GLIMPSE INTO FUTURE FILMMAKING WITH MANK

How will filmmaking adapt in the post-Covid era? A glimpse into the future is afforded by Mank, the forthcoming Netflix feature project directed by David Fincher and spearheaded by producer Ceán Chaffin. More than a love letter to a catalog title, Mank is a glimpse of the complex interplay of human creativity and the filmmaking process as practiced in Hollywood’s golden era. 

Fincher is known for working in the vanguard of filmmaking technology. Examples include a very early digital intermediate on Panic Room – the first ever in a facility designed for the purpose – and Zodiac, one of the first major features to be shot almost entirely digitally. The remote collaboration envisioned by futurists at the dawn of the internet era was already common practice for his team long before the pandemic. 

“Fortunately, we have not missed a beat,” says Chaffin. “We are working now exactly how we mostly could have been working the past ten years, which is working from home during post.” 

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But the virus and its requirement to remain physically apart may constitute a final push for the industry at large. All the attributes of true remote connectivity – reduced travel time and its attendant benefits in terms of stress, pollution and time savings, enhanced with rapid feedback, superior organization and a centralized database – will still be applicable when health concerns subside. 

A canvas of the top pros on David Fincher’s team indicates that while the pandemic naturally raises stress levels, the need to work separately has been essentially a non-factor in terms of their ability to collaborate efficiently and keep the production on track. 

Ceán Chaffin, Producer
Ceán Chaffin, Producer

Fincher came to the project with a mandate that the production work with the PIX production hub. Chaffin, who has made nine films with Fincher, says that the system is an essential tool for collaboration and input. 

“This is how we have worked for a long time.” says Chaffin. “David feels the team is making the film with him, sharing in the problem-solving. Even when we were in the same building, David was often responding exclusively through PIX. His preferences and concerns are there for everyone to refer to. You don’t have to go find that one email, or remember a comment someone made on their way out the door. 


Gary Oldman on the Mank set.

“We tell everyone right away, if you want direct communication with Fincher, PIX is the way,” she says. “We do not want to make any director go through multiple drop boxes or myriad emails to find something he or she needs. Many of our collaborators are working in a variety of locations and countries, and David needs to be available to them, and them to him. We produce visual effects in-house with Fincher as our free VFX supervisor. We laugh about this, but it’s true – on Benjamin Button, whenever Digital Domain sent a clip, the average response-time from Fincher was 120 seconds. Like many directors, Fincher has multiple projects. Having all his work on one system, where he can jump from one project to the next, is a huge time saver.”

WE TELL EVERYONE RIGHT AWAY, IF YOU WANT DIRECT COMMUNICATION WITH FINCHER, PIX IS THE WAY.

David Fincher, Director
David Fincher, Director

Of course, on time-starved productions, a tool that promotes speed is a blessing. But Fincher says that’s a short-sighted way of gauging the real value. The key improvement, he says, is not finishing early but more opportunities for iteration. 

“All technologies that have been invented in the past 50 years to aid and abet linear chronological storytelling promised to make it faster,” says Fincher. “But in reality, the value of what they’ve done is allow us to iterate faster. You just get to your next conversation more quickly. Essentially, a spotting session is the same whether it’s over Zoom or in-person. It’s about getting more bites at the apple. You can look at a scene and vivisection it seven times as opposed to four.” 

...IT WILL ENABLE US TO MOVE REALLY QUICKLY BEYOND THE REFLEXIVE DECISIONS...

More bites at the apple equals more creative filmmaking. “The reason most movies fall into a ‘master, alternate master, two-shot, two-shot, single, single, moving-on!’ formula is not that people are not imaginative,” says Fincher. “It’s because there is so much pressure to decide what you’re going to do with the day’s work. So, people revert to the familiar dim sum menu. The beautiful thing is to give people a little extra time to express themselves, the time it might take to say: ‘I’ve seen it that way a million times. I would like to try this…’ It means that instead of ‘How do we finish as soon as possible,’ the conversation can be ‘How do we make this moment as good as it can possibly be?’ 

“So my ultimate goal in working with a production spine like PIX is not to make days shorter,” says Fincher. “I’m hoping it will enable us to move really quickly beyond the reflexive decisions that are a by-product of ‘hurry, hurry, hurry.’ Imagine if we could take out all that bloat, the running around, finding people, searching for that moment of resonance we liked in the temp dub. It’s right there – now how do we find our way back to it?”

