“Mank” set decorator Jan Pascale is no stranger to black-and-white films: She received an Oscar nomination for George Clooney‘s “Good Night, and Good Luck” (2005). But those two monochrome films couldn’t be more different.
“When I first met with [‘Mank’ production designer Donald Graham Burt] about it, I said, ‘I’ve done black and white. I can do this.’ And Don said, ‘No, no, no, this is different.’ The way the images were captured was quite different,'” Pascale tells Gold Derby at our Meet the BTL Experts: Film Production Design panel (watch above). “On ‘Good Night, and Good Luck,’ we shot on film … and we had a really limited budget on that one — $7 million the whole movie — so I couldn’t paint anything or really paint anything, so everything was shot as is. But it sort of worked.”
“Mank,” however, was shot in black and white on a RED digital camera, completely changing the way images and details came off onscreen. But Pascale got some very modern assistance to help her do color-testing. “David [Fincher] and Don had done some testing with the camera that we were going to be using. And they discovered if we used our iPhones with the noir filter and photographed everything, that’s how it would appear in our movie,” she shares.
And so she took pictures of “everything” with the noir filter to ensure that all of the sets, dressings and props were captured properly in the “Mank” black and white. “We printed everything in black and white, printed everything in color to make sure that it worked,” she says. One thing that surprised Pascale was how differently the color white came off. “Normally on any film, white is almost forbidden to use, but we were concerned because Gary [Oldman] spends half the movie in bed.”
Pascale did a camera test with 20 different colors of pillow cases. “And oddly enough, white was what worked best,” she continues. “That’s almost never the case. Usually we end up finding the right gray or the right off-white. But it was really an education of how things were captured by the digital imagery.”
In recreating 1930s and ’40s Hollywood, not to mention the Hearst Castle, Pascale and Burt wanted to be as historically accurate as possible. They turned to research before discussing ideas with Fincher. “We did our best to recreate the tables and chairs and tapestries and all the other details. It was really sort of daunting at first, but taking the research, reviewing it with David and seeing where we could take liberties was really enlightening,” she explains. “David is almost encyclopedic in his knowledge of cameras and equipment of the period, which could put a chill into anyone trying to present something to him. But he was quite cooperative and really great and taught us a lot about which way to go and what was acceptable at the time. When you’re doing a period film and everything is 100 years old, trying to not make it look 100 years old is a challenge in and of itself.”
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