‘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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ASC Clubhouse Conversations: Mindhunter, with Erik Messerschmidt

Charlie Lieberman, ASC
August 12, 2020
American Cinematographer

In this 60-minute video, Erik MesserschmidtASC discusses his Emmy-nominated camerawork in the disturbing and insightful Netflix crime series Mindhunter with interviewer Charlie Lieberman, ASC

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.)

Watch the video and read the full article

Streaming: Netflix’s Mindhunter

Marc Loftus
July 2, 2020
Post Magazine

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.

SHOOTING

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.

EDITING

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.

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Behind the Look: That Shot. DP Erik Messerschmidt, ASC

Naida Albright
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.

David Fincher’s Mindhunter Cinematography with Erik Messerschmidt ASC

Ben Consoli
May 5, 2020
Go Creative Show

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)

Listen to the audio or video podcast

Show Links:

The Go Creative Show is supported by:

MZed – Education for Creatives

“I Had to Figure Out the True Latitude, Speed and Color Science”

DP Jeff Cronenweth On The Social Network Ten Years Later and the Mysterium X Sensor.

Aaron Hunt
May 4, 2020
Filmmaker

Film stills by Merrick Morton

On October 1, The Social Network turns ten. The RED Mysterium X sensor (also turning ten) that rendered the film is now outmoded, but The Social Network thrives due to, not in spite of, the marks of its time. The limited latitude of the once cutting-edge camera sensor pushed David Fincher and DP Jeff Cronenweth—who also shot Fincher’s Fight Club, The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl—into the darker bends of The Social Network’s imitation Harvard dorms. The camera struggled with highlights, so they avoided hot windows and sunny exteriors. It also strained to digest warm tones, so they chose a cooler palette that was easier for the RED to chew on. The sensor’s limitations had implicit limitations with the story of Facebook’s origin, the first of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s two tech mogul reprimands (Fincher’s Zuckerberg was follow by Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs)—individuals he believes pioneered our doom out of spite, envy, inceldom.

When The Social Network initially released, an anecdote about Fincher hiring a mime to distract Harvard campus security was often iterated in the press. Fincher and Cronenweth stitched three shots captured by three REDs on a roof across the street and did a “pan and scan” in post to get a move they couldn’t have otherwise. But they needed light on some of the dark arches, so Fincher hired a mime to push a battery cart full of lights behind them, the impetus being that “by the time [security] got him out of there we would have already accomplished our shot.” Fincher adopted digital in its nascent stages to limit the compromises caused by the erratic nature of the film set. What remained to be compromised on he’d have more ways of fixing in post on digital than on film.


Filmmaker: What have you been watching?

Cronenweth: Eh, I don’t know. Mostly movies. I tried to do the Ozark series, which I like, but it starts to get redundant: same bad guys doing the same things. The only problem I find is that the first week we watched maybe 50 movies, so now we can’t separate the good scenes and shots from the others because we’ve watched so many in a row. That can be a handicap. I’m 58. This is the longest I’ve had off since I graduated from college. So, there are a lot of things I’ve been putting off for twenty years that have been good to get done with.

Filmmaker: Have you rewatched The Social Network recently?

Cronenweth: No, I tend not to. You see them so many times when you’re making them, in the edit, the color correct and the screenings. I would like to, though. It’s such a cleverly written script and Fincher did such a great job at bringing Aaron’s dialogue across. Everytime I watch it, regardless of how tied into it I was, it always amuses me how quickly it feels like it went by. You never have a chance to get off the rollercoaster, which is one of [Fincher’s] mottos. But by the end you go “Really? That’s the whole movie?” It feels like it just started.

Filmmaker: You guys were the first feature film to use RED’s Mysterium X sensor.

Cronenweth: It was my first experience shooting something long form with a digital camera. I had shot music videos and commercials on an array of different formats and cameras. Obviously Fincher had done Zodiac and Benjamin Button digitally. I can’t remember what they shot that on?

Filmmaker: I think they were both shot on the Viper. [Benjamin was a combination of the Viper, Sony F23 and some 35mm on the Arriflex 435]

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The Case for 8K Production and How to Manage That Monster Data

There’s no escaping the fact that 8K is four times as many pixels as 4K… but recording 8K is easier and less expensive than you think.

Adrian Pennington
April 13, 2020
Creative Planet

For many, the idea of recording 8K video understandably conjures up images of unmanageable files sizes, long transfer times, huge piles of hard drives, and slow proxy workflows… not to mention a black hole in the budget.