Scene from Mank

Kirk Baxter, Editor
Kirk Baxter, Editor

Mank editor Kirk Baxter would still prefer to be in the room with Fincher, but he appreciates the director’s ability to communicate his intentions in spite of working remotely. 

“I find that PIX is so clear and accurate with the information,” says Baxter. “Of course, it’s only as good as you make it. You can use it poorly or use it well. Some people primarily use it as a tool to watch dailies, which doesn’t even scratch the surface of what we’re doing with it. As an editorial tool, or tracking approvals with music and visual effects or grading, it’s so far beyond that. The information is flowing to David, but I can keep track. Who’s seen it, and when? Did they like it? I’ve worked on projects where this type of tool was not embraced, and it’s a mess. What did they mean by that comment? Which version were they seeing? I find it insane that a technology like this is not used universally.” 

For Baxter, PIX has obviated the need for extensive video conferencing. “In the three months it took to lock the picture after we were separated, I think we had three Zoom calls in total,” says Baxter. “One was to spot the music, the next was a complete assembly with a rough mix, and a few weeks after that, we talked about a trailer. Other than that, everything was done through PIX. We don’t have to video conference each day – it’s just not needed. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.” 

I FIND THAT PIX IS SO CLEAR AND ACCURATE WITH THE INFORMATION.
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, Composers
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, Composers

From the perspective of composer Trent Reznor, the ability to work remote seamlessly allowed him to take on a challenging project without compromising the safety of his family. Reznor and Fincher have collaborated previously on Gone Girl, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and The Social Network. After conversations with Fincher, Reznor and partner Atticus Ross decided to work toward a Bernard Herrmann-influenced score played on traditional, period-accurate instruments. That choice added a layer of complication to the process compared to previous projects where Reznor and Ross acted as their own musicians, music editors and arrangers. 

“There’s a lot more notes,” says Reznor with a laugh. “And it’s been a much more collaborative process. To translate our compositions into the language of the era with authenticity required many more moving pieces. We’re in a pandemic, and we can’t put fifty musicians in a room, so we used a traveling group of period microphones that our engineer had prepared, with instructions for each performer on how to record. As you can imagine, that results in lots and lots of files. We’re not what I would call highly organized people. It has tested the limits of our organizational skills, and our sanity.” 

Reznor was introduced to PIX on The Social Network, at a time when the entire filmmaking process was new to him and “semi-impenetrable.” 

“PIX has become a pretty invaluable tool,” he says. “It feels like an integral and elegant solution. If there’s a rough assembly, I can just walk over to my projector and watch it. We have a constant, direct line to David, and he can make quick, frame-specific comments. It’s well thought-out and secure, and it lets us get down to our job – writing music – rather than navigating a myriad of other tools. Going into a project without it feels like working with one hand tied behind your back – it’s like working through a translator who knows the language but doesn’t really get the gestures. Having come into the film world when we did, with our first project being PIX-based, we don’t know how you would make a film without it. We don’t see it as merely a dailies tool. It’s the central hub of the entire operation. How would you do it if you didn’t have that hub?” 

WITH OUR FIRST PROJECT BEING PIX-BASED, WE DON'T KNOW HOW YOU WOULD MAKE A FILM WITHOUT IT.

Don Burt, Production Designer
Don Burt, Production Designer

Production designer Don Burt has worked with Fincher on more than a half-dozen projects going back to Zodiac. On Mank, he decided to hand-draw many of his designs in keeping with the spirit of the period. 

“What interested me about the project, besides the fact that I always enjoy working with David, was that it was an intelligently written project that was factual and period,” says Burt, “sort of the antithesis of leotards and capes, as all David’s projects are. As I read it, I felt it was something that needed to be made, because there’s a purposefulness behind it that doesn’t beat you over the head. In addition to telling the story of this great character writing Citizen Kane, it involved issues of that time that are also issues of today. 

“PIX made it convenient to scan and distribute all of our working drawings for sets to the gaffer, to the key grip, to all the department heads that needed to see them; so that they can configure their lighting, their greenbeds, their blacks, their silks, whatever it is that they’re doing,” says Burt. “We weren’t in that archaic mode of having to print up copies of all these drawings and so forth. We could just send it to them on PIX and say, ‘Look at it.’ In that sense, it’s extremely helpful for us.”

