Award-winning director of photography Erik Messerschmidt, ASC has a natural eye for arresting and spellbinding images, thriving in a role that allows him to combine his love of art, craft and science. Recently, he lensed Devotion for director J.D. Dillard, based on the real-life story of a Black naval officer who befriends a white naval officer during the Korean War, with both becoming heroes for their selfless acts of bravery.
He also is currently shooting Michael Mann’s biographical film Ferrari, starring Adam Driver, Shailene Woodley, and Penélope Cruz, and recently completed shooting David Fincher’s The Killer, starring Michael Fassbender and Tilda Swinton.
Previously, Messerschmidt shot Fincher’s passion project Mank, chronicling the screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz’s turbulent journey to write Citizen Kane alongside Orson Welles. Messerschmidt’s meticulous and striking black and white recreation of the period’s aesthetic earned him the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, an ASC Award for Outstanding Cinematography in a Feature Film, a BSC Award for Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Release, a BAFTA Award nomination for Best Cinematography, as well as Best Cinematography award nominations from the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle, the Broadcast Film Critics Association Critics Choice, and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists.
In addition, Messerschmidt co-lensed several episodes of the HBO Max original series Raised by Wolves from producer Ridley Scott. He also shot the first and second seasons of Fincher’s hit thriller series Mindhunter for Netflix, earning a 2020 Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (one-hour) for episode 206.
With a background in the fine arts world, Messerschmidt honed his skills while working with such renowned cinematographers such as Dariusz Wolski, ASC, Jeff Cronenweth, ASC, Phedon Papamichael, ASC, Claudio Miranda, ASC, and Greig Fraser, ASC. Messerschmidt now lives in Los Angeles and is a member of IATSE Local 600. He is represented by DDA.
Enjoy my conversation with Erik Messerschmidt.
Erik Messerschmidt 0:00
I think to be to be a working cinematographer. You have to these days you have to be practical. You have to be responsible and practical and thoughtful and you have to sort of, you know, the cost of the day on a major motion picture is expensive.
Alex Ferrari 0:14
This episode is brought to you by the best selling book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com. I'd like to welcome to the show, Erik Messerschmidt. Did I get it right, sir?
Erik Messerschmidt 0:31
You sure did.
Alex Ferrari 0:33
I appreciate it. Man. Thanks so much for coming on the show, brother.
Erik Messerschmidt 0:37
Thanks so much for having me.
Alex Ferrari 0:40
So you've, you've done a few things in the business. So far? You know, you're a young man, and you've you've been playing with some bills, some heavy hitters over over the course of your career. It's pretty interesting.
Erik Messerschmidt 0:52
I've been really fortunate. Yeah, I've been I've been I've been really fortunate to work with some great people, for sure.
Alex Ferrari 0:58
Without question, so my first question is, how did you and why did you want to get into this insanity? That is the film business?
Erik Messerschmidt 1:08
Well, you know, I, I was a kid that loves to make stuff, you know, I love to take things apart, I love to build things I was, I was terrible athlete. But I was creative. And I like to take photographs. And I like to paint and I like to play music. And I was you know, I was always doing stuff. And I got involved in in theater really early when I was kid. And I was I was never really interested in performing. But I was always interested in doing stuff behind the scenes. And that kind of led led me to a life in the movies, I think, you know, to some degree, I liked the camaraderie that I liked the the shared experience of it. And, you know, when it came time to go to college and think about what I wanted to do with my life, it just sort of seemed like a, like a fit. And honestly, it wasn't so much about the work and the beginning, it was about the experience, you know, it's about doing stuff with people, really, you know, sort of, like, you know, photography in the beginning really interested me, but it's, it's a it's a solo occupation, for the most part, you know, in most cases anyway, it's like, it's just you and your camera, which I think can be really meditative. But but it wasn't really what I want. And I wanted, I wanted to experience with a team, you know, so I just kind of landed in, in cinema, I guess, you know, went to film school and, and came out on the other end, trying to figure out what to do the next 40 years of my life or whatever.
Alex Ferrari 2:51
Now you came up in a time where you really needed to kind of go through the mentoring process, in the scope of like, you'd get on set, someone takes you under their wing, and you might have learned some stuff in film school, but it really starts it's all the film said. And you've kind of worked your way up and you did a lot of gaffing work you did second unit work until you became a cinematographer. On your own right. And so many filmmakers today, especially cinemabox young cinematographer said they just come out and they're like, I'm a cinematographer. Because I have a Canberra and and then I've worked with some of them, and I go, Oh, you you've never seen Blade Runner. Okay, then. It's like, it's an interesting time. Because now, when you and I were coming up, because we're similar vintage, a slightly bit older than you, but a similar vintage. You know, it was so expensive, man, everything was so damn expensive. The gear was so expensive, and, and you couldn't get access to this stuff. So you really couldn't practice on your own. And I'm assuming you came up on film as well.
Erik Messerschmidt 3:53
I did. I did. Yeah. I mean, I, my, my generation of film students, you know, we didn't have HD cameras, or I don't think, you know, when I was in school, even had the digital camera wasn't even part of the conversation. You know, we were processing 16 millimeter film or, you know, the, the senior students and the MFA students were shooting in 35. And, you know, it was like an investment to make a movie at that time. I mean, it's still a it's obviously but, but for us, you know, it's like, you had to two cans, you know, to do 400 foot rolls of 60 millimeter and you had to skirt counted, you know,
Alex Ferrari 4:28
Ohh, but every time you know, I know, every time you heard that little sting, like that's money. That's money just flowing now. Yeah. roll and roll and roll.
Erik Messerschmidt 4:40
Yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, it was like back when rehearsal meant something. You know, I, you know, I, I think I'm really glad I had that experience. I'm glad I did it that way. And, you know, I I think it's important, you know, I mean, I know I don't think that what We do or certainly what I do. For A Living can be learned in school. I mean, there's something you know, it's like you learn things like how to, you know, you kind of learn how to how to react to imagery, I think and how to critique imagery and how to think about movies and how to think about, you know, the big picture idea of storytelling and stuff to some degree in film school, and you learn about your own tastes and what you're attracted to, and that kind of thing and how to communicate with other people, you know, all those skills that are incredibly important. But, but you don't learn much technique and film school, I, you know, because you just don't have enough time. You know, it's like, it's like, a film set is a complex environment, you know, it's, it's, it's an environment of, of technology and equipment, and it's math and science. And it's also personality, you know, storytelling and creativity. And it's, it takes time, I think, to learn how all those things congeal, you know, and how to navigate it. And so, yeah, I mean, I, I really believe that the kind of the mentorship idea or the idea of matriculating through the processes is a really good one. It's something worth protecting, you know, I mean, I came out of film school, and I was like, I'm a cinematographer. You know, I had business cards, I think so, I mean, prefer
Alex Ferrari 6:24
business. That's all you need is a business card. Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Erik Messerschmidt 6:29
Fake it until you make it right. But you know, I, and I got to LA and, you know, I shot some music videos and some short films, and I was like, I'm gonna be a DP, and I'm gonna do it. And then, of course, the reality of life hit me and I had, you know, my parents, you know, we didn't have any money, I didn't come from a wealthy family, my, you know, my parents or teachers and librarian, you know, it's like, we, so I, you know, I kind of had to make it on my own to some degree, you know, and figure out how to make a living and pay my rent and all that stuff. And, and, in the end, I wouldn't have tried, I wouldn't trade it for the world. You know, I mean, I got to meet so many great people. And I, I learned from them, you know, you absorb their, their technique and their, their process. And I think that's crucial. It's certainly been incredibly important in my life.
