David Fincher Revives One of His Longtime Dream Projects, “Mank”

David Fincher has reportedly signed on to direct his first feature film since Gone Girl in 2014, a biopic about the contentious development of the script for Citizen Kane, one of Fincher’s favorite films, by the brilliant and prolific but troubled screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and legendary director Orson Welles. They both shared the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

And he is doing it for Netflix, the streaming service and production company that has granted him artistic freedom and for whom he has developed and produced the series House of Cards and Mindhunter, and executive produced the animated series Love, Death, and Robots.

Master Actor Gary Oldman will play the titular role, Mankiewicz, or “Mank“, as he was nicknamed.

The film project inception dates back to 1993 and is based on a script by Fincher’s late father, Howard “Jack” Fincher. Jack Fincher was a journalist, writer and essayist specialized in science, a former San Francisco bureau chief for LIFE magazine, and a devoted cinephile. In 1997, he was commissioned to draft a screenplay for a Howard Hughes biopic, with Kevin Spacey attached to direct. But this project was later absorbed by The Aviator project scripted by John Logan, which ended up being directed by Martin Scorsese.

Mank will be shot in black and white, as Fincher always intended. This caused the project to stall in the past, but Alfonso Cuarón’s recent success with Roma, also for Netflix, has reinforced the limited commercial appeal of this aesthetic option.

Fincher has shot many commercials and music videos in black and white, including Oh Father for Madonna (1989), notably inspired by Citizen Kane. His last music video, Suit & Tie (ft. JAY Z) for Justin Timberlake (2013), and last two commercial campaigns, for Calvin Klein (2013) and Gap (2014), were gorgeously shot using RED Cameras with monochrome sensors, perhaps with Mank in mind.

The film will be produced by the traditional power couple David Fincher & producer Ceán Chaffin, this time alongside Oldman’s business partner and producer Douglas Urbanski. Urbanski is an occasional actor who played President of Harvard University Lawrence Summers in The Social Network.

Production is scheduled to begin on October 28 in Los Angeles.

James Swallow wrote about the original project on his essential chronicle of the first half of Fincher’s career, Dark Eye. The Films of David Fincher (Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 2003):

As far back as 1997, this biographical story of Herman J. Mankiewicz, the writer of Orson Welles‘ epic motion picture Citizen Kane, was rumored as a pet project for David Fincher. From a script written by his father, Howard Fincher, the director’s black and white biopic targeted Seven star Kevin Spacey as the lead, with Panic Room‘s Jodie Foster in a co-starring role as movie actress Marion Davies. In production at the same time was HBO‘s telemovie RKO 281, which also covered the backstory of Citizen Kane (casting John Malkovich in the Mankiewicz role and Melanie Griffith as Davies). Still, the true story behind the creation of this mould-shattering movie and the writer behind it has enough scope for the production of a further feature by Fincher and his father.

Mankiewicz was a cynical but extremely talented scriptwriter, a former theatre critic for the New Yorker and the New York Times who left his job for the glitter of early Hollywood. Dropping out of the elite circle of New York’s high society, specifically the so-called “Algonquin Round Table“, Mankiewicz began with scripts for silent films, starting with The Road to Mandalay in 1926, working on more than 70 features during his lifetime. He once famously described Hollywood to a fellow writer in NYC by saying: “Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around”. As film technology evolved in the late twenties, Mankiewicz changed gears and moved seamlessly into talkies, continuing to write stories or dialogue for films like Man of the World (1942), The Lost Squadron (1932), Dinner at Eight (1933) and It’s a Wonderful World (1939), as well as an uncredited rewrite on The Wizard of Oz; he also worked with the Marx Brothers as an executive producer on movies like Horse Feathers (1932) and Duck Soup (1933).

With his career flagging as the thirties ended and with his comedic hits behind him, Mankiewicz’s Oscar-winning success with Welles’ Citizen Kane in 1942 gave him a brief respite. However, his alcoholism and large gambling debts eventually got the better of him and he died, penniless, of uremic poisoning in 1953. Remembered for Welles’ powerfully directed feature about a ruthless newspaper mogul, Mankiewicz no doubt drew on his personal experiences as a former associate of real-life magnate William Randolph Hearst and as a partygoer at Hearst’s huge Hollywood mansion. Although Mankiewicz was forced to share Citizen Kane‘s Academy Award for Best Writing with Welles, the great majority of the script was the writer’s own work, and it was not only a source of friction between the two men but of debate among film critics to this day.

