Erik Messerschmidt, winner of the award for best cinematography for “Mank,”poses with presenter Halle Berry in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday at Union Station in Los Angeles. Chris Pizzello/Associated Press, Pool

Erik Messerschmidt was not expecting to hear his name Sunday night when presenter Halle Berry announced the Oscar winner for best cinematography.

Technically, he didn’t. Berry stumbled over his last name and it came out sounding like “Meshenschmidt.” But when she also named the film he worked on, “Mank,” it was very clear the Cape Elizabeth native had just won his first Oscar.

“I was completely surprised and not expecting to win, so I had nothing prepared,” Messerschmidt said on Monday from his home in Los Angeles. “I felt so humbled by the whole thing. We watched the Oscars every year when I was a kid and never for a moment did I think I’d be up there.”

Messerschmidt, 40, won the Oscar for his work on “Mank.” The black-and-white film is about Hollywood’s glory days and was focused on writer Herman J. Mankiewicz as he works on the screenplay for “Citizen Kane.” It led all films in Oscar nominations with 10.

Messerschmidt attended the Oscar ceremony at Union Station in Los Angeles Sunday night with his wife, Naiara. Because of COVID-19 safety measures, nominees were seated in the auditorium when their category was announced, but the rest of the time they were in one of two patio areas outside. The ceremony was televised on ABC.

When it came time to give his acceptance speech, with no notes prepared, Messerschmidt began with a “wow,” soon followed by another “wow.” He said he’d like to cut the award in five pieces, to share with the other nominees, and then thanked many specific cast and crew members who worked on “Mank,” including director David Fincher. He ended by thanking his wife, who he said “tolerates this crazy business.”


Messerschmidt and Fincher had worked together on the Netflix crime drama “Mindhunter,” which earned Messerschmidt an Emmy nomination for cinematography in 2020. He said having a previous working relationship with Fincher helped him on “Mank.”

Messerschmidt’s competition in the cinematography category included Sean Bobbitt for “Judas and the Black Messiah,” Dariusz Wolski for “News of the World,” Joshua James Richards for “Nomadland” and Phedon Papamichael for “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

After the Oscars, Messerschmidt said his phone “blew up” with people congratulating him for his Oscar win, including friends and family in Maine. He said he wanted to return every one, and spent Monday morning doing just that.

Messerschmidt grew up in Cape Elizabeth and worked on lighting and set design crews for theater productions while at Cape Elizabeth High School. He studied TV and film at Emerson College in Boston before venturing to Los Angeles to find work some 20 years ago.

He worked in various positions of the electrical and lighting departments of film and TV productions before becoming a cinematographer. Some of his other TV series credits as a cinematographer include episodes of the FX anthology crime series “Fargo” and Ridley Scott’s science fiction drama “Raised by Wolves” on HBO Max.

Last week, just before the Oscars, Messerschmidt said, he finished shooting a film called “Devotion,” about two Navy aviators and directed by J.D. Dillard. On Monday, Messerschmidt said he was going back to work soon to film some TV commercials, before taking some time off in the summer.

But whatever he does from now on, and no matter how anyone pronounces his name, he’ll be known as an Oscar winner.

“It’s just such an incredible honor,” Messerschmidt said.

Messerschmidt poses in the press room with the award for best cinematography for “Mank” at the Oscars on Sunday at Union Station in Los Angeles. AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, Pool

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