Going with the Grain to Capture the 1930s Black-and-White-Film World of Mank

Trevor Hogg
February 2, 2021
VFX Voice Magazine (VES)

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 SevenFight ClubZodiac 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.”

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VES: Inside the Visual Effects of the Netflix Film Mank

Gavin Graham, VES Board Secretary
January 1, 2021
VES (Visual Effects Society) (Facebook, Twitter)

Panelists include Co-Producer and VFX Producer Peter Mavromates, VES Award nominated Visual Effects Supervisor at Artemple Wei Zheng, Visual Effects Supervisor at Territory Studio Simon Carr and HPA Award nominated Visual Effects Supervisor at Savage VFX James Pastorius and VES Award-winning Visual Effects Supervisor at ILM Pablo Helman, moderated by VES Board Secretary Gavin Graham.

Mank, The Unmaking

January 28, 2021
Netflix

manktheunmaking.com

Text by:

Nev Pierce

Photography by:

Erik Messerschmidt
Miles Crist
Gisele Schmidt-Oldman
Gary Oldman
Ceán Chaffin
Nikolai Loveikis

The Next Best Picture Podcast: A Behind The Scenes Look At “Mank”

Will Mavity
January 26, 2021
Next Best Picture

Mank” is one of 2020’s most technically dazzling films. David Fincher‘s perfectionism transported us back to the Golden Age of Hollywood to tell us the story of Academy Award winning screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) and the film has been hailed as one of the year’s best, most recently being rewarded as one of the Top 10 films of the year by the American Film Institute (AFI). Many members from the film’s production were kind enough to give us a behind-the-scenes look into the making of the film including Academy Award-nominated sound designer Ren Klyce, Costume Designer Trish Summerville & Co-Producer/VFX Producer, Peter Mavromates.

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HPA NET Critical Conversations with Peter Mavromates

Two Decades of Inventing Digital Workflows: Lessons from One of the Masters

Mark Chiolis
December 20, 2020
HPA

The new David Fincher movie, Mank, released on Netflix on December 4th of this year, was originally scheduled to be produced in 1999 but didn’t happen due to a number of factors. In 2007 Fincher released Zodiac which was one of the first major theatrical features to be shot in a digital environment around a completely new file-based workflow that would revolutionize the industry over the next decade.

Peter Mavromates, the post production supervisor on Zodiac and a number of other Fincher projects over the years, including a co-Producer credit on Mank, joins Critical Conversations to discuss how digital workflows have grown and evolved over the last 15 years. Peter will talk about helping to design the early workflows on Zodiac, continuing to build it with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the ongoing developments created for Mank, and what’s next for the future.

Peter Mavromates has worked in post production for more than 35 years.  He saw the future of “film” when he walked into a high-end video facility in New York called Charlex.  Working at Charlex while still in “film” school in the NYU Grad Film Program, he saw the beauty of film (read ACETATE) and the power of electronic (read ANALOG VIDEO transitioning to DIGITAL) and watched as those two processes merged and mutated throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s.  Peter produced his first DI on Panic Room in 2002, and his first DI of a digitally acquired movie on Zodiac in 2007. Most of the last 25 years have been spent working on projects with David Fincher, but he has also worked with Quentin Tarantino, Stephen Gaghan, and George Clooney.

Watch the full conversation

‘Mank’ VFX: ‘Body-and-Fender’ Work and So Much More

Behind Mank‘s Invisible Visual Effects

Ian Failes
December 14, 2020
befores & afters

I recently had the chance to ask Territory Studio about their visual effects work for Mank, which involved the re-creation of Wilshire Blvd from the 1930s. Like those shots, so much of Mank’s VFX work was invisible, involving subtle augmentations to tell the period story.

Overseeing these visual effects shots was director David Fincher himself, alongside co-producer Peter Mavromates, and the film’s art department. Fincher and Mavromates co-ordinated an outside effort, also, led by four VFX supervisors at different studios: Artemple (Wei Zheng), Territory Studio (Simon Carr), Savage (John Pastorious) and ILM (Pablo Helman).

In this befores & afters conversation, Mavromates discusses the various VFX work—from sky replacements to matte paintings, to CG animals and what he calls ‘body-and-fender’ shots—that helped tell Mank’s tale.

Read the full interview

The People Who Can See Inside David Fincher’s Head

The famously meticulous Mank director is surrounded by collaborators tasked with turning his most ambitious ideas into reality.

David Sims
December 9, 2020
The Atlantic

Early in Netflix’s Mank, the screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) ambles onto an outdoor movie set, where he bumps into an array of glamorous characters. In a scene full of repartee with real-life figures such as the actor Marion Davies, the film honcho Louis B. Mayer, and the mogul William Randolph Hearst, the visual details of the environment might seem unimportant. But to Mank’s director, David Fincher, they mattered. “The grass was not to David’s liking, and the sky was not to his liking, so all that’s been replaced,” Peter Mavromates, his co-producer, told me. When making a movie, Fincher literally controls heaven and earth.

