UPS Guy “Dave” delivers to Erik “Messengerschmidt” the new RED V-RAPTOR ST Cinema Camera.
Erik Messerschmidt, Director Andrew Dominik, Brian Osmond, and “B” Camera Operator Will Dearborn (Nikolai Loveikis)
“A place to unload all my cinematic truths.” —Newton Thomas Sigel, ASC
How do you cultivate a career in Hollywood? What does it take to make iconic work? There’s an art to everything in life and the Art of the Shot explores the answers to those questions and more through deep-dives into the minds of master filmmakers. Join host Derek Stettler, young filmmaker and writer for the ASC and SOC magazines since 2016, as he learns from the artists behind today’s most strikingly-shot projects. Enjoy compelling conversations on the craft, insights from successful careers, tips, techniques + more!
In this episode, you’ll hear from both the cinematographer and the “A” camera operator of Mindhunter, who worked together throughout Season 1 and 2 to shoot every single episode. Please enjoy this exclusive interview with Erik Messerschmidt, ASC and Brian Osmond, SOC!
Brian Osmond, Gaffer Danny Gonzalez, and Erik Messerschmidt (Nikolai Loveikis)
In this episode, you’ll learn:
– Erik’s career path (00:04:06)
– Erik’s favorite part of the job (00:06:42)
– What DP’s should know to best work with their gaffers, from Erik’s experience working as a gaffer before becoming a DP (00:07:02)
– Unique skills Erik gained from his experience as a gaffer (00:07:56)
– How Brian got his career started (00:11:19)
– Brian’s favorite part of his job (00:12:19)
– What other directors can learn from how David Fincher treats his crew (00:18:39)
– The thought process & techniques behind Mindhunter‘s precise camera movement (00:22:50)
– The strategic use of handheld camera operating (00:34:27)
– The collaborative nature of the Mindhunter set (00:37:34)
– The importance of having a dedicated camera operator on set, especially on a David Fincher set (00:41:19)
– Erik’s role as “quality control supervisor” (00:44:21)
– Why a monitor on a David Fincher set is covered in smudges (00:46:57)
– Why there’s no such thing as a B camera “bonus shot” on Mindhunter & how shots are planned out for multiple cameras (00:48:23)
– What Erik thinks is the hardest shot to do well (00:52:04)
– How Erik lights & shoots with 2 cameras simultaneously (00:53:41)
– Erik’s approach to lighting Mindhunter & techniques used (00:56:55)
– Erik’s preference for real fluorescent lighting (01:03:30)
– Mindhunter‘s production design and how much of the locations were built (01:05:01)
– Favorite set of Season 2 (01:06:26)
– How getting scripts in advance helps them work better (01:10:44)
– The innovative car process shooting on Mindhunter & how it works (01:12:38)
– How virtual production helps realize every filmmaker’s dream, stopping time, & how Erik used that to shoot a 9-minute dialog scene at dawn (01:18:02)
– How the car process shooting on Mindhunter evolved from Season 1 (01:22:37)
– How the custom RED digital cinema camera, dubbed the Xenomorph, evolved from Season 1 (01:27:22)
– Why Brian prefers a fluid head over a geared head to achieve those smooth, precise shots David Fincher loves (01:37:34)
– How to shoot a scene & why “Fix it in prep!” should be every filmmaker’s mantra (01:42:08)
– All about the lenses used on Mindhunter & how Erik art directed the artifacts & nuances of every optical aberration (01:48:10)
– Tips from Brian on getting really precise shots with a fluid head, what operating technique Erik has learned from Brian, & how being self-critical is a key to his success (01:56:42)
– What Erik & Brian feel is the most rewarding part of working on Mindhunter (02:02:47)
If you haven’t yet, please be sure to subscribe to be notified of future episodes, and share this podcast with others to help grow the show and spread the knowledge!
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Interview with Brian Osmond, SOC.
Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt earned his first Emmy nomination for visualizing a wider range of locations with unsettling moods.
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.”
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.
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.
