Settling the Score

Director David Fincher talks the music of Mank with composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

Jon Burlingame
February 12, 2021
Netflix Queue

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have written a dozen film and television scores together. Not just partners in Nine Inch Nails, they have won multiple awards for music in visual media: an Oscar and a Golden Globe for The Social Network, a Grammy for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, an Emmy for Watchmen. But they had never tackled a project quite like Mank.

Director David Fincher, whose films The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl Reznor and Ross also scored, came to the duo with a period piece set between 1930 and 1940 and shot in black and white, the story of Hollywood screenwriter Herman “Mank” Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman).

Reznor and Ross’s previous scores had been created with synthesizers, samplers, and sequencers in their Los Angeles studios, where they recorded all of the music themselves. Mank required something different: a more traditionally orchestral score, with swing-jazz and dance-band elements appropriate to the era. It was an arena in which neither Reznor nor Ross had any prior experience.

So they listened to the popular music of the 30s and 40s and, intriguingly, the early film scores of Bernard Herrmann, the longtime Orson Welles collaborator. His music for Citizen Kane proved inspirational in terms of the style of orchestral writing that frames Mank.

Ultimately, they created more than 90 minutes of original music, played by the equivalent of a 70-piece orchestra and big band. Because of the pandemic raging through the summer and fall of 2020, all of the musicians performed individually in their home studios and were mixed together into a seamless whole.

“It was an incredibly intoxicating, inspiring environment,” Reznor says of working with Fincher. “We felt like artists, not artisans, being challenged to try to make something awesome.”

We talked to the musicians and the director about creating the music for Mank.

Read the full interview

More Like This: Spotlight on Mank, featuring Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Erik Messerschmidt and more

Krista Smith
February 10, 2021
More Like This (A Netflix Queue Podcast)

A podcast from Netflix Queue, the journal that celebrates the people, ideas, and process of creating great entertainment on Netflix and beyond. Host Krista Smith is joined by a different co-host each episode – Franklin Leonard, Tre’vell Anderson, and others – to give an insider’s peek into the creation of your favorite films, series and documentaries and the incredibly talented people who make them.

More Like This gets the Mank treatment! In this very special episode, Krista takes us behind the scenes of David Fincher’s Mank, sharing interviews with key members of the creative team. Composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross talk about the power of storytelling through music, how they pulled inspiration from composers of the past, and how pandemic restrictions forced them to record a 70-piece orchestra one instrument at a time; set decorator Jan Pascale demonstrates how the smallest details make the biggest impact; cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt details how he combined classic and modern techniques to transport a 21st century audience back in time; and editor Kirk Baxter explains why David Fincher once called him 50% blacksmith and 50% poet. Enjoy this deep dive into the process of making movie magic with film collaborators at the top of their game, and be sure to see their work in Mank, now streaming on Netflix.

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Excerpt with Erik Messerschmidt:

Cinefade VariND

The Music of Mank. Conversation with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Morgan Neville
January 29, 2021
Netflix Awards FYC

A conversation with composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross on behalf of Mank. Moderated by Morgan Neville.

Watch the full conversation

Sound Designer Ren Klyce Breaks Down The Elaborate, Multistep Process Of Crafting Monaural Palette For David Fincher’s ‘Mank’

Matt Grobar
February 8, 2021
Deadline

On David Fincher’s Mank, sound designer Ren Klyce was tasked with crafting a monaural soundtrack, similar to those heard in films of the ’30s and ’40s, engaging in a laborious, experimental process, in order to round out the world of one of the year’s most distinctive films.

Scripted by Fincher’s late father Jack, the director’s longtime passion project follows Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman)—a washed up, alcoholic screenwriter from Hollywood’s Golden Age—as he endeavors to finish the screenplay for the iconic Citizen Kane.

The goal with Mank was to immerse viewers in its period world through the creation of visual and sonic ‘patinas,’ each working in concert with the other. While cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt shot the black-and-white film digitally, at extremely high resolution—allowing Fincher to degrade the image in post—Klyce would tinker with sonic degradation, tapping into all of the characteristics that gave early 20th century soundtracks their unique feel.

One of Fincher’s closest collaborators—who has worked with him on 10 features and two television series since 1995—Klyce had experimented only briefly with mono sound in the past, on a handful of Fincher films. “But we never did it with the conviction of, ‘This is the purpose,’” the sound designer notes, “‘because we want it to feel like it was made using the technology of the time.’”

Below, the seven-time Oscar nominee recalls his earliest conversations with Fincher about Mank, and the multifaceted process of fashioning its vintage sonic palette.

Read the full interview

Crew Call Podcast: How Composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross Went From Sonic To Jazz in ‘Mank’

Anthony D’Alessandro
February 3, 2021
Deadline

Netflix’s drama Mank led all Golden Globe feature nominations this morning with a count of six, and one of those belonged to composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score for the David Fincher film. Mank reps the fourth feature between the filmmaker and the composers, the latter who immediately took home the Oscar and Golden Globe in the first noms for their score of 2010’s The Social Network.

Fincher’s new age noir in Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl is continually heightened by Reznor and Ross’ synthetic, metallic, pulsating tonal stylings, but in Mank the two composers pull a 180 and deliver a lively jazz score that pays deep homage to the cinema of the 1930s and 1940s.

We talk with them both on Crew Call today about their shorthand with Fincher, and how they sparked a fascinating rhythm about embattled scribe Herman J. Mankiewicz’s rage against Hollywood, and his once mentor and friend, media titan William Randolph Hearst.

Reznor and Ross were a double Golden Globe nominee today, also nabbing a second score nom for Disney/Pixar’s Soul.

