Six directors on the illusion of control and ‘the pitiless exposure of your weaknesses’

David Fincher (Frank Ockenfels/Netflix)

“The notion that any one person has control over 90 people who are playing dress-up is the greatest fallacy of our profession.”

Mark Olsen
January 26, 2021
Los Angeles Times

Control. When six film directors got together virtually for The Envelope Roundtable in December, the issue of control — both when you have it and when you don’t — came up again and again.

Regina King, the Oscar-, Emmy– and Golden Globe-winning actress who makes her feature debut as director with One Night In Miami,” a fictional telling of the real-life night that Malcom X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke spent together in a motel room, described herself as “a control enthusiast.”

In explaining how she moved from making Nomadland,” a stripped-down road movie starring Frances McDormand, to the upcoming Marvel action ensemble “Eternals,” Chloé Zhao said she reflected on an older interview with David Fincher, where he spoke about balancing between having a plan and allowing things to happen on set.

For his part, the notoriously exacting Fincher, director of Mank,” the story of how Herman J. Mankiewicz came to write the script that would become “Citizen Kane,” spoke candidly about how control is an illusion, “the greatest fallacy of our profession,” whereas Aaron Sorkin, director of the 1960s historical drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and an Oscar winner for his screenplay to Fincher’s own “The Social Network,” admitted how intimidated he was to be on a panel as a director alongside his former collaborator.

The British Paul Greengrass, who made the elegiac post-Civil War-set western News of the World,” added that for him, “the pitiless exposure of your weaknesses is the essence of directing.”

When asked how he came to a particularly bold creative decision in making Da 5 Bloods,” his drama about Black soldiers who fought in Vietnam, Oscar winner Spike Lee simply referred to trusting his four decades of moviemaking experience.

All six filmmakers also shared their thoughts on the future of the film industry and how they can’t wait for audiences to return to movie theaters.

Watch and read the full roundtable

Six directors tackle the idea (or is it a myth?) of controlling a film set

Oscar nominated director David Fincher on resurrecting his late father’s screenplay for “Mank.”

‘Mank’ costume designer Trish Summerville: It’s not just black-and-white, it’s ‘Fincher-vision’

Daniel Montgomery
January 20, 2021
Gold Derby

“I keep making this joke that it’s Fincher-vision because it’s not just black-and-white, it’s this really specific way that he’s going to light the film,” says costume designer Trish Summerville about the unique visual style of “Mank,” directed by David Fincher. The film tells the story of “Citizen Kane” writer Herman Mankiewicz, and it’s shot to resemble films of the 1930s and 1940s. That presented Summerville with equally unique challenges and opportunities. We spoke with her as part of our “Meet the Experts” costume designers panel. Watch our interview above.

“The black-and-white was the most challenging thing: figuring out how we wanted to make that work, doing different testing on clothing and fabrics … so we could see how it would read,” Summerville explains. “Even though you think you don’t need a color palette, you really do, because if not, when you’re looking at it with your naked eye on set, it becomes very jarring.” And understanding color was crucial for achieving the right effect in the finished product “so that when it read in black-and-white on the screen and on the monitors it didn’t just all come across as flat, it had dimension to it, sheens and tones.”

It helped that the film was portraying so many well-known figures with documented looks and styles — not just Mankiewicz, but Marion DaviesWilliam Randolph HearstLouis B. Mayer, and more. “We could find things of [Mank] at work, on sound stages, and also at home,” Summerville says. “We even at one point found these images of him at one of his kids’ bar mitzvahs, so that was great, it was a whole family photo.”

But in a film with so many male characters, it was also important “to give each one of the men their own kind of characteristics and dress them towards who those characters really were … so that not everybody read as a navy suit in a room.” That research and detail, in collaboration with Fincher’s direction, Donald Graham Burt‘s production design and Erik Messerschmidt‘s cinematography, “all of it has these special touches that make you feel you’re transported to the 1930s.”

IndieWire Influencers: David Fincher & Sound Designer Ren Klyce

Influencers: Through their decades-long partnership, the pair have constantly refined how sound can be used to shape a viewer’s emotional response.

Chris O’Falt
January 13, 2021
IndieWire

David Fincher and Ren Klyce came of age during a seminal time for Hollywood: when the pair were just kids, a group of ’70s filmmakers was reshaping what it meant to make movies, right from the pair’s native Bay Area. In a biographical detail almost too perfect to be true, George Lucas rented a house in Marin County to edit his “THX 1138,” that just so happened to be located right next door to the Klyce family’s home. A single suburban lawn is all that separated a then-9-year-old Ren from the great Walter Murch, just as he was starting to change modern movie sound forever, work he’d continue throughout the decade with another NorCal auteur, Francis Ford Coppola. And it would be on a Lucas-produced animated feature, “Twice Upon a Time,” that future sound designer Klyce would meet his Coppola, a then-19-year-old Fincher.

