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Color Grading Netflix’s Mindhunter

Eric Weidt, Dolby’s Thomas Graham, and Netflix’s Chris Clark.

A look at the show’s unique HDR look and workflow

David Alexander Willis (Twitter, Instagram)
June 2018
Post Magazine

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Each Mindhunter hour-long show (from the 10-episode run) was graded using FilmLight’s Baselight color grading tools by colorist Eric Weidt, who navigated between ultra-modern capture technology, the time and place of late 70s cinema and the very specific needs of David Fincher.

Adding an editorial and visual effects team at his facility in Hollywood, Mindhunter was the first time that the auteur established his own in-house DI. “It’s important to note, we had a lot more time to work on this show than most grades,” Weidt pointed out during a special HDR presentation by FilmLight, Dolbyand Red Digital Cinema at Hollywood’s Dolby Cinema Old Vine theatre.

“The 70’s and serial killers backdrop brought to mind David Fincher’s Zodiac, which is an absolutely brilliant movie; a masterpiece in terms of both content and color,” he says. “The 70s has a distinct color palette” he continues. Street photographers William Eggleston and Stephen Shore are personal sources of inspiration for initial color grading.

Post and edit began as production rolled in Pittsburgh. Dailies were usually available to Fincher by the following day. The production used FotoKem’s nextLAB dailies system and the PIX asset and data management and delivery platform.

Due to overlapping shoot and post production schedules, “David looked at things on his iPad for two-thirds of the season,” says Weidt, explaining that he had a complex rendering process that allowed him to manage new HDR footage as well as sending regular corrections from Fincher to view in SDR. The Baselight workflow file was separated into two timelines, one for any creative color adjustments, and another that had stabilizations and lens emulations applied. Weidt would daisy-chain them, run it through the Dolby Vision HDR professional tools, and create offline files to view on an iPad or monitor.

Weidt says that Fincher’s color design for Mindhunter was heavily influenced by the organic palette of several classic films, such as McCabe and Mrs. Miller, All the President’s Men and the more chromatic yet grittier look of The French Connection. They also wanted a low contrast, information-rich picture, and had first experimented with low contrast optical filtration on set but preferred in the end to “set up the digital chain in a way that Fincher was getting the type of image that he wanted.

Weidt’s starting point for dailies, as well as any color work on the master, began with a low-contrast log curve that maintained as much of the dynamic range provided by the Red Xenomorph camera as possible, and gave the SDR monitoring on set an approximation of Weidt’s HDR workflows.

The HDR look was developed in post production: “In HDR, we initially came across a lot of scenes where the light sources were taking too much prominence,” Weidt says. “David and his post supervisor Peter Mavromates really wanted an elegant balance. Mindhunter’s HDR is not trying to strike you or slap you in the face. Just like the sound mixing, or cutting, it is not trying to blow your mind, but rather convey the story content. The latter is really what’s going to punch you.”

Many of Fincher’s notes require simple dodging and burning, performed primarily through Weidt’s use of shapes, masking and tracking in Baselight. Using PIX, Fincher would circle subjects or areas of a frame, giving suggestive chromatic terms like ‘sallow’ or ‘ruddy,’ and ‘equidistant’ or ‘symmetrical’ in regard to reframing.

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Areas of focus

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After the grade

“David is famous for having a visual style where he is going to stabilize two-thirds of the shots in an episode, or in a movie, so that everything is absolutely perfect,” says Weidt. “What he wants is that the camera, the gaze into the image, is totally unconscious, and you’re really in there without distractions that most people take for granted.” After Fincher returned to Los Angeles, their standard workflow on a scene together would start with a master shot that incorporated the characters as well as background, timing color and light levels for other shots and angles in scenes to be timed from that reference.

Fincher’s eye for detail goes far beyond that, though, and Weidt noted several corrected items that would have escaped his attention, like plants outside a prison that were too vibrantly green, or highlights in reflections that needed to be turned down to match light sources. “There are certain colors that David needs to suppress, and that’s mostly pink,” he continues. “Pink appears in people’s skin tones, and if you get it wrong in the grading suite and ends up on a monitor outside of that environment, it’s going to appear like they have pink faces and it looks really bad. David wants to control that.”

Using Summilux-C primes from CW Sonderoptic, XML information was created for every focal length. This was a requirement on Mindhunter as simulations of grain, lens barreling and chromatic aberration in Baselight were tailored to the specific focal length throughout the show. Weidt even created anamorphic effects for the spherical lenses. “David wanted to refer to 70’s in what could be called ‘the anamorphic wide-screen era,’” he says.

He also added pseudo chromatic aberration “on every shot and every episode of Mindhunter,” which he developed himself, as the vast majority of plug-ins and filters will simply shift one of the primary color plates, stretching from center, resulting in bi-color aberrations. These created results that Fincher found lackluster, when for example given a cyan-red, he’d really only want the cyan. “I found the solution in Baselight, which essentially took 20 layers, using blending modes that are usually the purview of a compositing tool,” Weidt says.

“David directed four episodes of Mindhunter, but he’s the executive producer for the show, and he’s definitely the director of the DI,” he adds. “All of the color, he directed himself, with contributions from Erik Messerschmidt.”

This is an abridged version of the full in-depth article available in the June issue of Post Magazine

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‘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.

Read the full profile

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.

Read the full interview

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!”

Read the full profile

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

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)