Leaving aside for one moment the fact that HDR and HFR are far more valuable than resolution to the consumer’s eye, there are benefits to an 8K production which an increasing number of projects are taking advantage of.

Mank, directed by David Fincher and lensed by Erik Messerschmidt, ASC, was acquired 8K using the RED Monstro in monochrome (above); and Money Heist, the Netflix drama which in season 4 is shot at 7K to accommodate HDR in a 4K deliverable, are just two of the most recent.

You can’t sell productions made in less than 4K to Netflix and other streaming services now. One day soon, some will mandate 8K to begin with and Netflix will have its fair share in the bank.

Even if the final output is only going to be 4K/UHD, shooting in 8K gives you many options in post that you do not have when starting in 4K. These include downscaling, cut/crop (pan/scan) or headroom for VFX.

“Before making the decision to capture a project in 8K, producers and cinematographers need to consider the project’s long-term goals,” says Bryce Button, director of product marketing, AJA Video Systems. For instance, capturing in 8K makes a lot of sense if there will be future use for the material.

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FilmLight, Colour on Stage: Eric Weidt

Creating the unique look for Mindhunter Seasons 1 and 2.

November 15, 2019
FilmLight, Colour on Stage

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.

HDR version available for download

Blurred luminance key for a “GLO” effect.

“These are my layers for making a chromatic aberration for David Fincher”.

Find out about the new and upcoming features in Baselight with FilmLight’s Martin Tlaskal

Shot on RED: MINDHUNTER

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.

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It’s in his blood! Jeff Cronenweth, ASC Tells His Story

Jeff Cronenweth on the set of Gone Girl (2014, Merrick Morton)

Christine Bunish
October 11, 2019
Creative Content Wire

Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, ASC lensed his first feature, “Fight Club,” in 1998.  He earned Best Cinematography nominations from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the American Society of Cinematographers for two more collaborations with director David Fincher, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011) and “The Social Network” (2010).  Cronenweth also shot Fincher’s “Gone Girl” (2014), Kathryn Bigelow’s “K-19: The Widowmaker” (2002) and Sasha Gervasi’s “Hitchcock” (2012).  He recently completed director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s “A Million Little Pieces,” based on the literary hit.

In addition to his feature career, Cronenweth is known for his stylish and CLIO Award-winning music videos and commercials.  In the last two years he shot music videos for Katie Perry, Jennifer Lopez, Pink, Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift.  A native Angelino, Cronenweth studied filmmaking at the University of Southern California (USC) and began his professional career apprenticing to some of the industry’s greatest cinematographers, including Sven Nykvist, ASC, John Toll, ASC, Conrad Hall, ASC and his father, the late Jordan Cronenweth, ASC.

Cronenweth, behind the camera A on left, and his crew set up double coverage for a scene between Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and the film’s nameless narrator (Edward Norton). On the right, B camera operator (and future Panic Room cinematographer) Conrad W. Hall. (1999, Merrick Morton)

What was your pathway into this field? 

“My great-grandfather owned a photo store in Pennsylvania.  My dad’s dad won the last Oscar given for portrait photography: He was a staff photographer for Columbia [Pictures]. My grandmother was a Ziegfeld Follies dancer.  My dad [Jordan Cronenweth, ASC] won a BAFTA for ‘Blade Runner’ (1983) and got an Oscar nomination for ‘Peggy Sue Go Married’ (1987).  So as a child I often visited sets and went on location for extended stays.  I felt like I wanted to be part of that great experience, that camaraderie.  Each day was like a military unit battling to bring back great images.

“I knew I wanted to do something in the industry: I had been around it all and found it all so exciting.  I made many Super 8 films in high school and decided USC (the University of Southern California) was where I wanted to attend film school.  But two years into school Film Fair, a commercial production company my father had collaborated with, had a position open for a staff loader and that job offered the opportunity to get into the union.  I visited my dad as often as I could when he was shooting ‘Blade Runner’ and assisted him on other movies as a camera operator and on second unit.  A lot of relationships I formed then carried over when my dad retired.

“I met [director] David Fincher on a Madonna video my father photographed and I shot second unit for in the heyday of music videos – it was a very creative and innovative time, and I was grateful to be there.  I was his camera assistant on the documentary ‘U2: Rattle & Hum’ (1988) and the film ‘State of Grace’ (1990), both directed by Phil Joanou, a former USC film school classmate.  Then I got my first feature as a cinematographer, ‘Fight Club,’ with Fincher.  Not a bad credit for the first time out of the gate!”

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