Time Hunters

David Fincher went looking for the 1970s — and found them in Pittsburgh. but that was just the start for the esteemed producer-director and his team, who recreated the era for Mindhunter, the Netflix series about two pioneering FBI profilers.

Liane Bonin Starr
April 13, 2018
Emmys (Television Academy) / Emmy Magazine

Watching the Netflix series Mindhunter, you may shudder as convicted serial killer Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton) casually chats about his string of brutal murders, or flinch when — spoiler alert! — a bird hits the fan courtesy of mass murderer Richard Speck (Jack Erdie).

What you’re less likely to notice is the precision with which the show’s late-’70s landscape has been created. David Fincher considers that a win.

“It’s really important that it feels like two people having a conversation — and that 40 people aren’t on their iPhones simultaneously just outside of frame,” says Fincher, who is executive-producing the series with Joshua Donen, Charlize Theron and Ceán Chaffin. “The great news is, I lived through the ’70s, so I remember what that looks like.”

Created by Joe Penhall — and based loosely on FBI agent John Douglas‘s book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit — the series explores the birth of criminal profiling.

Special agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff, playing a fictionalized version of Douglas) and his partner, Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), work alongside psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) to dig into what makes murderers tick. Shot in Pittsburgh, the show is a window on a time before the term serial killer had been coined, much less become the focus of TV shows and casual conversations.

While that seemingly more innocent time is reflected partly in the show’s relative lack of gore, the decade’s thornier complexities required a critical eye (or, in this case, eyes) to see past the polyester-covered clichés.

“David is the most holistic filmmaker I’ve ever met,” director of photography Erik Messerschmidt says. “The tone of every scene is important, and [so are] how the costumes and lighting and set decoration and everything play a part in creating the finished product.”

Fincher, who directed four of the first season’s 10 episodes, is famously meticulous, but he says the secret to getting it right is finding the right people.

“I don’t think you keep a project in a kind of design and aesthetic wheelhouse by being a dictatorial influence. Just stomping your feet and holding your breath is not going to make stuff work,” he says. “A lot of times, you have to empower people who are the advance troops and the follow-up troops to make decisions that are based on conversations that you have.”

In this case, one of the first decisions — where to shoot — was daunting.

“Our biggest issue,” Fincher says, “was: where do we find 1978?”

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Bad Lands

2018-04 ICG Magazine - Mindhunter 05 (Patrick Harbron)

Erik Messerschmidt and Chris Probst, ASC, also have made “smart” use of LED technology, as detailed in our cover story on Mindhunter (page 36). David Fincher, who first started using LED’s for process work on Zodiac, 11 years ago, not only customized a high-resolution RED camera for the show (dubbed the “Xenomorph”), but also devised one of the most ingenious LED-driven plate projection/interactive lighting processes for driving shots TV has ever seen. Messerschmidt’s description of Fincher’s commitment to innovation mirrors those Sundancers bending technology in the service of new ways to tell a story: “For David, the frame is sacred; what we choose to include is intrinsic to what the audience thinks is important. They are one and the same.”

David Geffner, Executive Editor
ICG Magazine

Visualizing the daring and often scary world of David Fincher requires new technologies and processes rarely attempted in series television.

Matt Hurwitz
Photos by Patrick Harbron & Merrick Morton, SMPSP
April 2018
ICG Magazine

In the season 1 finale of Netflix’s MINDHUNTER, a disturbed FBI agent, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), bursts wildly from a hospital room, as a handheld camera gives chase. The move begins as shaken as ford is, but, as it lands with the agent, who collapses in the hallway, it’s as if the camera has floated to a butter-smooth stop inches from the floor, the maneuver executed like it was on a perfectly balanced Jib arm, crane, or even Steadicam. But it’s none of those. What can viewers assume from this?

David Fincher has returned to television.

FOR THIS SERIES ABOUT A PAIR OF AGENTS WORKING IN THE FBI’S ELITE BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES UNIT in 1979, and attempting to understand the mind of a serial killer, Fincher used a number of leading-edge technologies – interactive LED lighting, custom built high-resolution cameras, and, as in the shot with Agent Ford, image stabilization/smoothing in postproduction – to keep the viewer visually embedded. Fincher’s aim with MINDHUNTER, which has no graphic violence, is for viewers to “access their own attics. There’s far scarier stuff up there than anything we can fabricate,” the filmmaker insists. “I wanted people to register what’s going on in [characters’] eyes and where the gear changes are taking place. At what point do I [as the viewer] feel like, ‘OK, I’ve got an insight,’ and at what point do they feel like: ‘oh, I’m being sold something. It’s all about the nuance in how the balance of power is changing.”