Each collaborator can access elements and leave notes, draw on images and share ideas in a multitude of ways. 

“We can say, ‘Go to PIX and look at that location and you’ll see what I’m talking about,’ or ‘I think this will interest you, see the notes that I’ve put on there for you,’” says Burt. “It’s a way of communicating when I have a department of set designers and art directors and assistant art directors and so forth. I can leave them an assignment, and they can access all the research and respond in the way that’s most comfortable and appropriate.
 
“On a project like Mank, the research can become almost infinite,” he says. “For me, PIX primarily facilitates keeping organized, and it’s a conduit of information. I’ve used it before with David, and the PIX people are gracious in allowing me to use their services during the early prep of other projects, too. It allows me to have one central place where I can bring in my different files, all my research, all my location photos, set dressing photos, all the prop photos.”

Douglas Urbanski, Producer
Douglas Urbanski, Producer

Producer Douglas Urbanski is the producing partner of Mank lead actor Gary Oldman. He also has extensive experience as a theatrical producer on Broadway and in London. He likens the shift to production backbones like PIX to the advent of Zoom and other video conferencing tools. 

“For me, Zoom started becoming a really useful tool in about 2017,” says Urbanski. “I love it. At that point, half the meetings we were doing required me to fly back and forth from the U.K. on short notice. But now, with the pandemic, we are using Skype and Zoom here in town, especially for a reading or a pitch meeting. If you’re going from Santa Monica to Beverly Hills for a 3:00 pm meeting, you’re not going to be back until 7:00 or 8:00 pm. I just hated that. 

“I was instantaneously spoiled by PIX,” he says. “We’re not using it on another project I’m working on at the moment. You’re flipping back and forth, looking for files and emails and trying to stay on top of your own email filing and trying to organize the many moving parts. It’s kind of like driving a car without GPS or a rear-view camera. You don’t know how you did it without those tools. So here I am, plodding along on a very expensive television series. We’re doing it the old-fashioned way, where I have to toggle back and forth and look for whose department said what and where we are.

With PIX, you send everything to everyone who needs to know, and each person has access to the files they need, comprehensively and forever for the duration of the production. You don’t need to reload a dozen different passwords only to find that things are expired. The breadth of the information is vast, from the screen tests to the location information, including drone footage. The lists, the details, the hours you need to be there, whether we need police. Call sheets, preproduction schedules. Budgetary information, contracts. It’s like having your own Google that is specific to your movie, with email notification that is designed to avoid long, confusing chains to scroll through. You’re not looking piecemeal for things, which is really fantastic. 

“Once you start using it, you realize how much time you lose by simply looking for your data and information,” he says. “You’re constantly digging through stuff. You don’t have that problem with PIX. It’s all right there.”     


Peter Mavromates,
Post-production supervisor
Peter Mavromates,
Post-production supervisor

Post-production supervisor Peter Mavromates brings 30+ years of experience in filmmaking, having worked with Fincher on Panic Room and Zodiac. He says that compared to his stint at Marvel, the operation mounted for Mank was a “mom and pop shop.” 

“I don’t like to send my visual effects vendors any paperwork,” says Mavromates. “At Marvel, we needed layers and layers of documentation. Here, it’s not even on paper. I actually load a scene or a series of shots up on PIX, and based on notes and conversations I’ve accumulated from David, I mark it up, drawing on the frame and attaching notes letting them know what we need. I number the shots on PIX and I send it to them. They go through my markups, put it in their bidding software, and send me estimates. 

“One of the great things about working that way is that there’s a visual record of what’s being requested,” he says. “ If something is still a little bit confusing, it’s easy to send it back and ask for clarification. On Mindhunter, a round of color notes on an episode would often include about 200 notes. Eric would address those 200, and post it, and get about 200 more. For David to sit in a room with the colorist and address those 200 notes would take weeks. Eric can casually execute without someone looking over his shoulder. You don’t go down the rabbit-hole and spend 30 minutes on a shot. With 3000 shots in a movie, you’d never get finished. It’s great. 

