Explore the approach to one of drama series Mindhunter‘s most complex and often-discussed scenes with Emmy-nominated, Oscar-winning film editor Kirk Baxter.
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.
A look at the crafts behind the killer interrogations, including cinematography, sound editing, prosthetics, editing, and rerecording mixers.
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.
Kirk Baxter, editing
Kazu Hiro, prosthetics
Scott Lewis & Stephen Urata, rerecording mixers
Erik Messerschmidt, cinematographer
Jeremy Molod, sound editor
Patrick Z. McGavin
September 25, 2019
In a world filled with police procedurals, Netflix’s “Mindhunter” has attracted a lot of attention.
Created by Joe Penhall, the series is a police procedural about two FBI special agents, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany). It has attracted top-tier talent such as David Fincher, Carl Franklin (“One False Move”) and executive producer Charlize Theron.
The second season dropped last month on the streaming platform. The Australian-born editor Kirk Baxter, ACE, a two-time Academy Award-winner for Fincher’s “The Social Network” (2011) and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2012), is the editor of four of the nine episodes.
In an exclusive interview, Baxter talked about serial killers, editing difficult material, and working with the notorious perfectionist Fincher.
You you have had a long and very successful creative collaboration with Fincher. How did you first meet?
Kirk Baxter: I got introduced to David through Angus Wall when Angus was editing “Zodiac” (2007). I got brought into helping out, so I met David when I was already cutting a scene for him. Things went well. I became a puppy that never left.
How you would describe your working methods?
Baxter: I try to rely on him as little as possible because I am familiar with what his days are like, especially during the shooting process. David is incredibly busy, and I like to get on with it.
We work through PIX [a workflow tool that allows production teams to securely share and review content], so I will put a lot of stuff up for him every day and it is the day’s PIX that we critique and do back and forth at his pace.
David is pretty good at being all-consuming. He will tend to get back to me immediately. I don’t really hit him with questions. I just hit him with work.
He shoots, I select, put something together and send it to him and I take the feedback kind of dryly. I don’t take anything from [it as] a personal affront. I just work until it is there, until we are happy with it. I am trying to outgrow the part where you loathe yourself until you like the scene. I am getting better, but I haven’t perfected it yet.
Wheat tends to happen is during the shooting process, the initial assembly is just misery. We all hate ourselves, hate the show, and then once it is beginning to take shape, there is more of a jovial atmosphere where you start to feel comfortable that things are working.
In Season 2, was there a conscious decision to take the work in different stylistic or formal directions?
Baxter: No. David might have had that conversation with the cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, but certainly not with me. Again, rarely am I going to have a philosophical conversation about what we want to do. My communication with David is just by doing.
Mindhunter is not like other crime shows. In this video essay, Thomas Flight explores some of the inventive techniques creators Joe Penhall and David Fincher employ to inject drama and conflict into the show.
This is a detailed analysis of the ways in which Mindhunter pulls the audience into the lives of its characters as they explore the minds of some of the worst criminals on earth.
Mindhunter’s Brilliant Editing. A Breakdown
Cameron Britton as serial killer Ed Kemper in Episode 10 (Patrick Harbron / Netflix)
Film Editor Kirk Baxter
The FBI crime drama about early behavioral profiling is a Fincher Master Class in blocking and montage, with an assist from Steven Soderbergh.
With Netflix’s “Mindhunter,” executive producer David Fincher delivers a gripping crime series about the early days of FBI behavioral profiling in 1977 without any grisly murders. (Fincher directed the initial two episodes as well as the concluding two.) And for Oscar-winning editor Kirk Baxter (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “Social Network”), this dialogue-heavy walk and talk between agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) was a gift.
“The skill that David has with blocking scenes is what’s most enjoyable,” Baxter said. “With 25 different angles of different set ups, it’s very dense and takes a lot of man-hours in perfecting, but a walk and talk with an A and B camera, all I have to do is pick the best take.”
In addition to serving as co-executive producer for Mindhunter, Fincher directed four hours of the 10-episode season.
The first masterpiece from filmmaker David Fincher was his feature film Se7en, a procedural featuring one of the most memorable serial killers ever committed to celluloid. Ten years ago he returned this dark territory with Zodiac, an adaptation of the true-life case involving a still-unknown killer who struck repeatedly throughout the San Francisco Bay area. In the years since, Fincher helped launch House of Cards (an adaptation of the successful UK series) for Netflix. He comes back to the crime investigation genre with Mindhunter, a 10-part streaming series that launched on Netflix on Oct. 13.
In addition to serving as co-executive producer for Mindhunter, Fincher directed four hours of the 10-episode season, with Christopher Probst shooting the pilot installment. The other directors were Asif Kapadia, Tobias Lindholm and Andrew Douglas.
Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt shot part of episode two, along with the remaining eight episodes. Messerschmidt had served as gaffer on Fincher’s most recent feature, Gone Girl. He pulled double duty on this fall’s Granite Mountain, gaffing and shooting 2nd unit—the latter a duty he performed for next year’s Sicario follow-up, Soldado, as well. “Fincher was very involved in the process, which is to be expected. He was there every day,” Messerschmidt says.
Patrick Harbron / Netflix
I recently spoke with Tyler Nelson, one of the four series editors, who was given the opportunity to move from the assistant chair to that of a primary editor on ‘Mindhunter.’