Hear from Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt ASC, Colorist Eric Weidt, and Co-Producer Peter Mavromates as they share their insights and experiences creating the stunning visuals for David Fincher’s Oscar nominated movie Mank in Dolby Vision HDR. This session provides insights into their methodology and workflow for creating this stunning black-and-white Hollywood epic Netflix movie.
March 14, 2021
Mank is nominated for 10 Academy awards in this year’s 93rd Oscars in categories such as Best Picture, Lead Actor, and Best Director. It is also nominated for the VES award for Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature. The film follows screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz’s tumultuous development of Orson Welles’ iconic masterpiece Citizen Kane (1941).
There were several VFX supervisors nominated, Simon Carr (Territory Studio), Wei Zheng (Artemple), James Pastorius (Savage VFX), along with Peter Mavromates. In many respects, director David Fincher could have also been nominated for VFX. The director is himself an expert in visual effects and was a very active contributor to the film’s effect work. Peter Mavromates is a long-time collaborator with David Fincher and was officially the Co-producer, Post Supervisor and VFX Producer on the film. Additionally, Pablo Helman at ILM was key in creating the CG animals at the San Simeon zoo.
The film had its roots going back over 20 years. “We had a false start about 20 years ago, around 1999. The script had been written at that time but it never happened for a number of reasons,” Mavromates comments. “Probably a contributing factor was that it was black and white and if you weren’t Woody Allen in the 90s, you couldn’t shoot black and white. Even Mel Brooks had to change producers for Young Frankenstein because the studio wouldn’t let him shoot black and white and he had to find another studio.”
The movie finished filming about 2 weeks before the W.H.O. declared the COVID pandemic in Feb 2020. This meant nearly all the VFX was done using remote protocols at each of the VFX vendors.
Join Adobe for an exciting discussion with the editorial team from Netflix’s Mank featuring special guests Kirk Baxter, ACE, first assistant editor Ben Insler, and assistant editor Jennifer Chung. The team goes behind-the-scenes of the critically-acclaimed, Oscar nominated film to share their creative editing process and collaborative workflows for in-house VFX. Learn how they crafted a modern-day homage to one of the most celebrated films of all time, and overcame the challenges of a remote workflow using Premiere Pro Productions and After Effects.
Kirk Baxter, ACE, has been recognized with Academy Awards for his work on The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, an Academy Award nomination for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and multiple nominations from the American Cinema Editors. The Australian native is a long-time collaborator of David Fincher, including five of the director’s films and two of his series, Mindhunter and House of Cards.
Ben Insler currently works as a feature film assistant editor in Los Angeles, most recently on David Fincher’s Mank. He has previously assisted on television series, documentaries, and commercials, as well as edited for television, independent features and numerous shorts.
Jennifer Chung is an assistant editor working in Los Angeles. Originally from the midwest, she graduated with a BFA in Cinema Art + Science from Columbia College Chicago. She works in scripted tv and film, most recently on the “Blindspotting” series and David Fincher’s “Mank”. Along with assisting, she has also edited numerous shorts, music videos and promotional content.
Adobe® Video & Motion tools provide comprehensive video editing, motion design, VFX, sound, & animation for beginners to professionals. All tools are available through Creative Cloud membership.
Citizen Kane has long been regarded as a movie masterpiece for its cinematography, storytelling, and ahead-of-its-time visual effects. Who better to pay homage to the 1940’s film than director David Fincher, whose films are often lauded for these same characteristics? Fincher’s most recent project, the Netflix feature film Mank, brings to life a screenplay written by his late father, journalist Jack Fincher.
Netflix describes the film as “1930s Hollywood…reevaluated through the eyes of scathing wit and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish Citizen Kane.” This movie about a movie showcases the unique approach to storytelling and visual style that continues to make Fincher’s work stand out.
Helping Fincher to bring his signature style to life is a talented post-production team that includes post producer Peter Mavromates, editor Kirk Baxter, first assistant editor Ben Insler, assistant editor Jennifer Chung, and a number of additional assistant editors and VFX artists. Their collective credits include MINDHUNTER, Gone Girl, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, House of Cards, and other features.
