In David Fincher’s “Mank,” bowing Dec. 4 on Netflix, a key sequence takes place at Hearst Castle, when Gary Oldman’s Herman J. Mankiewicz shows up drunk and unannounced at a lavish dinner party thrown by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, played by Charles Dance.
Filming is normally not allowed at the actual estate, with Lady Gaga’s “G.U.Y.” video the rare exception. So production designer Donald Graham Burt and Fincher spent months tracking down locations around Los Angeles that could stand in for the grand mansion. Interiors and exteriors were shot at a Pasadena estate, the Huntington Gardens, in Malibu and on soundstages, all carefully decorated to give the feel of San Simeon if not the exact details.
It was up to sound mixer Ren Klyce to capture the extravagance that Fincher sought when filming those scenes. Klyce reverse-engineered the mix — distorting sounds, lowering the dynamic range and limiting the high frequency to take audiences back to 1930s Hollywood and the “Citizen Kane” era.
Burt and Klyce break down how they re-created the estate and captured the aura of wealth.
Building the San Simeon Estate Interiors
Donald Graham Burt
“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.
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.
It was about emulating instead of replicating.”
The Sound of Money
“One of the things that David wanted was the feeling of opulence. He wanted opulence, extravagance, and he wanted it to sound expensive — everything was expensive crystal. They’re not glasses from Ikea.
It was the feeling of crystal, the feeling of the finest Champagne being popped and the finest leather chairs being sat in. It was the most ferociously gigantic fires — roaring fireplaces. All of that was to say, ‘Look at how rich William Randolph Hearst is.’
There’s a sequence when Mank chases after Marion Davies [Amanda Seyfried], and they walk around the garden. We call it the ‘Walk and Talk in the Topiary.’ It’s a long sequence that starts by a seating area where they meet and drink. It takes them through the zebras, giraffes, and ends up at the water fountain.
David had filmed that and had recorded all the dialogue on the day, but for creative reasons, he wanted to redo their dialogue from head to toe. What you hear is dialogue redone many months later through ADR. Amanda was pregnant at that point and was in her apartment in New York with a microphone that we set up for her. So David would work with her over Zoom, getting her lines. He did that with Gary Oldman, but they weren’t together at that point, and that’s a very interesting look at how that sequence was structured.”