Art of the Shot: “Start from Perfect”, with Mindhunter DP Erik Messerschmidt, ASC and “A” Camera Operator Brian Osmond, SOC

Erik Messerschmidt, Director Andrew Dominik, Brian Osmond, and “B” Camera Operator Will Dearborn (Nikolai Loveikis)

Derek Stettler
October 12, 2020
Art of the Shot

“A place to unload all my cinematic truths.” —Newton Thomas Sigel, ASC

How do you cultivate a career in Hollywood? What does it take to make iconic work? There’s an art to everything in life and the Art of the Shot explores the answers to those questions and more through deep-dives into the minds of master filmmakers. Join host Derek Stettler, young filmmaker and writer for the ASC and SOC magazines since 2016, as he learns from the artists behind today’s most strikingly-shot projects. Enjoy compelling conversations on the craft, insights from successful careers, tips, techniques + more!

In this episode, you’ll hear from both the cinematographer and the “A” camera operator of Mindhunter, who worked together throughout Season 1 and 2 to shoot every single episode. Please enjoy this exclusive interview with Erik Messerschmidt, ASC and Brian Osmond, SOC!

Brian Osmond, Gaffer Danny Gonzalez, and Erik Messerschmidt (Nikolai Loveikis)

In this episode, you’ll learn:

– Erik’s career path (00:04:06)
– Erik’s favorite part of the job (00:06:42)
– What DP’s should know to best work with their gaffers, from Erik’s experience working as a gaffer before becoming a DP (00:07:02)
– Unique skills Erik gained from his experience as a gaffer (00:07:56)
– How Brian got his career started (00:11:19)
– Brian’s favorite part of his job (00:12:19)
– What other directors can learn from how David Fincher treats his crew (00:18:39)
– The thought process & techniques behind Mindhunter‘s precise camera movement (00:22:50)
– The strategic use of handheld camera operating (00:34:27)
– The collaborative nature of the Mindhunter set (00:37:34)
– The importance of having a dedicated camera operator on set, especially on a David Fincher set (00:41:19)
– Erik’s role as “quality control supervisor” (00:44:21)
– Why a monitor on a David Fincher set is covered in smudges (00:46:57)
– Why there’s no such thing as a B camera “bonus shot” on Mindhunter & how shots are planned out for multiple cameras (00:48:23)
– What Erik thinks is the hardest shot to do well (00:52:04)
– How Erik lights & shoots with 2 cameras simultaneously (00:53:41)
– Erik’s approach to lighting Mindhunter & techniques used (00:56:55)
– Erik’s preference for real fluorescent lighting (01:03:30)
Mindhunter‘s production design and how much of the locations were built (01:05:01)
– Favorite set of Season 2 (01:06:26)
– How getting scripts in advance helps them work better (01:10:44)
– The innovative car process shooting on Mindhunter & how it works (01:12:38)
– How virtual production helps realize every filmmaker’s dream, stopping time, & how Erik used that to shoot a 9-minute dialog scene at dawn (01:18:02)
– How the car process shooting on Mindhunter evolved from Season 1 (01:22:37)
– How the custom RED digital cinema camera, dubbed the Xenomorph, evolved from Season 1 (01:27:22)
– Why Brian prefers a fluid head over a geared head to achieve those smooth, precise shots David Fincher loves (01:37:34)
– How to shoot a scene & why “Fix it in prep!” should be every filmmaker’s mantra (01:42:08)
– All about the lenses used on Mindhunter & how Erik art directed the artifacts & nuances of every optical aberration (01:48:10)
– Tips from Brian on getting really precise shots with a fluid head, what operating technique Erik has learned from Brian, & how being self-critical is a key to his success (01:56:42)
– What Erik & Brian feel is the most rewarding part of working on Mindhunter (02:02:47)

If you haven’t yet, please be sure to subscribe to be notified of future episodes, and share this podcast with others to help grow the show and spread the knowledge!

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MINDHUNTER: Mindful Operating

Interview with Brian Osmond, SOC.

Derek Stettler
May 2018 (Spring 2018)
Camera Operator (Society of Camera Operators)

‘Mindhunter’: Expanding the Visual Aesthetic for Season 2’s Atlanta Child Murders

Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt earned his first Emmy nomination for visualizing a wider range of locations with unsettling moods.

Bill Desowitz
Aug 21, 2020
IndieWire

Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt expanded the visual aesthetic of David Fincher’s “Mindhunter” in Season 2, as FBI profilers Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) investigate the notorious Atlanta Child Murders, and, as a result, he earned his first Emmy nomination.

