“Building the Character a Closet”: Costume Designer Trish Summerville on the 1930s Hollywood Style of David Fincher’s Mank
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Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies in Mank (Photo: NETFLIX)

The multi-award-winning costume designer Trish Summerville, a repeat David Fincher collaborator after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) and Gone Girl (2014), has signed her name in numerous challenging film and television projects during her long, cross-genre career, including The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Red Sparrow. But Mank – Fincher's meticulous creation of the Golden Age of Hollywood through the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz & # 39; writing Citizen Kane – and working in black and white presented a new challenge to the craftsman who had previously only done small projects in black and white . “We were lucky; we were able to do a lot of camera tests before we shot,” explains Summerville. During preparation, her process included placing time-specific clothing in different settings and taking black and white photos on her phone to see how the colors translate "I figured out what comes closest to lighting and (shooting) style," she recalls. "And then (with focus on) the details that you see: which colors can be read well in black and white, what disappears completely, goes flat, or absorbs too much light. I've been looking for things that go with different scenes and have reflective properties. "

Summerville went far and wide for her detailed research of the era, reaching for magazines and looking at real-life photographs and cinematic references as much as possible. She carefully observed every area of ​​Hollywood's life to project a complete and believable vision of the time. "As a costume designer, I don't want to just have a fashion show," says Summerville. "I'm in character development. I really enjoy working with actors, helping them get that character and giving them a new adventure on a new journey."

Summerville recently spoke to the filmmaker and broken down the intricate details of her work on Mank.

Filmmaker: Mank is not a nostalgic or exaggerated version of the Golden Age of Hollywood. It has a realistic point of view. And your costume work reflects that quality very well.

Summerville: It's nice to hear you say that, and that you saw that. David is a very authentic filmmaker. This is the process that we always go through no matter what the issue. (While Mank) is a Hollywood movie, a story about Citizen Kane. You see someone like Herman Mankiewicz. Although he was part of Hollywood like his brother (Joseph Mankiewicz), he was a real person who existed in a very specific economic lifestyle and environment. So we tried to show that. What made it creatively interesting to me was that we had to do these luscious, glamorous party scenes – the Academy Awards, the Circus Party – but then also the day-to-day life of Mankiewicz and its progress over the years. His appearance remained classic, but the alcoholism and stress contributed to him. Then you will also see the workers on the backlot. It's not just all the starlets and directors and L.B. Mayer, but (also) all the other people in the background who make the films possible. And we're rolling out of this depression era. You have the people who live on the dole and have no money. So you see the wear and tear in your clothes. I think you really did it – we have every area of ​​life. It's a very realistic film. It's not overly glamorous or atypical.

Filmmaker: In terms of capturing the realities of the Great Depression, I remember two scenes where Mankiewicz referred to an unemployed actor, C.C. And you see the wear and tear that you mentioned on his clothes. But then again, it's composite and not a condescending view of his financial struggles. What does it take to age clothes appropriately to find the right way?

Summerville: We see some of these gentlemen in the propaganda films too. They were people who were actors at some point or who did background work. As soon as things went through that depression they were unemployed. Then they are hired to make these propaganda films. You're trying to make ends meet. With them, we wanted to show that during this period (and probably well into the early 60s) you tried to be extremely presentable even when you had no money. They were hidden. They have shirts or button-up shirts (and jackets). But it's probably the only clothes they have. So I really got it worn out by the collar. We've done a lot of aging and breakdown on the shirts: the cuff in the sleeves of the shirt, around the pockets … Anywhere you touch more or your hands go in and out. And all the hems on her pants were really aged. We added some living filth to them. But they weren't dirty. Because if you had access to water, you were still trying to keep it clean. Because these were the clothes you had, you had to take care of them.

Tuppence Middleton as Sara Mankiewicz and Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz in Mank (Photo: Netflix)

Filmmaker: On something that you touched on briefly earlier, the progress made in Mank over the years is remarkable. We're taking a trip through the 30s and you notice the transitions; Things that carried over from the 20s to the 40s.

