Not Many People Have Basements in California …

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Se7en and the 10th anniversary of The Social NetworkThe Ringer hereby dubs September 21-25 David Fincher Week. Join us all throughout the week as we celebrate and examine the man, the myth, and his impeccable body of work.

Robert Graysmith visiting the home of Bob Vaughn in ‘Zodiac’ is David Fincher’s most purely terrifying scene. Here’s how it came together—and came to stay in the movie.

Jake Kring-Schreifels 
Jake Kring-Schreifels is a sports and entertainment writer based in New York.
September 24, 2020
The Ringer

On a wet September night in 1978, Robert Graysmith couldn’t resist his curiosity.

A month earlier, the San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist had received an anonymous phone call regarding the identity of the Zodiac, the notorious Bay Area serial killer. “He’s a guy named Rick Marshall,” the mysterious voice told him at the start of an hourlong conversation. The killer’s string of murders in 1969 had gone unsolved, but Graysmith suddenly had a new lead. According to the tipster, Marshall—a former projectionist at The Avenue Theater—had hidden evidence from his five victims inside movie canisters, which he’d rigged to explode. Before hanging up, the nameless caller told Graysmith to find Bob Vaughn, a silent film organist who worked with Marshall. The booby-trapped canisters, Graysmith learned, had recently been moved to Vaughn’s home. “Get to Vaughn,” the voice told him. “See if he tells you to stay away from part of his film collection.”

After years spent independently entrenched in the open case, Graysmith dug into Marshall’s history and found several coincidences. His new suspect liked The Red Spectre, an early-century movie referenced in a 1974 Zodiac letter, and had used a teletype machine just like the killer. Outside The Avenue Theater, Marshall’s felt-pen posters even had handwriting similar to the Zodiac’s obscure, cursive strokes. On occasional visits to the upscale movie house, Graysmith observed Vaughn playing the Wurlitzer and noticed the Zodiac’s crosshair symbol plastered to the theater’s ceiling. There were too many overlapping clues. He had to make a trip to Vaughn’s house. “We knew there was some link,” Graysmith tells me. “I was scared to death.”

Almost three decades later, director David Fincher turned Graysmith’s nightmarish visit into one of the creepiest movie scenes of all time. It takes place near the end of Zodiac, after Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) follows Vaughn (Charles Fleischer) to his home through the rain in his conspicuous, bright-orange Volkswagen Rabbit. Once inside, the mood quickly becomes unnerving. After disclosing that he, not Marshall, is responsible for the movie poster handwriting, Vaughn leads a spooked Graysmith down to his dimly lit basement. As the organist sorts through his nitrate film records, the floorboards above Graysmith creak, insinuating another’s presence. After Vaughn assures his guest that he lives alone, Graysmith sprints upstairs to the locked front door, rattling the handle, before Vaughn slowly pulls out his key and opens it from behind. Graysmith bolts into the rain as though he’s just escaped the Zodiac’s clutches.

Ultimately, the third-act encounter is a red herring. Vaughn was never considered a credible suspect. But in a movie filled with rote police work and dead ends, those five minutes of kettle-whistling tension turn a procedural into true horror. The scene is a culmination of Graysmith’s paranoid obsession with the Zodiac’s identity—a window into the life-threatening lengths and depths he’ll go to solve the case—and a brief rejection of the movie’s otherwise objective lens. “It’s actually so different from the rest of the movie,” says James VanderbiltZodiac’s screenwriter. “It does kind of give you that jolt that a lot of the movie is working hard not to [give].”

Most simply, the basement scene is a signature Fincher adrenaline rush—a moment buttressed by years of intensive research, attention to accuracy, and last-minute studio foresight. Thirteen years after the movie’s release, it still sends shivers down Graysmith’s spine.

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Burning Sofa: Step Into the Light. Andrew Baseman (Part 2)

Set Decorator & Production Design Talk. And lots of it.

September 3, 2020
Burning Sofa (Twitter, Facebook)

From the inky shadows to red-hot festivals and everywhere in between, Set Decorator Andrew Baseman gives us an up-close-and-personal tour of Mindhunter Season 2 and Gotham, and sneak-peeks into upcoming projects In The Heights and Trial of The Chicago Seven.

Listen to the podcast

Step Into the Light. Andrew Baseman (Part 1)

‘Mindhunter’: Expanding the Visual Aesthetic for Season 2’s Atlanta Child Murders

Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt earned his first Emmy nomination for visualizing a wider range of locations with unsettling moods.