As co-producer of Mank, Mavromates oversaw the timing, budget, schedule, and integration between the editorial, visual effects, and finishing departments. Insler was responsible for integrating the overall project workflows. Chung prepped dailies and supported the editorial team throughout the post-production process and liaised with the sound, color, and visual effects teams.
The team constantly looks to refine and improve their workflows. “I love the mechanics of post-production,” says Insler. “If there’s a way we can eliminate a bottleneck or figure out a more efficient way to do things, I’m all over it. It’s one of my favorite things to do.”
Insler had that opportunity while working on Mank, which was edited using Productions in Adobe Premiere Pro. Already long-time users of Premiere Pro, Productions made it even easier for the editorial team to organize projects, collaborate, and scale, while solving issues such as avoiding duplicate clips and providing the ability to break large projects into smaller segments so that they open and save faster.
Film Editor Spotlight, with Kirk Baxter, ACE, editor of Mank
Mank and Adobe Premiere Pro take a new look at Old Hollywood
Adobe Video & Motion (YouTube)
March 9, 2021
How do you make a movie about the best movie ever made? With David Fincher, Gary Oldman, Netflix and Adobe Premiere Pro, Mank tells the story behind the story of Citizen Kane.
On Mank, VFX supervisor Wei Zheng paired state-of-the-art technology with old-school filmmaking techniques, to help David Fincher craft a singular portrait of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Marking Zheng’s sixth collaboration with the director, the Netflix drama follows alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), as he finishes the script for Citizen Kane.
By implementing matte painting and rear projection, along with other tools and tricks, Fincher and his team minimized the budget necessary to assemble an authentic period piece, manipulating L.A. exteriors when necessary, or avoiding them altogether. Ultimately, what these tools offered Fincher was complete control of every image, and interestingly, the director himself served as the film’s overall VFX supervisor, though he chose to go uncredited.
At the same time, it took a village to bring his vision to life. Supporting him in his ambitions, alongside Zheng (Artemple Hollywood), were VFX supervisors Simon Carr (Territory Studio), James Pastorius (Savage VFX), and Pablo Helman (ILM). His fourth key collaborator in this arena was Peter Mavromates, who served as co-producer, post-production supervisor and VFX producer.
In conversation with Deadline, Zheng breaks down the shorthand he’s developed with Fincher over the years, and the approach he took to getting “David’s imagination” on each of his longtime passion project’s frames.
Fincher used retro VFX techniques powered by digital tech (including matte paintings and LED screens for rear projection).
One of the major craft achievements of “Mank” was how David Fincher’s visual effects team meticulously recreated ’30s-era LA in black-and-white. (They used the matte paintings of Artemple, Territory’s LED screens, and Savage’s sky replacement with Unreal’s game engine.) The work has been shortlisted for the VFX Oscar and garnered a VES nomination for supporting visual effects.
“Most of the effects were what we call our ‘body and fender’ work, where [David] shot something and it’s not quite right and it needed to be replaced,” said visual effects producer Peter Mavromates. “For example, during the Louis B. Mayer birthday party at San Simeon, he didn’t want to deal with real fire in the fireplace, so those are all added [in CG] afterwards. He’s all about efficiency on set.”
Also added were the cloudy skies during the shooting of an elaborate home movie with Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) tied to a stake. “Sky replacement of shots were for consistency using the Unreal game engine with 3D model placement,” Mavromates added.
There’s something appropriate about David Fincher’s Mank premiering during one of the most unusual years Hollywood has experienced in several generations.
The tale of eccentric, unpredictable screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz’s efforts to pen the screenplay for Citizen Kane, Mank is a throwback to American cinema’s golden age, meticulously filmed in black and white and set in and around pre-war Hollywood. In order to recreate the historic look and feel of the era (and the film itself), Fincher and co-producer Peter Mavromates, who also served as post-production supervisor and visual effects producer on the film, worked with several VFX studios to turn back the clock for Mankiewicz’s saga.
Digital Trends spoke to Mavromates about his work on Mank, which is available now on Netflix and a contender for an Oscar nomination in the visual effects category, to find out how the film used VFX to create its cinematic time capsule.
