The Visceral Imagery of Mindhunter

Gaffer Danny Gonzalez Discusses His Lighting Approach

The Netflix original series follows two FBI agents in the late 1970’s who begin to explore the psychology of homicide, and start to uncover its advantages in furthering the expansion of criminal science. With the show taking place a over few decades ago, it was important for Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, and Gaffer Danny Gonzalez to capture every frame in an authentic manner. “We tried to approach each set from a standpoint of, ‘what would it really look like?’” says Gonzalez. He added, “To a degree, we used sodium vapor lights and fluorescents a ton, specifically when the lights were in shot, and then we would use LiteGear products for lighting or supplementing.”

A good portion of the show takes place at the FBI headquarters, as well as various prisons, where intense exchanges between the agents and convicted serial killers occur. “We would make sure that as these sets were being designed, we could build our look into them. We would collaborate with the production designer, and the decorator as much as possible to integrate the lighting design into the set. We would then augment what was designed, or already there, with LiteMat, or LiteTile.” He adds “We used LiteMats in every way possible; as key lights, top lights, softboxes.” “Some sets had LiteMats hung from above the ceilings, others we would rig them into the ceiling on the day, depending on the shots.”

LiteRibbon would also be a convenient solution in many different scenarios throughout the series. “We constructed 8′ 6″ extrusions that would be consistently used, with each fixture having roughly 5 meters worth of LiteRibbon placed into them, making the extrusions quite punchy.” says Gonzalez. He adds, “one pretty fantastic way we utilized LiteRibbon was to use them for this one particular scene that was supposed to take place inside a completely blacked out room. Erik had me take the LiteRibbon and cut it into small 3 diode, or smaller strips, which we called ‘fingers.'” We had various sizes, up to 6 diodes, and we would place the them directly behind the actors to hide the fingers from camera, but still give each person a little bit of a glow. It was very subtle, and quite an orchestration between light placement, camera movement, and background/talent positioning.”

The two FBI agents, Holden (Jonathan Groff) and Bill (Holt McCallany), are constantly on the move. Some of the most powerful dialogue between these two characters takes place on a plane, or in their car. “We had two airplane sets fully built utilizing LiteRibbon throughout the interior of the plane, with the only exception being the reading lights.” Gonzalez also mentions, “For the car interiors, we primarily relied on the Video Walls provided by VER. We would occasionally augment with some small LiteStix hidden inside the car, or small strips of LiteRibbon hidden from camera. One fun thing we did that was inside the car, but shot practically, was installing about eight 16″ sticks of X3 LiteRibbon and clipped it up neatly to the into roof of the car. The cables were run tightly into the upholstery of the roof and into the trunk, where we had power supplies/batteries, and controllers, which were connected to a wireless RCX that we could control from the set. The scene was a day exterior, where the car pulls up, and we needed a bit more fill inside the car. We were able to achieve this flawlessly thanks to the LiteRibbon.”

Mindhunter Season One is currently streaming on Netflix. Season Two will undergo principle photography this spring.