“It’s easy for David to get opinions and feedback from the people that he trusts because they’re only a click away, even if they’re a world away physically,” says Mavromates. “Sometimes he doesn’t even filter the feedback. He actually forwards it to me or to Kirk or another relevant person. Information is flowing. And every department is using PIX. And it’s also a great way for people who have ideas is going on. All our on-set still photographs are there, so if I need a bit more visual information, it’s there. 

“For example, in the film, there was a photograph in an office with the wrong person. Do we have access to an image of the correct person from the correct angle? Earlier, we shot portraits of the actors, and there was all this existing footage of the correct person. I found it quite easily. It gives me an opportunity to raid the files of other departments in ways that I just can’t on more traditional movies. It just makes sense to have everything centralized. I find myself searching for the equivalent in my personal life – an answer to the question of where to store everything accessibly.” 


Eric Messerschmidt, ASC, Cinematographer
Eric Messerschmidt, ASC, Cinematographer

Director of Photography Erik Messerschmidt, ASC, has previously worked with Fincher on Mindhunter. With extensive testing, he and the director determined that the right visual strategy for Mank was to shoot in black and white using the RED Monochrome camera. That decision, along with the optics they chose, required a lot of further research to determine how every actor, set and prop would photograph in terms of contrast and texture. 

“Communication is key to success in the cinema,” says Messerschmidt. “On this project, it was so important to disseminate that information to the crew. We had used PIX extensively on Mindhunter. It’s great for distributing dailies, but that’s just a fraction of the services it can provide to filmmakers. It’s remarkable. It’s gotten so seamless. We could take stills of the various textiles or period light bulbs and share them with the production designer. Very often, we’re not all in the office. David’s in a rehearsal or something, and you need to ask him a real quick question. He can glance at his phone and weigh in, and we can keep working on it with that guidance. That interaction is documented, and can be referred to later, which is a huge benefit when you’re making a thousand decisions every day. It’s given David greater control and it gives us the immediate feedback we need.”

Connectivity was especially helpful during the first few weeks of production, when front-loaded decisions were still being made while the crew was working on location around Southern California. 

“We were getting drawings and renderings sent via PIX,” says Messerschmidt. “One scene depicts an Upton Sinclair rally, a night exterior that takes place in a parking lot in Pasadena. We scouted it, but we didn’t really have any frame of reference for how it was going to be approached. Don (production designer Don Burt) sent over some concept art, which he’d drawn with certain lighting in mind. I got it immediately and could see what he envisioned. I shared it with the gaffer, and he and I got together on the set and designed a lighting scheme around that concept art. He made a lighting plot, which he shared with the rigging gaffers via PIX. All this information resides in the cloud, which meant we could share it with the location department and ask for access to a certain window or rooftop. The toolset for communicating means that we can evaluate things visually, get a reaction from David, and spread it down the chain once it’s approved. Security is important to the production, but for us, but the ability to keep everything in one place, and access it from any device, is what’s fantastic.”

...THE ABILITY TO KEEP EVERYTHING IN ONE PLACE, AND ACCESS IT FROM ANY DEVICE, IS WHAT'S FANTASTIC.

A SOUND CHOICE WITH PIX

The Mank sound team make extensive use of PIX Session to synchronize playback.

In early 2020, more than 30 years after Pretty Hate Machine shocked the ears of the world, Trent Reznor’s impact on popular music was recognized with Nine Inch Nails’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While the rock cognoscenti was acknowledging his influence, Reznor was deep into his current assignment – scoring the forthcoming David Fincher film Mank. Writing for and recording period-accurate instrumentation for the 1930s-set feature film wasn’t the only major adaptation required – the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic had Reznor, Fincher and their colleagues taking remote collaboration software to another level to achieve their goals safely and efficiently.

Fincher and Reznor go back as least as far as 1995, when the director used elements of NIN’s “Closer” in the opening credits of his landmark film Seven. Fincher also directed the music video for NIN’s single Only and brought Reznor and his collaborator Atticus Ross on to compose the music for The Social Network, an endeavor that earned an Oscar for best score. Since then, they’ve also worked on 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl

At the time of The Social Network, about a decade ago, Reznor found the entire filmmaking process “semi-impenetrable.” Reznor and Ross composed mostly on synths and acted as their own musicians, music editors and arrangers. On Mank, Fincher and Reznor imagined a Bernard Herrmann-influenced score played on traditional orchestral instruments. That choice added layers of complication.

Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, Mank composers

“There are a lot more notes,” says Reznor. “It’s been a much more collaborative process. Translating our compositions into the language of the era with authenticity requires a lot more moving pieces. Also, we’re in a pandemic, and we can’t put fifty musicians in a room, so we used a traveling group of period-accurate microphones that our engineer had prepared, with instructions for each performer on how to record. As you can imagine, that results in lots and lots of files. We’re not what I would call highly organized people. It has tested the limits of our organizational skills, and our sanity.” 

One invaluable tool, according to Reznor, is PIX – a suite of remote collaboration tools that makes a connected production a reality. Originally an acronym for Production Information Exchange, PIX is fundamentally changing how feature films and television productions are made. In a perfect example of artists and technologists working together to advance the toolset, the system has evolved into a way of streamlining the flow of information across the complex webs of human talent. Media and metadata are shared between approved members of a team, who can review image files and add notes. The virtues of dependability, security and convenience that led to the wide adoption of the PIX Dailies system are now facilitating communication in every other aspect of production, from script to screen. Meanwhile, the distancing required by the pandemic has made PIX indispensable. There’s no longer any need to be in the same room, or to waste time on the 405 between meetings. Fincher can review and respond to any query in a matter of seconds.

Reznor and Ross made extensive use of PIX Session to synchronize playback of the score for final review with Fincher and team, and to communicate quickly throughout their creative process. 


Location for Skywalker Sound and award-winning supervising sound editor, Jeremy Molod.

“PIX has become a pretty essential tool,” Reznor says. “It feels like an integral and elegant solution. If there’s a rough assembly, I can just walk over to my projector and watch it. We have a constant, direct line to David, and he can make quick, frame-specific comments. It’s well thought-out and secure, and it lets us get down to our job – trying to write music, rather than navigating a myriad of other tools. Having come into the film world when we did, with our first project being PIX-based, we don’t know how you would make a film without it. We don’t see it as merely a dailies tool. It’s the central hub of the entire operation. How would you do it if you didn’t have that hub?”

Ross agrees that it’s difficult to conceive working on a project without PIX. “In terms of communication with the director, it must feel like having one arm tied behind your back,” he says. “David can guide us and give us notes to address without getting a conference call together. The organizational aspect of this project in particular, with microphones being sent out to a multitude of individual musicians, is suddenly much more complicated, and that extends to the mix as well.”

Jeremy Molod, an award-winning supervising sound editor at Skywalker, also has a long history with Fincher, and served as supervising sound editor on Mank. His duties involve selecting, polishing, and assembling three primary elements - recorded dialogue, sound effects, and music - into a complete, integrated soundtrack. Molod used PIX to manage sound review throughout the project.

THE PIX PLATFORM PROVIDES A SAFE, SECURE AND UNIFIED WAY TO MANAGE THE AUDIO PROJECT.

“We utilize the PIX platform from production to final delivery on David’s shows,” says Molod. “For instance, on Mank, we would present David with sound options every day including dialogue, sound effects, sound ideas and ADR changes. He reviewed each of these options and commented back with a ton of notes. We can export these notes directly from PIX, and I can distribute them to each of the sound department editors, mixers, and sound designers to confirm that the changes have been made. David will comment on each take and will sometimes ask that we cut sound from one part of a take and edit into a different take. We can build a playlist in PIX of these changes and send to David for review. There are always last-minute picture changes, for example, when VFX start to drop. This back-and-forth with the ability to track the notes and changes in PIX allows us to sculpt the project directly with David up until the final deliverable.”

The PIX platform provides a safe, secure and unified way to manage the audio project. “The other big benefit is in file transfer,” Molod says. “We transfer everything in the PIX platform, from our production calendars, to the ADR playlists, and the score for the music editor and mixers to review. Most recently I have been able to mix QuickTime files in 5.1 surround for David to listen to. Normally these are just with a stereo mix. Now David is connected to the Smyth Research’s A16 Realiser, which allows a spatial audio experience representing up to 24 speakers during playback. If David moves his head to the right or left, the playback adapts the audio tuning to simulate how the sound would be in a theater. It allows for a DOLBY ATMOS mix to be realized with stereo headphones.”  