Last mooted as a Propaganda Films movie, Howard and David Fincher’s Mank may yet be produced as a project at Indelible Pictures. Fincher has previously spoken of his intent to use a special film stock to shoot Mank, a black and white negative type no longer used in the contemporary industry that would have to be recreated from the original “recipe”. For the director, this feature represents an opportunity to produce a fundamentally different film from his earlier works in a genre he has yet to explore; at the same time, the life of Herman J Mankiewicz retains the streak of darkness that has always appealed to Fincher’s sensibilities. “Mank is a script that I’ve been working to get exactly right for ten years”, said Fincher, “and I hope, some day, to make it as one of the definitive ‘writer in Hollywood’ stories”.

Nev Pierce asked Fincher about the project during his 2009 career interview for Empire Magazine:

Pierce: Your dad was a journalist and a writer. He wrote a script called Mank, about the Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. Did you consider making that?

Fincher: We tried. It was too expensive. Because if you’re going to make a Hollywood insider movie—it’s nothing to do with Hollywood really, it’s Hollywood in the late thirties, early forties—you’ve got to make it really cheaply. We had a chance to make the movie for, like, $13 million, back in 1998 and, um, [guiltily] I wanted to make it in black and white. [Laughs] And that fucked up all those home video and video sellthrough and cable deals. I haven’t read it in a while. I probably should.

Pierce: Did your dad write a few screenplays?

Fincher: Yeah, he wrote a couple. That was the best of them, I think. He wrote a screenplay once about a divorce case. It was kind of based on the Keanes. Remember in the sixties, the guy who painted those pictures of the children with the giant eyes? They were in this bitter divorce. It was a very, very sardonic screenplay about two parents trying to prove what bad parents they are, so the other will get stuck with the kids! It was pretty funny! [Laughs] But it had an awful sentiment! But it was funny. It was a good script.

Pierce: There’s an element of your work—in Se7en, The Game, Zodiac— that is about professionalism and obsession. Is that something you think you got from your dad?

Fincher: My dad wasn’t very obsessive. Slightly compulsive, but not obsessive. You know, my dad did used to say, “Learn your craft; it will never stop you from being a genius.” It’s like, “Do the hard work, figure out how it works…” My dad worked a lot, but he paced himself. He paced himself a lot more than I think I probably do. […] My dad… he was an intellect and sort of a Monday-morning quarterback.

Thanks to Joe Frady and Andrew Moore.

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PIX Onset Makes Connected Set A Reality

July 9, 2019
PIX+CODEX

PIX has worked closely with David Fincher and his No. 13 production company since Panic Room in 2001, developing tools and services that have fundamentally changed how feature films and television shows are made. One of the first directors to embrace digital cameras with his use of the Thomson Viper on Zodiac, Fincher and his team are constantly redefining technology as they seek to blur the line between production and post production and strive to automate the mundane and more clearly communicate their creative vision.

On Netflix’s Mindhunter, Fincher again used the latest digital capture technology – custom RED Xenomorph cameras designed to his specifications, integrating all the usual camera components (wireless video transmitters, focus controls etc.) into the camera for a much more ergonomic design. But Fincher’s desire for innovation extended far beyond the camera, so he again turned to PIX.

CHALLENGE

Working on his current project, the second season of Mindhunter, David Fincher was looking for a way to better convey the thoughts and ideas he came up with during production via annotations attached to the image captured by the camera. In the past, a thought about the grading required for a particular shot might have been conveyed via a phone call to the dailies colorist much later in the day after shooting wrapped. David Fincher required a real-time telestration solution, rather than a delayed response later in the evening or next day. And it absolutely could not delay shooting or increase the footprint or complexity of production.

SOLUTION

PIX has built a system that makes the often-used term “Connected Set” real. PIX OnSet creates a clip of the take and immediately presents this clip to the director via a tablet, so that he or she can make annotations and notes on the image right after it has been captured. These notes are then securely uploaded via PIX to all the approved members of the production who can review them along with image files. Other approved production crew – for example, DP Erik Messerschmidt – can also add their own notes. These notes are securely conveyed through to editorial and post production along with the image files and other metadata.

