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How cameraman Erik Messerschmidt illuminated a monochrome palette

We pull back the curtain when David Fincher nods Citizen Kane.

On the way to the Oscar weekend Deficiency camera operator Erik MesserschmidtThe first-time nominee and ASC winner is already deep in his next project. The Emerson College graduate earned his career as best boy and gaffer before devoting full time to cinematography.

He spoke to No Film School over the phone about working on one of the biggest films of the year.

It was the series Mindhunter Here Messerschmidt worked together with director David Fincher and exceeded the limits of digital workflows. With DeficiencyAudiences will be transported back in time to the 1930s as the story follows how Citizen Kane Screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) finishes the script for Orsen Welles in a gripping biographical drama.


Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies and Gary Oldman as Herman MankiewiczRecognition: Netflix

To visually represent the period, the film was recorded in black and white with the RED Ranger with an 8K helium monochrome sensor. This camera removes the color filter and affects the light sensitivity and the overall resolution.

According to Messerschmidt, the improvement in light sensitivity was not the only reason why the monochrome camera was chosen, but rather “added value” when testing with color cameras.

“The reason we did this is because we felt like the camera was so much more accurate and tonal than if we were capturing color,” he says. “From a purely aesthetic point of view, the picture looked like it had that velvet softness. It looked almost three-dimensional in a way that the color camera didn’t by comparison. We were really looking for a platinum print – a black and white look that is difficult to achieve even in film. ”


On the set with Erik MesserschmidtRecognition: Netflix

The black and white palette was transported on to Old Hollywood using Deep Focus, a technique that kept foreground and background elements in focus. In order to resolve the 8K REDCODE RAW workflow, which was delivered to Netflix with 4K HDR in an aspect ratio of 2.21: 1, the cameraman paired the monochrome camera with Leica Summilux-C lenses due to its resolution and apparent depth of field.

“One of the things that happens with all lenses when they are near deep apertures is what is known as diffraction. The picture becomes softer and you lose some of the resolution, ”says Messerschmidt. “I’ve tested dozens of lenses at Keslow camerawhere we could evaluate the resolving power of the lenses. We found that the Leica lenses were exceptionally sharp at low f-stops. ”

With regard to light scenes, Messerschmidt admits that “there was a learning curve” and “a certain adjustment to our overall process”.

Instead of rating the camera at 800 ASA as you would normally do on a camera with a color filter, the DP 3200 ASA recorded when it was changing the contrast, which resulted in more noise in the shadows and more highlights. And with a deep aperture, usually around T-11, he used more light on the film than normal.

“The original idea was to take the contemporary sequences and light those with a little more modern technique – skylights, soft light, through windows – and then the flashback sequences that happen in the studios and in the early night scenes rather than classic Treat cinematography, “he says.


Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz and Jamie McShane as Shelly MetcalfRecognition: Netflix

Another aspect that the cameraman had to consider was how black and white affected the sound reproduction of the image. For example, daylight (5600K) makes the skin different from incandescent light (3200K).

“Even though it was a black and white camera, we felt that all the blue lights outside in daylight could sometimes look pretty harsh and didn’t always give us the best skin tones. I used an orange filter on the camera called Harrison Orange # 2 during the day. The filter cleanses skin tones and gives you a slightly greater separation between face and background, ”says Messerschmidt.

To frame scenes, focus was one of the main concerns.

“I’m pretty interested in the idea of ​​how we’re getting the audience to see where to see in the frame, and focus is an easy way to do that,” he says. With DeficiencyThe cameraman used focus, perspective, and blocking to move the story forward. “There are tailor-made moments in the film in which we take wide-open or much wider apertures in order to reduce the depth of field. In some cases we even dynamically change the depth of field. David and I both think that black and white look better at deeper apertures, and you can take advantage of the texture, shape, and depth of the format where color just doesn’t work. ”


On the set of ‘Mank’Recognition: Netflix

Messerschmidt says the project was completely collaborative and supportive, calling the crew a “big family” where he spent more time in production designer Donald Graham Burt’s office than his own, constantly looking for colors and tiles, to find out what they might look like rendered on camera. The cameraman even went so far as to shoot different shades of lipstick for Amanda Seyfried’s character with makeup artist Gigi Williams and costume tests with Trish Summerville.

“It was pretty exhaustive and deliberate,” he says. “With David, it’s a collaborative effort by people who are really committed to what the film will be like and what the audience’s visual experience will be.”

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