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.”
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!
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.”
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).
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.
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.
One of the biggest challenges Mankproduction 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.
You would be forgiven for thinking production designer Donald Graham Burt works exclusively with David Fincher. His talents are visible in confirmed classics including Zodiac, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, for which he received an Oscar. Beyond that his work can also be appreciated in Donnie Brasco, Christian Bale headliner Hostiles and most recently Outlaw King featuring Chris Pine.
In conversation Donald is self-deprecating, effortlessly engaging and eloquent on his process. Mank appears to be the culmination of a professional relationship spanning more than a decade, which uses Citizen Kane as its backbone to explore broader issues. Adorned in the garb of a Thirties film noir, Mank is masterful at evoking a bygone era. Much of that success comes through the pitch perfect production design, which would have been impossible without Donald Burt.
Shot in black and white, David Fincher’s Mank transports audiences through the sights and scenery of Golden Age Hollywood and 1930s and 40s California. With the help of soundstages, matte paintings, and a lot of research, the team behind Mank’s locations communicates the glamour and history of an epic era of moviemaking.
It’s long been debated whether Shakespeare actually authored all of his acclaimed writings or if, instead, Christopher Marlowe was responsible for a significant amount of his body of work. And in the early 70s, a similar thesis developed: that co-screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz was in fact the primary writer on Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. Though it’s solidly refuted by Kane scholars, the myth continues to flourish.
And now, Director David Fincher arrives with Mank: a screenplay by his late father about Herman Mankiewicz and his development of the screenplay for Citizen Kane. After a six-year feature film hiatus, Fincher tapped Erik Messerschmidt, ASC to DP, after working with Erik on Gone Girl as a gaffer and cinematographer for both seasons of Mindhunter.
Mank’s visual aesthetic is subtle, but not to be overlooked. Upon its release, the film’s cinematic elements were overwhelmingly acknowledged by critics and audiences alike. It’s an approach owing much to Erik, who saw the value in referencing the artistic quality of Citizen Kane while also developing a fresh lens through which the classic story could be seen.