Fincher hears the mix as the sound pros meant it to be heard. There are no headaches with glitchy remote collaboration, according Molod. “Due to COVID-19 we can’t all get in the same room to listen to a final score or a sound effect,” he says. “Most recently I was able to use PIX Session to control the synchronous playback of a mix that I could listen to with David and Ren Klyce. It was so easy to use. One person drove the playback and we were all able to watch the picture and sound in sync together.”


MAKING THE MANK WORKFLOW

Collaborative remote working during the making of Mank.

Making a movie during a pandemic requires a little innovation. During the production of Mank, David Fincher’s team needed to work remotely while retaining the ability to collaborate and also to consult with Fincher at a moment’s notice. In addition, they needed secure access to footage and associated metadata.

X2X engineered a bespoke solution to streamline the production and post-production workflow. Craig Mumma, Director of X2X LABS, summarized the requirements, “Our original remit was first and foremost to securely collect and store all data from pre-production through to the completed movie. Then, because of the pandemic, the Mank team needed to work remotely but still wanted to have super easy connections between themselves and with third-party contributors. The final piece of the puzzle was to upgrade an existing VFX turnover process and automate it.”

Mank was an LA-based production that was shot across multiple locations throughout the region, including sets staged at the fabled Paramount Studios. The near-set dailies and in-house post-production team were stationed at No. 13, and assistance was also engendered from third-party post-production company, Fotokem.

Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, ASC, on-set

The workflow saw data from the RED RANGER cameras transferred on shuttle drives from production to post, where the near-set team used Fotokems' nextLAB to manage the image QC, sound synchronization and metadata updates. They generated deliverables for the editor, who could then assemble the timelines in Adobe Premiere Pro. When the editorial timelines were complete the original REDCODE RAW camera files and sound files, plus the editorial deliverables were synchronised onto a CODEX Media Vault. This real-time on-set server stored the entire production in a high-resolution proxy format along with associated metadata for each take. The upload to the Media Vault was achieved using a proof-of-concept CODEX Connect service, which also synchronized all data with the PIX cloud. Finally, the system mirrored itself to a back-up server to safeguard against any point of failure during production.

Running alongside the main workflow and also feeding into the CODEX Media Vault, PIX software allowed contributors to upload information and share it with the team. X2X Labs installed a tablet based on-set PIX application for entering notes. This allowed the camera department, the script supervisor, the director and the cinematographer to immediately review any take that was connected to the system. They were able to add shot specific information and annotations that were relevant to the scene for editorial and visual effects, and for visual reference with the post-production team located at No. 13. The tablet also provided the camera department with their own playback unit, independent of the traditional video assist set-up typically providing playback to video village.

X2X has worked closely with David Fincher and his No. 13 production company since Panic Room in 2001, PIX tools and services have fundamentally changed how feature films and television shows are made. Fincher and his team are constantly redefining technology as they seek to blur the line between production and post-production and strive to automate the mundane and more clearly communicate their creative vision.

PIX built a proof of concept that makes a Connected Set a reality. PIX RT (Real-Time) creates media that is immediately available to the director so that he or she can make annotations and notes on the image right after it has been captured. This media and metadata are synchronized to PIX to all the approved members of the production who can review them along with image files. Other approved production crew — for example, DP Erik Messerschmidt – can also add their own notes. These notes are securely conveyed through to editorial and post-production along with the image files and other metadata. The thoughts and ideas of the creative team are recorded in real-time immediately after the take. This ensures that their vision and ideas are communicated clearly and without change through the many lines of communication to the rest of the production team, reducing the potential for misunderstanding.

The cinematographer and camera department always had reference playback to any shot along with detailed shot notes, including those from the director, lens information and key metadata. This all-important reference material, attached to the playback, was available to the camera department throughout production. Mumma noted, “The ability to connect the director’s intent and feedback into the production process while in the moment, led to an invaluable collaborative experience across all departments.

“We are now starting to see the outcome of blending the technologies of CODEX and PIX to provide solutions that enable greater creative collaboration, the filmmaking process is rapidly evolving.”

Besides story editorial services, the in-house post team at No. 13 had early access to X2X visual effects plates turnover services. After discussion, X2X LABS understood No. 13’s pipeline, including preferred post-production and editing tools; they were then able to design an enhanced workflow through Media Vault.


