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?”

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Bad Lands

2018-04 ICG Magazine - Mindhunter 05 (Patrick Harbron)

Erik Messerschmidt and Chris Probst, ASC, also have made “smart” use of LED technology, as detailed in our cover story on Mindhunter (page 36). David Fincher, who first started using LED’s for process work on Zodiac, 11 years ago, not only customized a high-resolution RED camera for the show (dubbed the “Xenomorph”), but also devised one of the most ingenious LED-driven plate projection/interactive lighting processes for driving shots TV has ever seen. Messerschmidt’s description of Fincher’s commitment to innovation mirrors those Sundancers bending technology in the service of new ways to tell a story: “For David, the frame is sacred; what we choose to include is intrinsic to what the audience thinks is important. They are one and the same.”

David Geffner, Executive Editor
ICG Magazine

Visualizing the daring and often scary world of David Fincher requires new technologies and processes rarely attempted in series television.

Matt Hurwitz
Photos by Patrick Harbron & Merrick Morton, SMPSP
April 2018
ICG Magazine

In the season 1 finale of Netflix’s MINDHUNTER, a disturbed FBI agent, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), bursts wildly from a hospital room, as a handheld camera gives chase. The move begins as shaken as ford is, but, as it lands with the agent, who collapses in the hallway, it’s as if the camera has floated to a butter-smooth stop inches from the floor, the maneuver executed like it was on a perfectly balanced Jib arm, crane, or even Steadicam. But it’s none of those. What can viewers assume from this?

David Fincher has returned to television.

FOR THIS SERIES ABOUT A PAIR OF AGENTS WORKING IN THE FBI’S ELITE BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES UNIT in 1979, and attempting to understand the mind of a serial killer, Fincher used a number of leading-edge technologies – interactive LED lighting, custom built high-resolution cameras, and, as in the shot with Agent Ford, image stabilization/smoothing in postproduction – to keep the viewer visually embedded. Fincher’s aim with MINDHUNTER, which has no graphic violence, is for viewers to “access their own attics. There’s far scarier stuff up there than anything we can fabricate,” the filmmaker insists. “I wanted people to register what’s going on in [characters’] eyes and where the gear changes are taking place. At what point do I [as the viewer] feel like, ‘OK, I’ve got an insight,’ and at what point do they feel like: ‘oh, I’m being sold something. It’s all about the nuance in how the balance of power is changing.”

Fincher’s longtime postproduction supervisor, Peter Mavromates, says he creates an “experience of omniscience,” similar to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, “where you’re in a straitjacket with your eyelids pinned open, and David’s forcing you to watch these horrible things.” In fact, the show’s unique visual process began more than a year before production started in Pittsburgh (on area locations and on stages at 31st Street Studios, a former steel mill), with the development of a unique RED camera system.

Christopher Probst, ASC – who shot MINDHUNTER’S pilot and second episode – was asked for his input on a RED prototype system, which had been designed by Jarred Land and RED’s Chief Designer Matt Tremblay according to Fincher’s specific needs. “David wanted to take all of the different exterior add-ons that create a jungle of wires, and put them inside the camera body,” Probst explains.

Fincher puts it even more directly: “It just seems insane that we’ve been bequeathed a [camera] layout [dating back to] D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin that looks like some bizarre Medusa. [The camera] should be something that people want to approach, touch, and pick up.”

In fact, the custom system built for Season 1 [Land created a 2.0 version being used in Season 2] had an RTMotion MK3.1 lens-control system, Paralinx Arrow-X wireless video, and Zaxcom wireless audio (with timecode) integrated into the RED body, with the only visible cable being to control the lens. Slating was all but eliminated, with clip-number metadata being shared wirelessly between the camera and the script supervisor, who used Filemaker software to associate takes and clips. An audio scratch track from the mixer was recorded onto the REDCODE RAW R3D files and received wirelessly.