Summerville: We did a lot of research before we even started decorating. And we've researched everywhere. For the circus party (for example) there were up-to-date photos of the various theme parties that took place in the Hearst Mansion. We were able to find some real pictures of the circus party. We kind of rebuilt these costumes, changed them a little, but kept them close to what was actually worn there.

For everyday life (we looked at) old Sears and Roebuck and J.C. Penney. And then there are Time Magazines, Life Magazines, and old films depicting the 30s and 40s. Then do photographic research – since we were dealing with a lot of real-world characters, you can find research information on that. And then we tried to take certain characters and see what their lifestyle and clothing would be like. In the 30s and 40s (and probably well into the 60s), fashion wasn't moving as fast as it is now. Now we have fast disposable fashion. Whereas back then you bought very classic pieces because there weren't that many options and people didn't dress in all of these individual styles. There was a certain width of a lapel for certain years or a width of a tie, even the width in the fullness of the pants, especially for men. Especially with Mank (because we see him the most during this time) (the idea was) to keep him very classic. And then I just show his weight gain over the years (via), how his pants fit his waist, and let him grow a little disheveled into his alcoholism. (We had) stains on his clothes when he was relaxing in the bungalow, like ashes and bits of burns from cigarettes and sweat stains, and things on his pajamas because he was in bed.

And then you have someone like Thalberg who was very fashionable and current in real life. He was married to a famous starlet and traveled the world. So we changed his silhouettes and gave him the fuller pants. And then you have someone like Hearst. Although he's quite a cashier and a knowledgeable, educated man, his suit remained very traditional until early years due to his age. Very late 20s-early 30s. He is one of the few characters who still wear a pocket watch. The other gentlemen are wearing watches.

We tried to keep everyone very realistic (their age), what their lifestyle was, what their economic status was. We did the same with women. Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) is obviously the most noticeable in a room. Then you have Mank's wife, Sara (Tuppence Middleton), who was a beautiful woman but her clothes were more conservative and reserved.

Lily Collins as Rita Alexander in Mank (Photo: Netflix)

Filmmaker: You see this down-to-earth style in Lily Collins & # 39; Rita Alexander too. I loved the costumes on her: grounded, impeccably tailored with pencil skirts. Were their pieces all custom?

Summerville: We built all of the clothes for most of the lead actors because if you look at the rental and sublet clothes of the period, the clothes for actual pieces are around 90 years old. So wear and tear is high. With Lily, we really wanted to show how her relationship with Mank and this group of people who had become this family in the bungalow had developed. They think she brought every item of clothing she has with her because she thinks she'll be there for at least 90 days. We decided to make her a couple of skirt silhouettes and a couple of blouses. She has two suits. So (these are pieces) we can use as separate ones. We kept it very logical about how much money she would actually spend on clothes. In the beginning I decided that she would be buttoned up and more presentable because she was meeting Mank for the first time. She wants to come in and be taken seriously. And as the relationship develops, it becomes more relaxed. She also wears casual women’s blouses with short sleeves, as we also deal with summer heat. And then (we put them on) in pants. We kept her pieces simple, classic and delicate. Lily is quite petite in her body. So I didn't want to give her anything that was too overwhelming.

Filmmaker: She was a real woman of that time with a real wardrobe: limited but versatile pieces.

Summerville: It was important to do this thing that we call in costumes and make the character a closet. You are obviously going through the script. If there is something that is specially mentioned, an outdoor scene where you need a coat or a swimming scene (scene), you know you need to have those special clothes. But you also want to build them a cabinet with repeat pieces. Especially with Lily and everyone who goes on this journey with Mank, we have these 90 days (thought of that). I stated, "What is she going to put in this bag?" We talked to props: how many suitcases will they unload from the car? Lily would have a makeup case. She would have at least one suitcase. And it's summer so we didn't need coats, but we should probably have a sweater for cool evenings.

Filmmaker: And besides these everyday wardrobes, I also love all the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, of course. For me, Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) wears L.B. Mayer's birthday, the metallic dress, is a kind of costume centerpiece. And it is shown in detail in the film: we see them sitting in it, then walking and then losing their balance at the fountain. While it fits her like a glove, it's also something she can obviously move into.

