How do you get into a killer’s head?

It starts with situating yourself within their perspective, as “The Killer” cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt says.

That perspective was firmly established in the film’s opening sequence where subjectivity was key. The Parisian opening scene features the titular character — the assassin known only as “The Killer” played by Michael Fassbender — readying himself to kill a target in the building across from him.

Messerschmidt who sat down with Variety expressed that his familiarity and previous work with “The Killer” director David Fincher shortened the process of bringing the script to life. For Messerschmidt and Fincher, the goal was to hone in on the core themes of the story, and then start delving into the details from here.

“I’ve now worked with David on several projects and we have, I think, a very refined shorthand in terms of how we communicate. We don’t storyboard. We generally don’t have elaborate conversations about the film, but we do talk about the broad concepts,” said Messerschmidt.

“In the case of this film, we talked about scene structure, structure of the film and pace — almost like we were having a conversation about editing,” Messerschmidt continued.

Messerschmidt and Fincher brought that mindset to the opening scene, specifically in designing the shifting perspectives. Audiences see the target through The Killer’s point of view, but they also see him as he examines the target. The presentation of these dueling perspectives immerses audiences in the conflict about to unfold.

Messerschmidt described the differing focus placements as strategic: “We find The Killer in his nest, in his place of observation. David wanted to explore the concept of subjectivity and part of the conversations that we had with him evolved around the idea that this is a character who never allows anyone in his personal space.”

“We wanted to play with the rhythm of the audience seeing him and then being inside his head and seeing exactly what he’s looking at,” he explained. “So we have this subjective camera position, subjective concept, and then the objective camera position and the objective concept.”

Along the way, The Killer’s iconic bucket hat became pivotal to visually designing the shots.

“I liked the idea of The Killer being in silhouette as much as possible,” he added. “That led to conversations around the costume and the wardrobe and making sure that his profile is very distinct. The bucket hat, for example, becomes an excellent tool in sort of describing the character in silhouette.”

To elevate the dynamics of control and chaos, Messerschmidt sought to emphasize parallels between the camerawork and the character’s psyche.

“The Killer is a character that is always in control of his environment. He’s confident. He’s secure; he’s going through the motions. He’s executing a plan that he knows will be successful,” he expressed of The Killer’s mental state. “So we wanted the camera to reflect that theme. So when The Killer is in control, when he’s confident, when he’s secure, the camera is perfectly secure.”

The moment in the scene when The Killer shoots the wrong target, that control is no longer visible. The contrast is clear in the transition to shaky camerawork.

“Then when he’s not. He becomes frantic and confused, and he’s surprised and he’s failed, the camera breaks free. The camera is no longer steady with him. The camera is handheld. The camera is frenetic. The camera is confused,” Messerschmidt said. “Hopefully the audience gets a little of that out of it.”