“Mank” costume designer Trish Summerville, who first worked with director David Fincher a decade ago on “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and Erik Messerschmidt, who makes his feature debut as a cinematographer, joined Variety’s Jenelle Riley for a recent Zoom conversation.
“Mank” is shot in glorious black-and-white. Summerville noted she had worked in the format in videos or commercials but had never costumes for a black-and-white feature. “In the beginning, I started just pulling costumes from rental houses and fabrics and photographing them in various settings on my phone and sent them to Dave and Erik and said ‘Which of these will be the closest to where you think you’re going? Could you give me a direction as to where to go?”’
She and her staff did their own research of what colors, prints and patterns translated well to black-and-white. “Once we got to do the camera test, which I think helped us all greatly, we’re seeing what the lighting was going to be used. It helped with hair and makeup, with clothes. It was a big tool for us.”
Messerschmidt and Fincher did watch “Citizen Kane,” which was shot by the legendary Gregg Toland, before production began. “I’ve seen that movie dozens of times,” he said. “But the film ostensibly takes place in all these cavernous locations, these giant interiors. Our film is very different from that. Our film has stuff in the desert. It has stuff at the studios. Gary spends half the movie in bed in this bright, day-lit desert bungalow. We looked at ‘Citizen Kane’ for inspiration and kind of a springboard.”
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And borrowed some of Toland’s techniques. “Things like deep focus, for example, which ‘Citizen Kane’ is quite famous for. We shot the film in very deep focus. We’re putting the camera low, not super low. We’re not digging holes in the stage floor, for example, but there’s coverage like that particularly of Welles.
They also pulled references from lots of black-and-white cinema. “The first thing I did was I sent David tons of images, like 300. They were almost all film stills. It was stuff from ‘Notorious,’ ‘Rebecca’ and “The Grapes of Wrath.’ I just dumped a bunch of pictures on Dave.” Messerschmidt liked working with Fincher because “he immediately gets back to you. He’s like ‘That’s interesting. I don’t like this. Tell me more about this.’Why did you pick this? Let’s not do anything like this,’ which is really helpful.”
They also looked at various scenes from classic black-and-white films including ‘Night of the Hunter” and “Rebecca” “He has such a good idea in general about what he’s looking for anyway,” said the DP. “Most of that process is for me to understand further what he’s articulating.”
Messerschmidt tops our Oscar predictions for Best Cinematography while Summerville is in second for Best Costume Design.
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