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Creative COW with Erik Messerschmidt: A Labor of Light

15/05/2021

Creative COW with Erik Messerschmidt: A Labor of Light

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Brie Clayton May 14, 2021

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Mank could have easily been a parody of old school Hollywood, but Erik Messerschmidt and David Fincher weren't going to let that happen. They went for broke on thoroughly reproduced sets, meticulous lighting, smoke filled offices, energetic conversations, and characters that breathe.

Once Mank opens its first scene, the scenery and intelligent dialogue make it hard to look away. As much as I thought I knew about San Simeon, having grown up ten minutes away from Hearst Castle, it was exciting to look into the bygone era when this California location was a lively hotbed of social chemistry, and parties, and movie creation, rather than just a stale museum where no one can touch the furniture.

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When preparing to speak with Erik Messerschmidt, I would almost get lost working back through the layers of filmmakers contributing to this story. Mank pays homage to the legend Gregg Toland's game-changing eye for cinematography. The dynamism between Toland, Orson Welles and the writer Herman J. Mankiewicz would be recrafted 80 years later by this modern team of David Fincher and Erik Messerschmidt, with Jack Fincher writing the screenplay.

In mid April 2021 Erik Messerschmidt took the ASC Award for Outstanding Cinematography, and then in May, deservedly, the Best Achievement in Cinematography Oscar for his lensing of the period piece Mank.

Despite his youthful appearance, Erik's film career has already spanned decades, working his way up through the ranks as a grip, an electrician, and a number of years as a gaffer. Some of his gaffer work included Gone Girl, as well as DP on Mindhunter, with Fincher, further developing that relationship till the day when David asked Erik if he wanted to shoot this next project, Mank, and Erik said Of course I want to shoot the movie!

Mank, Erik's first cinematography role outside of television, his first movie as DP, has won multiple awards this year. What kind of heavenly dream must that be for any cinematographer? Who hits a grand slam at their first baseball game?

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I'd like to congratulate you, this is quite an accomplishment in a very short period of time. You must be blown away by the whole thing!

Erik Messerschmidt: Yeah it's been overwhelming. It's pretty special, and humbling for sure.

I can tell you, honestly, I knew that you were going to win, but that's just between me and you.

Erik: (laughs)

How did you make this step from television to film?

Erik: I've been going between feature films and and television and commercials as a crew member for a couple decades, and I never differentiated much between films and television, other than just what the realities of the storytelling was.

If television is different from feature films, it's because of the length. I mean, I think particularly today we are somewhat living in the golden the Golden Age of television. The step from television to feature film isn't isn't always a step up as it is often, or certainly as it has been considered in the past. It is considered a side step in many ways.

But, do you see a difference in the setups that you do for your television shots compared to what you would do for Mank?

Erik: Well, we had more time to make the movie. And in terms of page count, that is for sure true. But, that that didn't lead to any more time for the cinematographer I can assure you! (laughs). I used every bit of the available time we had, and I would
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