Summerville: This dress is kind of antique gold color. It is lamé with a slight crease through the fabric. For this particular party scene, I had been able to see what the room, the Hearst Castle, would look like. I knew the seating and the light was a bit dark. And there was a lot of wood. We would have much of the principle there (and also). I knew that from this room they would move on to their stand up and go to the gardens and the zoo. I knew Dave would light the moonlight. So I really wanted her to be where your eye is in the room. It was similar at the Circus Party. I needed your eye to go there. Because that is what Mank is aware of. He has a real love for Marion. And they see things in a very similar way compared to the obsession with Hearst or someone like that. It's too easy and not who he really was. Because he's watching what she's doing in the room, I wanted the audience to do that too.

Amanda is quite petite and goes very well with contemporary clothing. So I wanted it to be a bias cut dress. It somehow clung to her, very insidiously. I also wanted it to have movement. Then I went for the sleeves that could move. And then I gave him a low back with Swarovski crystals on the back to catch light too. She looked great when she came and went. I really like Mank wearing her shoes at some point because she's carrying a bottle of gin. I like this whole dynamic: she looks perfect in this room and starts this dialogue about Hitler and the Nazis and how wrong and awful that is. She has this really strong political view of the world. She really knows what's going on, is super curious and wants to know more. But she's wearing this really glamorous dress and has this perfect hair and makeup as a starlet. Then the conversation ends. So I wanted this drama to be there if it went. Mank stays in rather dark tones. We made it in lots of navy, gray, and brown. Whenever he's next to her, she shows up. It shows that he is a man of the people and that she loves him for who he is.

Filmmaker: And when I speak of this dress, I really love the vintage “Gowns by” credit at the beginning. "Dresses and Costumes by Trish Summerville."

Summerville: Yeah, that was really nice. That was all David. I did not know it. He sent me the poster and that's where I saw it. So it was very nice.

Filmmaker: A nice look back at "Gowns by Adrian" or Edith Head or Orry-Kelly. Were they inspirations in any way?

Summerville: I've always been a huge fan of Adrian. Aside from his clothes, which he's pretty famous for, his suit was impeccable. The way all of the pinstripes were mitered on every suit he made, whether it was the color or the direction of the lapels, or the pocket flaps or the suit jacket that went down into the skirt … Especially in women who have darts and turns and hips. I really appreciate that. What inspires me is finding the fabrics. I can see the pictures of what I want in my head and I have to find the stuff that I want. Or I stumble upon something completely different and what I want to change because I found a fabric or an ornament or a button that really moved me.

Filmmaker: When I was talking about Adrian's suit, I found that the suit in this film is also flawless.

Summerville: It's a lot of suits!

Filmmaker: I mean who knew filmmaking was a bit like a guys club right?

Summerville: (laughs in agreement) Especially then.

Filmmaker: A men's fashion scene that is particularly memorable for me is Mank, who outwardly is a kind of writer, Irving Thalberg and L.B. Mayer. It is the scene in which he first meets them in the film k. You're sitting in these incredibly cool sunglasses and suits. Mayer wears a three-part window pane and Thalberg wears a double-breasted jacket. The scene makes such an unmistakable statement about who they were and who Mank is.

Summerville: Yeah, that's another really funny scene for us because it's the Hearst version of a home movie. I asked David, "Can I make it more of a garden party?" And he said, "Show me what you mean." So I showed him these very summery pictures of suits, sheets and people serving champagne outside and croquet and all. And he says: "Yes, we can." Many of the men's suits are traditionally dark in color, unless you are doing a sporting event or you are at a garden or theme party. So it gave me the opportunity to make a difference in the season there and show an elite kind of club that these men were all in. Thalberg's (Ferdinand Kingsley) suit is a double-breasted cream-colored linen suit. Mayers (Arliss Howard) was a light brown windowpane suit with a vest and bow tie. Arliss was so brilliant; He had me put on him plus four, the pants that come down to the knee, and you wear high socks with them. They were both really great. I have some photos that I took together on set because they looked great.

