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.
“A place to unload all my cinematic truths.” —Newton Thomas Sigel, ASC
How do you cultivate a career in Hollywood? What does it take to make iconic work? There’s an art to everything in life and the Art of the Shot explores the answers to those questions and more through deep-dives into the minds of master filmmakers. Join host Derek Stettler, young filmmaker and writer for the ASC and SOC magazines since 2016, as he learns from the artists behind today’s most strikingly-shot projects. Enjoy compelling conversations on the craft, insights from successful careers, tips, techniques + more!
In this episode, you’ll hear from both the cinematographer and the “A” camera operator of Mindhunter, who worked together throughout Season 1 and 2 to shoot every single episode. Please enjoy this exclusive interview with Erik Messerschmidt, ASC and Brian Osmond, SOC!
Brian Osmond, Gaffer Danny Gonzalez, and Erik Messerschmidt (Nikolai Loveikis)
In this episode, you’ll learn:
– Erik’s career path (00:04:06) – Erik’s favorite part of the job (00:06:42) – What DP’s should know to best work with their gaffers, from Erik’s experience working as a gaffer before becoming a DP (00:07:02) – Unique skills Erik gained from his experience as a gaffer (00:07:56) – How Brian got his career started (00:11:19) – Brian’s favorite part of his job (00:12:19) – What other directors can learn from how David Fincher treats his crew (00:18:39) – The thought process & techniques behind Mindhunter‘s precise camera movement (00:22:50) – The strategic use of handheld camera operating (00:34:27) – The collaborative nature of the Mindhunter set (00:37:34) – The importance of having a dedicated camera operator on set, especially on a David Fincher set (00:41:19) – Erik’s role as “quality control supervisor” (00:44:21) – Why a monitor on a David Fincher set is covered in smudges (00:46:57) – Why there’s no such thing as a B camera “bonus shot” on Mindhunter & how shots are planned out for multiple cameras (00:48:23) – What Erik thinks is the hardest shot to do well (00:52:04) – How Erik lights & shoots with 2 cameras simultaneously (00:53:41) – Erik’s approach to lighting Mindhunter & techniques used (00:56:55) – Erik’s preference for real fluorescent lighting (01:03:30) – Mindhunter‘s production design and how much of the locations were built (01:05:01) – Favorite set of Season 2 (01:06:26) – How getting scripts in advance helps them work better (01:10:44) – The innovative car process shooting on Mindhunter & how it works (01:12:38) – How virtual production helps realize every filmmaker’s dream, stopping time, & how Erik used that to shoot a 9-minute dialog scene at dawn (01:18:02) – How the car process shooting on Mindhunter evolved from Season 1 (01:22:37) – How the custom RED digital cinema camera, dubbed the Xenomorph, evolved from Season 1 (01:27:22) – Why Brian prefers a fluid head over a geared head to achieve those smooth, precise shots David Fincher loves (01:37:34) – How to shoot a scene & why “Fix it in prep!” should be every filmmaker’s mantra (01:42:08) – All about the lenses used on Mindhunter & how Erik art directed the artifacts & nuances of every optical aberration (01:48:10) – Tips from Brian on getting really precise shots with a fluid head, what operating technique Erik has learned from Brian, & how being self-critical is a key to his success (01:56:42) – What Erik & Brian feel is the most rewarding part of working on Mindhunter (02:02:47)
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Cinema director David Fincher created one of the first original streaming series with House of Cards, and his innovative spirit infuses the Netflix original series Mindhunter, now in its second season.
In this podcast episode, the sound team discuss Fincher’s unique approach to the sound of serial killer interrogation scenes, a hallmark of this fascinating, dark series. The team discuss setting the acoustic tone of the series, including the oppression of the FBI agents’ basement office (and a very special door), why it was important to Fincher to always hear trainee agents at Quantico at target practice, and the joy of receiving Fincher’s incredibly detailed mix notes.
Steve Bissinger – Sound Effects Editor Scott Lewis – Re-Recording Mixer Stephen Urata – Re-Recording Mixer
Director David Fincher’s Mindhunter series on Netflix is as calculated as the serial killers it fictionalizes. Fincher locks down all the details on a nanoscopic level, including the sound. Here, Skywalker Sound supervising sound editor Jeremy Molod talks about his collaboration with Fincher and how they deliver a finely-crafted show.
Having spent so much time as a Foley editor in his early career, award-winning supervising sound editor Jeremy Molod, at Skywalker Sound, appreciates the value of that performance art, as does his long-time collaborator director David Fincher. So much so, that Fincher even requests samples of potential footstep sounds for his characters before the Foley is shot. With all the details that a director has to attend to, it’s rare that one allocates so much attention to sound — even down to the Foley footsteps.