The base camera was one of RED’s DSMC2 systems, the then-new WEAPON DRAGON, with its 6K sensor. The shell design, accommodating the added gear inside, with its angular shape and heat venting fins on top, had a “Xenomorph” appearance (à la Alien), and was dubbed as such by Land and Fincher. “When the camera arrived in Pittsburgh, they had actually engraved “Xenomorph” on the side,” Probst says.

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Website version of the profile

2018-04 ICG Magazine - Mindhunter 14 (Patrick Harbron)

2018-04 ICG Magazine - Mindhunter 13 (Merrick Morton)

Cinematographers & Cameras: Insights Into “The Crown,” “Strong Island,” “Mindhunter,” Spots

Robert Goldrich
March 26, 2018
Shoot

One DP just won his first career ASC Award—on the strength of his work on The Crown (Netflix).

Another made key contributions to the heartfelt Strong Island (Netflix), which was nominated for this year’s Best Documentary Feature Oscar.

And a third DP has spent a recent stretch focusing on spots after getting a career break from David Fincher on the TV series Mindhunter (Netflix).

Here are insights from DPs Adriano Goldman, ASC, ABC, Alan Jacobsen and Erik Messerschmidt.

[…]

Erik Messerschmidt

Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt has spent the past year focused on commercials but his career progression is the reverse of what is typical. Instead of spots serving as a springboard to TV series and theatrical features, it was Messerschmidt’s work on the TV series Mindhunter (Netflix) which established him as a DP, leading to spotmaking opportunities.

Messerschmidt’s commercial lensing exploits have included Taco Bell’s “Web of Fries” cinema, web and TV fare directed by Joseph Kosinski of RESET, Buick and other automotive ads from director Kevin Berlandi, and a pharmaceutical spot directed by Mark Pellington of Washington Square Films. Messerschmidt also shot for Pellington the Demi Lovato music video “Tell Me You Love Me.”

Messerschmidt had been a gaffer who worked extensively on commercials that were lensed by such notables as Claudio Miranda, ASC, Tami Reiker, ASC and Jeff Cronenweth, ASC.

On the feature front, Messerschmidt served as a gaffer on the David Fincher-directed, Cronenweth-shot Gone Girl, a project which proved pivotal. “David knew I had a still photography background and I ended up doing promotional still work with him on Gone Girl,” related Messerschmidt. “David took me under this wing and moved me up to shoot his series Mindhunter.” (The alluded to still photography chops date back to when Messerschmidt worked for still shooter Gregory Crewdson.)

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“The Hydra” joins the Xenomorphs

2018-04 ICG Magazine - Mindhunter 11 (Patrick Harbron)
2016. The “Hydra” 1.0 (Patrick Harbron / Netflix)

2018. The “Hydra” 2.0 (Erik Messerschmidt, Instagram)

Before releasing the beast…

Erik Messerschmidt (Instagram)

“A little late-night Xenomorph Mk2 Firmware Testing”.

RED Xenomorph Mk2 custom camera for David Fincher:

RED Helium 8K S35 sensor
Leica Summilux-C lenses by CW Sonderoptic
RTMotion lens motor control
Paralinx Tomahawk 2 wireless HD video
Zaxcom wireless audio and timecode
7.0″ LCD Touch
Foolcolor Foolcontrol camera control app for iOS & OS X
Extended WiFi/Foolcontrol antenna array
Anton Bauer Gold Battery Mount
Shoulder Mount

Thanks to Joe Frady

Harmonica Cinema: Mindhunter

Excellent article on the cinematography of Mindhunter by Spanish DP, Producer and cinematography scholar Ignacio Aguilar. Time to practice your rusty Spanish or get help from a good web translator.