Mavromates and director David Fincher oversaw a team of four VFX Supervisors to deliver the period film.
When tackling a period-centered project like Mank, David Fincher and his assembly of below the line craftspersons create magic, fully immersing the viewer in a faithfully recreated 1930s-era California. While the project leveraged many real-world locations and built sets, changing times and the absence of an unlimited budget posed some challenges to create that immersive world Fincher and team demanded. To complete the illusion, the filmmakers looked to co-producer Peter Mavromates, who led a team of four visual effects (VFX) supervisors.
Now, Mank isn’t effects-heavy The Avengers, but that doesn’t mean VFX aren’t just as critical to the film’s storytelling and overall atmosphere.
“The assumption, at minimum, is that you’re going to at least need to retouch a background to get rid of modern anachronisms,” Mavromates explained. “As in this movie, there are situations where David [Fincher] will want to actually replace the background so that period buildings are back there.”
There are many reasons why there’s a general wave of excitement whenever there’s a new David Fincher movie. That’s particularly been the case with Mank considering the six-year gap since Fincher’s last film Gone Girl, roughly half that time in which Fincher was making the series Mindhunter for Netflix.
Most of Fincher’s fans within and outside the industry see the filmmaker as a modern master of the visual medium, and Mank offers further proof of this with stunning shots recreating Hollywood in the ‘30s and ‘40s, fully realized background environments in which well-known icons from the era discuss the political climate of the times, both in the country and in Tinsel Town itself. At the center of it all is Gary Oldman’s Herman Mankiewicz, the illustrious screenwriter who would win a shared Oscar for co-writing Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.
One person who has been along for the ride watching Fincher’s rise as a visionary filmmaker is Peter Mavromates, whose first film with Fincher was 1997’s The Game, but who first met the director on a Michael Jackson video and a commercial he directed. Mavromates has worked in post for over 35 years, as one of the first to champion the benefits of combining analog film with digital post, producing his first DI (Digital Intermediary) for Fincher’s 2002 movie, Panic Room, which was shot on analog. Five years later, he did the same for Zodiac, Fincher’s first digitally-shot film.
As Fincher’s Post-Production Supervisor, Mavromates’ duties continued to expand and evolve, his duties involving all the budgeting and hiring when it comes to the post process. “I like to describe it as once the image is captured, it becomes my problem,” he told Below the Line over a Zoom call a few weeks back.
A consistent entry on the greatest of all-time films is Citizen Kane, which is famous for innovative filmmaking, having been inspired by the life of American media mogul William Randolph Hearst and serving as the Hollywood debut of wunderkind Orson Welles. Just as legendary is the behind-the-scenes turmoil, in particularly Hearst attempting to derail the project and the careers of those involved. There were also accusations that Welles did not deserve a screenwriting credit as the true author was Herman J. Mankiewicz.
The script controversy captured the attention of journalist Jack Fincher who wrote an initial draft 30 years ago that was furthered developed by his son, David Fincher, best known for directing Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac and The Social Network. The Netflix production of Mank stars Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tuppence Middleton and Charles Dance.
Over the course of his career, Mank co-producer and VFX Producer Peter Mavromates (Mindhunter) has frequently collaborated with Fincher as a post-production supervisor. “There is a high level of consistency in our post team, so we get to have that conversation about how we can do it better the next time.”
Visual effects and DI are done in-house. “When we’re doing tests during pre-production,” Mavromates says, “a lot of the time they are shot in the parking lot and we bring the files right into the DI in the building. How awesome is that kind of feedback for Erik Messerschmidt [Raised by Wolves], our DP, and David Fincher to be able to play with something, see it, test it, bend it, and then go back out and try an alternative version right away? That’s valuable. That’s also the advantage to having in-house visual effects, which is having the ability not to be on the clock. I can call David upstairs where our visual effects are and say, ‘I want you to look at these three shots.’ I can give feedback to the artist right there, and maybe the artist can immediately do his note and get him to sign off. I think of David as the visual effects supervisor and I am the supervisor on some of the more technical stuff, like retouches.”