Fincher’s longtime postproduction supervisor, Peter Mavromates, says he creates an “experience of omniscience,” similar to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, “where you’re in a straitjacket with your eyelids pinned open, and David’s forcing you to watch these horrible things.” In fact, the show’s unique visual process began more than a year before production started in Pittsburgh (on area locations and on stages at 31st Street Studios, a former steel mill), with the development of a unique RED camera system.

Christopher Probst, ASC – who shot MINDHUNTER’S pilot and second episode – was asked for his input on a RED prototype system, which had been designed by Jarred Land and RED’s Chief Designer Matt Tremblay according to Fincher’s specific needs. “David wanted to take all of the different exterior add-ons that create a jungle of wires, and put them inside the camera body,” Probst explains.

Fincher puts it even more directly: “It just seems insane that we’ve been bequeathed a [camera] layout [dating back to] D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin that looks like some bizarre Medusa. [The camera] should be something that people want to approach, touch, and pick up.”

In fact, the custom system built for Season 1 [Land created a 2.0 version being used in Season 2] had an RTMotion MK3.1 lens-control system, Paralinx Arrow-X wireless video, and Zaxcom wireless audio (with timecode) integrated into the RED body, with the only visible cable being to control the lens. Slating was all but eliminated, with clip-number metadata being shared wirelessly between the camera and the script supervisor, who used Filemaker software to associate takes and clips. An audio scratch track from the mixer was recorded onto the REDCODE RAW R3D files and received wirelessly.

The base camera was one of RED’s DSMC2 systems, the then-new WEAPON DRAGON, with its 6K sensor. The shell design, accommodating the added gear inside, with its angular shape and heat venting fins on top, had a “Xenomorph” appearance (à la Alien), and was dubbed as such by Land and Fincher. “When the camera arrived in Pittsburgh, they had actually engraved “Xenomorph” on the side,” Probst says.

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2018-04 ICG Magazine - Mindhunter 14 (Patrick Harbron)

2018-04 ICG Magazine - Mindhunter 13 (Merrick Morton)

Cinematographers & Cameras: Insights Into “The Crown,” “Strong Island,” “Mindhunter,” Spots

Robert Goldrich
March 26, 2018
Shoot

One DP just won his first career ASC Award—on the strength of his work on The Crown (Netflix).

Another made key contributions to the heartfelt Strong Island (Netflix), which was nominated for this year’s Best Documentary Feature Oscar.

And a third DP has spent a recent stretch focusing on spots after getting a career break from David Fincher on the TV series Mindhunter (Netflix).

Here are insights from DPs Adriano Goldman, ASC, ABC, Alan Jacobsen and Erik Messerschmidt.

[…]

Erik Messerschmidt

Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt has spent the past year focused on commercials but his career progression is the reverse of what is typical. Instead of spots serving as a springboard to TV series and theatrical features, it was Messerschmidt’s work on the TV series Mindhunter (Netflix) which established him as a DP, leading to spotmaking opportunities.

Messerschmidt’s commercial lensing exploits have included Taco Bell’s “Web of Fries” cinema, web and TV fare directed by Joseph Kosinski of RESET, Buick and other automotive ads from director Kevin Berlandi, and a pharmaceutical spot directed by Mark Pellington of Washington Square Films. Messerschmidt also shot for Pellington the Demi Lovato music video “Tell Me You Love Me.”

Messerschmidt had been a gaffer who worked extensively on commercials that were lensed by such notables as Claudio Miranda, ASC, Tami Reiker, ASC and Jeff Cronenweth, ASC.

On the feature front, Messerschmidt served as a gaffer on the David Fincher-directed, Cronenweth-shot Gone Girl, a project which proved pivotal. “David knew I had a still photography background and I ended up doing promotional still work with him on Gone Girl,” related Messerschmidt. “David took me under this wing and moved me up to shoot his series Mindhunter.” (The alluded to still photography chops date back to when Messerschmidt worked for still shooter Gregory Crewdson.)

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Harris Savides, ASC and director David Fincher plumb the depths of human obsession

Flashback: Zodiac.

