Erik Messerschmidt ASC / Mank : Masterclass in Monochrome

Black-and-white biopic Mank sees another successful collaboration between cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt ASC and director David Fincher as they craft an authentic portrayal of Hollywood’s golden age and explore the turbulent development of the script for Citizen Kane.

Zoe Mutter
April 12, 2021
British Cinematographer

“This was not an offer I had to consider; the answer was an immediate yes,” says cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt ASC when thinking back to the moment he was asked to film director David Fincher’s Mank which depicts the life of screenwriter Herman J. ‘Mank’ Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) as he develops the script for director Orson Welles’ 1941 classic Citizen Kane.

“I was thrilled when David called me,” he says. “I was nervous too of course as I felt a tremendous responsibility to be considerate and respectful to the film, but it’s a cinematographer’s dream to get the opportunity to make a movie like this.”

As Citizen Kane is widely regarded as one of cinema’s masterpieces, the pressure was on to capture the essence of Gregg Toland ASC’s cinematography and to faithfully encapsulate the distinctive mood, lighting and composition reminiscent of a golden era of filmmaking.

Mank, which received a limited theatrical release before streaming on Netflix, is based on a script written by Fincher’s late father, the journalist and writer, Howard “Jack” Fincher which focuses on the controversy surrounding who had creative ownership of Citizen Kane – Welles or Mankiewicz.

The film uses flashback sequences to explore the prolific talent of Mank as well as his alcoholism and tumultuous relationships with Hollywood executives such as film producer and MGM Studios co-founder Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard) and Irving G. Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley) and publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), who is widely claimed to be the inspiration for Citizen Kane’s protagonist.

Fincher was clear from the beginning that the film would be shot in black-and-white. “We never even considered what the movie would look like in colour,” says Messerchmidt. “Part of David’s intent was to transport the audience back to the classic ‘30s and ‘40s Hollywood era. Black-and-white was an excellent way to do that.”

Ensuring black-and-white was used as a homage or a pastiche rather than a parody was a priority. “When they approach black-and-white, cinematographers can tend to reach for noir as they are excited by its gestured, stylised lighting which you don’t get to use very often when shooting in colour,” adds Messerschmidt.

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ASC Insights Premieres

Jay Holben
February 17, 2021
The American Society Cinematographers

In a new series of in-depth interviews with Society members, ASC Insights provides the cinematographer’s perspective on today’s most pertinent topics. The first two episodes cover High Dynamic Range (HDR) from the director of photography’s view.

Episode One discusses the implementation of HDR in postproduction as a deliverable and features the insights from Markus Förderer, ASC, BVK; Polly Morgan, ASC, BSC; and associate member and colorist Dave Cole. The episode examines scenes from Independence Day: Resurgence, the F/X series Legion and the short film Mandy. 

Episode Two examines the implementation of HDR throughout the entire workflow from set to post and features thoughts from Erik Messerschmidt, ASC; Marshall Adams, ASC; and colorist Dave Cole. The members discuss scenes from Netflix’s Mindhunter and El Camino: The Breaking Bad Movie

For both episodes, ASC associate member and American Cinematographer contributing editor Jay Holben discusses the ins and outs of HDR, the benefits and pitfalls and how important it is for the cinematographer to be involved in the postproduction implementation of HDR. The key to the format is in expanding the palette of creative intention for the filmmakers, not in merely delivering a brighter picture.  

Watch both episodes now right here.

Ben Affleck Reunites With ‘Gone Girl’ Director David Fincher, Accuses Him of Making a Movie With Heart

Meredith Woerner
February 11, 2021
Variety

For once, Ben Affleck gets to ask the questions.

That’s how the actor-director framed his duty of leading a conversation with longtime friend and “Gone Girl” boss David Fincher, the esteemed director whose Netflix film “Mank” has emerged as a top awards contender for 2021.

“This is a real role reversal from having to just be Fincher bitch, having to go over and over again,” Affleck teased the director, alluding to Fincher’s notorious preference for many consecutive takes of the same scene.

Appearing in Variety‘s “Directors on Directors” conversation series, the pair recently held a virtual reunion where Affleck dug into the decades-long process of bringing the story of famed screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz to screen.

