Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian January 13, 2021 Interiors
David Fincher’s Mank (2020) depicts 3 incredibly unique locations in California with a multitude of interior and exterior architectural spaces. The visual presentation of the film, combined with the Art Direction and Set Decoration, creates a masterful, multifaceted level of Production Design that is rarely seen in cinema. It is a film that warrants multiple viewings and its attention to architectural details should be commended.
In an exclusive interview with Interiors, we spoke with Donald Graham Burt, who is the Production Designer for Mank.
INT: You’re a longtime collaborator of David Fincher‘s but what was it about Mankspecifically that interested you in taking on the project?
DGB: First and foremost it was an opportunity to work on a project that was a period Los Angeles project – and even more specifically a period project about the film industry. To be able to delve into the history of the studios and the roots of the industry in its early years in Los Angeles – when portions of the city were still undeveloped – was an experience to cherish. David’s projects are always of high caliber and there is a professional level at which he works that is rewarding to be a contributor to.
From the inky shadows to red-hot festivals and everywhere in between, Set Decorator Andrew Baseman gives us an up-close-and-personal tour of Mindhunter Season 2 and Gotham, and sneak-peeks into upcoming projects In The Heights and Trial of The Chicago Seven.
While I was finishing the fourth season of House of Cards, David Fincher called me to say he was planning another series with Netflix and to ask if I would be interested in designing it. Of course I jumped at the chance, not knowing exactly what Mindhunter would be, but certain that with Fincher involved it would be a quality project. I soon found out that it was based on the John Douglas book of the same name and that it would be shooting in Pittsburgh, a city I knew quite well since I received my graduate degree from Carnegie Mellon University there, and where I got my start in the film business while still a student in the CMU theater department.
The series is somewhat different than many crime shows in that it’s not a who-done-it, or even how’d they do it, but more of a psychological exploration of why’d they do it.
Mindhunter is a period show set in the late 1970s, so I knew the choice of Pittsburgh as a location would simplify much of the exterior design work. Many rust belt cities like Pittsburgh were hit particularly hard by the collapse of the steel industry, and all the ancillary businesses that supported steel have suffered as well. The small towns that surround a city like Pittsburgh are often stuck in the past, sometimes for forty years or more. A lot of the exterior street sequences required were possible and looked appropriate with a minimal amount of redesign because there just hasn’t been an influx of business dollars to do architectural upgrades; there were very few modern structures to modify extensively or hide. This, and the fact that there is a wealth of great period dressing elements to be had at reasonable prices at the many local flea markets, estate sales and antique stores, made the task of recreating the period much more manageable.
One of the first things I remember David Fincher saying about the look of the series was that he did not want it to look like other films or series set in this same period where the style of the time is pushed so far that it becomes exaggeratedly over the top and starts to seem camp. The focus would be on the more mundane and ordinary look of American life in the late 1970s. I knew a lot of the characters were from the lower social strata, so there were few places for high style or the cutting edge fashion of the time. One big influence on the design was photographs from the time by people like Stephen Shore, particularly for our many on the road scenes in motel rooms.
In the late 1970s two FBI agents expand criminal science by delving into the psychology of murder and getting uneasily close to all-too-real monsters.
Catching a criminal often requires the authorities to get inside the villain’s mind to figure out how he thinks. That’s the job of FBI agents Holden Ford [Jonathan Goff] and Bill Tench [Holt McCallany]. They attempt to understand and catch serial killers by studying their damaged psyches. Along the way, working with Boston University psychology professor Wendy Carr [Anna Torv], the agents pioneer the development of modern serial killer profiling.
The crime drama has a strong pedigree behind the camera, with Oscar-nominated director David Fincher and Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron among the show’s executive producers, and Fincher directing the first episodes. — Netflix
Add in Production Designer Steve Arnold and Set Decorator Tracey Doyle SDSA, and you know it will have a carefully curated stylized realism mixed with fully realized layered reality. Sets that could be paintings, except they seem so real.