Alex Ferrari 7:14
Yeah, you worked on as, as you started really coming up as a gaffer. And you did you gaffed on a lot of big shows. I mean, you worked on Ant Man. I know with Russell Russell did and with Russell, who is the sweetest human being ever,
Erik Messerschmidt 7:28
like, lovely. Yeah, he
Alex Ferrari 7:29
is such a lovely, soft spoken guy. And I'm like, how did you work with James Cameron for? Like, how those two personalities work, man? And he's like, I'll tell you some stuff off air. But well, I'm sure you've, I'm sure you've heard a couple stories as well. But but as a gap, so as a gaffer, can you explain to everybody what it meant to come up as a gaffer? Because the DPS I've worked with in my career, who came up as gaffers, I find, are so well versed on set, they just, there's just a different way of looking at the set how to do a set up, you've already been doing what you're telling somebody else to do? Because you're like, yeah, just set that over here to the end, they just do their thing? How did I prepare you? How did that prepare you to be a DP? Well, you know, I think
Erik Messerschmidt 8:21
there's a couple things. And look, everyone's got their own process, and everyone has their own, you know, their, their own path. And for me, I was, you know, I was lucky, I liked lighting, you know, I liked the I liked the stuff, initial, you know, like the process of being on a set and getting in the mix of it, you know, you know, when, when your Gaffer, you're in the movie quite early, you know, you're, you're, you're in a lot of the early conversations, depending on how much the Director of Photography chooses to involve you. You're, you know, you're often on the early scouts, you're certainly on the tech scouts, you're in a production office, you're negotiating with the producers, you're negotiating for equipment and labor resources and stuff. And you're, you're oftentimes in meetings with the director and trying to figure out how to accomplish certain things and you're in a great position to observe those conversations happen, as well as you know, a bit of a fly on the wall in a way that, you know, camera operators and assistants are not, you know, your, your camera operator, you're rarely on a tech Scout, you're very rarely in the office and prep. And, you know, you may have intimate conversations with a DP and the director about how they're gonna approach certain things. But, but, but I think when you're a gaffer, you're really kind of in the thick of it. And for that, you know, for me anyway, it was incredibly helpful to learn how to prep and how to, you know, learning how to read blueprints and draft and how to communicate with the art department. You know, your, you know, as I was a gaffer, I spent a lot of time in production designers, offices and art directors offices and sitting in there with a draftsman and you know, your, your, you know, you learn about all that stuff, and you have to get Good adequately, if you're going to survive, you know, so that, you know that process and that that part of my life was was incredibly helpful to me. And then, of course, you know, that's doesn't even include all the conversations you have with the DEP in Premiere, then also obviously, during, you know, during, during the shoot, you know, when you're shooting, you're, you know, at least when I'm a DP, my closest allies, always my Gaffer, you know, I'm on there, the person, you know, they're, you know, kind of the, the most effective weapon I have, and then also, you know, the shoulder that I cry on most cases, you know, so, you know, because they, they're sort of, you know, the gaffer isn't isn't a really good position to kind of observe objectively about what's going on in on a set, you know, the operators often in the mix, they're there with the, the actors, they're there with the director, they're in there, they're working every shot, and there's hyper involved, and the gaffer is, you know, working in the setup and getting a setup, right, and then they're in a position to kind of step back and watch the shot, take shape. And so I find the gaffer is really good person to kind of turn to for objection, objective feedback of what's going on and how the shot is taking shape, and what they think could be improved and all that stuff. I mean, you know, not not always even just in lighting, just in terms of generally what we're doing, you know, as filmmakers. And so, you know, I always when I look for a gaffer, you know, what I look for filmmaker first and foremost, you know, beyond what their what the lighting skill might be, or their personnel management skill is, you know,
Alex Ferrari 11:42
Erik Messerschmidt 11:44
I'm really glad I came up that way, you know, no question, no
Alex Ferrari 11:47
question. And there's something that that they don't talk about very often, anywhere, let alone in film school, is the politics on set. There are politics that you have to deal with, within the crew, there's different politics groups, there's the producers and the directors, but even just within the camera department, there's politics, they, you know, and on set and on, you know, the production designer, how do you approach dealing, because I'm assuming it hasn't always been a smooth, smooth a coast, the entire career, you've had, you've, you've probably run across some politics on set and how to deal with it and how to properly you know, not step on people's toes and how to even fight for your own, you know, as a DP even fight for your own vision, while still serving the director. But there might be other departments that are pushing on you, because it's easier for them, but might not serve this the movie, there's all sorts of agendas on set that they just people don't talk about. So can you kind of discuss that a little bit without obviously, naming apps?
Erik Messerschmidt 12:47
Sure, no, you're absolutely right. I mean, you know, film set, film set is full of creative people, you know, people get movie business because they, they want to, they want contribute, you know, and they, they want to participate. And you know, I think I think generally people in movies sets and film crew, they have the best intentions, you know, generally people you know, they really want to make a great movie, they want to, they want to do the work, they want to participate, but also, you know, a lot of the work is sometimes just service job, you know, move this from here to there, do this, do that, and that can happen. You know, for someone in my position with a director, you know, if you're paired with a really strong director, and I just need to put a 29 millimeter lens here, that's the shot 29 millimeter lens here, you know, and you may personally think God would be so much better on 35 and pull back a little bit, you know, be you have to be careful about you know, when you assert yourself, you know, and you have to read the broom and understand what's going on and sort of you know it's, you know, I think it's about timing you know, and you're right it's it's there are people with agendas and there are people that desperately want to be heard and there are people who who are people who get frustrated when their voice is not heard, you know, and and and then sometimes you have to deal with that you know, and and it's you know, it's that is part of the job for sure, you know, I mean there's there's a bit of air traffic control and personnel you mentioned being a director photography, especially in a bigger movie, you know, where there's, you know, you might have an operator who's very outspoken and wants to communicate straight with the director you have to figure out how to when to assert yourself into that conversation when to allow that conversation to happen, how involved you want to get if you know decisions are being made that are outside of your you know, what you think might be appropriate for the scene when to interject without making someone feel bad, etc. You know, it's it can be complicated. You know, it happens for production designers to you know, so how do you, if you're director photography, how much ownership Do you want to take over things like color palette in our costume designers, production vendors to you know, you sort of have, you know, the direct photography, production design and costume designer are often tasked to sort of forming an aesthetic, the aesthetic principles of the movie, you know, you know, obviously, with the help, and with the leadership of Director, but you're, you know, in many cases that, you know, those three people, I think, end up sharing that responsibility, and to be honest with you, probably the Director of Photography gets a disproportion amount of which really should go. In many cases that should be more equally shared, I think, but, you know, it's, it's, it's challenging, you know, you I think you hope that you, you end up with enough people who are generous and thoughtful and are able to share themselves creatively, you know, the, the, you don't run into a lot of problems, it's not to say that they don't exist. And, you know, I also think that there's something to be said, for debate and disagreement, you know, on a set, you know, it's like, some of the best work I've done has come because a production designer, and I disagreed about a direction to go on a particular set, or a particular way to design something or, you know, especially like, complicated physical effects, you know, sort of things like that need, that, you know, there's that are different than a couple of walls in the camera, you know, it's those. Oftentimes, if, you know, two people meet and are strong minded, it's like, well, let's do this. Now, I think we should do this. And then, you know, if it's a safe space creatively, then you work something out if it's not a safe space, that's where it gets ugly, you know. But I think, you know, that's sort of the idea of it being a place for ideas that you can then, you know, debate is important. But I don't know centers your question. I mean,
Alex Ferrari 17:00
no, it is no, no, no, it's it's a complicated thing. It's a very tough, you're on eggshells kind of situation. And it is a case by case basis. Like as a cinematographer, you know, when you're working with a strong director, and you have worked and are currently working with two of the strongest directors in the business, Michael Mann and David Fincher on your on to have two projects are coming out next year. I mean, they're really strong directors, Fincher, specifically, you know, I had had your friend and colleague Jeff Corona worth on. And you know, I talked all about like, Dave is legendary for being so technically precise with everything. And he's, he almost has a Kubrick esque vibe to him in the sense that he could maybe like the damn thing himself, like Kubrick used to be able to do so technically good stuff. You know what I mean? So how do you as a cinematographer approach working with someone like David, cuz I know you've worked with 900 which, by the way, gorgeous love that. Please tell me. Another season is coming. Soon, please. I want another season. I think I'm not the only one. We all want another seats.