In perhaps the broadest conversation Fincher has had about the film’s themes, Affleck gets to the heart of the original script from the director’s father, the value of creative credit at the dawn of Hollywood’s golden age, and the rare glimmer of heart and hope in a David Fincher film.

Read the conversation and watch the interview

‘Gone Girl’ Duo David Fincher & Ben Affleck Reunite to Dissect ‘Mank’ | Directors on Directors

Variety (YouTube)

Sound + Image Lab: David Fincher and Ren Klyce Transport Us to The Golden Age of Hollywood in “Mank”

Glenn Kiser, Director of the Dolby Institute
February 9, 2021
The Dolby Institute

Mank” has been a personal passion project for David Fincher for several decades now. His own father wrote the script, about the famously self-destructive writer of “Citizen Kane,” and Fincher was determined to make the film feel as authentic as possible. Almost like it was an undiscovered artifact from Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” insisting for years to film it in black & white, 1:33​, and in mono. He once again joined forces with his longtime collaborator, sound designer Ren Klyce, to do exactly that. But building this time capsule turned out to be a surprisingly challenging process.

“It’s beyond production value. Sound is a portal into a stranger’s mind that is incredibly influential. And if we don’t avail ourselves of this access, um… then we’re stupid and we should die (laughs).” – David Fincher, director of “Mank”

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LA Story

Ron Prince
January 2021
Cinematography World

Earning your stripes as a cinematographer can be hard enough. But the prospect of shooting your first movie with a Golden Globe, Primetime Emmy and BAFTA Award-winning director, about one of the greatest films of all time, starring some of the best actors working today, and capturing it all in HDR B&W, would seem perfectly daunting.

“Yes, it was quite intimidating, but it was also unbelievably exciting,” admits DP Erik Messerschmidt ASC, as he recalls the invitation from David Fincher to capture the filmmaker’s next movie – the biographical drama Mank.

Mank takes place in Hollywood during the 1930s and early 1940s. It follows screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz, played by Gary Oldman, and the process he undertook for Orson Welles to develop the screenplay for what would become Citizen Kane (1941, dir. Orson Welles, DP Gregg Toland ASC). Nominated in nine categories at the 1942 Academy Awards, Citizen Kane won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, shared by Welles and Mankiewicz.

The film, based on a screenplay by the director’s late father Jack Fincher, alternates between time periods, echoing the non-linear narrative of Citizen Kane, and revealing the trials and tribulations in Hollywood that inspired some of the characters and situations seen in the movie. These include Mankiewicz’s friendship with starlet Marion Davies, played by Amanda Seyfried, his association with newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, played by Charles Dance, and his turbulent professional relationship with Welles, played by Tom Burke.

Shot entirely at 8K in High Dynamic Range monochrome, Mank also features allusions to Toland’s innovative cinematography, as well as classic day-for-night production techniques, and tips its hat to classic moments in the original film.

Mank had a limited theatrical release in November 2020, before streaming on Netflix in December. It received overwhelmingly positive reviews, with particular praise given to the direction, cinematography, production design, soundtrack and the performances, and is expected to feature strongly during the 2021 award season.

Fincher’s directorial credits include Se7en (1995, DP Dariusz Khondji AFC ASC), Fight Club (1999, DP Jeff Cronenweth ASC), Zodiac (2007, DP Harris Savides ASC) and The Social Network (2010, DP Jeff Cronenweth ASC). Messerschmidt, who came into cinematography from being a gaffer, had previously lit Gone Girl (2014, DP Jeff Cronenweth) for Fincher, after which he immediately made the leap into cinematography as the lead DP on the first two season of Netflix’s Mindhunter, directed mainly by Fincher.

“I first met David on Gone Girl and got along great with him during the shoot,” says Messerschmidt. “I ended up lighting some promotional stills for that film which David shot himself. It was our first opportunity to work together creatively one-on-one. It went really well, and we stayed in touch. Both he and Cean Chaffin, his producer, knew that I had ambitions to become a DP. So, when Mindhunter came along, they offered me the opportunity to shoot it. We have been working together ever since, and I was thrilled to be asked to shoot Mank.”

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Netflix Helps Drive the Creative Vision with High-Dynamic-Range Content

Jay Holben
December 22, 2019
American Cinematographer

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.”

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