Why Recreating Hearst Castle Should Earn ‘Mank’ the Oscar for Production Design

Don Burt could win the Oscar for his recreation of the opulent Hearst settings for David Fincher’s monochromatic deconstruction of classic moviemaking.

Bill Desowitz
April 23, 2021
IndieWire

David Fincher’s “Mank” leads all Oscar craft nominations with six. And yet its greatest chance of a win rests with Don Burt’s meticulous production design of the iconic Hearst Castle and San Simeon compound. However, since he was working in black-and-white with set decorator Jan Pascale — his co-nominee — it was more advantageous to capture the spirit of William Randolph Hearst’s opulent retreat than trying to replicate it. For one thing, the colors would get lost, and, for another, they’d still be struggling to recreate all of the detail.

“Hearst Castle felt like something Hearst [Charles Dance] built as his Xanadu [from ‘Citizen Kane’], and now it’s maintained more like a theme park,” said Burt, who actually didn’t visit the landmark since they couldn’t shoot there. But he referenced plenty of images and studied its architecture and interior design along with the beautiful landscaping of San Simeon. “Hearst saw this as his own little castle in the world and his accumulation of art from Europe was representational of this extravagance and indulgence that he had.”

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“The Last Thing I Saw” Podcast: David Fincher and Donald Graham Burt

Nicolas Rapold
April 2, 2021
The Last Thing I Saw

Writer-editor Nicolas Rapold talks with guests about the movies they’ve been watching. It’s as simple as that. From home viewing to the latest from festivals. Named one of the 10 Best Film Podcasts by Sight & Sound magazine.

For this special episode I talk with director David Fincher and production designer Don Burt about Mank, a black-and-white evocation of Hollywood through the jaded eyes of one Herman J. Mankiewicz, as he writes the screenplay for Citizen Kane. If you’ve seen any Fincher films since Zodiac, you’ve also seen Burt’s beautiful work, which won him an Academy Award for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. We talk about the conception of Mank‘s particular spaces; the techniques behind designing for a black-and-white film; the eagle-eyed capabilities of digital cameras; and whether Mank is intended to be a political film. Mank has received 10 Academy Award nominations, including best picture, director, and production design.

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MANK Craft Panel. With Erik Messerschmidt, Donald Graham Burt & Trish Summerville

Jessica Radloff
April 7, 2021
American Cinematheque

Mank Craft Panel with cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, production designer Donald Graham Burt and costume designer Trish Summerville, moderated by Jessica Radloff. Presented by the American Cinematheque on Saturday, April 3, 2021.

In Conversation: Behind the Crafts of Mank

Wendy Mitchell
March 3, 2021
Netflix Awards FYC

A conversation with Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, ASC, Production Designer Donald Graham Burt, Set Decorator Jan Pascale, Costume Designer Trish Summerville, and Makeup Department Head Gigi Williams on behalf of Mank. Moderated by Wendy Mitchell.

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Jan Pascale’s set decoration on ‘Mank’ captures ’30s Hollywood glamour

Joshua Axelrod
April 3, 2021
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jan Pascale seems to find her greatest success when working in black and white.

The Beechview native has been a set decorator for major Hollywood projects since the 1980s, but didn’t pick up her first Oscar nomination until 2005’s “Good Night, and Good Luck,” a black-and-white film directed by George Clooney. She wound up losing out to “Memoirs of a Geisha” at the 2006 Academy Awards.

Fifteen years later, she has another shot at Oscar glory later this month with her best production design nomination for “Mank,” David Fincher’s black-and-white Netflix drama chronicling Herman J. Mankiewicz’s efforts to write the screenplay for “Citizen Kane.”

“It’s really exciting and humbling,” Pascale told the Post-Gazette. “It’s unique that both of my nominations were for black-and-white films done completely differently.”

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The Filmmakers Podcast: The Making of David Fincher’s “Mank”

Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, Make Up Designer Gigi Williams, Production Designer Don Burt & Costume Designer Trish Summerville

Giles Alderson, Andrew Rodger, Phil Hawkins
April 2, 2021
The Filmmakers Podcast

We are delighted to bring to you our SPECIAL bumper episode on the Making of David Fincher’s BAFTA & OSCAR nominated ‘Mank’.

We start with Giles Alderson and Andrew Rodger having a chat with ‘Mank’ Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt about going from Gaffer on Fincher’s Gone Girl to DoP on Mank and how he made the transition to make his debut feature film.