Erik Messerschmidt 18:11
Me too. I'm with you, man. I'm with you. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 18:14
But like, how do you like, that was a different? That was a different scenario. I think that was kind of when you first started to work with David directly as a cinematographer, correct?
Erik Messerschmidt 18:23
That's right. Yeah, that's right. So how did you? I, you know, I, I had seen Jeff work with David and I, you know, I mean, I have Jeff ism is an incredible mentor to me, you know, I mean, I owe him so much. And, and, you know, Jeff is a real master at managing the set and managing the environment and supporting the director he's working with, you know, I mean, I've worked with Jeff, when I was a gaffer, I've worked with Jeff on with many other directors, other than David as well, you know, and Jeff is always consistent at making, you know, he's protects the director and, and, and supports them in whatever way he you know, he can find that they need support. And I think that's something I learned from Jeff is, is, you know, the, the role of a cinematographer is fluid. And it's not a binary black and white thing. It's not like, Okay, I do this and you do this, it's, it's, it's much broader than that. And I think part of it is you you, you meet someone, you talk to them, and then your, your first day on the set, you really learn what it is they need from you. Or, you know, and they don't always tell you, you know, I mean, I think is some directors you know, often think they need something other than what they what they actually need to, you know, I mean, they're there. They're not always the best people at stepping back and observing what it is how best they need to be supported, you know, I mean, I think None of us really are, you know, you sort of have to inquire and ask ask him, you know, what happened there, you know. But, you know, David is not that case, Dave is extremely good at sort of recognizing where he needs help and what he, what he needs. You know, Dave is an extraordinary communicator, he's very clear and concise, and, you know, his tremendous economy language. So you can say, quite clearly clearly about what he what he wants to accomplish. But he's also, you know, he's, he's been, I think, a bit mistreated because he is incredibly collaborative. At least that's been my experience with him are the same thing, you know, very open to ideas. And yeah, and, and excited about ideas and wants people to bring ideas to the table, he just wants them to, he wants really a date ideas to be presented in a in a reasonable way, with enough time to act on them, you know.
Alex Ferrari 20:57
And helicopter shot right here.
Erik Messerschmidt 21:00
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. You know, no, it's like, I think that's, you know, that's really what you want a director is you want someone who has, who has a vision, who has a plan, who says, Okay, we're gonna do this, and this, and this, and this. And if there's room for improvement, or room for other ideas, you can voice them when it's appropriate. And they could, you know, it's, it's up to the director about whether or not they're going to take that idea or not, you know, like, I don't think of my job as being one necessarily that that requires me taking ownership of anything. I mean, I think it's like, you know, I want a film I'm working on to be a dictatorship. I mean, I think that that's where the best work gets done. Honestly, it should be a benevolent, benevolent, you know, it should be ideally, but, you know, it's, it's, I hope that I, you know, I come and approach something, and I, and the director I'm working with, has brought me there, because they, they, like, are interested in my point of view as well, you know, so So I want to bring something to the party. And and I think, you know, it's certainly my relationship with David has been that it's like, we, you know, we make a very good team in terms of evaluating what's going on in the set and, and bifurcating our collective responsibility. So even though and you're absolutely right, David could for sure, show up and, and talk directly to the gaffer and say, put that light there, put that right there to, you know, whatever. But he also knows that I have a skill, and I have a communication method with the gaffer and I have taste, and I have a point of view that, you know, for whatever reason, he sometimes likes and is willing to let me run with, and then if he doesn't, like something, he points it out. And that's okay. You know, I mean, that's, I think that's part of the job, and it's really a lot of it is, is helping the director, you know, hold the walls up of their sandbox so that they can play, you know, and right. And that's the way I try to look at it, you know, as much as I can, I mean, it's ego always gets in the way a little bit, you want it, you know, you really want it. Sometimes you feel strongly about whatever it is you're going to do. And you know, and you you know, if you know if it seems appropriate you debate and if it's, you know, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you know, you're not the director, and that's how it is.
Alex Ferrari 23:21
And I think you're right, I think you said that David kind of gets a bad rap. Sometimes I think it's because of the legendary number of takes he takes and that thing that kind of has been like the, the mythology of the myth of working with David like you're gonna do, it's like Kubrick, again, we'll go back to Kubrick, you're going to do 70, you're going to do 70 takes and he might take it, take three, but he's going to push you to 70. Because that's just the way his process is. And from someone who's worked with him, is that true? He does do 62 extra stuff, every take of everything. I mean, he will.
Erik Messerschmidt 23:58
I mean, David David wants to do until it's right. And I think he should, you know, I think absolutely should I mean, and, and you know, it's like, Look, I've been in a DI suite where we haven't done it. Right. And it's painful. Oh, you know, yeah. You know, and, and, you know, no, nobody walks out of the movie theater and says, at least they made their day. That's so great.
Alex Ferrari 24:25
You should actually get T shirts made and give it to give it to the department. And just like no one looks at the theater and say, Oh, they at least they made their day. Yes, you're absolutely right. But that's that's why but that's why it's me that's why his movies look the way they look and that's why they are the way they are it's I mean, there's something really magical about a Fincher from all the way back to you know, from seven even alien three with all the problems he had with that but seven and Fight Club and the game and, and all of those films. There's so much specific almost, when I look at him because I'm a huge David Fincher fan. He's almost surgical, with how he approaches telling the story. It's almost like a surgical scalpel almost like it's so clean and every edge is almost done. Right. And I think that just comes from 10,000 commercials and music videos he shot before he ever got onto a film set. Yeah. Yeah, I
Erik Messerschmidt 25:29
mean, look, it's like, I think I would what is important to appreciate about David and I think any any filmmaker is that the that? You know, David, in particular, though, is very aware of film technique and film grammar, and kind of, you know, the, the, the, he's, he's incredibly cinema literate. So if you said to David, hey, I need you to go out. And let's, let's take this, you're gonna take this commercial, but I needed done in the style of Gianluca, Don, you could absolutely do it, you know, it's like, David's, David's choice of technique is, is is in art. You know, I think. And, you know, I think I think people discount and it's, and I wish it was taught more in cinema is the idea of this kind of balance between between intent and working practice, you know, the idea that you have, you have, you know, the Kubrick methodology of like, this is the shot, I'm going to shoot, and it's going to be this shot, it's gonna be on a 2027 millimeter lens. And the focus is going to be here, and I'm gonna get it until it's perfect, right. And it might take all day, but I don't care because I need this shot. And then on the other, to have a kind of French New Wave or Cassavetes or whatever you want to call it. If this kind of Veritate idea of like, well, let's just go out and shoot, you know, Lars von Trier kind of thing. Like, let's just go out and shoot and be spontaneous and exciting and fun. And we're gonna get some stuff and we'll figure it out in the editing room, and there's some intent there. But you know, they're both completely valid ways to make a movie. But But both of them have a tremendous effect aesthetically on the movie. You know, and, and so it's so your point is quite right. Like you don't get the David Fincher look, once you do it until it's perfect.
