keep making this joke that it’s Fincher-vision because it’s not just black-and-white, it’s this really specific way that he’s going to light the film,” says costume designer Trish Summerville about the unique visual style of “Mank,” directed by David Fincher. The film tells the story of “Citizen Kane” writer Herman Mankiewicz, and it’s shot to resemble films of the 1930s and 1940s. That presented Summerville with equally unique challenges and opportunities. We spoke with her as part of our “Meet the Experts” costume designers panel. Watch our interview above.

“The black-and-white was the most challenging thing: figuring out how we wanted to make that work, doing different testing on clothing and fabrics … so we could see how it would read,” Summerville explains. “Even though you think you don’t need a color palette, you really do, because if not, when you’re looking at it with your naked eye on set, it becomes very jarring.” And understanding color was crucial for achieving the right effect in the finished product “so that when it read in black-and-white on the screen and on the monitors it didn’t just all come across as flat, it had dimension to it, sheens and tones.”

It helped that the film was portraying so many well-known figures with documented looks and styles — not just Mankiewicz, but Marion DaviesWilliam Randolph HearstLouis B. Mayer, and more. “We could find things of [Mank] at work, on sound stages, and also at home,” Summerville says. “We even at one point found these images of him at one of his kids’ bar mitzvahs, so that was great, it was a whole family photo.”

But in a film with so many male characters, it was also important “to give each one of the men their own kind of characteristics and dress them towards who those characters really were … so that not everybody read as a navy suit in a room.” That research and detail, in collaboration with Fincher’s direction, Donald Graham Burt‘s production design and Erik Messerschmidt‘s cinematography, “all of it has these special touches that make you feel you’re transported to the 1930s.”

Interiors: Donald Graham Burt, Mank

Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian
January 13, 2021
Interiors

David Fincher’s Mank (2020) depicts 3 incredibly unique locations in California with a multitude of interior and exterior architectural spaces. The visual presentation of the film, combined with the Art Direction and Set Decoration, creates a masterful, multifaceted level of Production Design that is rarely seen in cinema. It is a film that warrants multiple viewings and its attention to architectural details should be commended.

In an exclusive interview with Interiors, we spoke with Donald Graham Burt, who is the Production Designer for Mank.

INT: You’re a longtime collaborator of David Fincher‘s but what was it about Mank specifically that interested you in taking on the project?

DGB: First and foremost it was an opportunity to work on a project that was a period Los Angeles project – and even more specifically a period project about the film industry.  To be able to delve into the history of the studios and the roots of the industry in its early years in Los Angeles – when portions of the city were still undeveloped – was an experience to cherish.  David’s projects are always of high caliber and there is a professional level at which he works that is rewarding to be a contributor to.  

Read the full interview

The Design of ‘Mank’: How Costumes and Sets Energized David Fincher’s Homage to Old Hollywood

TheWrap magazine: Costume designer Trish Summerville and production designer Donald Graham Burt take us behind the scenes.

Joe McGovern
January 12, 2021
The Wrap

A version of this story about “Mank” appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

“Fincher-vision” is the term that costume designer Trish Summerville uses while discussing her experience working with director David Fincher. “His mind is so clear about what he wants, but there’s still room for spontaneity,” she said. “That’s why there’s so much happiness in the craft departments on his films. And so much repeat business.” Production designer Donald Graham Burt echoed her sentiment. “When David starts telling me about a new film, he visually sees the whole thing in his head,” he said. “But there’s room for expansion creatively.”

Those qualities were essential to “Mank,” Summerville’s third project with the director and Burt’s sixth. (Burt won an Oscar for 2008’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; Summerville’s other credits include “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and “Red Sparrow.”) Fincher’s look at the screenwriter of “Citizen Kane” is a rich evocation of 1930s Hollywood that’s grounded in the reality of its time and place, though the film was shot in silvery black-and-white.

The two department heads talked often, ironically, about color. “There are some colors that don’t translate well,” Summerville said. “Salmon and chartreuse and acid greens are jarring in black-and-white. So Don and I talked a lot about our color palettes.” Summerville also reminded Fincher, making his first black-and-white feature, not to place too much trust in his eyes and instead view everything through the camera monitor.

Read the full profile

Making of ‘Mank’: How David Fincher Pulled Off a Modern Movie Invoking Old Hollywood

The director had to employ digital advances to achieve a vintage aesthetic in telling the tale of ‘Citizen Kane’ screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz: “If we had done it 30  years ago, it might’ve been truly a bloodletting.”

Rebecca Keegan
January 11, 2021
The Hollywood Reporter

Screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz never sought credit for conceiving one of the all-time great ideas in the history of cinema — the notion that the Kansas scenes in The Wizard of Oz should be shot in black and white and the Oz scenes in color. In fact, for much of his career in Hollywood from the late 1920s to the early ’50s, Mankiewicz seemed to view his scripts with about as much a sense of ownership as a good zinger he had landed at a cocktail party.