He talks pre-production, how he works with Fincher especially during the repeated takes, what the process was to shooting in black and white and the camera they used.

Co host Phil Hawkins then joins Giles to chat to Make Up designer Gigi Williams about her process, the difference between shooting on digital vs. film. What she works on first how she collaborates with the HOD team and gives some brilliant Make Up tips.

We then chat to Production Designer and Art Director Donald Graham Burt AKA Don Burt about designing the film from preparation through the shooting. He explains why listening is so important in film-making, how he researches a project and how he created the 1930/s & 1940 style and look. And how you don’t have to appease to get ahead.

Finally we chat to Costume Designer Trish Summerville about how she created the look and feel of Mank through her costumes. She talks about working in teams, how to collaborate with actors to help create the characters and how to use colours and patterns to portray certain emotions!

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MovieMaker Podcast: David Fincher and Don Burt (Mank‪)

Tim Molloy
March 31, 2021
MovieMaker

Director David Fincher and production designer Don Burt have collaborated since Zodiac. For their latest film, Mank, they talk about the process of deciding what to include and subtract from every scene.

In Mank, that meant re-creating Hearst Castle, the realm of media baron William Randolph Hearst… and the guests Fincher describes as his “captives.”

Listen to the podcast and read the articles:

David Fincher: ‘Perfectionism Is a Term That’s Thrown About Mostly by People Who Are Lazy’

How Mank Production Designer Don Burt Recreated Hearst Castle Without Visiting It

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For ‘Mank,’ it wasn’t impossible to track down L.A.’s history. But it sure wasn’t easy

Gregory Ellwood
March 31, 2021
Los Angeles Times

When Donald Graham Burt first began working on David Fincher’s “Mank,” the filmmaker passed along some location photos from the late 1990s, when he had first tried to get the movie off the ground. Even for a film set at the peak of the Golden Age of Hollywood, the 1930s and 1940s, you might expect more of Los Angeles’ period architecture to have survived. Looking through the photos, Burt quickly realized that that wasn’t the case.

“So many places in L.A. have been razed that were [standing] even at the turn of the century. And I was seeing places like Perino’s [restaurant] and, of course, the Ambassador Hotel, but it seemed like all the Paul Williams architecture, for some reason, was being destroyed. And it was so interesting just to see the locales of Los Angeles from the late ’90s and realizing, ‘Oh, wow, we are removed from that. Aren’t we?’”

Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including production design, “Mank” centers on screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) during the period in 1940 he spent writing the screenplay for the cinematic classic “Citizen Kane.” It also flashes back to Mank’s life a decade prior, when he found himself in the social circle of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and his very public mistress, screen star Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried).

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Creating the Physical Look of David Fincher’s ‘Mank’

Jeffrey Reeser
March 30, 2021
No Film School

Every detail matters.

It’s no surprise that David Fincher‘s Mank was nominated for Best Production Design at this year’s Oscars. Production designer Donald Graham Burt is a veteran Fincher collaborator, and he has a perfectionist streak equal to the director. Along with set decorator Jan Pascale, Burt tells us how he helped craft a period-specific look for the celebrated film.

From the daunting task of recreating Hearst Castle interiors to the iPhone filter they used to audition every possible prop, you’ll get a sense of designing the look of a film on this scale, as well as applicable tips to any production at any size.

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How the ‘Mank’ Production Designer Re-created Hearst Castle

David  Fincher couldn’t film at William Randolph Hearst’s extravagant location, so production designer Donald Graham Burt built a replica of the legendary San Simeon — with echoes of its portrayal in ‘Citizen Kane’ as Xanadu — on a Los Angeles soundstage.

Carolyn Giardina
March 25, 2021
The Hollywood Reporter

One of the biggest challenges Mank production designer Donald Graham Burt — recently nominated for an Oscar for his work — faced was that the production was not granted access to Hearst Castle on California’s Central Coast. But interiors and exteriors of William Randolph Hearst‘s extravagant estate were needed for key scenes in director David Fincher‘s biopic about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, played by Gary Oldman, during the period in which he wrote the screenplay for Orson Welles‘ 1941 classic, Citizen Kane.

So, with the real San Simeon off-limits, Burt went about designing elaborate sets at Los Angeles Center Studios for interiors like the castle’s dining room, where a messy confrontation occurs during a party. “There’s no way to replicate Hearst Castle, and we weren’t trying to,” says Burt, who has worked with Fincher since 2007’s Zodiac and won an Oscar for the director’s 2008 film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

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