Alex Ferrari 27:23
Did you imagine a John Cassavetes style David Fincher film? Can you imagine? That would be like, just David Cameron. No. But you know, the other,
Erik Messerschmidt 27:36
the other side is true, too, you know, if you you so it's, I think that you know, you have to kind of if there isn't enough attention made towards the environment of the set and the methodology through which you make the set has has a huge bearing on how the movie feels emotionally. You know, I mean, we love to talk about shots and in film school they live in okay, we do this handheld, and it will be exciting. What's way more nuanced than that, you know? Because you could do you know, I mean, there's handheld shots and and you know, the great example I was not handheld actually but some a dolly but you know, the shot include, or Jane Fonda is walking through the, through the through the club and she's she's eyeing or a shutter and it looks spontaneous, you know, that shot looks like it's just a walk through the club chain, and we're gonna follow you, we're going to pull back on the dolly and it's like, no, it's been if you watch it a couple times, you realize how incredibly rehearsed it is. You know, and, and, and that's, you know, I think that's the great example of like, the perfect card trick of cinema is like making someone believe they've seen something spontaneous, when in fact, it's incredibly rehearsed, you know, and David is, is, you know, better than anyone I know, at exactly that.
Alex Ferrari 28:50
Now, is there is there any story that you can share publicly? With? Have you and David working on said something fun, something like, I learned something that day by seeing him work, something that you can share publicly? We could talk after hour after we've hit the record button off, we could talk about other ones?
Erik Messerschmidt 29:12
I you know, think about that a little bit. I yeah, probably, I mean, there's every day, you know, we're sort of confronted with with stuff. I mean, it's like you know, I mean,
Alex Ferrari 29:25
well, let me let me ask you this. Let me let me ask you this. What was the what was the worst day for you as a cinematographer? On on working with David that you felt like the entire world was going to come crashing down around you? Which we all have those days on set. And how did you how did you overcome those days and it could have been anything from a camera foot fell on the lake to the actor didn't come out of the thing are the sun's going down? We're losing the light. What is what was that day for you and David? Sure.
Erik Messerschmidt 29:53
It was, you know, the first day we the first day of shooting on manque. We we had we had had plan, we were sort of like we had we had a plan that that, that MGM and Paramount would have two different looks. The Paramount would be this sort of soft lit very, like gray environment. And it was because it was sort of the low rent at the time. And MGM would be glamorous and hard lit and lots of contrasts. And, and that's how we would you know, and that was a conversation we'd had a lot in the beginning of the movie, you know, like in the prep, we talked about and talk. And then we, you know, implemented a bunch of lighting plans as a result. And the first thing we shot a man because the scene where, where Gary Oldman is gambling with his buddies in the writers room, and they're spinning the spin the coin, there's a whole there's a whole kind of bit with them. And they've got a, they've got to show girl who's who's who's they have a, they have a secretary who's dressed as a show, girl, it's the sort of like, it's it, there's, you know, levity in the scene, and it's sort of silly, you know, and we're going to do it softly. And we're just going to tempt the windows, blow them out of the soft sideline, you know, and that's what we did. And we showed up. We rehearsed the scene the day before, and it was lit. And, you know, we looked at it, and then we started shooting. And, and at lunchtime, David pulled me aside, this is not working. This is working is it's wrong, this is wrong. And, you know, I'm quite literal person generally, and and immediately internalized it, you know, it's me. Yeah, exactly, exactly. Yeah. And, you know, and really what it was, was, it was a conversation of like, hey, we made this decision to do it this way. And we can't do it this way. We need to, we need to change change the look. And, you know, of course, yeah, I mean, I started feeling oh, my god, what have I done, but then it's, you know, it was a, it was a decision that we had made that that that was wrong, and he was quite right, actually, you know. And so we we quickly moved over to the second scene, we shot and they're playing cards, and it's, and it was intended to be this kind of very dramatic splashes of light. And there's patterns on everybody's face. And it's sort of classic noir kind of style lighting with a lot of smoke. And so, okay, so we'll go, we'll pivot, we'll shoot the scene, the next day, we're going to go back and shoot this differently. And he you know, so we finished the first scene, he was really happy when they finish the second seems quite happy with it. And then we went back, and we started talking about how we could do it differently. And, and, you know, we backed it all up, and we put hard light out through the, through the windows instead and talking, I explained to him what, what I thought we could do differently. And then we shot the scene, and it worked great, you know, but it's sort of like it, it was that moment of failure, you know, sort of like, Oh, my God, what have we done, you know, but in actuality, the conversation was really it was just, you know, between two people trying to figure out what what could be improved, you know, and that's, that's one of the great things about David is he's very open like that when it's not working.
Alex Ferrari 32:59
And it's so funny, because I'm, I'm sure there's other cinematographers listening right now going, if I would have shot a scene with David Fincher and then went to lunch, and he came up to me at lunch, and I came in, yeah, first half day didn't work at all. I can only imagine the internal Oh, my God, because I mean, I've been around DPS all my career. I know how they think they're like, holy crap, I've, I've screwed this film up. And that's at, let's say, my level. Can you imagine if David Fincher walks up? Or Michael Mann rocks up? Or, or or Joseph, up somebody like some of these big directors and say something like that. But it automatic isn't funny how you automatically thought just for? It's me. But it was it was a It's not that you like underexposed something that is unusable. No, we exactly executed what we had planned to do. But it is not working. Stylistically, it's not like there was a problem with your technique. What you what you went after you got, but it's not working. That but you internalize the difference.
Erik Messerschmidt 34:01
Yeah, of course. I mean, because it's, you know, it's, I think, also, when you're cinematographer, you are, I think, to be to be a working cinematographer. You have to these days, you have to be practical, you have to be responsible and practical and thoughtful. And you have to sort of, you know, the, the cost of the day on a major motion picture is expensive, you know, and it's, you want to use your resources wisely, and you want to make the right choice, you know, and, you know, the idea of reshooting something, because because it doesn't look the way the director wants it to look is it you know, immediately feels like failure? You know, I actually, I quite think that's it's actually the opposite. I mean, I think that the sort of that is the process of developing and creating something with someone is, is learning about what's working, what's not in in the end, because we sort of looked at it together and we thought it we thought about what could be improved. It opened up a lot of Thanks for us on that film and, and help. And, and also, it ultimately made us better collaborators and sort of it made it, you know, improve the film enormously. And so it was like, it just, you know, it takes fortitude to make that decision and that moment because there was technically nothing wrong with the scene, it just didn't look quite right. It didn't. All the camera direction we did is exactly the same, you know, the performances are quite similar to you know, I mean, it's like it's not like, like you say it felt like it was under mistaken, you know, slightly underexposed, three stops or something.
Alex Ferrari 35:38
Exactly. I gotta ask you, because you're working on some pretty big budgets right now. I mean, the movie you're doing with David the killer? I'm sure not an independent film. And the one you're working with, with Michael Mann, Ferrari, which, obviously I have to go see. It's my, my grandfather's company. But then, you know, you're talking about massive budgets, the pressures heavy on a normal cinematographer. On a basic budget, there's a lot of people asking you things on a director as well. But you know, your, your department, what's it like dealing with not just five people, you, I'm assuming your crew is fairly massive, and you've got a lot of things going on, and then you've got responsibilities here and there. And then, like you were saying costs and, and make it, it almost seems like the pressure of all the crap that you have to deal with, overpowers the creative pressure almost. So there's a balance that you have to do. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Erik Messerschmidt 36:45
Yeah, I mean, I, you know, you're right. It's, it's, I think that's really where the importance prep comes in. And, you know, it's, I believe, you make the movie and the prep, and, you know, if you're, if you do it right here, you know, you're coloring the lines, when you're shooting, it doesn't mean that there isn't room to go outside the lines occasionally and make adjustments, but it's, you know, it makes all that stuff easier. If you know, where you're going in the prep, and you sort of have, you know, you have a visual plan, you have, you know, you have a logistical plan about how you're going to move equipment and people and what your locations are going to be what your schedule is, it's, it makes all that stuff substantially easier. You know, it's it's complicated, if you if you haven't done that, obviously, and then you sort of are you're making the making the creative decisions and the aesthetic, sort of, you know, overarching artistic stuff, at the same time, you're trying to solve logistical problems and to meet, you know, that's a real recipe for disaster. So, you know, if you can, if you can prep the movie in advance with enough kind of understanding of what's going to happen, and, you know, with a little bit of contingency for weather, whatever, then it alleviates a lot of that stress, but you're right, I mean, you know, a lot of the job on a bigger movie, like that is is just personality management and people management and, you know, you're sort of, you're trying to get people pointed in the right direction, you know, I mean, the movie I did with Michael, you know, we had really big camera department, we're usually in a shooting three or four cameras at any given time. And so, you know, it's, you're not in a position necessarily, where you can control every frame, you know, I mean, what David and I, it's like, we kind of set every shot together, and we're like, okay, we're into this, and we're gonna do this, we're gonna, you know, we're picking each lens together and going through, okay, this is the camera and this is the camera and then that, you know, not every movies like that, you know? Sure. And, and sometimes they wish they were, you know, I mean, it's sometimes it can spiral out of your grasp a little bit, you know, you have to clot back but um, but, you know, there's, there's a bit of kind of allowing things to happen, you pay out lead, and then you kind of pull it back when you can sort of try and figure out who's who's right for which shops and you know, it's it's a process of like, anything, you know, any kind of massive creative endeavor like that.
