Thursday, February 07, 2013

Interview: Making ‘The Master' with Costume Designer Mark Bridges

Welcome to the third installment of "Making The Master," our series of in-depth interviews with some of the minds behind "The Master." We've spoken to many of the production's principal players (including writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson and producer JoAnne Sellar) that helped bring the film to life and today we have an interview with the PTA's longtime costume designer Mark Bridges. Mark is an Oscar-winning costume designer that has worked on every one of Paul's features going all the way back to "Hard Eight" and including their next collaboration "Inherent Vice." Mark  spoke to us about his 18 year working relationship with PTA, Freddie's incredibly high pants and what film he's looking at for "Inherent Vice" inspiration. Enjoy.

Cigarettes & Red Vines: How did you come to work with PTA?
Mark Bridges: He had started to do “Sydney” and it went down. In the meantime, he lost his costume designer so when it got back together and they were actually going to shoot it, someone recommended me to Paul. And I just pursued it. It was probably December ‘94 and I was really wanting to do my own projects. So I met him. We met for breakfast at Chez Nous on Riverside and we liked each other. I took him a couple days later to see a screening of a small film I’d done and he liked the way I did the clothes in that so he hired me for “Sydney” which turned out to be “Hard Eight.” We went to Reno and here we are, almost 20 years later.

You've been working together for nearly 20 years now. Has your working relationship with him changed much over the years?
I think the basic things that I really enjoy with him are the same, his methods may have changed a little bit. But basically he has an incredible intuition and sense of what is going to work dramatically and he’s really visual. The more I work with him over the years, at least once on each project he surprises me with how much he really knows about what colors say in emotion. But I think when he was 25, he took a lot more advice from his producers and now that he knows the business and he knows what he can do, he’s a little more creative on the spot.

Producers always want you to be very scheduled and complete a day and shoot this many pages in a day and everything. And I think over the years Paul has become a little more organic with shooting. If we’re in a real great groove with Phil and Joaquin, let’s stay on that. Let’s get everything on camera and have that moment on film. And not, “We’ll make it up tomorrow,” or something. I think he’s a little bit more free flowing in his creativity and look at the results we get from that.

I know there was some more on the fly shooting on “The Master.” When there are scenes that come up that may not be on the page, how do you stay nimble and keep up with those kinds of changes?
More and more I just try to be prepared for everything. When I do a fitting with an actor, I try to do his whole arc and sketch in the whole arc during the film. So really, if I need to go from change number 2 to change number 18, I already have a plan. So I just try to be as flexible as he might need me to be. Sometimes its impossible if something is being made or something and it just wasn’t supposed to come up for another 3 weeks. That’s a problem and we’ll go away from that. The same way if a set isn’t built, we’ll go away from that. I just tried to sketch in as much as possible in the couple of fittings I have with actors so we can be flexible. But more and more films in general are being made this way. So I’m getting used to it.

As a director, Paul is really known for his strong visuals and that definitely extends to costuming. There are certain pieces that really stick out in your mind like Barry Egan's blue suit in "Punch-Drunk Love" or The Master's red robe. You mentioned Paul understanding the emotion of what certain clothing choices mean, so I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on that?
I was watching “Boogie Nights” the other night and I remembered that we were shooting the scene with the pool party where Dirk meets all of his friends. And in the finished product, Dirk is wearing a bright orange bathing suit but the day of the shoot I had picked out something much more subtle and brownish something. And Paul asked if we had anything else brighter? And by the grace of the costume Gods, we had a bright orange one, and I probably just took it in a little bit, but it made all the difference in the world. And in “Magnolia” the backdrop of the [“What Do Kids Know?”] game show, the first one that we had was a period gold color of velour. And we walked in that day to start the game show and he said, “You know, this color isn’t going to work. Do we have anything maroon?” And so that whole background changed color and I think for the better.

And in “The Master” we had shot all of them getting off the yacht in New York and Ambyr [Childers] who played LD’s daughter had a fur jacket and a brown dress on. And we went into the interiors a couple of weeks later back in LA and he was like, “Do we have another dress for her? Everything’s so brown in here.” So I said, “Yeah, I have a red dress for her.” [So we reshot it] and it just livened it up. I look at the finished product and think, “It really needed that.” Luckily I had something in every one of these cases, I was ready for him. But he just has a sense so that when I look at the finished product now, it’s always better. I trust his color sense, I trust what he’s seeing through that camera and again and again, he’s proven it right. So I don’t take it lightly when he asks for things because it doesn’t happen that often and when he does, I know it’s important.

