When watching David Fincher’s Netflix movie Mank, one might get the sense that color really wasn’t all that important while making the film – after all, it’s just gonna be black and white so does it really matter? As it turns out, color mattered a great deal.
A new series of images and behind-the-scenes interviews reveal that finding the right look in black and white necessitated some serious ingenuity on the part of the film’s costume designer Trish Summerville, production designer Donald Graham Burt, and the entire hair and makeup department. Indeed, in order for the characters and costumes to show up correctly when converted to black and white, the actual color on set had to be closely watched and adjusted.
As a result, these color images from Mank are pretty wild to look at. When I spoke with the film’s cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, he revealed that they never considered shooting the movie on film – as Fincher has been doing for years, the movie was shot on digital:
“We didn’t feel that shooting on film was the way that we would best get there, to be honest, because we had very specific ideas of very specific effects we wanted in very specific instances, and film is a fantastic medium, but it’s not particularly good with trying to get very consistent, expected results time after time, you know? So yeah, it was never part of the discussion. The discussion was always ‘How do we get it to look like this?'”
As part of a Netflix article on the black-and-white palette of the film, production designer Burt explained that he had to balance getting the correct color but also not throwing the actors off balance:
“Certain colors were not appropriate for many of the interior stage sets,” he says. “For instance, we found that violet, pink, and orange translated to black and white quite well. But I didn’t want to make these sets into Fauvist paintings [where] the walls are green and the table is blue. Because when your actors come into it, all of a sudden, they’re going to feel they’re in a funhouse.”
As for the costumes, in the early days Summerville would run options by Fincher using an iPhone filter:
“Early on, when we started ordering fabrics, and purchasing and pulling clothes from rental houses, I would line things up and shoot them in three black-and-white settings on my phone and send them to Fincher. His response: ‘Shoot it in noir.’”
As it turns out, colors like salmon became the norm on set given how well it translated to black and white:
“It was interesting and fun to discover what worked and what didn’t. You couldn’t do anything that was high contrast. It made me hyperaware of why so much of the clothing, especially for women of that time period, were these really odd chartreuses and salmons and greens. Colors like that were prevalent on set because, onscreen, they come out so beautifully.”
It’s pretty incredible to see what it looked like to make Mank vs. what Mank actually looks like. Peruse some photos below. The film is currently streaming on Netflix.