Alex Ferrari 39:11
Now, I do have to ask, man, is it a, was it a dream shooting manque in black and white, like how you just don't get that opportunity? In cinema today? Like, I'm sure you got called by tons of your cinematographer friends at the ASC going. So what was it like? It's like shooting, shooting black and white at that level. Just I mean, unless you're the Coen brothers that does it once in a blue moon. But that's generally studios just won't allow it. So this was not only black and white, it was black and white in the style of, of the Golden Age of Hollywood. So what was it like as creatively just living in that in that world of blacks and grays and whites and all that? Well,
Erik Messerschmidt 39:58
I you know, I mean, honestly, I was really intimidated? I can imagine. I, you know, I wanted to make the right choices, you know, I mean, it's, it's hard. It's like a, you know, I, I was at the time, I was particularly conscious of the fact that the black and white could easily become cliche, you know, and, and derivative of something, you know, it's just I didn't want it to be like, Oh, they're doing the Venetian blind thing, you know,
Alex Ferrari 40:26
painting the shadows on the wall now painting the shadows on the wall. Yeah.
Erik Messerschmidt 40:29
You know, so it's like, I think, you know, I was, sort of, you have the idea about what you're gonna go out and make, and then you're confronted with the, you know, the realities of the limitations and locations present to you, or the stage sets present to you. And you start, you know, it's like filmmaking is compromised, you know, so you're always convert into, you're always sort of coming to a coming to an intersection figuring out okay, A or B, I'll do this, I'll do this. And you sort of hope that the decisions that you make, in the broad sense, congeal enough to make something that's consistent, you know, it's because it's really hard to see the movie, you know, on day six. And I, you know, I, I think, you know, if I've learned anything from David, it's like, and Michael, actually, a lot of the great directors have worked for him. It's like, you have an idea and stick with it, you know, don't get cold feet, don't get you know, and I did you know, there were moments on bank where I was worried. And, man, I don't know, are we being bold enough? We may not. I went out and had a beer with David one night. And I said, I don't know, man, I got worried we're not being bold enough and worried people are going to be critical of it. And he was like, fuck them. Nobody's doing exactly what you should do. Just keep his hold, you know, hold the course. And it was, you know, at the time, it was exactly what I needed to hear it because I was getting insecure about what we were doing. And I wasn't sure exactly if it was right. But yeah, I mean, I mean, in terms of black and white, it was, I mean, God would incredible opportunity, you know, to do something that that very few people get to do, and something I really was excited to do. And something I quite honestly was not comfortable doing. When we you know, when we started that film, and I got more comfortable with it. And I did a ton of research. And I looked at a lot of images and lots of tests, and so figured out what it was we wanted to do. But we also we, you know, we wanted to make our own look to sort of our own style. And that was scary, you know, yeah, it was considered in the subject matter. You know, so like, I you know, I just felt I felt the weight of honor and Greg Talan. And, and Orson Welles and the film in the film community as a whole, you know, when we were making the movie, I really, you know, wanted to want it to be respectful to what, you know, the kind of importance of that movies. Well, yeah.
Alex Ferrari 42:50
I mean, Eric, I'm stressed out, as you're talking about, and I didn't shoot the damn thing. I mean, as you're talking, I'm like, Oh, my area, Orson Welles. And it's Citizen Kane. And, and every filmmaker in the world is gonna see this because everyone's seen Citizen Kane. And I can imagine you could just drive yourself mad. Thinking about this?
Erik Messerschmidt 43:13
Yeah, easily. Yeah, for sure. For sure. Or you can just go to work and have a good time. And
Alex Ferrari 43:18
you know, and it's another movie, and you just have to, you have to look at it. Like it's another movie. If not, you'll you'll psych yourself out without question. Now I do. You know, you are working with Michael Mann, or I'm not sure if you're, I think you're in post production at this point in that film. If I'm not mistaken,
Erik Messerschmidt 43:32
we can just watch. Yeah. So what
Alex Ferrari 43:35
I mean, Michael man is a legend, man. He's a legend. In our, in our business, and, you know, as well, legendary stories, you know, I was in Miami, when Miami Vice was going on. So and I came up in my room. So all I hear is about Michael Mann, Miami, Vice stories from all the old crew guys that I used to work with on the commercials today. Yeah, I was on there when Michael and Eddie almost came on it like you hear these stories about what happened back then. So what's it like collaborating with someone like Michael, because this is your first collaboration with him? Correct?
