Streaming: Netflix's <I>Mindhunter</I>
Issue: May/June 2020

Streaming: Netflix's Mindhunter

Netflix’s Mindhunter series is inspired by true events. Directed by David Fincher, the show focuses on FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench, who try to understand the psyches of notorious serial killers. Mindhunter’s first season debuted in 2017, and the second season returned in the summer of 2019. 

Season 2 stars Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Anna Torv, Joe Tuttle, Albert Jones, Stacey Roca, Michael Cerveris, Lauren Glazier and Sierra McClain. While Fincher was the series’ primary director, Andrew Dominik and Carl Franklin also directed episodes. 


Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, ASC, had worked with Fincher in the past. He was a gaffer on the filmmaker’s Gone Girl, and was excited to receive a call, inviting him to come onboard to reshoot part of the pilot and second episode back in 2017. The show was already shooting with a Red camera for Season 1, and upgraded to the newer Helium 8K sensor for Season 2

“It's the same in terms of sensor size, but it is substantially higher resolution,” Messerschmidt explains. “And it has different color fidelity characteristics or color pipeline characteristics.”

In the case of Mindhunter, the production shoots with a center extraction that allows for approximately 20 percent of a buffer along the frame’s edge.

“We do a fairly substantial post process on the show, in terms of applying barrel distortion, chromatic aberration, some flare effects, things like that, so having a little bit of extra information on the outside helps. And then, of course, the high resolution to pull from helps immensely with the noise floor, low light noise, grain, etc.”


The show’s second season developed a workflow that included HDR monitoring on-set. 

“We were able to monitor at 600-nits in HDR in Dolby PQ gamma, but in 1080, so it's regular HD resolution,” he explains. “I was primarily worried about color gamut and gamma, in terms of QC…so resolution actually isn’t so important to me in that instance — but contrast and color gamut are.”

The production and post team created an ACES workflow throughout — from capture and on-set monitoring into post for editorial, the DI and conform. Even though they are capturing in 8K, they are seeing a live debayer in 1080.

“The camera does a debayer and then you can put that debayered image into any encoded space you like,” Messerschmidt explains. “In our case we have the camera output ACES CC, which is essentially ACES log…Then we apply a transform in the monitor to that ACES log and we transform it into Dolby PQ HDR and Rec 20/20. We built a series of LUTs that allowed us to monitor it in PQ and Rec 20/20.”

The colorist can then focus on creatively graded the footage, knowing it is arriving with a look that represents what was intended during acquisition.

From the first season to the second, Messerschmidt says the show has evolved stylistically too.

“We had we worked hard to maintain a very kind of subtle, stylized [look],” he explains. “We tried very hard not to draw attention to ourselves. Ideally, no one notices what we're doing. They're engrossed in the story — in the performance.”

Messerschmidt says Mindhunter’s look is based around composed frames and relatively wide lenses. 

“We don't move the camera very much,” he notes. “When we do, it's generally motivated by the actors’ movement. It’s mostly naturally lit, and it's fairly minimalist.”

FotoKem provided the production team with a NextLab system that was used for creating files for editorial.


Kirk Baxter of Santa Monica’s Exile ( also has a long-standing relationship with David Fincher. He’s cut The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), The Social Network (2010) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) — all of which won the Oscar for Best Editing, a credit he shared with Angus Wall. He also cut 2014’s Gone Girl (2014), and is currently working on an upcoming Netflix feature with the director titled Mank. 

“I edit whatever David directs,” Baxter (pictured) explains. “So the episodes that I cut are the ones that he's shot,” referring to the two seasons of Mindhunter. As additional directors were involved in the series, Baxter also served as a co-producer, overseeing other editors working on the series.

Baxter’s editing career began cutting film and then moved to nonlinear editing, using Avid’s NLEs. After moving to Final Cut Pro for a stretch, he again switched, this time to Adobe Premiere Pro.

“Once we switched to Premiere, we sort of had no reason to change again,” he reflects. He credits a “sea of help” in setting him up with the dailies and formats he needs to be productive, but then works alone on the assembly. 

“I'm cutting and selecting, and cut assembling it whilst Fincher is shooting,” he says of the process. “So we're separated. And our conversation is for the work that I'm doing. I don't call him up and say, ‘Hey, can you watch these dailies with me? Or, ‘What's your idea or intent behind this?’ He speaks to me through the material and I speak back to him through the edit.”

Baxter says he will refresh himself with a new scene by reviewing the script before he begins cutting, but then allows the footage to speak for itself. 

“I sort of let the material lead me more so than the written word because once David has shot the scene, it doesn't matter how it was written. What matters is what he's captured.”

Being a streaming series, there is no hard length on what the final edit’s runtime needs to come in at, but Baxter says he still has a general idea in mind.

“We are allotted flexibility — absolutely. You try to sort of aim at a general length, if you want to keep it in the ballpark so that it's not too short, but I don't think it's a concern if it goes a bit longer, and that’s the freedom that Netflix sort of provides.”

Having worked with the filmmaker so many times in the past, Baxter is not quick to label him with a particular style. In fact, the editor says Fincher’s style varies from project to project and even from scene to scene.

“But in general, we like to keep things tight, and we like to keep things moving with angles, which we tend to move in a pretty aggressive fashion,” he notes. “I've read in some reviews that [Mindhunter] is a slower-paced show. So my interpretation of that is, information might drip out, but the pace of the filmmaking - the angles, how you move through a scene - is not slow.”

Having worked on both seasons of Mindhunter, Baxter says consistency is one goal that he shoots for editorially, while also allowing for the characters to evolve.

“I think (Bill) Tench got a lot more time in the second season,” he points out. “I think Wendy (Carr) elevated up into the main character, and she got a lot more time. But in terms of how we're trying to tell things, it was reasonably similar.”

Baxter says he particularly likes the series’ interview sequences with the convicted felons — including Charles Manson — and how they are able to really play out.

“They're just so long,” he says of the interviews. “The format allows you to really fit in the scene. And that's a consistent thing across the series. And that's something I thoroughly enjoy.”