In Season 2, Ep. 2 of Netflix’s Mindhunter series — which is up for Emmy consideration for sound editing and mixing — Fincher and Molod used Foley and sound design to communicate the nervousness and discomfort of BTK-survivor Kevin Bright (Andrew Yackel) as he recounts details of the attack to detectives Tench (Holt McCallany) and Drowatzky (Jeb Kreager). Kevin is in the backseat of Drowatzky’s truck, and because of the camera angle and depth-of-field, he’s not clearly seen by the audience. His movements are implied through Foley, and those increasingly agitated movements reflect Kevin’s emotional state.
Here, Molod discusses the sound team’s work on Mindhunter, focusing on several key scenes in Season 2, Ep. 2, and their use of Foley and loop group as a storytelling tool that adds unique detail to the soundtrack.
How has your experience of working on Mindhunter Season 1 impacted your approach to Season 2? Any lessons learned on that first season that sparked ideas for this new season?
Jeremy Molod (JM): Once we got through the first season, our crew had a rhythm down. That made things a lot easier for Season 2 just in terms of our workflow and how we do it.
We didn’t take a new approach to the second season. We treated Season 1 and Season 2 as one long, huge movie. We continued exactly what we were doing before. David [Fincher] would give us his spotting notes and we’d work on it and then he would give us notes on what he liked and didn’t like. We just proceeded that way.
Since you’ve worked with David Fincher before, did he just give you general notes and let you do your thing?
JM: No. He’s very hands-on, more so than any other director I’ve worked with. He cares about every little aspect. Before we start working on it, he’ll tell us what he has in mind sound-wise, but every single day he is chiming in with more information, more detailed notes, and more ideas of things he’d like us to try. It’s a back-and-forth all the time. I send things to David almost every day for him to listen to and make notes on. It’s a very collaborative effort.
Often directors are so busy handling everything else that they don’t have time for sound collaboration. It’s good to hear he’s very involved in that…
JM: Absolutely. It’s a rare thing for a director to be this involved in sound, but that’s one of the reasons his movies are so good. He cares about every little aspect of it.
Learn how the new movement toward reanimating camera movement, stabilizing, and reframing shots in post is taking shape! Chad Peter and Tai Logsdon have been on the forefront of this change and will discuss how it all began and how it’s being done today, with lots of details and examples from Mind Hunter, Bird Man, Homecoming & Mr. Robot.
Writer / Director (DGA) / VFX Supervisor originally from Colorado – Chad Peter has worked as VFX supervisor & additional director (inserts) on the final season of “Mr. Robot”, as well as VFX Super on Amazon’s “Homecoming” season 1. Previously, Chad had served as an in-house VFX on “Mindhunter” s1 & s2, “House of Cards” s2 thru s4, “Gone Girl” and more.
Tai Logsdon grew up in the Central Valley of California, graduated from Chapman University in 2006, and has worked as in-House VFX Manager for shows such as Amazon’s “Homecoming” and USA’s “Mr.Robot” (the final season).
We speak with Beverly Wood, former Executive VP at Deluxe and Managing Director at eFilm. We discuss the transition in Hollywood from Film to Digital with one of the industries foremost experts on the science behind it all. We discuss how film emulsion actually works, color science, her work with Roger and James, and films like SkyFall, O Brother, Where Art Thou and more.
She’s been with us through our journey from film to digital and is a great source of information in general!
Although mainstream audiences may not be consciously aware of the use of special processes when they watch a film in a theater, they certainly felt the effect while watching David Fincher‘s horrific thriller Seven (AC Oct. ’95), which was photographed by Darius Khondji. A number of the film’s release prints were treated with Deluxe‘s Color Contrast Enhancement (CCE) process to heighten the film’s blacks and add a palpable texture and tonality.
For many, the idea of recording 8K video understandably conjures up images of unmanageable files sizes, long transfer times, huge piles of hard drives, and slow proxy workflows… not to mention a black hole in the budget.
Leaving aside for one moment the fact that HDR and HFR are far more valuable than resolution to the consumer’s eye, there are benefits to an 8K production which an increasing number of projects are taking advantage of.
Mank, directed by David Fincher and lensed by Erik Messerschmidt, ASC, was acquired 8K using the RED Monstro in monochrome (above); and Money Heist, the Netflix drama which in season 4 is shot at 7K to accommodate HDR in a 4K deliverable, are just two of the most recent.
You can’t sell productions made in less than 4K to Netflix and other streaming services now. One day soon, some will mandate 8K to begin with and Netflix will have its fair share in the bank.
Even if the final output is only going to be 4K/UHD, shooting in 8K gives you many options in post that you do not have when starting in 4K. These include downscaling, cut/crop (pan/scan) or headroom for VFX.
“Before making the decision to capture a project in 8K, producers and cinematographers need to consider the project’s long-term goals,” says Bryce Button, director of product marketing, AJA Video Systems. For instance, capturing in 8K makes a lot of sense if there will be future use for the material.