But what fascinated David Fincher was that when it came time to assign credit on the screenplay for Citizen Kane, which Mankiewicz wrote with Orson Welles in 1940 (or without, depending on your perspective), the journeyman screenwriter suddenly and inexplicably began to care. Precisely why that happened is the subject of Fincher’s 11th feature film, Mank.

“I wasn’t interested in a posthumous guild arbitration,” Fincher says of Mank, which takes up the Citizen Kane authorship question reinvigorated by a 1971 Pauline Kael essay in The New Yorker. “What was of interest to me was, here’s a guy who had seemingly nothing but contempt for what he did for a living. And, on almost his way out the door, having burned most of the bridges that he could … something changed.”

Shot in black and white and in the style of a 1930s movie, Mank toggles between Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) writing the first draft of Citizen Kane from a remote house in the desert and flashback sequences of his life in Hollywood in the ’30s, including his friendship with newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), who inspired Citizen Kane, and Hearst’s mistress, actress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried).

A filmmaker known for his compulsive attention to detail, Fincher had even more reason than usual to treat every decision with care on Mank, as he was working from a screenplay written by his father, journalist Jack Fincher, who died in 2003. Jack had taken up the subject in retirement in 1990, just as David was on the eve of directing his first feature, Alien 3, and the two would try throughout the 1990s to get the film made, with potential financiers put off by their insistence on shooting in black and white.

Read the full profile

Mank Is a Rich Immersion Into Hollywood’s Black-and-White Glory Days

A rendering of the archway in the dining room at Hearst Castle, which features Spanish Revival details. Drawings by Daniela Medeiros

David Fincher’s new film tells the story of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he pens the script for Citizen Kane

Mara Reinstein
December 3, 2020
Architectural Digest

Judging the film Mank just based on the story alone—cynical, heavy-drinking screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz evaluates his turbulent travails through Hollywood as he struggles to script Citizen Kane—doesn’t do it justice. A work of impeccable craftsmanship that unspools in crisp black-and-white, Mank, which premieres Friday, December 4, on Netflix, allows viewers to journey back in time to experience all the glamour and grit of Los Angeles during the 1930s and early ’40s. And that’s exactly how director David Fincher (Gone Girl, The Social Network) intended it.

“I remember when David first spoke to me about it,” Oscar-winning production designer Donald Graham Burt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) tells Architectural Digest. “He said ‘I want it to feel like you’re in a film vault and you see Citizen Kane and then you see a film next to it and it says Mank and you think, ‘Oh, I never saw that.’ He wanted it to look like a film made in that period.”

Read the full profile

Mank Cinematography with Erik Messerschmidt ASC

Ben Consoli
December 18, 2020
Go Creative Show

David Fincher’s highly-anticipated Netflix film MANK is here! Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt ASC explains how modern equipment and techniques were used to create an authentic-looking 1930s black and white film.

Erik and Go Creative Show host, Ben Consoli, discuss why they chose not to shoot on film, how shooting & lighting black and white is different than color, Erik’s philosophy on camera coverage, and so much more!

What you will learn in this episode:

  • Prep and working with David Fincher (03:31)
  • Authentic black and white visual approach (16:02)
  • Shooting with deep focus (21:44)
  • Lighting for black and white (23:15)
  • Lighting dissolve transitions in Mank (26:24)
  • Transforming 8K footage to look like film (30:43)
  • Why shooting on film was never considered (35:43)
  • Filtration used on Mank (40:30)
  • Philosophy on camera coverage (44:40)
  • Filming and lighting the election party (53:12)
  • Using ND filter contacts for actor eyes (57:40)
  • Production design in black and white (01:04:24)
  • And more!

Listen to the audio or video podcast

Show Links:

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The People Who Can See Inside David Fincher’s Head

The famously meticulous Mank director is surrounded by collaborators tasked with turning his most ambitious ideas into reality.

David Sims
December 9, 2020
The Atlantic

Early in Netflix’s Mank, the screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) ambles onto an outdoor movie set, where he bumps into an array of glamorous characters. In a scene full of repartee with real-life figures such as the actor Marion Davies, the film honcho Louis B. Mayer, and the mogul William Randolph Hearst, the visual details of the environment might seem unimportant. But to Mank’s director, David Fincher, they mattered. “The grass was not to David’s liking, and the sky was not to his liking, so all that’s been replaced,” Peter Mavromates, his co-producer, told me. When making a movie, Fincher literally controls heaven and earth.

That example sums up the capricious-sounding, godlike power of a director, especially in the age of digital filmmaking, which allows for total command of every frame. But as with all of his movies, Fincher’s vision for Mank was realized by a group of dedicated collaborators, most of whom have worked with the director for many years across projects. This film, which Fincher mulled for nearly three decades, is unlike anything he has made before. An unusual-looking-and-sounding film set in the Golden Age of Hollywood, Mank reflects the aesthetic of the 1930s with its black-and-white cinematography; an echoey, old-fashioned sound mix; and a brassy, orchestral score. But Fincher also wanted it to be a distinctly modern film, which posed many unique and fascinating technical challenges to the creators charged with bringing his lofty ideas to life.

