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Costume Designer Trish Summerville Breaks Down the Looks of ‘Mank’

Jazz Tangcay
·5-min read

When it came to designing the costumes of David Fincher’s “Mank,” both costume designer Trish Summerville and production designer Donald Graham Burt used the noir and monochromatic filters on their iPhones to see how color would convert for Fincher’s black and white film.

The film, which tells the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz and how he developed the script for Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” was shot on digital and filmed in black and white, rather than converted after shooting. That meant Summerville had to use wardrobe colors that would pop onscreen.

In looking at photos from the ‘30s, Summerville says she found that the Hollywood executives and glamorous actresses dressed in salmon hues, greens and aubergine, which she used to build texture when it came to dressing Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman.

“We wanted to show the varying degrees and levels of socioeconomic status in Hollywood at the time,” says Summerville, who breaks down key costumes from “Mank,” now streaming on Netflix.

CREATING COSTUMES FOR BLACK AND WHITE

We took the iPhone and went through all three settings and tried to figure out which one was the most accurate to how we would shoot.

David isn’t a big fan of color in general, so to try to get the colors you wanted in black and white and to translate and not read it so flattened and dull, there were colors you had to incorporate into the sets and the clothes.

The sets and costumes didn’t become too colorful and comical because of the tone, I tried to keep a certain color palette within certain scenes.

Even though it translates into black and white and tones of grey, the colors were lavenders, purples or burgundies. Other times, I’d use pastel or jewel tones. The greens were light greens to emerald greens. At least if you looked at the set with your own eyes and not behind a monitor, there was a calmness to the set. I didn’t want to look like a whole jar of jelly beans.

I would often take different fabrics or lay buttons on top of the fabrics and ties to see how they would read in black and white, but for me a lot of times the patterns or prints became too confetti and jump too much.

I found that red, burgundies and aubergines worked as a nice black. Muted and washed-out tones worked as nice shades of gray. Oddly, salmon came out great as a tone, so did chartreuse.

When you look at the clothing from that time period, especially the high-end suits and the evening gowns, those colors were common. So, it became about figuring out the tones to get that variance.

MARION AT HEARST CASTLE – A DINNER PARTY

That scene was Louis B. Mayer’s birthday party. Throughout most of the film, it is very male-heavy because of the time period, and film executives, studio executives and writers were mainly all men.

Marion is the starlet in the room and I wanted to portray that with her and make her be the thing in the room that pops. And in the 30s, gold lame fabrics started to become very popular. It was something that did catch the light well. It translated well into black and white, and in person, it was extremely glamorous. Gold lame was popular as this new exquisite fabric — that’s why I kind of chose to use that for her gown.

The dialogue is that she has an opinion and is much more interested in politics, whereas none of the other women are speaking up and they’re talking about men and being flirtatious.

She’s holding her own in this roomful of studio executives. She is this Hollywood icon, but she’s not just a pretty face. She has developed this great friendship with Mank who respects what she thinks and likes having conversations with her. So you see her glamorous and your eyes are on her, but she can challenge the other men in the room, and that’s what I wanted to show with her here.

DRESSING MANK

We had various periods with him. The present-day showed him convalescing, and then we go to flashbacks at the studios.

He has a hip cast and so we put him in a lot of nightshirts. As it progresses and the cast goes to the thigh and then the ankle, we put him in shorts.

We tried to show the heat and his detoxing by sweating in bed. He had those detox sweat dreams, and then we go to the earlier years.

At the studio, he is properly dressed. He’s in a suit, a tie and pulled together. At night, he has those escapades of going to bars and he’s drinking so we keep him disheveled for those moments.

He’s never perfectly pulled together. Probably the nicest we see him is at the funeral. He didn’t have a lot of money. He’s not somebody who had a closet full of suits. Even if you were wealthy at the time, men probably owned five suits. An everyday working-class person probably had one good suit and a couple of shirts.

For Mank, it was about keeping him the authentic court jester. He was funny and a very charismatic man. People liked having him around even though he’s a little bit of a troublemaker. He might have started the day nicely, but he was a bit of a mess by the time lunch rolled around.

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