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.”
They both took different roads to film scoring, which they have mostly (and most famously) done together. From 9 Inch Nails to Fincher to Watchmen, they have a unique one-off approach to every project. They took some time to chat with David Poland to chat about their work on The Social Network, Watchmen, Mank, and Pixar‘s Soul.
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For this very special episode we are joined by screenwriter Liz Hannah (“The Post,” “Long Shot,” “Mindhunter”). We find out why she loves the franchise (especially “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”), her appreciation for Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa and what she wants out of the two new movies. She also talks about working with David Fincher. And we also get Liz – and her husband – to rank Tom Cruise’s hairstyles!
Actor Damon Herriman talks about tackling the role of Charles Manson (again) in Netflix‘s Emmy®-nominated series Mindhunter. Oscar®-winning makeup designer Kazu Hiro, meanwhile, details the actor’s physical transformation from mild-mannered Aussie to iconic cult leader.
Kazu Hiro breaks down his process of using special effects to transform actors physical appearances. Kazu demonstrates the techniques he used to turn ‘Bombshell‘ cast Charlize Theron into Megyn Kelly, Nicole Kidman into Gretchen Carlson, and John Lithgow into Roger Ailes, ‘Darkest Hour‘ cast Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill, and ‘Mindhunter‘ cast Damon Herriman into Charles Manson, and Olive Cooper into David Berkowitz.
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.
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.
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.
Last year, Australian actor Damon Herriman did his spot-on performance of Charles Manson not once, but twice: the teasing cameo in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and the riveting interview with FBI agents Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Tench (Holt McCallany) in Season 2 of David Fincher’s “Mindhunter.” Although they were shot within weeks of each other, the more demanding portrayal in the Netflix crime drama came first.
And, thanks to the deft physical transformation applied by the multiple Oscar-winning special effects makeup wiz Kazu Hiro (“Bombshell,” “Darkest Hour”) — who first worked with Fincher on “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” — Herriman gave the definitive Manson portrayal for the streamer. But we’ve come to expect nothing less from Hiro, the master at reconstructing iconic historical figures. It’s all the more impressive when there’s no physical resemblance, which was the case here with Herriman nearly five inches taller than the diminutive Manson and possessing different facial traits.
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…
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.