Bill Desowitz
Aug 21, 2020
IndieWire

Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt expanded the visual aesthetic of David Fincher’s “Mindhunter” in Season 2, as FBI profilers Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) investigate the notorious Atlanta Child Murders, and, as a result, he earned his first Emmy nomination.

“Our aim was to continue what we had developed in Season 1 while considering location with a bit more depth,” said Messerschmidt, who also shot Fincher’s “Mank,” the Netflix black-and-white biopic about “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman). “David expressed to me in the beginning to never forget what Atlanta is like in the summer. I tried hard to consider that whenever we were telling that part of the story.

“We really wanted our agents to be visualized with location in mind,” he said, “so I used more hard sunlight, atmosphere, and contrast to contribute to that hot, muggy feel. I think you could make the case that the lighting of Season 2 has a bit more gesture and shape to it, in part, because I used more contrast, which was a conscious choice. With that in mind, however, it was always a top priority to make sure the look and camera style of the series not take centerstage. I wanted the photography to be as non-invasive and invisible as possible so the audience could fully appreciate the story.”

Messerschmidt upgraded to the 8K RED Helium sensor for Season 2 after testing a prototype in the first season. This provided better sensitivity and higher color fidelity for the new Dolby Vision HDR workflow. “I found I could be much more minimal with my use of artificial light even at relatively low ISO ratings,” he said. “The intention was to consider every lighting choice with motivation in mind and use as much natural light and practical light as possible.”

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Here Are the Cameras and Lenses that Shot the Year’s Best TV Shows

17 Emmy-nominated cinematographers on how they created their shows’ unique looks, and the gear they chose to pull it off.

Chris O’Falt
August 20, 2020
IndieWire

Mindhunter

Nominated Episode: “Episode 6”

Format: Redcode RAW .r3d in 8k
Camera: Custom Red Xenomorph Mk2 designed by the team at RED. The camera uses an 8k RED Helium sensor.
Format: Both seasons of “Mindhunter” were shot using Leica Summilux-C series Prime lenses. The majority of the show was shot using only three focal lengths, the 29mm, 40mm and 65mm.

Erik Messerschmidt: The visual style of “Mindhunter” is really about restraint and nuance. We wanted the storytelling to be very objective and simple with a limited use of POV. I think limiting ourselves to these focal lengths forced us to be meticulous with our coverage. All of our visual choices revolved around camera direction, blocking, and composition. David [Fincher] and I built the visual language around three distinct types of shots; wide masters, overs and singles; we moved the camera very little. This type of methodical camera direction lead to the rhythmic cutting sequence of the interview scenes which is really the visual foundation of the show. Shooting on prime lenses requires a bit more discipline than zooms when you’re lining up a shot, as you have to consider camera placement as it relates and composition.

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The Mindhunter Art Department (2)


July 11, 2020
Mindhunter Art Department (Instagram)

Production Designer: Steve Arnold

Art Director: Oana Bogdan Miller

Set Decorator: Andrew Baseman

Graphic Designer: Carly Sertic

Photos by Nikolai Loveikis

The Mindhunter Art Department

October 1, 2019
Mindhunter Art Department (Instagram)

Production Designer: Steve Arnold

Art Director: Oana Bogdan Miller

Set Decorator: Andrew Baseman

Graphic Designer: Carly Sertic

Photos by Nikolai Loveikis

25th Anniversary of the AT&T “You Will” Ad Campaign

AT&T (YouTube)
November 28, 2018

25 Years Ago, AT&T Predicted the Future We’re Living Now

      Matt Stevenson
      November 25, 2018
      Wired

How AT&T Predicted the Future In 1993

      November 25, 2018
      Wired

Watch the original campaign:

1993. AT&T – You Will (series)

Mindhunter: Not Your Typical FBI Crime Series

Steve Arnold, Production Designer
November 13, 2018
Perspective (Art Directors Guild)

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.

2014-11-13. Perspective (Art Directors Guild) 02

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.

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2014-11-13. Perspective (Art Directors Guild) 03

ADG Perspective
November-December 2018 Issue

MINDHUNTER. S01: Emmy FYC DVD Set

Click for a full screen view:

DVD Set kindly donated by Joe Frady

2018-05. Mindhunter FYC DVD Set 000b

‘Mindhunter’: The David Fincher Look is All About Power and Control

Merrick Morton / Netflix

Fincher was very particular about conveying control and dominance through lighting and production design in his Netflix FBI crime drama.

Bill Desowitz
June 18, 2018
IndieWire

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.

Read the full profile

Set Decorators Society of America: MINDHUNTER

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…

Read the full interview