November 28, 2018
November 25, 2018
November 25, 2018
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While I was finishing the fourth season of House of Cards, David Fincher called me to say he was planning another series with Netflix and to ask if I would be interested in designing it. Of course I jumped at the chance, not knowing exactly what Mindhunter would be, but certain that with Fincher involved it would be a quality project. I soon found out that it was based on the John Douglas book of the same name and that it would be shooting in Pittsburgh, a city I knew quite well since I received my graduate degree from Carnegie Mellon University there, and where I got my start in the film business while still a student in the CMU theater department.
The series is somewhat different than many crime shows in that it’s not a who-done-it, or even how’d they do it, but more of a psychological exploration of why’d they do it.
Mindhunter is a period show set in the late 1970s, so I knew the choice of Pittsburgh as a location would simplify much of the exterior design work. Many rust belt cities like Pittsburgh were hit particularly hard by the collapse of the steel industry, and all the ancillary businesses that supported steel have suffered as well. The small towns that surround a city like Pittsburgh are often stuck in the past, sometimes for forty years or more. A lot of the exterior street sequences required were possible and looked appropriate with a minimal amount of redesign because there just hasn’t been an influx of business dollars to do architectural upgrades; there were very few modern structures to modify extensively or hide. This, and the fact that there is a wealth of great period dressing elements to be had at reasonable prices at the many local flea markets, estate sales and antique stores, made the task of recreating the period much more manageable.
One of the first things I remember David Fincher saying about the look of the series was that he did not want it to look like other films or series set in this same period where the style of the time is pushed so far that it becomes exaggeratedly over the top and starts to seem camp. The focus would be on the more mundane and ordinary look of American life in the late 1970s. I knew a lot of the characters were from the lower social strata, so there were few places for high style or the cutting edge fashion of the time. One big influence on the design was photographs from the time by people like Stephen Shore, particularly for our many on the road scenes in motel rooms.
November-December 2018 Issue
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DVD Set kindly donated by Joe Frady
Merrick Morton / Netflix
Fincher was very particular about conveying control and dominance through lighting and production design in his Netflix FBI crime drama.
David Fincher brilliantly pushes his cinematic formalism in “Mindhunter,” Netflix’s 10-episode crime drama that explores the FBI’s fledgling Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia, in the late ’70s. But, for the dialogue-heavy creepy interrogations with imprisoned serial killers by agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), executive producer/co-director Fincher manages to visually convey constant power shifts.
“It’s about control and dominance and also about misogyny,” Fincher said. “People forget that this goes all the way back to Jack the Ripper.”
And Fincher’s collaboration with production designer Steve Arnold (“House of Cards”) and gaffer-turned cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt (“Mad Men”) was crucial to the authentic ’70s look and dynamic blocking of the interrogation scenes, particularly those involving Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton), who captivates and mentors Holden.
June 15, 2018
SDSA International (Set Decorators Society of America)
In the late 1970s two FBI agents expand criminal science by delving into the psychology of murder and getting uneasily close to all-too-real monsters.
Catching a criminal often requires the authorities to get inside the villain’s mind to figure out how he thinks. That’s the job of FBI agents Holden Ford [Jonathan Goff] and Bill Tench [Holt McCallany]. They attempt to understand and catch serial killers by studying their damaged psyches. Along the way, working with Boston University psychology professor Wendy Carr [Anna Torv], the agents pioneer the development of modern serial killer profiling.
The crime drama has a strong pedigree behind the camera, with Oscar-nominated director David Fincher and Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron among the show’s executive producers, and Fincher directing the first episodes. — Netflix
Add in Production Designer Steve Arnold and Set Decorator Tracey Doyle SDSA, and you know it will have a carefully curated stylized realism mixed with fully realized layered reality. Sets that could be paintings, except they seem so real.
We checked in with the duo for snippets about the making of MINDHUNTER, Season 1…
Erik Messerschmidt with Camera Operator Brian Osmond (Patrick Harbron / Netflix)
Merrick Morton / Netflix
The Netflix original series Mindhunter is, by far, one of the best new shows currently running. The true story-based, 1977-set drama chronicles the early days of criminal psychology and criminal profiling primarily through the eyes of three people at the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit: eager newcomer Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), somewhat jaded veteran Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), and brilliant psychology professor Wendy Carr (Anna Torv). That this show is immaculately crafted from top to bottom will come as no surprise to those aware that it’s the brainchild of David Fincher, who serves as executive producer and directed nearly half of the series’ first season.
This is without doubt one of the best looking pieces of entertainment released in 2017, regardless of medium, with classical framing, motivated camera movement, and a tremendous palette that gives a mere peek into the darkness inside the minds of the criminals and serial killers who are the subject of the Behavioral Science Unit’s interviews.
So when I got the chance to speak with cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt about his work on the series, I was thrilled. Messerschmidt shot eight of the first season’s 10 episodes, including the Fincher-directed closing installments, and as he revealed during our interview, this was essentially his first major gig as a cinematographer. Messerschmidt had worked previously as a gaffer on shows like Mad Men and Bones, and then later the feature film Gone Girl where he first came into contact with Fincher. Based on their work together on that film, Fincher called Messerschmidt up when they were looking for a new DP for Mindhunter after the show’s original cinematographer exited over creative differences.