“Our aim was to continue what we had developed in Season 1 while considering location with a bit more depth,” said Messerschmidt, who also shot Fincher’s “Mank,” the Netflix black-and-white biopic about “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman). “David expressed to me in the beginning to never forget what Atlanta is like in the summer. I tried hard to consider that whenever we were telling that part of the story.

“We really wanted our agents to be visualized with location in mind,” he said, “so I used more hard sunlight, atmosphere, and contrast to contribute to that hot, muggy feel. I think you could make the case that the lighting of Season 2 has a bit more gesture and shape to it, in part, because I used more contrast, which was a conscious choice. With that in mind, however, it was always a top priority to make sure the look and camera style of the series not take centerstage. I wanted the photography to be as non-invasive and invisible as possible so the audience could fully appreciate the story.”

Messerschmidt upgraded to the 8K RED Helium sensor for Season 2 after testing a prototype in the first season. This provided better sensitivity and higher color fidelity for the new Dolby Vision HDR workflow. “I found I could be much more minimal with my use of artificial light even at relatively low ISO ratings,” he said. “The intention was to consider every lighting choice with motivation in mind and use as much natural light and practical light as possible.”

Read the full profile

Here Are the Cameras and Lenses that Shot the Year’s Best TV Shows

17 Emmy-nominated cinematographers on how they created their shows’ unique looks, and the gear they chose to pull it off.

Chris O’Falt
August 20, 2020
IndieWire

Mindhunter

Nominated Episode: “Episode 6”

Format: Redcode RAW .r3d in 8k
Camera: Custom Red Xenomorph Mk2 designed by the team at RED. The camera uses an 8k RED Helium sensor.
Format: Both seasons of “Mindhunter” were shot using Leica Summilux-C series Prime lenses. The majority of the show was shot using only three focal lengths, the 29mm, 40mm and 65mm.

Erik Messerschmidt: The visual style of “Mindhunter” is really about restraint and nuance. We wanted the storytelling to be very objective and simple with a limited use of POV. I think limiting ourselves to these focal lengths forced us to be meticulous with our coverage. All of our visual choices revolved around camera direction, blocking, and composition. David [Fincher] and I built the visual language around three distinct types of shots; wide masters, overs and singles; we moved the camera very little. This type of methodical camera direction lead to the rhythmic cutting sequence of the interview scenes which is really the visual foundation of the show. Shooting on prime lenses requires a bit more discipline than zooms when you’re lining up a shot, as you have to consider camera placement as it relates and composition.

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ASC Clubhouse Conversations: Mindhunter, with Erik Messerschmidt

Charlie Lieberman, ASC
August 12, 2020
American Cinematographer

In this 60-minute video, Erik MesserschmidtASC discusses his Emmy-nominated camerawork in the disturbing and insightful Netflix crime series Mindhunter with interviewer Charlie Lieberman, ASC

Based on the true-crime book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit and set in the early 1980s, this period drama depicts the investigations of two FBI special agents from the Behavioral Science Unit (Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany) tasked with furthering the understanding of serial killers and their motivations, with the hope of using this research to solve cold cases or stop active predators.

Shooting in Mindhunter in 8K for 4K delivery with a 2.2:1 aspect ratio, Messerschmidt generally employs multiple Red Xenomorph Mk2 8K Helium cameras paired with Leica Summilux-C Primes and Fujinon Premiere Zooms, often with Mitomo IR TrueNDs. (More about the show here.)

Watch the video and read the full article

‘Mindhunter’ cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt on ‘expanding the scope’ in Emmy-nominated episode

Daniel Montgomery
August 13, 2020
Gold Derby

Erik Messerschmidt earned his first Emmy nomination this summer: Best Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (One Hour) for his work on the true-crime drama “Mindhunter.” It’s bittersweet, though, since Netflix put the show on indefinite hold after its second season, which aired last summer. “I loved working on the show,” he remembers. “It’s a unicorn in a way. It was a unique situation where everybody was working towards the same goal and everyone was very in sync in terms of what we were trying to accomplish.” Watch our exclusive video interview with the director of photography above.

He is nominated specifically for his work in episode six, during which FBI agents Ford and Tench (Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany) search for missing children in Atlanta while Dr. Carr and Agent Smith (Anna Torv and Joe Tuttle) interview convicted killer Paul Bateson. “I just felt like we had a lot of variety in the episode,” says Messerschmidt. “You have all of the classic ‘Mindhunter’ stuff with the Paul Bateson interview, but you also have the characters out in the field. So we’re expanding the scope a little bit, and we had some new set pieces which the audience hadn’t seen before.”