That example sums up the capricious-sounding, godlike power of a director, especially in the age of digital filmmaking, which allows for total command of every frame. But as with all of his movies, Fincher’s vision for Mank was realized by a group of dedicated collaborators, most of whom have worked with the director for many years across projects. This film, which Fincher mulled for nearly three decades, is unlike anything he has made before. An unusual-looking-and-sounding film set in the Golden Age of Hollywood, Mank reflects the aesthetic of the 1930s with its black-and-white cinematography; an echoey, old-fashioned sound mix; and a brassy, orchestral score. But Fincher also wanted it to be a distinctly modern film, which posed many unique and fascinating technical challenges to the creators charged with bringing his lofty ideas to life.

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X2X: Glimpse into Future Filmmaking with Mank

How will filmmaking adapt in the post-Covid era? A glimpse into the future is afforded by Mank, the forthcoming Netflix feature project directed by David Fincher and spearheaded by producer Ceán Chaffin. More than a love letter to a catalog title, Mank is a glimpse of the complex interplay of human creativity and the filmmaking process as practiced in Hollywood’s golden era.

December 9, 2020
X2X

Fincher is known for working in the vanguard of filmmaking technology. Examples include a very early digital intermediate on Panic Room – the first ever in a facility designed for the purpose – and Zodiac, one of the first major features to be shot almost entirely digitally. The remote collaboration envisioned by futurists at the dawn of the internet era was already common practice for his team long before the pandemic.

“Fortunately, we have not missed a beat,” says Chaffin. “We are working now exactly how we mostly could have been working the past ten years, which is working from home during post.”

But the virus and its requirement to remain physically apart may constitute a final push for the industry at large. All the attributes of true remote connectivity – reduced travel time and its attendant benefits in terms of stress, pollution and time savings, enhanced with rapid feedback, superior organization and a centralized database – will still be applicable when health concerns subside.

A canvas of the top pros on David Fincher’s team indicates that while the pandemic naturally raises stress levels, the need to work separately has been essentially a non-factor in terms of their ability to collaborate efficiently and keep the production on track.

Fincher came to the project with a mandate that the production work with the PIX production hub. Chaffin, who has made nine films with Fincher, says that the system is an essential tool for collaboration and input.

“This is how we have worked for a long time.” says Chaffin. “David feels the team is making the film with him, sharing in the problem-solving. Even when we were in the same building, David was often responding exclusively through PIX. His preferences and concerns are there for everyone to refer to. You don’t have to go find that one email, or remember a comment someone made on their way out the door.

Read the full case study

Adobe: Hollywood Post-production with Team Fincher

A virtual panel with famed director David Fincher’s assistant editors and his post producer.

Mike Kanfer, Karl Soule, Matt Christensen, Marjorie Sacks
November 13, 2020
Adobe, Adobe for Education (YouTube)

Jennifer Chung, Assistant Editor
Ben Insler, First Assistant Editor
Peter Mavromates, Post Producer

In this panel, you’ll hear Team Fincher discuss their TV and feature film workflows and see how they used the new Productions feature in Premiere Pro along with After Effects in a completely remote scenario during the pandemic.

They’ll also discuss their career paths and give advice on how to succeed as a professional editor.

Watch the full event in six parts (playlist):

Part 1: Demo of Premiere Pro Productions

Part 2: Narrative Workflows in Premiere Pro

Part 3: Split Screen and Remote Workflows

Part 4: Career Advice

Part 5: Q&A

Part 6: Q&A Continued

Lensing Creativity Goes Remote

The pandemic has accelerated many technical trends that were already underway

David Heuring
November 11, 2020
Variety

Necessity is the mother of invention, and nothing proves this proverb more true than the evolution of film and television production technology in the age of COVID-19. While the field has always changed rapidly even in normal times, the pace of change and adaptation has accelerated over the past six months.

This adjustment has posed many questions. Beyond personal protective equipment, mandatory testing, on-set safety monitors, walking lunches and corona contingency fees, will the pandemic have enduring effects in the creative, collaborative endeavor that is filmmaking? The technology to work remotely has essentially been in place for some time, but will the pandemic finally push us over into a new normal?

Numerous existing technology trends are being suddenly supercharged by the necessities imposed by the coronavirus. Shooting close to home has never been more appealing, and that impulse aligns neatly with ongoing advancements in LED backings and virtual production. In the world of image processing, connectivity solutions such as those offered by Moxion, Frame.io and Sohonet were already bringing immediacy and super-high resolution to a wide variety of devices without regard to location — and now those virtues are suddenly in much higher demand. And remote collaboration solutions including PIX are looking positively prescient.

Director David Fincher’s team found that the PIX production backbone, a tool they’ve helped develop over the years, facilitated safe group creativity but also enhanced efficiency on the forthcoming Mank.

Read the full article