David Fincher’s ‘Mank’ Production Designer on Recreating Hollywood’s Golden Era

David Fincher’s “Mank” is a visual feast. Shot in black and white, Fincher takes audiences back to the glorious days of Hollywood, as screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz pens the screenplay to Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.”

Production designer Donald Graham Burt is receiving awards buzz for his work on the film. Burt worked closely with costume designer Trish Summerville to translate color into black and white.

Their secret? Using iPhone filters to see how the colors worked. Burt also relied on the camera monitor a lot.

And when it came to translating wealth and recreating the big sets such as the lavish Hearst Castle home of William Randolph Hearst, Burt says, “It was about emulating instead of replicating.”

Burt didn’t have the luxury of filming at Hearst Castle, since production is rarely allowed — unless you’re Lady Gaga who filmed her “G.U.Y” video at the castle — he had to build on a soundstage and around other locations in L.A.

“Louis B. Mayer’s birthday party scene and the dinner finale was shot on the same stage. We built that set. We converted that set by switching out fireplaces, by changing the paneling, by adding columns to the passageways. We added Gothic tracery to the doorways by changing doors so it could function for both scenes,” he says.

“It allowed us to deal with the budget restrictions, and it afforded us to be able to use, to the best of our stewardship, the amount of storage space we had, because this was quite a large set.

“We filmed the birthday party first, and then we stepped away from the set for six weeks and we reconfigured some elements within it, to make it feel like it was part of the same compound — but a different place within that compound. Set dressing and props added to that.

“The whole approach to San Simeon was that we could never replicate it. But that’s not what we wanted to do. We wanted to present something that told the story of being in this opulent, indulgent architectural space, and incorporate some of the details and some of the language from the original into it, knowing that we couldn’t possibly go fully extravagant.”

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