Harmonica Cinema - Logo

Serie creada por David Fincher para Netflix, basada al parecer en investigaciones y trabajos reales del FBI y que está ambientada hacia 1977. El protagonista es un joven agente (Jonathan Groff), quien tras una operación fallida es relegado a dar clases formativas junto a otro agente más veterano (Holt McCallany) viajando por el país y estudiando casos concretos de crímenes reales. Para intentar resolverlos, los agentes comienzan a entrevistarse con asesinos en serie a fin de estudiar su psicología y tratar de aplicar lo aprendido para resolver los nuevos casos que se van presentando. Pero la cercanía con los asesinos y sus mentes provocarán un fuerte impacto en el protagonista. Hannah Gross, como su novia, así como Anna Torv, como una psicóloga que en principio colabora con el equipo y posteriormente se une al mismo, forman el reparto principal, en el que Cameron Britton, como uno de los peligrosos asesinos que aparecen en los diez episodios de esta notable primera temporada, crea una gran impresión.

Ignacio Aguilar
25 enero 2018
Harmonica Cinema

Fincher se ha hecho cargo de cuatro de estos diez episodios de arranque (los dos primeros y los dos últimos), mientras que Christopher Probst [ASC] rodó los dos primeros y Erik Messerschmidt los ocho restantes. Probst es un viejo conocido de los lectores de “American Cinematographer”, ya que desde hace más de dos décadas colabora con la revista con entrevistas y artículos y, desde hace años, viene siendo su editor técnico. Seguramente en alguna de estas entrevistas conoció a Fincher en los años 90. Desde entonces, en paralelo, ha venido desarrollando una sólida carrera como director de fotografía en videoclips, con trabajos para artistas como Taylor Swift o Eminem entre muchos otros. “Mindhunter” es su primera gran oportunidad en la ficción, como lo es también para Messerschmidt, ya que hasta la fecha su oficio venía siendo el de “gaffer” o jefe de eléctricos. Como ya le sucediera a Claudio Miranda, “gaffer” en parte de “Se7en”, “The Game” y “Fight Club” al que Fincher dio su primera gran oportunidad con “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, Messerschmidt ocupó este cargo para Jeff Cronenweth en “Gone Girl” y Fincher le ha ofrecido con esta serie la oportunidad de rodar una importante serie de televisión.

Desde hace muchos años, en concreto desde los tiempos de “Zodiac” (2007), con la que esta serie guarda bastantes similitudes temáticas y estilísticas, David Fincher ha venido siendo un abanderado de la tecnología digital para adquirir sus imágenes. Desde 2010, Fincher ha sido fiel a la empresa de cámaras RED, habiendo empleado casi todas sus cámaras en sus proyectos: la Red One MX en “The Social Network”, una mezcla de Red MX y Epic MX en “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011), así como la Epic Dragon en “Gone Girl” (2014). Incluso también su serie “House of Cards” (2013) empleó los sensores Mysterium-X y Dragon. Fincher, por lo tanto, es uno de los más prestigiosos cineastas del universo RED, de modo que no resulta del todo extraño que la empresa le haya fabricado tres cámaras customizadas (denominadas Red Xenomorph, que recuerdan estéticamente al “Alien” de Giger, saga en la que participó Fincher como director). Estas cámaras incorporan el mismo sensor Dragon que Red Weapon convencionales, pero además de una forma más ergonómica, proporcionan más conexiones, vídeo y motores inalámbricos, etc. En cierto modo, lo que a estas alturas Red debería estar ofreciendo ya a sus consumidores, en lugar de sus cámaras modulares tradicionales con las que nunca parece poder competir con ARRI, excepto para Netflix, ya que sus cámaras son las únicas de “alta gama” (además de las Sony) que cumplen con el requisito de los 4K nativos (que llevan a absurdos como el hecho de que la única Alexa que se puede emplear sea la Alexa 65).