A small team of four operators at No. 13 were given access to the Media Vault via their desktops. They could access their project timelines in Adobe Premiere Pro and the PIX Project. With everything secure in one location and backed up in the cloud, the team was able to quickly and efficiently deliver VFX turnovers, preview them and manage the distribution to remote VFX vendors. These same vendors also had access to the PIX project for VFX notes management and editorial reference. This back-and-forth process is typical of any visual effects-based production. Due to the time savings realized using the tools provided by X2X LABS, the post-production team was able to keep up with this large-scale project. The team in fact had an editorial assistant that would conduct and dispatch the timeline information relevant to the VFX shots and auto-cut these VFX shots directly into the editorial timeline. As editorial changes were made, so too were the visual effects that corresponded with these changes. Rendition after rendition, the auto-cut tools helped speed up and simplify this tedious but necessary editorial process and tasks that used to take hours of an editor assistant’s time could now be done in seconds.

THE CODEX MEDIA VAULT STORED THE ENTIRE PRODUCTION IN A HIGH RESOLUTION PROXY FORMAT.

Throughout the post process, X2X LABS also provided consultative support and a managed service.

X2X are currently working closely with leading third-party application and service providers to standardize the tools used in the making of Mank. The intent is to integrate the tools with third-party open APIs, making them available, as standard, to anyone working on a PIX project.


SHOOTING BLACK & WHITE WITH RED

Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, ASC, reflects on the Mindhunter HDR workflow to shoot in black and white.

According to director of photography Erik Messerschmidt, ASC, David Fincher has been trying to get Mank made for almost 30 years, and one of the major roadblocks has been his insistence on making the film in black and white. 

“We don’t recreate any scenes from Citizen Kane,” says Messerschmidt. “And I’m certainly not trying to give the impression that I’m anywhere near capable of doing work like Gregg Toland did! But that’s a high benchmark, and I’m proud of the work that we did.”

 The testing period was exhaustive, but most of that time was spent finding lenses with the ideal deep focus subtleties, which in Mank do echo the iconic approach used so effectively by Toland and Orson Welles. Messerschmidt says that they looked at just about every lens at Panavision and Keslow. 

“At first we considered shooting color for black and white, but not for long,” he says. “We found that the Monochrome was so spectacular and yielded such preferable results that it was absolutely the choice. Also, it happens to be very fast, because the color filters are stripped off the sensor, which can then capture the full spectrum of available light. We shot most of the film at T8, and we rated the camera at 3200 ASA, which really helped the deep focus, for obvious reasons. And we quite liked the texture and noise that pushing the camera produced. By slightly underexposing and embracing a little of the noise, we found that it looks quite a bit like film grain.” 

THE MONOCHROME WAS SO SPECTACULAR AND YIELDED SUCH PREFERABLE RESULTS THAT IT WAS ABSOLUTELY THE CHOICE.



Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, ASC, on location with Mank.

The RED RANGER camera brain is equipped with a HELIUM 8K MONOCHROME sensor that can record 8192x4320 resolution at up to 60 fps. The files came off the camera in REDCODE RAW format and do not require de-Bayering. The result is a more pure and precise image than can be achieved by shooting color and eliminating the saturation in post.

The workflow built on the procedures Messerschmidt and Fincher developed on Mindhunter, their previous project. “We had very successfully used a completely holistic ACES HDR workflow on Mindhunter, with HDR on-set and in dailies, and it worked great for us,” says Messerschmidt. “We wanted to do that again, but in black and white, which I was very excited about, because HDR in black and white is amazing. We built a couple of LUTs to get the HDR to work off the log output of the camera, basically with the goal of making sure that what we saw on set was replicated in dailies. When our colorist, Eric Weidt, pulled the footage up in DI, it was very close to what we had signed off on at the set. That’s very important to me – the subtle lighting choices that David and I are making at the monitor need to be perpetuated all the way through the chain.”

 The final aspect ratio is 2.2:1 – a frame that comes from 70mm cinematography, and the same ratio that was used on Mindhunter. “David and I have gotten quite used to framing for that,” he says. “Citizen Kane is not ‘Scope – it’s not really period-accurate, and 16x9 felt a little too normal. So we used 2.2, which is right between. You might call it ‘Finch-o-Vision.’”




Behind the Scenes Images courtesy of Netflix. All other images courtesy of their respective owners.

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