David E. Williams
Unit photography by Merrick Morton, SMPSP
April 2007
American Cinematographer

Most people remember the San Francisco Bay Area of the late 1960s for “flower power” and the Summer of Love. But as the decade came to a close, a grim nightmare unfolded in the counterculture mecca. On the night of December 20, 1968, two teens in the San Francisco-adjacent town of Benicia were brutally slain by a lone gunman. At midnight on July 4, 1969, another young couple was attacked in nearby Vallejo. On July 31, cryptic letters arrived at three Bay Area newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle; each contained part of a complex cipher. The writer warned that unless his coded messages were printed on the front page of each publication, “I will go on a kill rampage.” A followup letter soon arrived at the newspaper. Opening with the sentence “This is the Zodiac speaking,” the missive detailed the particulars of both crimes. The killer had given himself a name and stated his purpose: to taunt and terrify. The three-part cipher was soon solved, revealing a hate-filled manifesto. In all, he would communicate with such letters and codes on more than 20 occasions.

One front-line observer to the unfolding story was Chronicle editorial cartoonist Robert Graysmith, who began investigating the case after it became clear that harried law-enforcement officials — hampered by jurisdictional regulations, misleading evidence, and the emergence of more than 2,500 suspects — were powerless to unmask the killer. In 1986, Graysmith published his true-crime book Zodiac, which connected disparate clues for the first time and presented theories on the killer’s identity. This book formed the basis of the recently released film, photographed by Harris Savides, ASC for director David Fincher.

In the film, Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), SFPD inspectors Dave Toschi and Bill Armstrong (Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards, respectively), and Chronicle reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) are sucked into the Zodiac’s vortex. All four try to manage their growing obsession with the case, but soon find their lives inextricably intertwined with that of a madman. The case remains unsolved to this day.

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Zodiac

MINDHUNTER. Season 2 will have 8 episodes, two of them 2 hours long

According to Jennifer Nash, Mindhunter Extras Casting Director.

Jennifer Nash, Mindhunter Extras Casting Director (Jennifer Nash) 02

Tim Schooley, Reporter
March 20, 2018
Pittsburgh Business Times

Before any director calls action, Jennifer Nash has long begun the second season scramble to scout for extras in western Pennsylvania to appear in “Mindhunter,” which enjoyed a critically successful first season on Netflix last year.

In charge of recruiting and hiring extras for the episodic program about the early days of FBI profiling that grew into the study of serial killers, Nash emphasized just how heavily the show invests to hire extras in both type and number.

“We need so many more people than just the normal background acting community,” she said. “We need regular people.”

This season, one of her biggest tasks will be to hire a significant number of African-American people as extras. This includes a major scene in which 1,000 people, mostly African-Americans, will be needed for a protest expected to be shot in Wilkinsburg for several days.

“We’re going to be bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars, to African-American communities,” she said, of Mindhunter’s second season emphasize on story lines involving African-Americans.

Last year, Nash was charged with recruiting 3,000 people to be extras in the 10-episode first season of “Mindhunter.” This year, she needs 5,000 for an eight-episode season, including two episodes that will be two hours each.

“I really have my work cut out for me,” she said, of hosting casting call events at places such as Trixie’s on the South Side, where a line stretched around the block. She also wants candidates to reach out to her at mindhuntercasting@gmail.com.

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‘Episodics’ to dominate Pittsburgh film production this year [PAID CONTENT]

Nev Pierce’s Next Steps

2004 Nev Pierce - Cannes
Cannes, 2004

Nev Pierce, one of the finest British film journalists, with a career of 20 years, and now a thriving Filmmaker, has revamped his website, NevPierce.com.

A nice occasion to revisit it, read his interviews to A-list actors and filmmakers, specially the essential David Fincher set visits and career interviews for Total Film and Empire magazines, from Zodiac to Mindhunter, plus a retrospective piece on Fight Club (all fully available in PDF), watch the trailers for his short films, praised by Fincher and Mark Romanek themselves, and rejoice at the announcement that he is co-writing a TV series and developing the thriller Packaged, as co-writer and director, with executive producer… David Fincher.

2015 Bricks (Nev Pierce)1.jpg
Bricks (Short Film, 2015)

How Mindhunter filmed using a customised camera

by Hannah Gal
30/10/2017
KFTV

Erik Messerschmidt was director of photography on Netflix‘s Mindhunter – he talks about using a customised camera with David Fincher.

As a hard working gaffer, Erik Messerschmidt has reached the top of his profession, but his ambition has always been to work as a cinematographer.

His break came when David Fincher asked him to join Netflix’s new project. The director had previously worked with the cinematographer on the 2014 domestic thriller Gone Girl and signed on to Mindhunter, a story that traces the development of the FBI’s understanding of criminal science in the 1970s. Fincher directed four of the show’s ten episodes and was an executive producer on the full series.

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