Read the full profile

X2X: Glimpse into Future Filmmaking with Mank

How will filmmaking adapt in the post-Covid era? A glimpse into the future is afforded by Mank, the forthcoming Netflix feature project directed by David Fincher and spearheaded by producer Ceán Chaffin. More than a love letter to a catalog title, Mank is a glimpse of the complex interplay of human creativity and the filmmaking process as practiced in Hollywood’s golden era.

December 9, 2020
X2X

Fincher is known for working in the vanguard of filmmaking technology. Examples include a very early digital intermediate on Panic Room – the first ever in a facility designed for the purpose – and Zodiac, one of the first major features to be shot almost entirely digitally. The remote collaboration envisioned by futurists at the dawn of the internet era was already common practice for his team long before the pandemic.

“Fortunately, we have not missed a beat,” says Chaffin. “We are working now exactly how we mostly could have been working the past ten years, which is working from home during post.”

But the virus and its requirement to remain physically apart may constitute a final push for the industry at large. All the attributes of true remote connectivity – reduced travel time and its attendant benefits in terms of stress, pollution and time savings, enhanced with rapid feedback, superior organization and a centralized database – will still be applicable when health concerns subside.

A canvas of the top pros on David Fincher’s team indicates that while the pandemic naturally raises stress levels, the need to work separately has been essentially a non-factor in terms of their ability to collaborate efficiently and keep the production on track.

Fincher came to the project with a mandate that the production work with the PIX production hub. Chaffin, who has made nine films with Fincher, says that the system is an essential tool for collaboration and input.

“This is how we have worked for a long time.” says Chaffin. “David feels the team is making the film with him, sharing in the problem-solving. Even when we were in the same building, David was often responding exclusively through PIX. His preferences and concerns are there for everyone to refer to. You don’t have to go find that one email, or remember a comment someone made on their way out the door.

Read the full case study

‘Mank’ Production Team on Creating a Feast for the Eyes and Ears for the Netflix Period Film

Jazz Tangcay
December 4, 2020
Variety

In David Fincher’s “Mank,” bowing Dec. 4 on Netflix, a key sequence takes place at Hearst Castle, when Gary Oldman’s Herman J. Mankiewicz shows up drunk and unannounced at a lavish dinner party thrown by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, played by Charles Dance.

Filming is normally not allowed at the actual estate, with Lady Gaga’s “G.U.Y.” video the rare exception. So production designer Donald Graham Burt and Fincher spent months tracking down locations around Los Angeles that could stand in for the grand mansion. Interiors and exteriors were shot at a Pasadena estate, the Huntington Gardens, in Malibu and on soundstages, all carefully decorated to give the feel of San Simeon if not the exact details.

It was up to sound mixer Ren Klyce to capture the extravagance that Fincher sought when filming those scenes. Klyce reverse-engineered the mix — distorting sounds, lowering the dynamic range and limiting the high frequency to take audiences back to 1930s Hollywood and the “Citizen Kane” era.

Burt and Klyce break down how they re-created the estate and captured the aura of wealth.

La Septième Obsession 31: David Fincher

La Septième Obsession

OBSESSION: David Fincher

1. Mank de David Fincher

Le grand film de Fincher débarque sur Netflix le 4 décembre. L’occasion d’un entretien avec le cinéaste, mais aussi avec ses collaborateurs les plus proches. 16 pages spéciales.

Scénario pour une critique par Nicolas Tellop

Filmopathe entretien avec David Fincher – par Nev Pierce

Collaborer avec Fincher entretiens avec Erik Messerschmidt (chef opérateur) – Donald Graham Burt (chef décorateur) – Trish Summerville (costumière) – Kirk Baxter (monteur)

2. Revisiter Fincher

Plongée exceptionnelle dans l’oeuvre de l’un des plus grands cinéastes contemporains. Filmographie commentée, analyses… 50 pages à lire.

4 nuances de Fincher par Jean-Sébastien Massart et Fabrice Fuentes

David Fincher en 14 titres Propaganda Films (clips) – Alien 3Se7enThe GameFight ClubPanic Room + les plans de Panic RoomZodiacL’Étrange histoire de Benjamin ButtonThe Social Network Millénium + la musique hantée de MilléniumGone Girl Mindhunter

3. Analyses

Démoniaque – la perfection du crime par Nathan Reneaud
Fantômes et paranoïa par Jérôme d’Estais
Solitude & obsession – Fincher Dogma par Alexandre Jourdain
Poétique du suicide par Aurélien Lemant
Le système des objets – design finchérien par Dick Tomasovic

Sommaire complet

Commander