This year’s virtual Emmy Awards will feature locations around the world, including the living rooms of two Mainers.

Cape Elizabeth native Erik Messerschmidt and Gorham native Dan MacKenzie are both being recognized by the Television Academy, presenter of the Emmys, this week. Both are being honored in the Creative Arts categories of the Emmys, which highlight people who work behind the scenes in technical fields.

MacKenzie already knows he’s won a Creative Arts Emmy for his animation work on the Fox show “Cosmos: Possible Worlds.” That award is one of several Creative Arts Emmys that’s juried, meaning winners are picked by a jury and announced before Emmy week. The Creative Arts Emmys are being presented virtually all this week and MacKenzie’s award will be presented as part of a live streaming event at 8 p.m. Thursday on emmys.com.

Messerschmidt’s Creative Arts Emmy nomination is for one of the traditional awards, cinematography, for his work on the Netflix series “Mindhunter.” That award will be presented as part of the Creative Arts Emmy show Saturday on the cable channel FXX at 8 p.m. Most of the acting and directing awards will be presented during the annual Emmy Awards show at 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20, on ABC.

OUTSTANDING CINEMATOGRAPHY: ERIK MESSERSCHMIDT

Erik Messerschmidt always wanted to be behind the camera, and he was willing to put in some work to get there.

Messerschmidt, who grew up in Cape Elizabeth, arrived in Hollywood nearly 20 years ago and started working on productions in the electrical and lighting departments, with menial-sounding job titles like “third grip” and “best boy electric.”

But over the years, jobs in those departments gave him a well-rounded education in filmmaking, which he uses in his current role as a cinematographer. This year he received his first Emmy nomination, for his work as director of photography on the Netflix series “Mindhunter.” The award will be presented Saturday night.

Maine native Erik Messerschmidt is nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on the Netflix series “Mindhunter.” Photo by Melanie Willhide

“I’ve just always loved being on a movie set, and I wanted to be one of those guys who logged the hours,” said Messerschmidt, 39. “I think my experience really helps me now, in the planning that is so much a part of the job.”

Messerschmidt is nominated in the category of outstanding cinematography for a one-hour, single-camera series. Single-camera refers to the technique of filming the show more like a movie, where the camera can go anywhere. Multi-camera cinematography has been used over the years for many TV sitcoms, where the camera basically has the same view as an audience watching the show take place on a stage.

Messerschmidt’s mother helped him become interested in photography when he was young, and he enthusiastically joined lighting and set design crews for theater productions at Cape Elizabeth High School. He knew he wanted to work in film and TV, so he got an internship at Portland TV station WMTW and, after high school, studied TV and film at Emerson College in Boston.

In 2002, he studied in Los Angeles as part of his Emerson course work, and stayed there after graduation. He got small jobs first, then began working in the electrical and lighting departments of bigger productions.

Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, a Maine native, on the set of the Netflix series “Mindhunter.” Photo courtesy of Netflix

He was a gaffer, or chief lighting technician, on episodes of the CW show “Everybody Hates Chris,” starring comedian Chris Rock, the Fox police drama “Bones” and the AMC period drama “Mad Men.” As a gaffer on the film thriller “Gone Girl” in 2014, he worked with director David Fincher, whose other films include “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Social Network” and “Fight Club.” The two became friends and Messerschmidt considers Fincher a mentor.

The whole time he was working as a gaffer, Messerschmidt worked behind the camera, too, on smaller films, commercials and whatever projects he could find. So when Fincher was beginning work as an executive producer of a new series for Netflix called “Mindhunter,” he contacted Messerschmidt about being the series’ director of photography. The show began in 2017 and is about an elite FBI unit in the early days of using criminal profiling to track serial killers. It’s set in the 1970s and ’80s, with period costumes, and shot in a sort of “hyper-realism” style, Messerschmidt said.

“One only needs to watch an episode to appreciate his lighting and composition,” said Kirk Baxter, editor of “Mindhunter,” in an email. “Erik is effortless to be around, his positivity and curiosity is contagious. He’s a person that’s quickly and quietly folded into the delicate ecosystem of opinion and influence.”

Messerschmidt was also director of photography for Ridley Scott’s new science fiction drama series “Raised by Wolves,” which is airing on HBO Max. He also collaborated with Fincher on the black-and-white Netflix film “Mank,” about Herman Mankiewicz, a veteran Hollywood screenwriter best-known for “Citizen Kane” with Orson Welles. That film has not yet been scheduled for release.

