‘Mindhunter’: The David Fincher Look is All About Power and Control

Merrick Morton / Netflix

Fincher was very particular about conveying control and dominance through lighting and production design in his Netflix FBI crime drama.

Bill Desowitz
June 18, 2018
IndieWire

David Fincher brilliantly pushes his cinematic formalism in “Mindhunter,” Netflix’s 10-episode crime drama that explores the FBI’s fledgling Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia, in the late ’70s. But, for the dialogue-heavy creepy interrogations with imprisoned serial killers by agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), executive producer/co-director Fincher manages to visually convey constant power shifts.

“It’s about control and dominance and also about misogyny,” Fincher said. “People forget that this goes all the way back to Jack the Ripper.”

And Fincher’s collaboration with production designer Steve Arnold (“House of Cards”) and gaffer-turned cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt (“Mad Men”) was crucial to the authentic ’70s look and dynamic blocking of the interrogation scenes, particularly those involving Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton), who captivates and mentors Holden.

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Cameron Britton Transforms Into Disturbed Killer Ed Kemper

Patrick Harbron / Netflix

Netflix (YouTube)
June 14, 2018

Cameron Britton pulls back the curtain to reveal his process as he transforms from nice guy actor into disturbed serial killer Ed Kemper.

Emmy FYC Spot directed & DP’d by Mindhunter DP Erik Messerschmidt.

252_Mindhunter_102_Unit_03095r3Patrick Harbron / Netflix

‘Mindhunter’ Breakout Cameron Britton Taps Into Psychology & Cold Intelligence Of Real-Life Serial Killer Edmund Kemper

Matt Grobar
June 14, 2018
Deadline

Breaking through with his first guest star role on David Fincher’s Netflix crime drama Mindhunter, where he would play terrifying serial killer Edmund Kemper, Cameron Britton found both an incredible artistic opportunity and a challenge that would daunt any actor, coming face to face with one of the industry’s most formidable auteurs.

In his first experience playing a real-life figure, Britton couldn’t have found a more deliciously complicated character than Kemper, who is still alive, living out his remaining years at California Medical Facility. Towering over his victims at 6’9” (Britton is 6’5”), Kemper’s dominance wasn’t only physical. Murdering 10 people, including his mother and his paternal grandparents—before desecrating their bodies—Kemper also possessed great intelligence and a knack for manipulation that made him a nightmare for his opponents, in life and in prison, where FBI agents (played in the series by Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany) tried to come to grips with his psychology.

“What drew me to the role was this dynamic where he’s this horribly violent, narcissistic, selfish person with no remorse, and yet he’s well spoken, he’s polite, he’s engaging,” Britton explains. “That sort of ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’ concept, it’s always been interesting to me. If you are threatening and your opponent knows it, why flaunt it? Why not offer them the path of least resistance?”

To play Kemper effectively, Britton would have to dig uncomfortably deep into the psyche of a murderer who viewed himself as the hero of his own story, figuring out what it was that baffled psychologists—what made him tick.

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250_Mindhunter_102_Unit_02776R3Patrick Harbron / Netflix

Cameron Britton Breaks Through Playing Real Life Serial Killer Ed Kemper in Mindhunter

Hugh Hart
June 14, 2018
MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), The Credits (Profiles Below the Line)

Netflix true crime drama Mindhunter moves efficiently in tracking the origins of forensic science as experienced through FBI odd couple (Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany) until midway through its second episode. Then, Cameron Britton makes his entrance. Playing real-life 70’s-era serial killer Ed Kemper, Britton strolls into an interrogation room and takes the show in utterly unnerving new direction through his embodiment of folksy evil incarnate.

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Production Value: Erik Messerschmidt Rises To Become David Fincher’s DP With ‘Mindhunter’

Matt Grobar
June 7, 2018
Deadline

Erik Messerschmidt first worked with David Fincher as a Gone Girl gaffer—in collaboration with DP Jeff Cronenweth. But Messerschmidt got his chance to mine the auteur’s rich, iconic aesthetic as cinematographer of Netflix’s crime drama Mindhunter.

Created by Joe Penhall, with Fincher on as a director and executive producer, the 1970s-set series follows two FBI agents (played by Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany) who look to expand criminal science by delving into the psychology of murder, coming uncomfortably close to the real-life monsters who would later be deemed “serial killers.”