Lee el artículo completo

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Behind the Scenes of Mindhunter with Christopher Probst, ASC

Christopher Probst, ASC (Instagram)

A monitor grab from a scene appearing in Ep. 3 of Mindhunter @netflix… Scheduling necessities required several sequences for Episodes 3 and 7 to be fitted into the schedule for our Eps. 1 and 2 "pilot block" shooting schedule. This scene takes place in the Sacramento storyline continued from Ep. 2, where our intrepid heroes (@holtmccallany and Jonathan Groff) help catch a killer of elderly women. This scene and others in the detective's bullpen downstairs, and outside (where their car has its wheels removed) were all shot in the former Daily News newspaper headquarters in McKeesport, PA. This shot was lit almost entirely with the selective use of practicals. I had the overhead bulbs switched to legacy Warm White tubes, added some desk lamps and used a fair amount of haze on set… In fact, a little more about the look: During prep, I created master visual bible for the evolution of the series, which will ultimately span three decades, and laid out an evolution in the visual design of the show. The 1970s would use Warm White tubes and Sodium Vapor streetlights outside, as well as heavy use of atmosphere from cigarette smoke. We also had custom 92mm screw-on 1/2 Low Con filters from @tiffencompany made for the @cwsonderoptic Leica Summilux-C lenses to be used throughout the first season… The 1980s in future seasons would see a progression toward Cool White fluorescents, Mercury Vapor streetlights and losing the low cons. The 1990s, would switch to color corrected fluorescents (no green) and neutral street lighting. Resolution and gamma may also evolve as the show progresses… w/ @camgrip @mtnbikethis @alex_w_scott @murnorama @reddigitalcinema. . #mindhunter #davidfincher #reddigitalcinema #redxenomorph cameras

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Here's another behind the scenes pic from the set of Mindhunter @netflix. This was one our fabulous sets constructed by production designer Steve Arnold on our "tin shed" stages in Pittsburgh. Shepherd's office had the wall located behind his desk built with an invisible track that could raise the wall up, allowing us to get this angle behind the often flabbergasted FBI chief. Outside the windows we had large greenscreens, but in instances where we didn't see the green, I opted to wheel in day-blue frames to provide a more natural color temp coming in through the windows… and do note that daylight often has two components, direct sunlight and sky… you can see this effect play on the vertical blinds… effectively creating the feel of exterior light MUST take all of these ides into account. . #mindhunter #davidfincher #netflix #cinematography #reddigitalcinema

A post shared by Christopher Probst, ASC (@probstdp) on

This scene from Mindhunter doesn’t appear in season one in this particular environment. Though I quite liked the visual tone of the bar scene, Fincher ultimately decided that we reshoot it in a parking lot (blasphemy, I know) where the characters miss their flight and are stuck in California longer (so Holden decides to see Ed Kemper @cameronbrittonh.) David’s process often involves evaluating his work and having the option to change direction with it if needed. I was sad to see this one hit the cutting room floor. Shot on Red Weapon (Xenomorph) camera’s and Leica Summilux-C lenses. w/ @holtmccallany @alex_w_scott @camgrip, @mtnbikethis @reddigitalcinema @cwsonderoptic. . #davidfincher #mindhunter #netflix #reddigitalcinema #redweapon

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Director David Fincher is known for subjecting his actors to a lot of takes… this scene from Episode One was the most takes we shot during my tenure on the show. The shot in question was a long walk-and-talk between Holden @jonathangroff and his boss Shepherd. The shot begins in a FBI instruction room, pans to our characters on-looking from a hallway, and then they turn and walk through several corridors in the FBI headquarters. It’s well known that David doesn’t like Steadicams and despises a lack of stability and symmetry, therefore we shot this on a free-wheeling Chapman PeeWee dolly (he also hates bulky equipment) pulled backwards by our intrepid A-camera dolly grip Dwayne Barr @camgrip. The floor of our FBI sets were low carpet, so there was a fair amount of drag on the wheels causing resistance AND vibration, so we put a vibration isolator (basically a spring-mounted Mitchell plate) below the fluid head and Dwayne just had to steer and muscle it. I operated A camera on the show so I was riding the dolly and keeping a feather touch on the head to not transfer my own vibrations back into the camera that was been smoothed out to a degree by the shock-absorbing springs. I think we went for 3 more takes after I shot this slate. Fortunately, Dwayne got a weekend break after we completed this scene, he needed it. w/ @alex_w_scott @mtnbikethis I @reddigitalcinema. . #mindhunter #davidfincher #netflix #reddigitalcinema

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