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Mank, The Unmaking

January 28, 2021
Netflix

manktheunmaking.com

Text by:

Nev Pierce

Photography by:

Erik Messerschmidt
Miles Crist
Gisele Schmidt-Oldman
Gary Oldman
Ceán Chaffin
Nikolai Loveikis

Composer Roundtable: Pros From ‘Mank,’ ‘Soul,’ ‘Minari’ and More Talk Remote Recording Sessions and Finding Creativity in Isolation

Scott Roxborough
January 26, 2021
The Hollywood Reporter

Film composers may be accustomed to working alone, but they weren’t immune to the tumult of 2020. Six film music specialists came together — virtually — to discuss the key to writing an effective score, even when creatively challenged by the pandemic: “What I really miss is playing music with human beings.”

2020 was a year like no other, so it’s fitting that The Hollywood Reporter’s Composer Roundtable was unlike any that had gone before.

On Jan. 8, six of Hollywood’s leading film composers came together via Zoom, across three continents, to talk shop: Ludwig Göransson followed up his Oscar-winning Black Panther score with a thumping, time-shifting soundtrack to Christopher Nolan’s Tenet; Tamar-kali offered up a dissonant, daring soundscape for Shirley that won praise from the likes of Iggy Pop; Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross had a busy year with work that included the wall-to-wall 1940s orchestral score for David Fincher’s Mank and the ethereal, synthetic sound of Pixar feature Soul; Terence Blanchard, Spike Lee‘s go-to composer, delivered the majestic musical backdrop for the war drama Da 5 Bloods; and Emile Mosseri, who has quickly established himself as one of indie cinema’s most in-demand music makers, created an affecting, ethereal soundscape for Lee Isaac Chung‘s Minari.

In a lively discussion, this eclectic group of film music veterans and newer talents who find themselves — and their music — in the awards-season conversation discussed the art and craft of film composing, the value of defying expectations and how each of them would score 2020.

Read the full roundtable

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (‘Mank,’ ‘Soul’ composers): Working with David Fincher and Pete Docter because they are ‘geniuses’

Chris Beachum
January 26, 2021
Gold Derby

2020 was certainly a tough year for everyone, but there were some bright spots for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The composer duo won their first Emmy Award in September for “Watchmen.” Their band Nine Inch Nails was inducted (although virtually) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in November. And the end of the year brought the film releases of “Mank” for Netflix and “Soul” for Disney/Pixar, for which they composed the score of each.

In our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above), Reznor says, “When I heard you say that about the list of accomplishments this past year, set against the backdrop of the brutality and relentlessness of the pandemic and politically what’s happening. As parents trying to keep our kids safe and sane and happy and some sense of normality, it has been a weird juxtaposition of accolades set against this year we’d all like to put in the rear-view mirror.”

Reznor and Ross won an Oscar for Best Original Score on their first feature film (“The Social Network,” 2010). They have teamed with that movie’s director, David Fincher, several times, including for “Mank,” the behind-the-scenes story of writer Herman J. Mankiewicz and his work on the classic 1941 film “Citizen Kane.” They have collaborated for the first time with Pixar chief Pete Docter on his animated feature “Soul,” about a jazz musician who wants to navigate his way back to his body from the afterlife.

On working with two such distinctive and varied directors, Reznor adds, “The similarities of Pete and David are that they’re both geniuses, different styles of genius, but they’re both the very best at what they do. Being around them is… that we thrive on that. We’re searching out excellence because we are inspired by it.”

Soundtracking with Edith Bowman: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross On Mank, Soul, and Other Things!

Edith Bowman
January 22, 2021
Soundtracking with Edith Bowman

Our latest guests on Soundtracking are a duo Edith’s been chasing since we started this podcast, so it’s an absolute thrill to finally lure them on.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross burst onto the film-composing scene with their score for David Fincher’s The Social Network, for which they won an Oscar in 2010. The trio have since joined forces on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl.

Trent and Atticus’s most recent work can be heard on Fincher’s Mank and Pete Docter’s Soul, which you can watch right now on Netflix and Disney + respectively.

The two films couldn’t be more different and had wildly contrasting musical requirements – which is testimony to the range of their talents.

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Trent Reznor and More on Scoring a Movie During COVID: ‘Like Trying to Be Intimate in Hazmat Suits’

Reznor, Atticus Ross, Daniel Pemberton and George Clooney talk about the challenges of recording music during a pandemic.

Steve Pond
January 12, 2021
The Wrap

When it comes to the postproduction process on movies during a pandemic, much of the work doesn’t have to change dramatically. Film editors, after all, are used to sitting in dark rooms, often by themselves; sound editors and visual-effects artists can also do their work in front of computer screens and share it with co-workers without needing to be in the same room.

But recording a movie’s musical score is different. Unless a composer both writes and performs everything him or herself, a film score involves getting people together to play music — in the case of orchestral scores, getting lots of people together to play music. 

Trent Reznor, composer of the score to David Fincher’s “Mank” with Atticus Ross, had a succinct and evocative phrase for working on the music to that film in the early days of the pandemic. “It wasn’t impossible, but it felt like trying to be intimate in hazmat suits,” he said.

Read the full profile

How Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross Became 1930s-Style Tunesmiths for ‘Mank’

TheWrap magazine: The Nine Inch Nails composers were hired to write the score but ended up also creating music to play over radios in David Fincher’s film, “(If Only You Could) Save Me,” a big-band ballad with a sultry vocal by Adryon de León.

Steve Pond
January 15, 2021
The Wrap

A version of this story about Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and “Mank” first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.