'Mindhunter' Director Carl Franklin On The Show's Classical Style And Its Noir Influences [Interview]

Director Carl Franklin is no stranger to the crime genre. Before shooting four episodes of Mindhunter season two and his illustrious career directing television, Franklin helmed two of the best damn crime movies of the 1990s, One False Move and The Devil in the Blue Dress. He's an old pro when it comes to crafting exceptional tension, which there's no shortage of in his episodes of the David Fincher-produced series.

Mindhunter isn't the first time Franklin and Fincher have collaborated; the Out of Time director first worked with him on House of Cards. As he explained to us, Fincher was more involved this time around on Mindhunter. Franklin, who thankfully has a movie brewing he might direct soon, talked to us about his time working with Fincher, the unique style and stars of the acclaimed series, and a nice memory about the late, great Bill Paxton. At the time of the interview, we had yet to see the episodes he directed before the interview, so it's a broader discussion about the Netflix series.For you, what's unique about the visual language of Mindhunter

David has a very reserved kind of style of acting. A couple of different times that I've worked with him on House Of Cards and on this one, it's interesting because it's very specific, very detailed with a lot of attention paid to detail and framing, and that's the challenge. Also, to work within the confines of that.

He, for the most part, he wanted to go kind of in the same way with House of Cards – a classical style. He didn't really want to use handheld very much and certainly no steady cam. It actually forces you into choreography, which is something that I enjoy doing anyway with players, with actors, where they work the frame as opposed to having the cameras do a lot of movement. So yeah, the kind of specificity of it, it's a clean style, which is interesting too. And the coverage, there are multiple different kinds of angles that it requires to tell this story because it is so dialogue-heavy is also attractive.

The way eyes and hand gestures always seem to dictate cuts or where an audience should be looking on this show, what kind of effect do you think that creates for a viewer? 

You know, that's actually what always should be the case. When you're working in film, you know it is a language of visual media. And oftentimes it is just a hand gesture or body movement of some kind that speaks louder than the dialogue. I mean, that's usually the film language. Years ago, I was doing Barnaby Jones as an actor and Buddy Ebsen who was the star that told me something, he said, "Remember, it's called motion pictures." And that's always stuck with me, you know? So yeah, and David is very, 'cause he comes some from photography, he very much focused upon the look of the show and how you capture the imagery.

Since you've directed some great film noirs, is there anything about the darkness of Mindhunter that has the feel of film noir? 

I think just the subject matter itself is noir, man. You know, it's so dark the way that it's done too. There's something I feel that is even more profound in terms of digging into the luridness of serial killers and the mindset of murderers, serial murderers than if you were to see graphic, the actual violence carried out... For the most part, you don't see that. And yet, the investigation of it and the description of it and the interviews with the people who are, who have committed these crimes and who are willing to talk about it, it has the kind of weight that you get from actually interviewing a real serial killer. When there's that presence, or actually I should say in a jail visitation or something, it seems to bring that kind of energy into the room I think much more effectively than if you actually saw the murder.

Your imagination is almost worse, right? 

Yeah. There's something about the rhythm of the scenes and the dialogue plays in pretty long stretches and that in itself is kind of a break from what has been convention in television and film in the past several years. There's something about that, about being real specific about what the terms in the dialogue are that somehow just makes things resonate on a much deeper level.

With your acting background, when you're watching actors like Holt McCallany, Jonathan Groff, or Anna Torv perform those long dialogue scenes, what stands out to you about their work? What makes them unique to you? 

One of the things that I feel about, that in my experience as an actor has made me appreciate is how difficult it is to do. I enjoy watching people do things I could never have done. I don't consider myself to have been a very good actor. What I see oftentimes surprises me and, my feeling is my responsibility is to somehow to continue to foster their journey. To help them go deeper into where they want to go. All of us are good players. Everybody that's on the show is a strong player. I mean, I think that's pretty evident. My feeling about them is that they're doing stuff that I wish I could have done in terms of levels that they get to.

I just wanted to say real quick, because it just came to my mind, I remember interviewing Bill Paxton and him talking a lot about One False Move. I'm not sure if he ever told you this, but he said you and One False Move really changed him as an actor.

How sweet. So Bill, Bill was interesting. He was a guy who... a lot of times when you have a lot of things that you can do, you want to do it all at once. Bill was a guy who maybe in his own mind was so humble that he could never see himself as the leading man that he was. That's what I really was trying to drum into him in One False Move. He was that man, you already have it. You don't have to work at it. Bill, the thing about him that was just so special was that was what you saw was what you got. When you met Bill Paxton and whatever he presented to you, that's what was underneath. He was a clear channel. He was a guy who just was really just a truly good guy and you just, there wasn't anything that had to be mined really. It was all there.

He was a great presence to be around. How did your collaboration with David Fincher on Mindhunter compare to when you were working on House of Cards

He was a little more involved this time, probably because... I'm not sure, but he was more involved this time. Maybe also because I had four episodes to shoot and we were cross boarding all four at once because of the weather, so that was quite an assignment. David was very helpful that day.

As you said earlier, there's such specificity to each shot in this show. How did you prep? Did you do a lot of storyboarding? 

I didn't really do much storyboarding. We storyboarded the action sequence. And when I say action sequence, I mean active sequences, when they're performing surveillance, and when it's a non-dialogue scene where there's a lot of choreography of a lot of different players. Basically, I just would go out and set up my shots, and visually I'd know what I had in my head. Then once I got to the set, we have a whole lot of opportunity to collaborate with Eric Messerschmidt, our DP; he was shooting everything. He was not available to work with you while you're out setting up the work. Now he's very smart, incredibly smart. There were a lot of things that we could come up with together on the set and things in place that just can be at all the time, 'cause he's an incredibly smart guy. But I usually do that stuff. I have some prep time beforehand and then on weekends.

What about when you get into the editing room? What's different about post-production on Mindhunter

Well, what's cool about Mindhunter in the similar situation with House of Cards is David lets you work as long as you want to as a director. The union mandates that you get four days per episode in television, and then it turns over to the producers. David, basically, if you want to be there for the entire time you can. And when he does come in for his cut, to make changes to refine, he always lets you know about those things, and seeks out your opinion on it. Oftentimes, if you do have something that you don't like, he will respond to that and go back to what you had. I mean, I didn't notice a lot of changes that were made. There were some pickup shots that had to be done, that I was not available to do, which changed some of those things. He's a very film-friendly, friendly guy, and that's been my experience with him.


Mindhunter season two is now available to stream on Netflix.