The glasses added such a nice touch. Our prop person, Trish Gallaher Glenn, really researched the time and had amazing props: beautiful glasses, signet rings, jewelry and watches for every section. When you swing over to them, with their sunglasses on in all these settings, they are relaxed in these chairs. And here comes Mank, who's been in his suit for two days. Don't know where he is, completely disheveled and rumbling, but just drives on and grabs an orange juice and goes straight to Marion for a chat. He just fits into any scenario, even though he doesn't look like him.

Filmmaker: Do you keep track of how many unique outfits you design and make in an entire film?

Summerville: Not me because it could be overwhelming or change. I know my supervisor and assistants definitely know the numbers we need to hit. I just go with you and design as I see it. I did a TV series (once). At some point they kept changing the schedule and it would either be this fight scene with 150 men in armor or this village scene with 150 tribes, 12 different tribes. So I had to say, “Oh my god, we can't do both. You have to choose one.” Then I said, “Okay, I can't look at the numbers. I just have to go for it. “You do this in an organized way without compromising your creativity.

Filmmaker: If we go back to menswear, we won't see a lot of Orson Welles in the movie. But in one particular scene, his larger-than-life aura is revealed in a black cloak or cape and a wide-brimmed hat. A great dreamy vision where Tom Burke telegraphs the greatness of Orson Welles.

Summerville: Orson was only 25 years old when he directed and starred in Citizen Kane. I think most citizens see Orson Welles as much older than a really tall, strong kind of gentleman. For this (scene) we wanted it to be that iconic image of him, that cape and black hat. Somehow, when we think of Orson Welles, our thoughts go there.

What I also like about this (scene) is that Mank is in this morphine trans. He just had this terrible accident. I like the idea that you don't know if it's a hallucination or a drug induced dream that Mank actually has. Is It Really Orson? The way it was shot was really beautiful how all you have is this shady picture coming down the hallway and the wind blowing. So you say, "Is he inside? Is he really there? Is it in Mank's head?" And then from there to the point where we actually see Orson when he was much younger: He wore shirts with very long collars . We made his collar (about) three and a half inches; quite long and really full pants. He wore fuller pants, as many of the younger, more fashionable men wore back then. All of his shirts are monograms because he was a bit flawless and extremely vain. We wanted this to be translated whenever we see it.

Filmmaker: I love the way Tom Burke wears these costumes too. I saw him in The Souvenir, a film that is also very costumed. He has an imposing way of wearing certain types of clothing.

Summerville: He does. He has a very large presence. And I have to say it was really almost scary and creepy, the tone of his voice, how much he sounded like Orson Welles. I think he did a nice job.

Filmmaker: You've worked with David Fincher before. Gone Girl, the girl with the dragon tattoo and now Mank. I know he's extremely detail-oriented, but how involved or hands-on is he in your process as a costume designer?

Summerville: I was very lucky to work with him on a couple of projects. We now have a good shortcut. I know how he works and what (he) will be special. From an early age I make a lot of boards for topic, mood and the whole world. And I do shade palettes. This was obviously different because we were in black and white. But it just showed him where I would have patterns where I wouldn't (even taking into account) the economic status of everyone in (different scenes) of the film. And then I do illustrations, show fabric samples and then do the fittings. I just show him what's in the fittings and where we think we're going to put things. And so he will often say, "Oh, let's put it this way. The set is going to be pretty dark. We may have to take something lighter with us." So it's a lot of technical stuff.

He has a really good eye for fashion. One of the things that is really comforting is that he's already seen the whole project, the whole movie in his head come to an end. Music inserted, edited, everything. If you have these conversations with him, he'll know exactly what it looks like. He is very clear about what he wants. But he is also very open and lets you work with him. He brings you all in and lets you be creative. And one of the things I love is that he says, “Show me more. What else do you have? Let's see more. "He's very excited about things. I think people have a misunderstanding with him. He's very special, but he's not micromanaged in any way. His films are so precise and take you into these worlds because that's what he's paying attention to . And then bring in people he knows can trust him.


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