This promotion from gaffer to DP is a familiar refrain with Fincher’s cinematographers, as he did the same with his The Game and Fight Club gaffer Claudio Miranda, who was brought on as DP for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and went on to win the Oscar for Best Cinematography for his work on Life of Pi.
Messerschmidt’s rise to the primary cinematographer of Fincher’s brand new TV show elicits similarly spectacular results, as the DP’s work on Mindhunter is elegantly classical and incredibly motivated by character and theme. During the course of our conversation, Messerschmidt talked about the road that led to him becoming the cinematographer on Mindhunter, the specifics of his working relationship with Fincher, what it’s like to serve as a DP in the world of episodic television, how the work of production designers and costumes designers goes under-appreciated, and trying to maintain a consistent aesthetic with multiple directors. He also teased a bit about Mindhunter Season 2, including revealing their extensive shooting schedule.
Erik Messerschmidt with Episodes 3 & 4 Director Asif Kapadia (Merrick Morton / Netflix)
Hint of Film (YouTube)
May 21, 2018
What better way to pay tribute to a movie about obsession than to obsessively track down every single book in the movie?
The Complete List:
– Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories (1958) by Dr. Seuss
– The Code Breakers (1967) by David Kahn
– Codes and Ciphers: Secret Writing Through the Ages (1964) by John Laffin
– Secret Writing: The Craft of the Cryptographer (1970) by James Raymond Wolfe
– The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) film directed by Eugene Lourie
– Dick Tracy Lunchbox, 1967
– Animal Crackers (cookie)
– The Most Dangerous Game (1932) film directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack
– Hair, original musical poster, show debut in 1967
– They Laughed When I Sat Down: An Informal History of Advertising in Words and Pictures (1959) by Frank Rowsome, Jr.
– McElligot’s Pool (1947) by Dr. Seuss
– TIME Magazine “Race and Reform on Campus,” Volume 93 No. 16, April 18, 1969
– The Asphalt Jungle (1950) film directed by John Huston
– The Wrong Man (1956) film directed by Alfred Hitchcock
– The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy, 1931-1951 (Anthology, 1970) by Chester Gould
– Fox in Socks (1965) by Dr. Seuss
– Curtain and The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1975) by Agatha Christie
– An Artist in America (1951) by Thomas Hart Benton
– Drawing: Seeing and Observation (1973) by Ian Simpson
– Drawing the Female Figure (1975) by Joseph Sheppard
– Mainstreams of Modern Art: David to Picasso (1961) by John Canaday
– Homicide Investigation (first published 1944) by Lemoyne Snyder
– Rescued in the Clouds (1927) by Franklin W. Dixon
– LIFE Magazine “Confrontation in Harvard Yard,” Vol. 66 No. 16, April 25, 1969
– Slinky Toy Commercial from the 1960s
– Slinky Toy
– I Died A Thousand Times (1955) film directed by Stuart Heisler
– Star Trek, Season 3 Episode 4 “And the Children Shall Lead” (1968) guest starring Melvin Belli, portrayed by Brian Cox in Zodiac
– Aquavelva (alcoholic drink)
– Reprise: The Code Breakers (1967) by David Kahn
– Reprise: Codes and Ciphers (1964) by John Laffin
– Richard Nixon Presidential Campaign Button, 1968
– “I Am Not Avery” button
– 6 extremely rare first edition covers of Ian Fleming James Bond Novels: Dr. No (1958), For Your Eyes Only (1960), Moonraker (1955), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963), You Only Live Twice (1964), The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)
– Six Crises (1962) by Richard M. Nixon
– San Francisco (first published 1969) edited by Jack McDowell and Dorothy Krell
– The Selling of the President, 1968 (1969) by Joe McGinniss
– Rubber Life Magazine, Vol. 01, No. 01, (1972)
– Dirty Harry (1971) film directed by Don Siegel
– Pong (1972) video game by Atari
– I Looked and Listened: Informal Recollections of Radio and TV (1970) by Ben Gross
– The Crime Vaccine: How to End the Crime Epidemic (1996) by Jay B. Marcus
– The FBI in Our Open Society (1969) by Harry & Bonaro Overstreet
– Kidnap: The Story of the Lindbergh Case (1961) by George Waller
– The Property Man (1914) film directed by Charlie Chaplin
– McCall’s Sewing Book (1968) by McCall Corporation
– Them! (1954) film directed by Gordon Douglas
– Illegal (1955) film directed by Lewis Allen
– The World Almanac – Centennial Edition (1968)
– The Rink (1916) film directed by Charlie Chaplin
– Conquest (1937) film directed by Clarence Brown and Gustav Marchaty
– Key Largo (1948) film directed by John Huston
– Zodiac: The Shocking True Story of the Nation’s Most Bizarre Mass Murderer (1986) by Robert Graysmith
Zodiac (2007) Credits:
Directed by David Fincher
Production Design by Donald G. Burt
Art Direction by Keith Cunningham
Set Decoration by Victor J. Zolfo