I was late in discovering David Fincher’s gripping series on serial killers, Mindhunter. But last summer, I noticed the Netflix original lurking in my suggested titles and decided to give it a whirl. I burned through both seasons within a week. The show is both thrilling and chilling, but the majority of these moments are not achieved through blazing guns, jump scares and pyrotechnics. It instead focuses on the inner lives of multiple murderers and the FBI agents whose job it is to understand them through subtle but detail-rich conversation.
Sound plays a crucial role in setting the tone of the series and heightening tension through each narrative arc. I recently spoke to rerecording mixersScott Lewis and Stephen Urata as well as supervising sound editorJeremy Molod — all from Skywalker Sound — about their process creating a haunting and detail-laden soundtrack. Let’s start with Lewis and Urata and then work our way to Molod.
Scott Lewis, Stephen Urata, and Jeremy Molod
How is working with David Fincher? Does he have any directorial preferences when it comes to sound? I know he’s been big on loud backgrounds in crowded spaces since The Social Network.
Scott Lewis: David is extremely detail-oriented and knowledgeable about sound. So he would give us very indepth notes about the mix… down to the decibel.
Stephen Urata: That level of attention to detail is one of the more challenging parts of working on a show like Mindhunter.
Working with a director who is so involved in the audio, does that limit your freedom at all?
Lewis: No. It doesn’t curtail your freedom, because when a director has a really clear vision, it’s more about crafting the track to be what he’s looking for. Ultimately, it’s the director’s show, and he has a way of bringing the best work out of people. I’m sure you heard about how he does hundreds of takes with actors to get many options. He takes a similar approach with sound in that we might give him multiple options for a certain scene or give him many different flavors of something to choose from. And he’ll push us to deliver the goods. For example, you might deliver a technically perfect mix but he’ll dig in until it’s exactly what he wants it to be.
Urata: Exactly. It’s not that he’s curtailing or handcuffing us from doing something creative. This project has been one of my favorites because it was just the editorial team and sound design, and then it would come to the mix stage. That’s where it would be just Scott and me in a mix room just the two of us and we’d get a shot at our own aesthetic and our own choice. It was really a lot of fun trying to nail down what our favorite version of the mix would be, and David really gave us that opportunity. If he wanted something else he would have just said, “I want it like this and only do it like this.”
But at the same time, we would do something maybe completely different than he was expecting, and if he liked it, he would say, “I wasn’t thinking that, but if you’re going to go that direction, try this also.” So he wasn’t handcuffing us, he was pushing us.
“I was fortunate enough to meet David Fincher on Panic Room in 2001 when I was working as a sound editor and the relationship I developed with him and his No. 13 production company has carried through until today with Mindhunter. He’s someone I can bounce ideas off and he’s constantly challenging us. For the second season of Mindhunter he asked to design a real-time telestration solution that would enable him to communicate the thoughts and ideas he came up with during production via annotations attached to the image captured by the camera. We came up with PIX RT it immediately creates clips of the take and presents this clip to the director and certain other approved crew members via a tablet, so he or she can make annotations and notes on the image. This media, metadata and the notes are then securely synchronized with the PIX cloud to all the approved members of the production who can review them. And of course, it is completely secure and integrated with all of our other services. And now we’re working with the CODEX team on the next evolution of these tools.”
“Sometimes it takes working with the most demanding and yet most exceptionally talented people to push you to design the best products. That’s certainly the case with cinematographers like Bob Richardson and Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki. On Gravity we worked with Chivo and his crew along with our services company to design an efficient, color critical, ARRIRAW workflow that would support this complex, multi-camera shoot which involved “The Cage”. The Cage was a lightbox consisting of 196 2’x2′ LED panels which simulated the light coming from stars and the sun and reflected light from Earth, but could also project images of Earth, distant stars, or, images of Sandra Bullock‘s child character, as the actor was suspended within. It was ground-breaking. And funnily enough, I recall that Chivo talked to David Fincher before the shoot and he thought that it was a couple of years too early to pull it off. Projects like Gravity inspire us to push the boundaries of what is possible.”
Read the full interview (part one) on the X2X magazine app (App Store & Google Play). You’ll find interviews and Q&A’s with some of the world’s leading DITs, directors, and cinematographers. Best of all, it’s free!
Eric Weidt talks about his collaboration with director David Fincher – from defining the workflow to creating the look and feel of Mindhunter. He breaks down scenes and runs through colour grading details of the masterful crime thriller.
Eric Weidt spent years in Paris working with fashion photographers transitioning from traditional film to digital capture workflows. He created custom film-emulation ICC profiles, and mastered color work and compositing techniques for print stills and fashion films.
Clients included Mario Testino, David Sims, Patrick Demarchelier, Mert Alas and Markus Piggot, Steven Meisel, Hedi Slimane, Karl Lagerfeld. His motion picture work for David Fincher includes responsibilies as VFX artist (Gone Girl), and Digital Intermediate Colorist (Videosyncracy and Mindhunter).
He holds a BA in Theater Arts from the University of California at Santa Cruz and is both an American and French citizen.