PRODUCTS DEPLOYED ON MINDHUNTER

PIX for Desktop, Web, iOS
PIX OnSet
– The series also utilized the PIX Developer Program for custom integrations.

RESULT

Real-Time Creative Capture – The thoughts and ideas of the creative team are recorded in real-time immediately after the take. This ensures that their vision and ideas are communicated clearly and without change through the many lines of communication to the rest of the production team, reducing the potential for misunderstanding. For example, the editorial team can easily see any notes the director or DP have made without relying on paper, phone calls or emails sent later in the day. This might be a note that a take needs to be printed down half a stop or a note that something in the frame needs to be removed in post. Having the note linked to the image vastly reduces the opportunity for error and saves valuable time.

Patented Content Security – Along with the rest of the industry-leading PIX platform, PIX OnSet is extremely secure, built on PIX’s patented DRM with dynamic and forensic watermarking and meets the exacting standards of the MPAA.

Minimal Footprint On Set – Rather than adding to the on-set production infrastructure, PIX OnSet actually reduces it by providing immediate playback of takes to authorized devices as they are captured by the camera

No Production Delays – As authorized members of the creative team can annotate the file immediately and easily on their own tablet, there is absolutely no slowdown in the pace of production.

See how PIX can help your next big project. Call or email us to set up a demo and learn more!

Film stills of Holt McCallany and Jonathan Groff on the set of Mindhunter, Season 1, by Patrick Harbron (Netflix).

Original Post

Color Grading Netflix’s Mindhunter

Eric Weidt, Dolby’s Thomas Graham, and Netflix’s Chris Clark.

A look at the show’s unique HDR look and workflow

David Alexander Willis (Twitter, Instagram)
June 2018
Post Magazine

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Each Mindhunter hour-long show (from the 10-episode run) was graded using FilmLight’s Baselight color grading tools by colorist Eric Weidt, who navigated between ultra-modern capture technology, the time and place of late 70s cinema and the very specific needs of David Fincher.

Adding an editorial and visual effects team at his facility in Hollywood, Mindhunter was the first time that the auteur established his own in-house DI. “It’s important to note, we had a lot more time to work on this show than most grades,” Weidt pointed out during a special HDR presentation by FilmLight, Dolbyand Red Digital Cinema at Hollywood’s Dolby Cinema Old Vine theatre.

“The 70’s and serial killers backdrop brought to mind David Fincher’s Zodiac, which is an absolutely brilliant movie; a masterpiece in terms of both content and color,” he says. “The 70s has a distinct color palette” he continues. Street photographers William Eggleston and Stephen Shore are personal sources of inspiration for initial color grading.

Post and edit began as production rolled in Pittsburgh. Dailies were usually available to Fincher by the following day. The production used FotoKem’s nextLAB dailies system and the PIX asset and data management and delivery platform.

Due to overlapping shoot and post production schedules, “David looked at things on his iPad for two-thirds of the season,” says Weidt, explaining that he had a complex rendering process that allowed him to manage new HDR footage as well as sending regular corrections from Fincher to view in SDR. The Baselight workflow file was separated into two timelines, one for any creative color adjustments, and another that had stabilizations and lens emulations applied. Weidt would daisy-chain them, run it through the Dolby Vision HDR professional tools, and create offline files to view on an iPad or monitor.

Weidt says that Fincher’s color design for Mindhunter was heavily influenced by the organic palette of several classic films, such as McCabe and Mrs. Miller, All the President’s Men and the more chromatic yet grittier look of The French Connection. They also wanted a low contrast, information-rich picture, and had first experimented with low contrast optical filtration on set but preferred in the end to “set up the digital chain in a way that Fincher was getting the type of image that he wanted.

Weidt’s starting point for dailies, as well as any color work on the master, began with a low-contrast log curve that maintained as much of the dynamic range provided by the Red Xenomorph camera as possible, and gave the SDR monitoring on set an approximation of Weidt’s HDR workflows.

The HDR look was developed in post production: “In HDR, we initially came across a lot of scenes where the light sources were taking too much prominence,” Weidt says. “David and his post supervisor Peter Mavromates really wanted an elegant balance. Mindhunter’s HDR is not trying to strike you or slap you in the face. Just like the sound mixing, or cutting, it is not trying to blow your mind, but rather convey the story content. The latter is really what’s going to punch you.”