We checked in with the duo for snippets about the making of MINDHUNTER, Season 1…
–Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories (1958) by Dr. Seuss –The Code Breakers (1967) by David Kahn –Codes and Ciphers: Secret Writing Through the Ages (1964) by John Laffin –Secret Writing: The Craft of the Cryptographer (1970) by James Raymond Wolfe –The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) film directed by Eugene Lourie –Dick Tracy Lunchbox, 1967 – Animal Crackers (cookie) –The Most Dangerous Game (1932) film directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack –Hair, original musical poster, show debut in 1967 –They Laughed When I Sat Down: An Informal History of Advertising in Words and Pictures (1959) by Frank Rowsome, Jr. –McElligot’s Pool (1947) by Dr. Seuss –TIME Magazine “Race and Reform on Campus,” Volume 93 No. 16, April 18, 1969 –The Asphalt Jungle (1950) film directed by John Huston –The Wrong Man (1956) film directed by Alfred Hitchcock –The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy, 1931-1951 (Anthology, 1970) by Chester Gould –Fox in Socks (1965) by Dr. Seuss –Curtain and The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1975) by Agatha Christie –An Artist in America (1951) by Thomas Hart Benton –Drawing: Seeing and Observation (1973) by Ian Simpson –Drawing the Female Figure (1975) by Joseph Sheppard –Mainstreams of Modern Art: David to Picasso (1961) by John Canaday –Homicide Investigation (first published 1944) by Lemoyne Snyder –Rescued in the Clouds (1927) by Franklin W. Dixon –LIFE Magazine “Confrontation in Harvard Yard,” Vol. 66 No. 16, April 25, 1969 – Slinky Toy Commercial from the 1960s – Slinky Toy –I Died A Thousand Times (1955) film directed by Stuart Heisler –Star Trek, Season 3 Episode 4 “And the Children Shall Lead” (1968) guest starring Melvin Belli, portrayed by Brian Cox in Zodiac – Aquavelva (alcoholic drink) – Reprise: The Code Breakers (1967) by David Kahn – Reprise: Codes and Ciphers (1964) by John Laffin –Richard Nixon Presidential Campaign Button, 1968 – “I Am Not Avery” button – 6 extremely rare first edition covers of Ian Fleming James Bond Novels: Dr. No (1958), For Your Eyes Only (1960), Moonraker (1955), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963), You Only Live Twice (1964), The Spy Who Loved Me (1962) –Six Crises (1962) by Richard M. Nixon –San Francisco (first published 1969) edited by Jack McDowell and Dorothy Krell –The Selling of the President, 1968 (1969) by Joe McGinniss –Rubber Life Magazine, Vol. 01, No. 01, (1972) –Dirty Harry (1971) film directed by Don Siegel –Pong (1972) video game by Atari – I Looked and Listened: Informal Recollections of Radio and TV (1970) by Ben Gross – The Crime Vaccine: How to End the Crime Epidemic (1996) by Jay B. Marcus –The FBI in Our Open Society (1969) by Harry & Bonaro Overstreet – Kidnap: The Story of the Lindbergh Case (1961) by George Waller –The Property Man (1914) film directed by Charlie Chaplin – McCall’s Sewing Book (1968) by McCall Corporation – Them! (1954) film directed by Gordon Douglas –Illegal (1955) film directed by Lewis Allen – The World Almanac – Centennial Edition (1968) – The Rink (1916) film directed by Charlie Chaplin – Conquest (1937) film directed by Clarence Brown and Gustav Marchaty –Key Largo (1948) film directed by John Huston – Zodiac: The Shocking True Story of the Nation’s Most Bizarre Mass Murderer (1986) by Robert Graysmith
Zodiac (2007) Credits:
Directed by David Fincher
Production Design by Donald G. Burt
Art Direction by Keith Cunningham
Set Decoration by Victor J. Zolfo