Over the last 25 years, as Hollywood has utilized the multi-channel surround technology pioneered by Murch to create bombastic soundtracks that all too often mask a lack of craft, Klyce has helped Fincher explore the subconscious underbelly of his own films, constantly refining how sound can be used to shape a viewer’s emotional response.

“To me, sound design is not about 96 channels all at 11, and two side cars giving you this sound pressure-gasm; to me, it’s very much about the detail and the nuance and maybe things that you wouldn’t even be aware that you heard until the second or third time you saw it,” said Fincher in an interview about his collaboration with Klyce. “I can’t talk more enthusiastically about someone [Klyce] I feel has very subtly pushed what sound designers do.”

Read the full profile and watch the 3 exclusive video essays

Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt on Mank and Collaborating with David Fincher

J.D. Connor
January 13, 2021
Film at Lincoln Center

With his transfixing digital black-and-white cinematography, DP Erik Messerschmidt, ASC, breathes gorgeous life into the world of 1930s Hollywood in Mank, David Fincher’s vivid retelling of the genesis of Citizen Kane and the tumultuous partnership between screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and director-star Orson Welles.

Messerschmidt joined us for an extended conversation to discuss the craft behind Mank, the legacy of Citizen Kane, and the work of visualizing Hollywood’s ideas of itself. The discussion will be moderated by J.D. Connor, Associate Professor of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.

Film at Lincoln Center Talks are presented by HBO.

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How David Fincher Faked an Old Movie

Danny Boyd
December 13, 2020
Danny Boyd (YouTube)

Today, let’s dive into the filmmaking mind of director David Fincher, and his 2020 film Mank.

David Fincher loves CGI and VFX, and that is on full display just as much in Mank (2020) as it is in all his past films. Only this time, for Mank, David Fincher had to use those tools, along with an old school cinematography and directing style, and smart editing, not only to create a convincing 1930’s Hollywood world, reminiscent of movies like Orson WellesCitizen Kane, but also a convincing golden age Hollywood movie. Let’s see how David Fincher faked Mank.

Video written & edited by Danny Boyd (Instagram, Twitter). Support me on Patreon

Music:
Marty Gots a Plan by Kevin MacLeod (license)
Deadly Roulette by Kevin MacLeod (license)

Sound effects:
Single Electric Typewriter Carriage Return by lonemonk (license)

Red Carpet Rookies: Tim Miller

Mike Battle
September 23, 2020
Red Carpet Rookies

Tim discusses his beginnings in animation, his journey to directing his first live action movie at 50 and why he’s glad that for all the challenges that came along the way. If that wasn’t enough, he shares thoughts on why his Netflix collaboration with David Fincher works, why film studios will be ‘fossils’ if they don’t keep up with the streamers, and what to expect from Love, Death & Robots Series 2!

Red Carpet Rookies guests are recorded over Zoom. All efforts are made to get the best quality possible but we are victim to the connection!

Tim’s ‘book that everyone must read’: ‘The Sea Wolf’ by Jack London

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Video excerpt. Tim Miller Talks Love Death + Robots Season 2 & Collaboration With David Fincher:

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Mank Cinematography with Erik Messerschmidt ASC

Ben Consoli
December 18, 2020
Go Creative Show

David Fincher’s highly-anticipated Netflix film MANK is here! Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt ASC explains how modern equipment and techniques were used to create an authentic-looking 1930s black and white film.

Erik and Go Creative Show host, Ben Consoli, discuss why they chose not to shoot on film, how shooting & lighting black and white is different than color, Erik’s philosophy on camera coverage, and so much more!

What you will learn in this episode:

  • Prep and working with David Fincher (03:31)
  • Authentic black and white visual approach (16:02)
  • Shooting with deep focus (21:44)
  • Lighting for black and white (23:15)
  • Lighting dissolve transitions in Mank (26:24)
  • Transforming 8K footage to look like film (30:43)
  • Why shooting on film was never considered (35:43)
  • Filtration used on Mank (40:30)
  • Philosophy on camera coverage (44:40)
  • Filming and lighting the election party (53:12)
  • Using ND filter contacts for actor eyes (57:40)
  • Production design in black and white (01:04:24)
  • And more!

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Netflix Playlist: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross “Anatomy of a Score”

Netflix
December 9, 2020

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