The Cinematography Podcast Episode 247: Erik Messerschmidt

With the film Ferrari, cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, ASC has now had the opportunity to work with two huge directors: Michael Mann and David Fincher. In 2021, Erik won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for Mank, directed by Fincher. He finds Fincher to be very methodical and precise about film structure and camera placement. Michael Mann tends to be more spontaneous, interested in capturing visceral moments, but still detail oriented. He is hyperfocused on the emotional response of the audience and how best to capture the character’s interactions. “That is the joy of being a cinematographer, coming and playing in someone else’s sandbox and learning how you can contribute to making their film,” Erik says.

Ferrari was a passion project for director Michael Mann, who had been developing the film for decades. Once he was hired to work on Ferrari, Erik saw that Mann had tons of material on Enzo Ferrari. He had an incredible collection of photos, newsreel footage, and personal letters that provided a great start to shaping the film. Mann knew exactly what he wanted to make and it came down to the two of them discussing the film’s look, pacing, and structure. The entire film was shot in 58 days with no second unit. They filmed on location in Italy, which was a huge contributor to the aesthetic of the movie and lent it authenticity. Most of the locations were historically accurate to Enzo Ferrari’s story- they shot exteriors of the Ferrari home, his barber shop, and even inside the Ferrari mausoleum. Adding classic Ferraris and other vehicles from 1957 with people in period costume made it easy to make the movie feel of its time without needing to add more.

The dramatic scenes in Ferrari had to be differentiated from the racing scenes. While all of the racing scenes were meticulously planned and storyboarded, the dramatic scenes such as a fight between Adam Driver & Penelope Cruz’s characters was rehearsed, blocked and planned on the day. Erik chose to use more structured, classically composed framing, with subtle zoom moves in on the actor’s faces for a nuanced emotional response. By contrast, the racing scenes had to be kinetic and visceral. Mann wanted the audience to feel like they are right there in the car, and all of the racing scenes take place in real cars on Italian roads. The camera operators sat in the car with the professional drivers, shooting handheld right next to them. As an amateur race car driver, actor Patrick Dempsey actually did all of his own driving in the film. Each Ferrari was actually a replica, and safety gear like roll cages and harnesses were added. Erik also used older camera mounts on the outside of the cars to capture every shake and bump, since the suspension on cars from that time period were much stiffer.

Find Erik Messerschmidt: Instagram @emesserschmidt

Listen to our previous interview from 2020 with Erik Messerschmidt on Mank and his other work.

Close Focus: There’s been some outcry and criticism around the selection of the upcoming new Star Wars film director, Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy; conservative male fans say she is too “woke” while others say she is just too inexperienced.

Illya’s short end: Little Richard: I Am Everything documentary on Max.

Ben’s short end: Entertainment tech entrepreneur Michael Cioni’s new company, Strada has a YouTube channel detailing how they are creating new AI tools for filmmakers. The latest episode is How We got iPhone 15 to Look Like an 8k Cinema Camera.

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Instagram: @thecinepod

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Podcast Credits:

Producer: Alana Kode

All web and social media content written by Alana Kode

Host and editor in Chief:  Illya Friedman

Instagram: @illyafriedman @hotrodcameras

Host: Ben Rock

Twitter: @neptunesalad

Instagram: @bejamin_rock

Editor: Ben Katz

Composer: Kays Al-Atrakchi

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