Messerschmidt has been praised this season for the striking, atmospheric visuals he brought to Mindhunter—his first full series as a DP— though he prefers that his work remain invisible, operating beneath the surface:

“The second the audience is aware that a human is operating the camera, subconsciously there’s an awareness that someone else is in the room. Hopefully, the audience doesn’t notice the operating, they don’t notice my work, they are only seeing what’s happening on-screen between the characters. That’s the goal.”

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How David Fincher Nailed ‘Mindhunter,’ from Charlize Theron to Jonathan Groff

Holt McCallany, Anna Torv, Erik Messerschmidt (Director of Photography), Laray Mayfield (Casting Director), Cameron Britton, Jonathan Groff, Jennifer Starzyk (Costume Designer), Steve Arnold (Production Designer), David Fincher (Director/Executive Producer). (Patrick Lewis/Starpix for Netflix/REX/Shutterstock/IndieWire)

Take some people obsessed with serial killers, and a detail freak like David Fincher, and the alchemy is undeniably compelling.

Anne Thompson
June 4, 2018
IndieWire, Thompson on Hollywood

There are manifold reasons why Netflix’s chilling series “Mindhunter” breaks the mold, from David Fincher to the bromantic chemistry between boyish FBI agent Holden Ford (“Hamilton” star Jonathan Groff) and gruff, chain-smoking G-man Bill Tench (Fincher veteran Holt McCallany). Here are a few factors that pushed this series to the top of the competitive drama Emmy contenders.

1. Charlize Theron

The series may never have existed if executive producer Charlize Theron hadn’t recognized a fellow serial killer buff in Fincher. When the actress was researching her Oscar-winning role as sociopath Aileen Wuornos in Patty Jenkins’ “Monster,” she read John Douglas’s “Mindhunter,” about the groundbreaking ’70s FBI unit that pioneered research into serial killers.

“This guy had an incredible life,” she said. “What he does is so rare and mind-blowing. I’m fascinated by books on neurology and brain development and why people are sociopaths: They cut off all emotion in order to do horrible things. I bought the rights to his book. I thought about Fincher, who loved ‘Zodiac’ and ‘Seven’ [and thought] ‘He must be obsessed with this stuff too; he must know who John Douglas is.’ People said, ‘You have never produced television.’ I asked David to lunch and he knew about Douglas and was on board: ‘Let’s make it into a series.’ Dream big, motherfuckers!”

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Charlize Theron craves Sushi
Fincher and Theron, after their meeting in 2012 (Bauer-Griffin, AKM-GSI)

MINDHUNTER: ATAS/Netflix FYSEE panel highlights

Ted Sarandos (Netflix Chief Content Officer), David Fincher (Director/Executive Producer), Anna Torv, Jennifer Starzyk (Costume Designer), Steve Arnold (Production Designer), Erik Messerschmidt (Director of Photography), Cameron Britton, Laray Mayfield (Casting Director), Holt McCallany, Jonathan Groff. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images)

‘Mindhunter’: David Fincher Shot a 9-Minute Take 75 Times and Didn’t Let Cameron Britton Talk to Anyone on Set

The notoriously fastidious director discussed his process for the Netflix original series during a panel discussion Friday night.

Ben Travers
June 2, 2018
IndieWire

Netflix FYSEE MINDHUNTER Panel, Los Angeles, CA, USA - 1 June 2018
“Why 75 takes? Cos I’m motherf***ing David Fincher, that’s why” (Eric Charbonneau, REX/Shutterstock/IndieWire)

Jonathan Groff And David Fincher Revisit ‘Mindhunter’ As Emmy Beckons

Gregory Ellwood
June 2, 2018
The Playlist

Netflix FYSEE MINDHUNTER Panel, Los Angeles, CA, USA - 1 June 2018
Fincher being “Rorschached” at the MINDHUNTER Netflix FYSee space (Eric Charbonneau, REX/Shutterstock/IndieWire)

MINDHUNTER at NetflixFYSEE

Panel tweets and photos from 6/1/18 event

Diane Gordon (Twitter)
June 2, 2018
Wakelet

Prize shot of the night of @holtmccallany!!! #NetflixFYSEE @mindhunter #TeamTench

A post shared by Diane Gordon (@thesurfreport) on

Netflix FYSEE MINDHUNTER Panel, Los Angeles, CA, USA - 1 June 2018
Fincher surrenders to the cuddly, adorable, and “hot” bear Cameron Britton (Eric Charbonneau, REX/Shutterstock/IndieWire)

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

Erik Messerschmidt with Camera Operator Brian Osmond, SOC (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.

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Thanks to Andrew Moore