For instance, there is a memorable scene in which law enforcement teams search for murder victims in the eerie pre-dawn light, and another where a grisly discovery in the dead of night is lit primarily with flashlights. “It was a good opportunity to show a little bit of the depth of the show. And it was an episode we were generally pretty proud of.” The season’s focus on the Atlanta child murders influenced the show’s aesthetic in general. Messerschmidt wanted to convey the “hot, humid environment … so we warmed the camera up quite a bit. We made use of atmosphere in some of the interiors. I tried to light it with as much hot, searing sunlight coming through the doors as possible.”

“I would love to go back and do more ‘Mindhunter,’ but who knows? Time will tell, I guess,” he says. In the meantime his creative partnership with “Mindhunter” director/producer David Fincher continues. Messerschmidt is the cinematographer for the filmmaker’s upcoming movie “Mank,” which takes them from murder in the 1970s and 1980s to show business in the 1940s. “That’s what’s great about our job is we get to sort of pick a story apart and figure out what we’re going to do and how we’re going to tell the story.”

Netflix FYC: Mindhunter. Maker’s Marque with Carl Franklin and Erik Messerschmidt


July 2020
Netflix

Director Carl Franklin and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt expound on the visual language of a scene from season two of Netflix‘s acclaimed drama series Mindhunter. They give insights into perspective considerations, the choice of handheld camera over Steadicam and the general stylistic shift employed for the sequence.

For Your Emmy® Awards Consideration

Streaming: Netflix’s Mindhunter

Marc Loftus
July 2, 2020
Post Magazine

Netflix’s Mindhunter series is inspired by true events. Directed by David Fincher, the show focuses on FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench, who try to understand the psyches of notorious serial killers. Mindhunter’s first season debuted in 2017, and the second season returned in the summer of 2019. 

Season 2 stars Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Anna Torv, Joe Tuttle, Albert Jones, Stacey Roca, Michael Cerveris, Lauren Glazier and Sierra McClain. While Fincher was the series’ primary director, Andrew Dominik and Carl Franklin also directed episodes.

SHOOTING

Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, ASC, had worked with Fincher in the past. He was a gaffer on the filmmaker’s Gone Girl, and was excited to receive a call, inviting him to come onboard to reshoot part of the pilot and second episode back in 2017. The show was already shooting with a Red camera for Season 1, and upgraded to the newer Hellium 8K sensor for Season 2.

EDITING

Kirk Baxter of Santa Monica’s Exile also has a long-standing relationship with David Fincher. He’s cut The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), The Social Network (2010) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) — all of which won the Oscar for Best Editing, a credit he shared with Angus Wall. He also cut 2014’s Gone Girl (2014), and is currently working on an upcoming Netflix feature with the director titled Mank.

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‘Mindhunter’ Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt on Expanding the Scope in Season 2 and Fincher’s ‘Mank’

Michele K. Short / Netflix

Adam Chitwood
June 30, 2020
Collider

The Netflix original drama series Mindhunter is one of the best shows on television. It’s compelling and challenging in the best way, as it traces the early days of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit through the eyes of a pair of ambitious yet troubled detectives who spend their time interviewing serial killers, looking for insight that could help them catch future killers. It’s also a wildly cinematic show, which should come as no surprise given that it hails from executive producer and director David Fincher.

Season 1 of the series was focused on the origins of the Behavioral Science Unit and found Jonathan Groff’s Holden Ford, Holt McCallany’s Bill Tench, and Anna Torv’s Wendy Carr working mostly out of Quantico and conversing in interrogation rooms. The tremendous second season of the series, however, saw Ford and Tench forced to move into the field as the FBI is called in to consult on the “Atlanta Child Murders” and help track down a serial killer in Georgia.

This posed unique challenges and wonderful opportunities for the Mindhunter production team, as cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt told me in an extended interview I conducted by phone back in April. Messerschmidt worked on Season 1 of the series and returned for Season 2, for which he served as director of photography on all nine episodes—a rarity in the television world. During our interview, Messerschmidt talked about why they decided he should be the cinematographer on every episode and offered tremendous insight into how this impeccably crafted show is made. He discussed the intense planning that he and Fincher went through to map out the visual language of Season 2, specifically speaking to how they crafted that incredible interrogation scene set entirely in a car. He also talked about the challenge of shooting a show like Mindhunter on location as the show expanded into the outside world of Atlanta, and what his role as the “visual constant” was like when working with directors Andrew Dominik and Carl Franklin on the season’s later episodes.