Many of Fincher’s notes require simple dodging and burning, performed primarily through Weidt’s use of shapes, masking and tracking in Baselight. Using PIX, Fincher would circle subjects or areas of a frame, giving suggestive chromatic terms like ‘sallow’ or ‘ruddy,’ and ‘equidistant’ or ‘symmetrical’ in regard to reframing.

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Areas of focus

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After the grade

“David is famous for having a visual style where he is going to stabilize two-thirds of the shots in an episode, or in a movie, so that everything is absolutely perfect,” says Weidt. “What he wants is that the camera, the gaze into the image, is totally unconscious, and you’re really in there without distractions that most people take for granted.” After Fincher returned to Los Angeles, their standard workflow on a scene together would start with a master shot that incorporated the characters as well as background, timing color and light levels for other shots and angles in scenes to be timed from that reference.

Fincher’s eye for detail goes far beyond that, though, and Weidt noted several corrected items that would have escaped his attention, like plants outside a prison that were too vibrantly green, or highlights in reflections that needed to be turned down to match light sources. “There are certain colors that David needs to suppress, and that’s mostly pink,” he continues. “Pink appears in people’s skin tones, and if you get it wrong in the grading suite and ends up on a monitor outside of that environment, it’s going to appear like they have pink faces and it looks really bad. David wants to control that.”

Using Summilux-C primes from CW Sonderoptic, XML information was created for every focal length. This was a requirement on Mindhunter as simulations of grain, lens barreling and chromatic aberration in Baselight were tailored to the specific focal length throughout the show. Weidt even created anamorphic effects for the spherical lenses. “David wanted to refer to 70’s in what could be called ‘the anamorphic wide-screen era,’” he says.

He also added pseudo chromatic aberration “on every shot and every episode of Mindhunter,” which he developed himself, as the vast majority of plug-ins and filters will simply shift one of the primary color plates, stretching from center, resulting in bi-color aberrations. These created results that Fincher found lackluster, when for example given a cyan-red, he’d really only want the cyan. “I found the solution in Baselight, which essentially took 20 layers, using blending modes that are usually the purview of a compositing tool,” Weidt says.

“David directed four episodes of Mindhunter, but he’s the executive producer for the show, and he’s definitely the director of the DI,” he adds. “All of the color, he directed himself, with contributions from Erik Messerschmidt.”

This is an abridged version of the full in-depth article available in the June issue of Post Magazine

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MINDHUNTER: Mindful Operating

Operator Brian Osmond, SOC and dolly grip Dwayne Barr push in on a dialog scene between Anna Torv and Jonathan Groff (Merrick Morton / Netflix)

With Brian Osmond, SOC.

Derek Stettler
May 2018 (Spring 2018)
Camera Operator (Society of Camera Operators)

With Mindhunter, Netflix reunites with director David Fincher for the first time since he helped the streaming service launch into original programming with their first series, House of Cards. In Mindhunter, Fincher’s attention to detail proved a perfect match for creating the dark world of obsession and intrigue that is the true story of the origin of the FBI Behavioral Science Unit. Based on the real-life experiences of FBI special agent, John Douglas, who pioneered the practice of psychological profiling, Mindhunter takes place in the 1970’s and follows two FBI agents who radically expand criminal science as the study the methods and motivations of serial killers. But getting so close to real world monsters has consequences, and their encounters with the darkest of humanity begin to change them and the way they work.

Read the full interview:

Thanks to Andrew Moore

Michael Cioni: The Rhythm of Resolution

LumaForge (YouTube)
May 3, 2018

Over the last few years, 8K has become accepted as an acquisition format for 2K & 4K delivery. Michael Cioni, of Panavision & Light Iron, believes that it is time to start pushing 8K as a distribution format. Listen as he challenges common misconceptions about the validity of 8K exhibition.

Cioni uses Moore’s Law to explore the idea that the resolution of our capture and delivery of video will continue to grow far into the future. In the early years of Light Iron, Michael and his team faced many challenges in moving from a 2K to 4K digital intermediate for their customers. But they overcame those challenges and are now working toward supporting 8K distribution.

Check the comments from the future

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.

Read the full profile:

Website version of the profile

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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.)

Read the full profile