Published 10 times a year, our magazine is mailed to all members in paper form and is available digitally via this website as well. Each issue delves into the careers, techniques and stories of our members, as well as in-depth tech articles on the latest equipment and methods coming on the horizon.
Canadian Cinematographer is published by the CSC and is an embodiment of the Society’s philosophy to foster and promote the art of cinematography. The magazine does so by championing the successes and initiatives of the CSC membership through the production of informative articles that are pertinent to cinematographers and to the film community at large.
– Joan Hutton csc, EIC November 5, 2019
From the Editor – May 2021 Issue
For the second time in three years, the Academy Awards have honoured a black-and-white film for its cinematography. Erik Messerschmidt ASC took home the 2021 Oscar for his spellbinding work on Mank directed by the enigmatic David Fincher. Alfonso Cuarón topped the category in 2019 for his film Roma. Set in the 1930s and early ‘40s, Mank is a depiction of old Hollywood’s glamour and sleaze through the chronicling of boozy screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) and his struggle to churn out the initial draft of Citizen Kane for Orson Welles. Mankiewicz was never given credit for his script.
I first viewed Mank last December when the film debuted on Netflix. I was not sure what to expect given that it was about a filmmaking period that was defined by Gregg To land ASC through his ground-breaking crisp deep focus imagery in Citizen Kane. Messerschmidt did not disappoint. What unfolded was a monochromatic delight, truly breathtakingly silvery images with rich tonal depth that echoed rather than copied a bygone era. Modern filmmaking technique at its retro best. Rather astonishingly, Mank is Messerschmidt’s first dramatic feature film as a director of photography.
Photographed in high-dynamic-range (HDR), Messerschmidt employed the RED Ranger 8K camera with a HELIUM Monochrome sensor for Mank, which not only allowed the realization of a pure black-and-white image, but also speedier shooting and capture which aided his digital deep-focus innovation. For lenses Messerschmidt settled primarily on Leica Summilux-Cs with their apparent greater depth of field over other lenses. To accentuate depth of field even further, Messerschmidt incorporated a cmotion Cinefade into the cinematography. This is a cinematic device that has the ability to adjust the depth of field all the while maintaining the correct exposure level throughout the entirety of a single shot. The result was a tip-of-the- hat from Messerschmidt to To land for his pioneering work. However, more importantly, Messerschmidt’s dynamic deep-focus work created
a 1940s visual look for Mank that transcended into a vital storytelling element with its own defining pulse.
In keeping with modern viewing conventions, Mank was shot with 2.21:1 aspect ratio to attain the perspective of a 70 mm, 5-perf spherical wide-screen format. In contrast, an accurate aspect ratio for its time period would have been 1.37:1 boxy format, which appealed to neither Messerschmidt nor Fincher. The larger widescreen format allowed for more visual information to be displayed, giving license to highlight the grandeur of Hollywood’s golden age and the vastness of the California desert with his stunning images.
Interestingly, with digital moviemaking all around him, Messerschmidt dug deep into an old filmmaking bag of tricks, the shooting of day for night where a scene is underexposed during daylight hours to simulate the darkness of nighttime. The set was the garden at a private mansion in Pasadena, a stand-in for William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon estate. The action is a moonlight stroll through the Hearst castle grounds by an inebriated Mankiewicz and Hearst mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) as they build a platonic connection through witty repartee discussing politics and a brewing feud between Hearst and a muck- raking politician of the day. In an interview, Messerschmidt said to light the grounds to portray San Simeon in all its splendour with exotic animals and statuary “would have been profound” and “impossible” in some sequences, which made a night shoot untenable. However, shooting day for night brought its own challenges. Most notably during daylight, because of the sun’s brightness, faces become considerably underexposed. To lower the contrast and brighten the actors’ faces, Messerschmidt bounced large quantities of fill light from enormous white fabric sheets placed on the ground and sides. This decidedly low-tech approach worked, but it also made the actors squint – a dead giveaway that this was not nighttime. To mitigate the problem, sunglass tinted contact lenses were fabricated for the two actors. The finished scene in the film is simply spellbinding, exuding an almost ethereal dreamlike quality and a further testament to Messerschmidt’s dazzling craftsmanship.
Messerschmidt has also been honoured recently for his work on Mank with the Outstanding Achievement in a Feature Film Award from the American Society of Cinematographers and the British Society of Cinematographers Award for Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Release.
Mank is probably the most cinematically creative films of the year and a highly recommended must watch on Netflix. The only way to top it is viewing it on a large theatrical screen to enjoy its full impact.