Erik Messerschmidt 44:11
Yeah, it was, I mean, you know, I don't really want to talk a lot about the movie because we just finished it and we just, we just made the sausage and now we're going to age it a little bit and a little while someone's going to cook it up, and then you guys are going to taste it and you have to let us know if we did any good, you know, but I you know, look, it's like the great thing about this job is coming in and and watching other people, you know, learning how other people make their movies. And, you know, as a cinematographer, I think it's your you know, it's your job to come in and, and kind of like I said earlier, they figure out how it is you can help you know, what is it this person needs from me? And it's often very different, you know, it's, it's, it's often you know, doesn't. And so there's, you know, there's a process of discovery, I think creatively with people and also just just straight up logistically about where, where does my cog fit within this machine. You know, and the thing about Michael is that he is probably the most tenacious person I know, I mean, he will fight for forever for his film, and he will fight for his actors, and he will fight for the you know, but most importantly, he fights for the story, and he fights for what he thinks is important for the scene. And nothing else matters. And I really admire that about him, you know, I mean, he, he is not distracted by the kind of incidental stuff that that, you know, me and my fellow cinematographers would go crazy about, if it detracts from something that is dramatically important to him. And I think, by the way, that he's, he's absolutely right about that. And it's something I really learned from him, is, you know, you protect the film and the story first, and, and, and all the other things are, are secondary. So, you know, it's, it's, it's, it's, it's, it's an interesting environment to participate in, and, you know, the kind of energy that that feeds is, is exciting, and sometimes complex and, and frenetic, but, but, you know, but Michael, you know, he's a, he's a force and, and he's, he's incredible, you know, and it's, and the thing is, you know, I have been fortunate to work with a few directors of his vintage and, and, you know, they, they, there's, there's something really special about working with people that have been through, you know, we're not talking 10,000 hours, we're talking 100,000 hours, you know, of, you know, understanding instead of a language understanding, blocking and thinking about the same thing about and then doing it their way, you know, and they're not distracted about, like, well, this is how you're split, you know, you need an over the shoulder, and then you need a two shot and you should get the pod and you know, Michael doesn't work that way. It's not, you know, he's, he's, he's working in, in his language exclusively. And, and that's, that's really cool, you know, because a lot of filmmakers, especially younger ones, will turn to you and say, Well, what do I need? Now? You know, how many shots to tell this scene or whatever, and you can have your opinion. But, but, you know, I think it's, you know, as cinematographers we're sort word failure to provide guidance and assistance, and, and, and interpret things visually and contribute. But but, you know, I think of all the directors that I admire, the ones who speak through the frame are my favorites. You know, the directors that really kind of our, you know, appreciate it, you know, approach it holistically, are, are the ones that I respond to the best and so, so I'm really cautious when I when I inject too much of my personal opinion, into a director's workflow, they haven't asked for it. You know,
Alex Ferrari 48:27
if I may piggyback on your sausage analogy, the, it's kind of like a great chef, who has made the sausage 1000 times the way that it's in the textbook. And now they're just, they're just kind of riffing. It's kind of doing like kind of jazz, in a sense. And like, well, well, you really need to put the meat in the casing first, as a no, I'm going to put the casing in the middle, I'm going to wrap the sausage or the meat around it. And then I'm going to bread it, and then I'm going to deep fry, and then there's the you're just approaching it a different ways. And everyone's like, Oh, wow. But he understands the basics of how to make or how to shoot a scene exactly how its textbook supposed to be done. But because he has so much understanding of the medium of the language, just like David, they could just riff and do whatever they you don't need a two shot. You don't need a once you can cut the whole damn thing on a long shot on 100 mil through a tree, and it works. You know, you're like, oh, but on the textbooks, any film school teacher would go, don't do that. But they just understand that language is like a Tarantino, like they understand the film language so well, that they just they riff, it's jazz. It's like watching jazz play and you are one of the collaborators in the band. Working with a master jazz players kind of like you know, if I may use jazz as an analogy. You're there and you're just like watching just go on. I handed him the trumpet, but holy cow, I didn't know he was going to Do
Erik Messerschmidt 50:00
that with it. Right. Right. Right. Right. Right. Yeah. You know, I mean, it's like, yeah, you know, it's I mean, if you're going to run with the allow me to run with that analogy a little bit, it's like if you know, for playing jazz, then then then in that, you know, in those situations, I'm really just trying to make sure everybody's in tune. Oh, great. And you just want to make sure that we're just trying to, like, you know, it's like, okay, I get it. Now we're gonna go, Oh, we're going to do alright, cool, let's play Dr. Lewis around your little sharp, you know, like, let's just like just sort of attenuated a little bit. Enough. You know, and, you know, that's, that's a wonderful thing about this job is, is watching how people make movies and learning how they're different types of movies, you know, different ways to make movies. You know, and also learning about the kinds of movies that you want to make, you know, I mean, it's like, every time I finish a film, I think about the types of collaborators I'm going to seek out to, you know, and the types of work I'm interested in doing the things I'm less interested in doing. And, you know, I'm definitely someone you know, I quite like the kind of surgical type of filmmaking I like, puzzle pieces of figuring out how to, you know, you know, I, you know, Hitchcock is like, machine and filmmaker, you know, this sort of, like the puzzle of, of, you know, show the person seeing something and show the audience what they see, you know, even the, you know, it's a vast simplification of it, but um, you know, thinking about how to break a scene down into its bare bones and tell the story that way is is, is the type of filmmaking at the moment anyway, that I'm interested in. But you got some notes like,
Alex Ferrari 51:51
you got some good collaborators, that kind of, I mean, David, for me to to talk about puzzle piece directors. He is he's definitely that guy. And Michael, exactly the same. I mean, but David, specifically, like he is looking, not to blow smoke up David's ask, but he is our Hitchcock. He is our Kubrick, they will never be anyone like Kubrick or Hitchcock. But in our generation, there's very few filmmakers who are surgical as him. And then Michael has his, there's never going to be another Michael Mann. And people will be studying Michael Mann's movies, in film schools 100 years from now. And same thing with David, you know, and same thing with Tarantino and Nolan, and, and some of these other greats, there's a handful, that are our generations, Hitchcock's and our generations, Kubrick's that you just you sit back and you get you're lucky enough to get to work with with some of these guys, man. I mean, you must smile every day going to work, I imagine most days.
Erik Messerschmidt 52:53
Most mostly, I'm worried about whether or not that Condor got parked in the right place.
Alex Ferrari 52:58
Is the techno crane here, why is it the technical? i? So, you know, it's like, go ahead. No, no, if there's like, if you had a chance to go back and tell your younger self, who's just starting off in the business, one thing, what would that thing be?
Erik Messerschmidt 53:24
It has nothing to do with the equipment. Oh, great. Thank you. I'm worrying about it. Thank you.
Alex Ferrari 53:31
You mean to tell me I don't need the latest. I don't need to shoot 24k or 48k? No, and by the way, you're coming from? No, but the thing is that you're coming from the perspective of one of the most technical directors and working with David who is he's always on the cutting edge with reds and, and what you guys did with manque. And, and even then you're saying it's not always about the latest camera or the latest lens or the latest lights? No,
Erik Messerschmidt 54:03
I mean, some some of the best Doc's we didn't make with it with a 60 watt light bulb, you know, I mean, it's, it's, I mean, you know, it's sure, I mean, technology helps you, you know, technology makes things easier. But it doesn't give you better taste, and it doesn't it doesn't give you better ideas. You know? And, and when I was younger, if I had spent more time thinking about the ideas and less time thinking about the equipment, I would have had a better chance you know, I got you because you get seduced, you know, you get seduced in film. Oh, by you know, you read Americans for magazine and ICG magazine and they're all the advertisements and everyone was trying to sell you this and that and and you start to think, oh man, if I shoot through five millimeter on my film, my film will be better. You know, if I get an 18k Then I'll be able to, you know, and it's Yeah, it's funny, it's like, the longer I spend this business, you know, and the more I have to kind of repent for the, the, the requests I make to producers, the more I remind them that, that the things I need are generally scheduled driven, they're not aesthetic, you know, you know, for example, if if, if I, you know, if I can shoot the establishing shot at 9am, when it's backlit, and it's beautiful, and there's, you know, mist in the air and stuff, I don't need anything, I just need the camera. But if this the actor isn't available till 3pm, than I need all this, you know? And, and that's, that's unfortunately, the problem of the big movie, you know, the small movie is nimble enough to make that choice. Yeah, great. You can shoot at 9am or shoot at 9am. You know, let's figure that out. You know, um, on a on a big Marvel production or, or, you know, a big war movie, like devotion, you know, where you're sort of, you're balancing, you know, you're balancing aircraft, and you know, when, when the, when the ceiling is lifted, so the the planes can take off, can't necessarily shoot it at 6am, when the light is perfect, you have to shoot it 11 or whatever, you know, so you have to figure out how would you know, and the compromises become about seeing the big picture and not being myopic around? What is what is immediately important to the image versus what's important in the movie, you know, and, and that's kind of, I think, ultimately, the biggest lesson for me, it's been like, learning to recognize how my needs impact the rest of the film, and how to best navigate it and sort of advocate for what I think is important without detracting from what's important for the film as a whole. You know, and I think a lot of younger cinematographers fall in this trap of like, no, no, no, it has to, I have to shoot anamorphic. And I have to, you know, and then they spend $4,000 a week on lenses, and then there's no money for costume, you know, it's like, so it's, it's, you know, it's it's important to be thoughtful, I think about how you, how you absorb the resources of a movie as a cinematographer, and how you how you advocate for the things you need.