With reports having surfaced that a potential Mindhunter Season 3 is “on hold” for the moment while Fincher focuses on making a film, I also asked Messerschmidt about the likelihood of a third season happening. And since Messerschmidt served as Fincher’s cinematographer on his upcoming Netflix film Mank—which is presented in black-and-white and chronicles the making of Citizen Kane—I asked about his experience working on that highly anticipated feature film.

If you’re at all interested in how the Mindhunter team was able to achieve such a handsome, controlled aesthetic this interview offers invaluable insight into that process, and what a collaboration between Fincher and his DP looks like on a longform series. With any luck this excellent show will be rightly recognized by the Emmys folks come voting time…

Read the full interview

Behind the Look: That Shot. DP Erik Messerschmidt, ASC

Naida Albright
June 30, 2020
RED Digital Cinema

RED is Behind the Look with Erik Messerschmidt, ASC who brings a gentle, elegant visual sensibility to the Netflix series MINDHUNTER. We screen and breakdown pivotal shots from Season Two of this crime thriller, and discuss what it’s like to collaborate with the legendary David Fincher.

Portbox: The Desire to Go Noir With Erik Messerschmidt

Madhav Goyal
June 29, 2020
Portbox

Erik Messerschmidt (Mindhunter) is an American cinematographer. Erik chats with Portbox about his transition into cinematography with Netflix Original Series: Mindhunter. Madhav inquires about how Erik studies human behavior, both professionally and personally. Erik highlights how working with great cinematographers and highly disciplined directors has informed his workflow and why director-cinematographer relationships work across different films. He also breaks down one of Madhav’s favorite scene from the second season of Mindhunter, while giving us details on his next project with David Fincher, Mank.

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How Crafts Amplified Berkowitz, Watson, & Manson Scenes in ‘Mindhunter’ Season 2

A look at the crafts behind the killer interrogations, including cinematography, sound editing, prosthetics, editing, and rerecording mixers.

Megan McLachlan
June 20, 2020
Awards Daily

Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan and the technical team behind Netflix’s Mindhunter Season 2 (cinematography, sound editing, editing, prosthetics, and rerecording mixers) break down why each killer interview is completely different.

Mindhunter Season 2 starts with a “doozy” of a sequence.

“You’re not sure where you are,” said Mindhunter re-recording mixer Scott Lewis.

The opening sequence reacquaints us with the mind of a killer—in this case, specifically the BTK Killer (Sonny Valicenti), who we’ve been following in Season 1 through vignettes. BTK’s wife comes home to discover him tying himself up in the bathroom while wearing a mask. Lewis and his re-recording mixer partner Stephen Urata went back and forth about how the sound of the door, bumping from BTK’s aggression, was supposed to sound from down the hall.

“[Director] David [Fincher] gave some vague directions for that,” said Urata. “We tried to keep it really mysterious. We started with really dreamy, big reverb, did some fabbing, and [the wife] starts picking up on those knocking sounds. We took our liberties with it. The knocking sounds probably wouldn’t be that loud.”

It had to compete with Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” something they had to find the right timing for with the knocks. When it came to editing the sequence with the music, editor Kirk Baxter felt like he was working on a music video.

“The track was predetermined, so I could plot everything to the music, when it was gonna hit,” said Baxter. “So much of the reaching, the hand, it was based around being stretched so the door opened at the exact beat I needed it to. To me, it was like a Christmas present. When you’ve got all of the angles and coverage, you can expand the tension and manipulate the hell out of it.”

The Crafts Behind the Madness of Mindhunter Season 2

It’s specific technical details like this that take Mindhunter to a new level of creepy with each episode. And though these elements are subtle, they add so much to each and every scene, especially when Holden (Jonathan Groff) and Tench (Holt McCallany) interview the killers.

While they might seem like they’re similar in format, each interrogation scene is completely different and tells you so much about the killer they’re questioning, with precise engineering and great care that goes into them. Let’s look at how Berkowitz, Tex Watson, and Manson are all completely different from each other.

Featured crafts:

Kirk Baxter, editing
Kazu Hiro, prosthetics
Scott Lewis & Stephen Urata, rerecording mixers
Erik Messerschmidt, cinematographer
Jeremy Molod, sound editor

Read the full profile