Based on the true-crime book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit and set in the early 1980s, this period drama depicts the investigations of two FBI special agents from the Behavioral Science Unit (Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany) tasked with furthering the understanding of serial killers and their motivations, with the hope of using this research to solve cold cases or stop active predators.
Shooting in Mindhunter in 8K for 4K delivery with a 2.2:1 aspect ratio, Messerschmidt generally employs multiple Red Xenomorph Mk2 8K Helium cameras paired with Leica Summilux-C Primes and Fujinon Premiere Zooms, often with Mitomo IR TrueNDs. (More about the show here.)
Netflix’s Mindhunter series is inspired by true events. Directed by David Fincher, the show focuses on FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench, who try to understand the psyches of notorious serial killers. Mindhunter’s first season debuted in 2017, and the second season returned in the summer of 2019.
Season 2 stars Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Anna Torv, Joe Tuttle, Albert Jones, Stacey Roca, Michael Cerveris, Lauren Glazier and Sierra McClain. While Fincher was the series’ primary director, Andrew Dominik and Carl Franklin also directed episodes.
Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, ASC, had worked with Fincher in the past. He was a gaffer on the filmmaker’s Gone Girl, and was excited to receive a call, inviting him to come onboard to reshoot part of the pilot and second episode back in 2017. The show was already shooting with a Red camera for Season 1, and upgraded to the newer Hellium 8K sensor for Season 2.
Kirk Baxter of Santa Monica’s Exile also has a long-standing relationship with David Fincher. He’s cut The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), The Social Network (2010) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) — all of which won the Oscar for Best Editing, a credit he shared with Angus Wall. He also cut 2014’s Gone Girl (2014), and is currently working on an upcoming Netflix feature with the director titled Mank.
June 30, 2020
RED Digital Cinema
RED is Behind the Look with Erik Messerschmidt, ASC who brings a gentle, elegant visual sensibility to the Netflix series MINDHUNTER. We screen and breakdown pivotal shots from Season Two of this crime thriller, and discuss what it’s like to collaborate with the legendary David Fincher.
The cinematographer of David Fincher’s hit Netflix series, Mindhunter, Erik Messerschmidt ASC takes us behind the scenes the show.
Erik and Go Creative Show host, Ben Consoli, discuss how he created the distinct look of Mindhunter, why David Fincher shoots so many takes, mastering good camera movement, how Erik preps for shoots, and more!
What you will learn in this episode:
- Importance of film school and on-set experience (02:22)
- What Erik is watching during COVID-19 (12:08)
- Visual approach to MINDHUNTER (15:48)
- Mastering good camera movement (20:08)
- Camera and lens package (22:22)
- Why David Fincher shoots so many takes (27:28)
- Compositing multiple takes together (42:05)
- Approach to lighting (44:57)
- Shot diagrams and storyboarding (54:18)
- Lighting the prison scenes (01:01:59)
- Exposing for dark cinematography (01:04:25)
- Color theory and how it affects the audience (01:05:21)
- Mindhunter on Netflix
- Season 1 trailer
- Season 2 trailer
- Mindhunter IMDb
- Erik Messerschmidt’s IMDb
- Erik Messerschmidt’s Instagram
The Go Creative Show is supported by:
Creating the unique look for Mindhunter Seasons 1 and 2.
Eric Weidt talks about his collaboration with director David Fincher – from defining the workflow to creating the look and feel of Mindhunter. He breaks down scenes and runs through colour grading details of the masterful crime thriller.
Presented at IBC2019 on September 15, 2019.
Eric Weidt spent years in Paris working with fashion photographers transitioning from traditional film to digital capture workflows. He created custom film-emulation ICC profiles, and mastered color work and compositing techniques for print stills and fashion films.
Clients included Mario Testino, David Sims, Patrick Demarchelier, Mert Alas and Markus Piggot, Steven Meisel, Hedi Slimane, Karl Lagerfeld. His motion picture work for David Fincher includes responsibilies as VFX artist (Gone Girl), and Digital Intermediate Colorist (Videosyncracy and Mindhunter).
He holds a BA in Theater Arts from the University of California at Santa Cruz and is both an American and French citizen.