Alex Ferrari 57:21
Now, you brought up the version, which is your new movie, which another small, independent film you've been doing. Can you tell everybody a little bit about the movie? And I mean, it looks gorgeous, man. I saw the trailer for it. It absolutely looks stunning. Again, you get into play with some beautiful toys in a vintage piece. I mean, you really get to have some fun, man, you're having some fun with some nice toys. I know you. I know. You had to suffer in Italy, with Michael Mann on the latest film. I'm sure the food was horrible. The weather was bad. I mean, you're you're you live in a tough life, sir. But But devotion tell me about devotion.
Erik Messerschmidt 58:01
Devotion, you know, I got I got a phone call from from a friend of mine. First, Franklin, who was whose first ad that I'd worked with a lot with Joe Kaczynski and, and an old friend of mine, and he called me up one day I was in Chicago doing the finale of Fargo, the TV show Fargo, my phone rang and he said, Hey, I got this script, you should read. I'm producing and I said I didn't know that he had started producing and I said, okay, cool. Bruce Yes. And over. And he sent me the script. And I read it. I was like, Oh, my God, this is so great. You know, it was a it was it's a war film. But it was really a drama in the under under the guise of war film. And, and he was period. And he's he you know, he said, Look, I've got airplanes, we're going to shoot it for real. We're not going to do a bunch of visual effects. We're going to land an aerial unit, they're gonna go up and they're gonna put these planes in the air. We're going to choreograph this. And I think you're the guy to do it. I want you to meet with the director. And I said, okay, cool. Yeah, getting on the phone. So we met I met JD dealer the next day. And we had, I don't know, two and a half hour meeting, and we just talked about everything. We talked about the movie. We also talked about life. And we talked about cinema, and we talked about history and race and politics, and, you know, a lot of things that related to the movie and a lot of things that didn't just because we became fast friends and, and I, you know, I finished the Zoom call. My phone rang, and it was Bruce and he said, Hey, do you want the job? Yeah, of course, I want the job. So we did it. And it was great, because I had, you know, they had they knew that they had they had bitten off a big chunk, and they wanted to do it right. The producers really, you know, wanted to support the film and they were prepared to sort of support the film. So I had a lot of prep time and I sat with JD and we you know, we we sat in LA and we Ah storyboarded and, you know, brainstormed ideas about how we can approach and what worked and what didn't we talked to people, you know, the guys that have done Dunkirk and guys that have done midway, and we, you know, we sort of just did our research and we looked at stuff we liked and stuff we didn't like, and, and, and then, you know, when Thomas production designer joined the movie, and then the three of us would sit down and talk about different ways to call, you know, how much of the aircraft carrier to build and you know, how we're going to shoot the Bucks stuff, and what can we do for real and, and then Kevin LaRosa, and Mike Fitzmorris joined the party and they were there are aerial unit makes it space areas up and Kevin area coordinator and a second unit director, aerial director, anyway, got involved, and that was like, a whole new world opened up to me and I, you know, I hadn't a shot scenarios, but mostly like helicopter, establishing shots, very simple things, you know, and, and they had a whole different set of tools available to them, that they started explaining to us what they could do when we started, you know, hold little model planes up in the air and storyboard as she, you know, kind of Lo Fi previous videos and thought about how those sequences were going to work together. And, you know, it was great, we had some incredible experience making a movie, it was, you know, a lot of people that really, really cared about it, and one of the sports ad and the project, and we're excited, and we had producers that were just incredibly supportive through the whole process, and really wanted us to succeed, and we're willing to listen to an outlet that that maybe otherwise would have been expensive, you know, there was certainly plenty of visual effects solutions to our problems, that would save them a lot of money, but I think would have would have been detrimental to the film and, and, you know, that fortunately for us, they agreed, and they were willing to go down the road with us and try to figure out ways to do a lot of it for real and that, you know, that I think, in the end paid pay dividends. So, you know, I'm really thankful to them that they were forward thinking in that way, you know, I guess maybe it's backward thinking because it's how it would have been done 75 years ago.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:14
So so they pulled like a Top Gun Maverick. They had like, no, no, we're gonna put the they're gonna put the planes in the air, and we're gonna shoot this. Do you see a movement? Because you're working in the bigs in the studio projects like that? Do you see a movement or almost a slight backlash against so much visual effects? So heavy visual effects and be like, No, let's get it for real. Because I mean, even Nolan, on on dark night, when he flipped that 18 Wheeler, he did it for real. You know, and you can tell, and you can sense that there's something organic on screen, that when you're able to do things real it you I mean, I think that's one of the main reasons Top Gun Maverick was such a massive hit, among other reasons. But just something we just haven't seen before. You don't see that in today's world. So I'm assuming that yeah, you know, what you are, what you guys did, and devotion is going to be, you know, similar in the sense that you did it. But do you feel that as a cinematographer, that there's a movement towards like, let's get the see if we could do this for real back? back the way it was done even 20 years ago?
Erik Messerschmidt 1:03:19
You Yeah, yeah. I mean, I, you know, so called Richard Donner did it? You know, I mean, I think it's, I think, you know, I mean, I, yeah, he looked, the audience knows, we can do anything, you know, I mean, the audience seen Guardians of the Galaxy, you know, no disrespect to Guardians of the Galaxy, but they know that, you know, they know we can take them face when you know, we can put you on an alien planet, we know we can, you know, fly to the center of the earth. So it's it's not you know, that it's it used to be the David Copperfield event magic show, you know, that's what the the audience would go to the theater for, right? They go for the spectacle. And now I think the audience goes for the car, the sleight of hand car trick. You know, they want to they want to feel it, they, they would prefer to they would prefer to not even notice that it's happening instead of seeing this kind of all the razzle dazzle on screen. That's my opinion anyway, but so I think I think when you can do it for real and you can do it for real with with the assistance of visual effects, maybe you clean up the clean up the stick that's holding the camera on the plane. Things like that. Right? It's different than making a plane you know what I mean? And it looks different, and it feels it feels different and I also think in some ways it forces filmmakers that that mode of thinking and and look there's there's plenty of visual effects and devotion, but but we set some rules for ourselves and say, Okay, well, we're going to put the camera. We're only we're only going to put the camera in places where we could put a camera on real aircraft. So we're not going to, you know, we're not going to put the candidate play in front of a blue screen, and fly around, fly the camera around it on a techno crane and give you all these crazy shots and go, you know, go through the landing gear and up over the flaps, and you know, we're not going to do that stuff we're going to do well, we're going to do things that you could really do, basically, that, you know, that apply to physics to some degree. And I think you're gonna see more like more of that. And I think actually, you know, Tom Cruise deserves a tremendous amount of credit for as someone who is, is promoting the idea and saying, Hey, look, you know, Sam is important, and it's worth protecting, and it's a national treasure, and we have to, and we have to, you know, the, the audience deserves something better than then then, you know, revisiting the virtual camera through, you know, through the wormhole, or whatever, you know, I mean, it's there's, there's, it has to be story forward and thoughtful and considerate and respectful to the audience, you know,
Alex Ferrari 1:06:08
and again, there is plenty, Pandora's not going to be shot practically, you know, that's not a practical, you can't go to fly to Pandora and shoot those things practically. So there is a place for that kind of storytelling, you know, when you go into the quantum realm, and man, probably not going to build a set or a miniature for that it's going to write, but if it's something that can be directly, if something that can't be done, it should try to be done, especially at that budget level.
