Because David Fincher’s “Mank” is set in the Hollywood of the 1930s and early ’40s, the director wanted the film to look and feel like exactly that. The film is a re-evaluation of Hollywood through the eyes of scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay for Orson Welles of “Citizen Kane.” And so “Mank,” which releases on Netflix on December 4 following a limited theatrical run to qualify the film for Oscars, transports you to that period through its visuals and sound design, which Fincher recently discussed in an extensive New York Magazine interview.
“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,” Fincher 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.”
Fincher said that in screenings so far viewers have reacted to the noticeably vintage sound quality. “It’s funny because I’ve played it for some people who ask, ‘What is going on with the sound? It’s so warm.’ And I respond, ‘Well, what you mean when you say ‘warm’ is it sounds like an old movie. It sounds analog.'”
Fincher also added that the process of degrading the sound design dragged the post-production process on longer than expected. “We went three weeks over schedule on the mix trying to figure out how to split that atom,” he said. “[Visually,] our notion was we’re going to shoot super-high resolution and then we’re going to degrade it. So we took most 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.”
Another throwback to the Hollywood of yesteryear, “Mank” also features the reel-change circles you’d see throughout an old celluloid print in a movie theater. “We made the soundtrack pop like it does when you do a reel changeover. 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” is Fincher’s highly anticipated return to feature filmmaking after 2014’s “Gone Girl.” “Darkest Hour” Oscar winner Gary Oldman stars as Hollywood screenwriter Mankiewicz. The script, written by Fincher’s late father Jack Fincher. The supporting cast includes Tom Burke as Orson Welles, Arliss Howard as Louis B. Mayer, Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies, Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst, Tom Pelphrey as Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and Lily Collins as Mank’s secretary Rita Alexander.