Blurred luminance key for a “GLO” effect.
“These are my layers for making a chromatic aberration for David Fincher”.
Michele K. Short / Netflix
The show’s look is as meticulous as the mechanics of police work it depicts.
October 21, 2019
RED Digital Cinema
Going inside Mindhunter Season 2: there’s a contradiction at the heart of Mindhunter, the highly rated Netflix drama. For all the efforts of creator David Fincher and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt to craft a minimalist aesthetic for this ripped-from-the headlines chronicle of the modern serial killer and its FBI profilers, the show itself continues to win plaudits for how it stylistically marries editorial with subject.
Season 1 was lauded for shining a light onto this particularly murky corner of the criminal psyche with its desaturated cinematography. “David and I continued with what we had put together for the first season,” Messerschmidt explains. “If anything, Season 2 is even more structured and formalist. That classical aesthetic is driven a lot by the content. The show is very measured in its approach to a story about serial killers so we felt the photography should be restrained and simple.”
Miles Crist / Netflix
Messerschmidt photographed all nine episodes of the new season which returned to Netflix after a two-year hiatus. Directors Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), Carl Franklin (House of Cards) and Fincher took charge of blocks of three. Before taking responsibility to shape the look of Mindhunter’s first run, Messerschmidt had worked as a gaffer on shows like Mad Men and Bones, and then the feature film Gone Girl where he first came into contact with Fincher.
Definitive if subtle changes were made for Mindhunter’s latest season, the most notable of which was shooting with the custom XENOMORPH with HELIUM 8K S35 sensor and being able to monitor HDR on set.
Erik Messerschmidt on the set of Mindhunter (Merrick Morton / Netflix)
“If a Director Feels the Need to Move the Camera Simply to ‘Make It Interesting,’ It’s Likely an Indicator the Scene Itself Isn’t That Interesting”
When David Fincher transitioned from music videos to feature films in the 1990s, the descriptors “glossy,” “slick” and “stylized” were frequently affixed to his work. Those adjectives were often aimed as pejoratives, categorizing Fincher as a technical virtuoso who created shiny but hollow thrillers.
Watching the second season of Netflix’s Mindhunter—executive produced and partially directed by Fincher—the evolution of the filmmaker’s aesthetic is striking. As FBI profilers Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) interview America’s most notorious serial killers, the camera rarely moves. Instead, it unobtrusively observes.
What hasn’t changed over the years is Fincher’s unwavering exactitude, exemplified by the show’s almost mathematically meticulous compositions. Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt is the guardian of that precision, carrying season two’s restrained yet formal style across episodes directed by Fincher, Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly) and Carl Franklin (One False Move).
With season two now streaming on Netflix, Messerschmidt spoke with Filmmaker about the necessity of HDR monitoring, creating faux-anamorphic effects, and his hockey puck-sized secret weapon for eye lights.
Filmmaker: It’s been two years since season one of Mindhunter, which you shot on custom Weapon Red Dragons (nicknamed Xenomorphs). I guess it shows how quickly camera technology is changing, because since that time Red has gone to a universal DSMC2 brain and the Dragon sensor is only in their lowest-cost camera. Now the Monstro 8K VV and the Helium 8K S35 are Red’s top-of-the-line offerings. Did you change cameras for season two?
Messerschmidt: For season two we switched to Red’s Helium sensor, shooting in 8K 2:1 with 8:1 compression. Out of the 8K raster we framed for a 6.5K extraction area, which left room for stabilization in post. We did extensive lighting, color and workflow tests prior to the decision to switch camera sensors and ended up loving the results of the Helium. We found the noise floor to be substantially lower, the color fidelity to be better and the sensitivity to be higher than the Dragon.
Filmmaker: Did you have any additional custom Xenomorph tweaks for the new cameras?
Messerschmidt: For season two Red built us a new model of the Xenomorph dubbed the Mark II. The new body included the DSMC2 brain with the Helium sensor. It was upgraded with redesigned cooling, integrated lens motors and the new Teradek Bolt video transmitters.