David Fincher‘s Mank is headed our way, marking Fincher’s return to feature filmmaking after 2014’s Gone Girl. The feature will see Fincher heading back to Hollywood in the 1930s, telling the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz, writer of Citizen Kane. It’s Fincher’s first movie in black and white, and in a new interview, Fincher details the work that went into not just making a black and white movie, but making a movie that’s supposed to look – and sound – old.
I’ve seen Mank, and while I’m embargoed from telling you what I think of the film, I can tell you that it has a very interesting aesthetic, with Fincher and company attempting to recreate the vibe of an old movie both from the visuals and the sound design. Speaking with Vulture, Fincher talked about how he and his team worked to create that effect.
“Ren Klyce, who is the sound designer, and I started talking years ago about how we wanted to make this feel like it was found in the UCLA archives — or in Martin Scorsese’s basement on its way to restoration,” the director said. “Everything has been compressed and made to sound like the 1940s. The music has been recorded with older microphones so it has a sort of sizzle and wheeze around the edges — you get it from strings, but you mostly get it from brass. What you’re hearing is a revival house — an old theater playing a movie.”
The result: audio that sounds like it’s echoing off the walls of a cavernous movie theater. That may sound distracting, but it works in the context of the film. “We went three weeks over schedule on the mix trying to figure out how to split that atom,” Fincher said. “[Visually,] our notion was we’re going to shoot super-high resolution and then we’re going to degrade it. So we took almost everything and softened it to an absurd extent to try to match the look of the era. We probably lost two-thirds of the resolution in order to make it have the same feel. And then we put in little scratches and digs and cigarette burns.”
Cigarette burns are the tiny, round blips that are meant to signal the person running the projector to change reels. You don’t see really them anymore since most movie theaters use automated projectors. But back in the old days, someone had to pay attention to make sure to change the reel over after spotting one of those circles in the upper corner of the screen. Technically, they’re called “cue marks” but the term “cigarette burns” was popularized by Fincher himself, in his film Fight Club.
“We made the soundtrack pop like it does when you do a reel changeover”. Fincher said of the cue marks in Mank. “It’s one of the most comforting sounds in my life. They’re so little that they’re very difficult to hear until you hear them. It has what we ended up calling patina, these tiny little pops and crackles that happen, and they’re very beautiful.”
Mank hits Netflix on December 4.