Art of the Shot: Mindhunter cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt

Reported by Joe Frady

Working with David Fincher, the RED XENOMORPH, CW Sonderoptic Leica Summilux-C lenses and shooting for Netflix

By David Alexander Willis
October 23, 2017
ProVideo Coalition

Shot with a tailor-made RED camera, the RED XENOMORPH, auteur David Fincher chose cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt to helm camera for his latest, and possibly most ambitious project, the 10-episode Mindhunter series. Based on the novel Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, Messerschmidt lensed actors Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany during the extended production as they play FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench. Focusing on the precocious criminal psychology work of the 1970s, the show centers on the duo as they attempt to understand the mind of a serial killer. Mindhunter is available to watch via Netflix now.

Read the full interview

 

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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The Ultimate Plate Van for MINDHUNTER

From Jarred Land (Facebook) with Matthew Tremblay (Facebook), and Christopher Probst (Instagram)

Mindhunter - Green Screen Car Scenes
Christopher Probst: “The idea behind the setup is, 11-12 cameras are rolled simultaneously covering all pre-determined angles, focal lengths, heights and degrees of tilt that will be shot of the actors in the corresponding picture car on our custom greenscreen process stage.”

Jarred Land (President at RED):

David Fincher‘s insane Plate Van for Mindhunter. 11 Epic Dragons on Global Dynamics United Tilt Plates all triggered by one detonator. Great Design Colab between Fincher, Myself and Christopher Probst.

All things considered, this wasn’t actually as expensive as it would seem.

I had a bunch of the 80/20 extrusions left over from previous projects and those Black Magic monitors I bought for super cheap online. My engineers built the 11 camera trigger out of a left over battery shell for about $40 in parts.

The initial design process was super efficient because 80/20 has plugins for SolidWorks so Fincher and I spent a lot of time on the computer pre-visualizing everything and we could figure out the weak links very quickly before we even had the van.

The GDU low profile bombproof tilt plates which Fincher, Matthew Tremblay and I designed we built just for this (which became the GDU tilt plates) seemed exotic but was actually way more cost effective than buying or renting dutch or tango heads that were expensive and not really made for what we were using them for. Remember this is a multi-year show so they actually are saving a ton of money designing it and building it rather than just renting everything for such a long period of time… it likely has already paid for itself.

This is just the prototype of something Fincher and I have been working on for a few years now and it’s going to get way way more badass as time goes on.

2017-10-26 Creative Planet Network - The Plate Van

Christopher Probst:

Click to enlarge and read descriptions

It has mutated and spawned…

From Jarred Land, President at RED:

“RED/FINCHER XENO 2.0”

RED/FINCHER XENO 2.0. @matttremblay_at_red @instajarred

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From Matt Tremblay, Chief Designer at RED:

More pictures of the beast from other Instagrammers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6