The cinematographer of David Fincher’s hit Netflix series, Mindhunter, Erik Messerschmidt ASC takes us behind the scenes the show.
Erik and Go Creative Show host, Ben Consoli, discuss how he created the distinct look of Mindhunter, why David Fincher shoots so many takes, mastering good camera movement, how Erik preps for shoots, and more!
What you will learn in this episode:
Importance of film school and on-set experience (02:22)
What Erik is watching during COVID-19 (12:08)
Visual approach to MINDHUNTER (15:48)
Mastering good camera movement (20:08)
Camera and lens package (22:22)
Why David Fincher shoots so many takes (27:28)
Compositing multiple takes together (42:05)
Approach to lighting (44:57)
Shot diagrams and storyboarding (54:18)
Lighting the prison scenes (01:01:59)
Exposing for dark cinematography (01:04:25)
Color theory and how it affects the audience (01:05:21)
Mike Bauman & Paul Royalty April 24, 2020 LiteGear
Welcome to LiteGear Live, our community outreach portal where we host panel discussions, educate, and discuss all things related to Set Lighting. Join us for weekly conversations with Cinematographers, Gaffers, Rigging Gaffers, Fixtures Technicians, Programmers, and many more. We’ll be sharing behind-the-scenes photographs, production stills, and clips, all while chatting in real-time with the filmmakers who made it happen.
Our second edition of LiteGear Live presents a conversation with Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, Chief Lighting Technician Danny Gonzalez, and Rigging Gaffer Bobby Dechellis, discussing their most recent work on the popular Netflix series Mindhunter.
Hosted by Co-Founder of LiteGear Mike Bauman and Vice President of Sales at LiteGear, Paul Royalty, they delve into a wide range of questions for each guest intended to dig deep into the style choices and challenges faced on the show. The group also shares some behind-the-scenes photographs, production stills, and clips from Mindhunter.
Watch Mindhunter exclusively on Netflix.
Thank you to Netflix for allowing the use of Mindhunter stills and clips.
For many, the idea of recording 8K video understandably conjures up images of unmanageable files sizes, long transfer times, huge piles of hard drives, and slow proxy workflows… not to mention a black hole in the budget.
Leaving aside for one moment the fact that HDR and HFR are far more valuable than resolution to the consumer’s eye, there are benefits to an 8K production which an increasing number of projects are taking advantage of.
Mank, directed by David Fincher and lensed by Erik Messerschmidt, ASC, was acquired 8K using the RED Monstro in monochrome (above); and Money Heist, the Netflix drama which in season 4 is shot at 7K to accommodate HDR in a 4K deliverable, are just two of the most recent.
You can’t sell productions made in less than 4K to Netflix and other streaming services now. One day soon, some will mandate 8K to begin with and Netflix will have its fair share in the bank.
Even if the final output is only going to be 4K/UHD, shooting in 8K gives you many options in post that you do not have when starting in 4K. These include downscaling, cut/crop (pan/scan) or headroom for VFX.
“Before making the decision to capture a project in 8K, producers and cinematographers need to consider the project’s long-term goals,” says Bryce Button, director of product marketing, AJA Video Systems. For instance, capturing in 8K makes a lot of sense if there will be future use for the material.
Erik Messerschmidt, ASC had a childhood dream of becoming a cinematographer, which he began pursuing at Emerson College, where he studied film production. While in school, he hit the ground running, working on film sets as an electrician, which then led to work as a gaffer in features, television and commercials. Before he graduated, he was able to join the IATSE Local 481 in Boston. During this time, he also served as a lighting technician and lighting director for many well-known photographers, including Gregory Crewdson, Mike and Doug Starn and Larry Sulton.
Following graduation, Messerschmidt relocated to Los Angeles to further his career in the industry. Shortly thereafter, he met Mark Doering-Powell, ASC and Mark Weingartner, ASC, who served as early mentors. Doering-Powell hired Messerschmidt on several smaller feature projects as a grip and later gaffer, which allowed him to join Local 728 as a gaffer. He developed relationships with numerous ASC members, including Claudio Miranda, Jeff Cronenweth and Tami Reiker, who Messerschmidt calls his “closest mentors.”
Gordon Lonsdale, ASC hired Messerschmidt as his gaffer on the television series Bones, and the two worked together for six seasons. During this time, Messerschmidt also gained experience as a director of photography, shooting several commercials, short films and documentaries.
Erik Messerschmidt, ASC on the set of the Netflix series Mindhunter.
Cronenweth hired Messerschmidt as his gaffer on David Fincher’s Gone Girl, and subsequently encouraged the director to hire Messerschmidt to photograph his next project, the Netflix series Mindhunter. Since then, the cinematographer has shot the bulk of episodes on both seasons. (See story here.)
Messerschmidt has also photographed several episodes of the television series Legion as well as second-unit work on the feature Sicario: Day of the Soldado, shot by Dariusz Wolski, ASC. On the recommendation of Wolski, Messerschmidt was hired to photograph the HBO Max series Raised by Wolves.
His upcoming credits include Fincher’s latest feature, Mank, depicting the life of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and the writing of the script to Citizen Kane.
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.”
Eric Weidt talks about his collaboration with director David Fincher – from defining the workflow to creating the look and feel of Mindhunter. He breaks down scenes and runs through colour grading details of the masterful crime thriller.
Eric Weidt spent years in Paris working with fashion photographers transitioning from traditional film to digital capture workflows. He created custom film-emulation ICC profiles, and mastered color work and compositing techniques for print stills and fashion films.
Clients included Mario Testino, David Sims, Patrick Demarchelier, Mert Alas and Markus Piggot, Steven Meisel, Hedi Slimane, Karl Lagerfeld. His motion picture work for David Fincher includes responsibilies as VFX artist (Gone Girl), and Digital Intermediate Colorist (Videosyncracy and Mindhunter).
He holds a BA in Theater Arts from the University of California at Santa Cruz and is both an American and French citizen.
Going inside Mindhunter Season 2: there’s a contradiction at the heart of Mindhunter, the highly rated Netflix drama. For all the efforts of creator David Fincher and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt to craft a minimalist aesthetic for this ripped-from-the headlines chronicle of the modern serial killer and its FBI profilers, the show itself continues to win plaudits for how it stylistically marries editorial with subject.
Season 1 was lauded for shining a light onto this particularly murky corner of the criminal psyche with its desaturated cinematography. “David and I continued with what we had put together for the first season,” Messerschmidt explains. “If anything, Season 2 is even more structured and formalist. That classical aesthetic is driven a lot by the content. The show is very measured in its approach to a story about serial killers so we felt the photography should be restrained and simple.”
Miles Crist / Netflix
Messerschmidt photographed all nine episodes of the new season which returned to Netflix after a two-year hiatus. Directors Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), Carl Franklin (House of Cards) and Fincher took charge of blocks of three. Before taking responsibility to shape the look of Mindhunter’s first run, Messerschmidt had worked as a gaffer on shows like Mad Men and Bones, and then the feature film Gone Girl where he first came into contact with Fincher.
Definitive if subtle changes were made for Mindhunter’s latest season, the most notable of which was shooting with the custom XENOMORPH with HELIUM 8K S35 sensor and being able to monitor HDR on set.