Erik Messerschmidt 1:06:34
Yeah, yeah. I think so. And, you know, I think also, you know, with all due respect to to other filmmakers, it's it when you do it, if you do it digitally, you can make it up later. If you do it for real, you have to decide in advance. And that's intimidating to some people, you know, you have practical considerations, you have to think about, you know, if you're, if you're Dick donner, and you're going to, you're going to drop the drop the gasoline truck, you know, for real with a real pyrotechnic explosion, to be considered of how big the explosion is going to be, and are the cameras gonna be and what the, you know, what the location considerations are, and you have to plan and you have to go and tech Scout, and you have to say, Okay, we're gonna put the camera here and put the camera here to put the camera here, and we're gonna suspend it from a truck, or we're going to drop in there, it's gonna explode them, and it's going to be four days of cleanup, and we're going to pay off all the local businesses, and it's, you know, like that it requires advanced thought in the way that doing the gasoline truck, you know, shooting a plate doesn't, right. But there's obvious, significant advantages to doing it for real, it's just more difficult. And it requires, you know, sort of consider it requires directing to some degree, you know, and I, so I, you know, I'd support that idea. I just, I just wish more people did it. And I wished and I and it's part of why I like working with older directors, because they understand that, and they, they advocate for it, you know what I mean? They don't go for the easy solution, because it helps location department, they have to pay off that business or whatever, you know, we're gonna drop the truck for real and we're gonna blow it up. You know,
Alex Ferrari 1:08:16
can I have the can I tell you story really quickly, because it's it this is going to exactly what we're talking about. I had Simon West on the show, who was a legendary action director, and he was telling me how he did the Con Air gag when the plane crashed in Vegas. And they found a hotel that was going to be demolished and like, hold on. Can we run a plane into the front for our movie? And they said yes. And there was it's shut down Vegas for a minute. But the thing was, and this is goes to your point of like, you have to plan ahead. He had six cameras on that on that shot. It was a one take you had there was one take someone said something over the over the the walkies the cameras, they just took off but none of the cameras were rolling. First they do is like oh crap. Oh crap. Get to turn it on, turn it off and turn it on. We're going we're going and everyone's like, freaking out. And then he's like, I had six. But then to have four of them didn't work. So I had two. And then we're like, okay, and like he told the whole story like three when three didn't make it. There's all film by the way. And then the two made it and then at the end we only really one was out of focus because it's the first ad. Oh, that's right. The crews Couldn't the crews were eating. crafty. And they everything was going to the cameras were going and they had to run to turn them on. All right. So at the end, they had one shot, one take on one angle, and that's the angle they got for us like I can't go back and shoot it again. This is why you had six if I would have had five we would have been in trouble. But there's a diff Well, you
Erik Messerschmidt 1:10:00
know, it is it is it is, you know, I think I think it's sent if filmmaking has been made, it's easier now. You know, it's a lot easier. I'm, you know, when I was growing up, and I was, you know, I came out of film school with one film, you know, and it was like, I had, you know, it was it had been transferred to beta SP and I had a VHS tape and I would go and show it to people and hand them the VHS tape and look at my movie is NTSC, you know, had locks on it great quality, you know? Yeah, exactly. And then, you know, and if I wanted to make more copies, I had to go find a place that had had an sp deck, because I couldn't do the VHS, you know, it was like, long before DVD. And, you know, kids come out of film school now. And they have like, six movies that have all been made, you know, on a RED camera, or, you know, an Alexa or something. And, God, I mean, I would have been, I would have privilege, you know, what a tremendous privilege to have. And, you know, so that, that, and I think that extends outward into cinema. So you know, so when people are like, Oh, I don't have any opportunities. I'm, I'm not that empathetic.
Alex Ferrari 1:11:10
You know? I'll listen. I mean, I spent 50 grand on my first demo reel versus a commercial director shooting on 35. Because you had to shoot 35. And that would make beta SP masters and then I would convert them to three quarter inch. And that's what I would send out to the agencies because VHS that's that was for amateurs. So then was the cost. I'm at the big with the big clam cases. And I read the FedEx I'm all over the place. And, and it was like, and now they're like, oh, yeah, shot this thing on an iPhone. And I'm like you sent
Erik Messerschmidt 1:11:41
like, yeah, exactly. Yeah. So you know, there was no video when I was, you know, when I first came on the show,
Alex Ferrari 1:11:49
there was no internet certain let's just go there was no internet. There was no, there's definitely no video. There was no video online, especially when I came out. Yeah. Not Not good. Not good video, at least. Now, when does the motion come out?
Erik Messerschmidt 1:12:07
November 24. And
Alex Ferrari 1:12:09
2002. Right. So just for the holidays, it seems like it seems Yeah. cinematic experience. You gotta go see it in the movies.
Erik Messerschmidt 1:12:18
I hope everyone does. Yeah, we did it. There's an IMAX release. If you have an IMAX theater near you can see it. That's exciting. First film I've done it's been IMAX and yeah, I think it's you know, it's it's certainly a story and a film that deserves to be seen Bay, it was intended to be seen big, you know, we shot it to be seen big.
Alex Ferrari 1:12:38
So now, I'm going to ask you a few questions. Ask all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?
Erik Messerschmidt 1:12:45
Everybody's going to tell you no, and your work isn't any good. And you can't do it, and you got to ignore
Alex Ferrari 1:12:50
them. Fair enough. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life,
Erik Messerschmidt 1:12:56
that there's always another job, but um, but you have to, there's, there's always another job. And the time off is is more important than the time at work. So you got to prioritize, you have to you have to prioritize your time off with the people that you love. That's, that's, that's the thing. That's, that's most important, I
Alex Ferrari 1:13:17
think. And as I've talked to a lot of DPS in my day and worked with them, they're like, dude, the divorce rate is pretty high. I mean, it's, it's no joke, it's no joke, especially when you become successful as a DP. The balance is really difficult. It's difficult to do. And that's something they don't tell you, when you start walking down this path.
Erik Messerschmidt 1:13:38
No, they don't. But that was really, I mean, look, you know, I I think I spent 28 days in my bed last year, you know, I mean, it's, it's, it's, it's challenging. You know, I spend a lot of time in hotels, a lot of traveling, and it's a lot to ask for your loved ones and your family. And, yeah, you know, if they don't, you're right, they don't teach you that film school. And they should, and we know when I speak to students, or whatever I try to, I try to say, Listen, you know, if you want to get in this, make sure that you're ready for that, you know, because it's, it's, it's, it can be quite, quite challenging for sure.
Alex Ferrari 1:14:15
It's the carny life, sir. We are just carnies and putting up tents, putting on shows, and taking the tent down, getting everything on the train and going to the next location, setting up shop again, we're carnies at the end of the day. Now and last question three of your favorite films of all time.
Erik Messerschmidt 1:14:33
Oh, God, how much time do you have?
Alex Ferrari 1:14:35
Just three, three of your three of your favorite films that come up in your mind today?
Erik Messerschmidt 1:14:41
Oh, my God. I mean, I, you know, people ask me that question all the time. I think Chinatown's way up there. Close Encounters you know, I should pick up I should pick a foreign film because it's underrepresented in the list. Fair enough. Bear. And my colleagues will judge me, but I'm not going to do that. I mean, I think Raiders of Lost Ark probably, I mean, it's just it's like those, think about the movies that I, they're the movies I admire and I respond to creatively and then they're the movies that I have seen 100 times and that is one of them. It's like one of those movies that I've just probably, I've probably seen it on written 50 times
Alex Ferrari 1:15:23
and they move and they move the the medium forward, all three of those movies moved the medium forward in one way, shape, or form. And Steven for sure. And I can't even start talking about Steven, I mean, Jesus, I mean, I've had so many people on the show who have worked with Stephen and I just yeah, I'm not gonna gush over Stephen. But yeah, but brother man thank you so much for coming on the show sharing your sharing your experiences with us and I can't wait to see devotion and hope everybody goes out into theater and actually sees it sits in a theater just like they did Top Gun Maverick and enjoy the real life spectacle that you kind of put together brothers I really appreciate your time and and continue doing some great work I can't wait to see Ferrari and the killer that those to another to film. I mean, again, you're you're doing okay for yourself right now, sir.
Erik Messerschmidt 1:16:13
Thanks. Yeah, I'm trying. I'm trying one day at a time. A pleasure, brother. Thanks. Appreciate it. Thanks. Cheers.
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