Messerschmidt’s competition for the Emmy includes the directors of photography for “The Crown” and “Ozark” on Netflix, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Tales from the Loop” on Prime and “Westworld” on HBO. Because of the pandemic, the award presentation will be virtual and Messerschmidt will be at his home. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Naiara Paulos. He’s been asked to pre-record an acceptance speech in case he wins.

“It’s pretty funny, because nobody expects to win,” said Messerschmidt.

OUTSTANDING INDIVIDUAL ACHIEVEMENT IN ANIMATION: DAN MACKENZIE

Dan MacKenzie remembers being somewhat awestruck the first time a group of strangers seemed to like his animated films.

It was when he was a student at Gorham High School, and one of his short animated films had been accepted at a film festival in Chicago. So he packed up his film and went.

“It was the first time that I could hear people who didn’t know me laughing and enjoying it,” said MacKenzie, 31. “That encouraged me.”

MacKenzie has gone on to a career as an animator for major films and TV shows. On Thursday, he’ll be presented, virtually, with a Creative Arts Emmy for his animation work on the Fox show “Cosmos: Possible Worlds.”

Animator Dan MacKenzie working on the children’s show “Tumble Leaf,” seen on Prime. Photo courtesy of Bix Pix Entertainment

MacKenzie also won a Daytime Emmy Award in June. He won in the category of directing for a preschool animated program for his work on the Prime series “Tumble Leaf.” As supervising animator, he shared the award with the series’ director and animation director. The show uses stop-motion animation – puppets filmed in different poses – and stars a blue fox named Fig who lives with other whimsical characters on the island of Tumble Leaf.

MacKenzie’s Creative Arts Emmy is in the category of outstanding individual achievement in animation, for work on the series “Cosmos: Possible Worlds.” The show is a science documentary series hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. MacKenzie animated scenes about the life and work of Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov, a pioneer of modern plant breeding who was jailed in the Soviet Union for his beliefs and died in prison. Instead of re-creating Vavilov’s life with actors, the producers of “Cosmos” turned to MacKenzie to animate him in a realistic fashion. The series premieres on Fox at 8 p.m. Sept. 22, and MacKenzie’s episode airs Oct. 13.

“It was a fascinating project to be a part of, to tell his story,” said MacKenzie.

Gorham native Dan MacKenzie will receive a Creative Arts Emmy Award this week for his animation work on the TV series “Cosmos: Possible Worlds.” Photo by Allison MacKenzie

Growing up in Gorham, MacKenzie began telling simple stories with his brother and friends, making murder mystery movies with a video camera. He and his brother made animated films using Legos. Later, after watching a lot of animation online, MacKenzie started dabbling in claymation – animating figures made of clay. He was a big fan of the British claymation films “Wallace & Gromit.” He liked funny, simple stories that allowed him to bring “blue clay men” to life.

After high school, he went to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, to study animation. Through the school, he also studied abroad in France and got an internship in California working on the animated sketch-comedy show “Robot Chicken” on the Adult Swim cable channel. He would come back to the show several times between 2010 and 2018, working as an animator on 18 episodes. He began working on “Tumble Leaf” in 2014 on various episodes, rising to supervising animator in 2018.

MacKenzie also worked as lead animator on the animated psychological comedy-drama “Anomalisa,” released in 2015. He’s worked on several films for the Laika animation studios in Portland, Oregon, including “Paranorman,” “The Boxtrolls” and “Kubo and the Two Strings.”

MacKenzie says the world of film and TV animation is fairly small, and connections and recommendations have helped him move from job to job. Each job is a little different, with its own pressure. When doing a film, an animator is expected to place puppets in a scene, pose the puppets frame by frame, and film about 1 to 2 seconds of footage a day. The film can capture about 24 pictures per second, MacKenzie said.

“In film, you’re looking for more nuance in your shots,” said MacKenzie.

Maine native Dan MacKenzie, with his daughter Eleanor, accepting a Daytime Emmy Award virtually in June. Photo by Allison MacKenzie

Because of his work with Laika studios, MacKenzie is currently living in Oregon with his wife, Allison, and infant daughter, Eleanor. Because of COVID-19, MacKenzie is not picking up his Emmy in person. He got his Daytime Emmy at home, holding Eleanor and wearing a formal-looking suit.

For his Creative Arts Emmy, he’s been asked to pre-record a 15-second thank you speech.

“It’s sort of a bummer not being able to go; awards shows are a lot of fun,” said MacKenzie. “But then I won’t have the stress or anxiety of waiting to see if I won.”


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