You’ve worked with some other strong directors like David O. Russell and Michel Hazanavicius, how is working with Paul different from working with some of these other filmmakers?
I think the familiarity. There’s nothing that can substitute for 18 years of having collaborated on 6 very different films. I truly feel like that whole crew and Paul, everyone who comes back again and again on those projects, we’re all very much a family. At least one time during the holidays we’ll all get together and it’s really great. You understand each other’s ups and downs the way you understand your own families ups and downs. And as long as there’s an open dialogue and respect of other people’s wishes and needs, it stays on a really even keel.

Paul’s very much like the optimal director. He gives you the script and wants to see what you can bring to the table and then we’ll tweak it. There’s a nice latitude and Michel is like that and for the most part David is like that too. So I enjoy working with them all where they’ll allow me to contribute. I think the directors that aren’t as satisfying are the ones that make arbitrary decisions because they can. I think Paul realizes the way he has the big picture of his film, I have a big picture in my mind of throughlines for clothes and the characters. But it’s not to say that there’s any question about who’s running the show. It’s just that there’s a lot of mutual respect, so it’s always a joy.

When did you first hear about “The Master”? How early did you get involved?

It’s really interesting because of the kind of long term relationship that we’ve had. I’m in on it very early, I think we had a table read early on by the time he has a first draft of the script that he feels is tight. He gets to the point where he wants to have a table read, so he gets a half dozen of us together: me, the producers, a couple of the actors and we’ll sit around and I’ll play, you know, Oil Worker number 3 or something and just read the part. Really early on, I’ll know what he’s working on. I probably had about 7 versions of the script for “There Will Be Blood.” 

But very early on, I know what he’s working on so my breezing into or touching on research, I can look at images and think of things for a couple of years before we start to shoot. We had scads and scads of research for “There Will Be Blood” and I just always try to present evocative period images in the rhythm of the story. So I can say, “This is how we’re going to do the yacht, this is the color palette I thought we’d use for New York and Philadelphia, here’s some images of the army hospital,” and whatever else is in that movie...

“Let There Be Light”?
There’s that. There’s also the group meetings, we found a lot of early, early, early pictures of L. Ron Hubbard in Arizona so we were greatly informed of the followers by the faces and clothing of the followers in that. And that’s like 1950 Arizona. So it’s just very different. Paul was always interested in the early days of Scientology when it was all done in people’s living rooms and very much the way it’s portrayed in the film. People had mimeographed letters that they would type at home, newsletters and photographs of people who came to the last meeting. It was a very homegrown, grassroots movement and that was what spurred Paul on to continue with the idea of it. Initially it was very innocent, not at all what it turned into as a global entity. So that was really fun to see that. Who knew?

The Scientology aspect is something that really captured people's attention and the parallels are definitely interesting. Were there any other sources of inspiration either films or just anything else you looked at as far as the costumes go?
The fact that it was 1950 and from a clothing standpoint it was really a transitional time between 40s and 50s, so capturing that was my goal. I’m always trying to be as specific as possible to time, place, weather, economic status, and of course, color palettes and things. So those are the things I lean on to make choices. What will fit? What’s available? What we need to get made for Philip, you know? The first time we see him it’s ever so brief, in longshot but there are more shots indoors on the yacht where he wears this green suit. He wears it later at the dinner scene in Philadelphia too. But questions like: how do you make a person compelling or interesting, capturing someone’s imagination?

Originally, you saw Freddie first seeing The Master from afar when he was a stowaway. So to put LD in a green suit is very right for the period but it also makes him stand away from the crowd makes him sort of interesting. And the red pajamas he wears in the next scene, again, it’s how that man feels about himself as far as being powerful and sexy. But it’s also, ‘How does Freddie see him?’ in these glowing red pajamas, which, by the way, we totally made from scratch. We even dyed that fabric, we made those pajamas, and I love the checkered pattern on there which is kind of like a maze pattern. Which I think says a lot three levels down: the maze of his mind and the way he speaks... And I think that was kind of accidental, I just liked it and a lot of things feel right to me and I can’t put my finger on it at the time. But ultimately it works out.

I know there are a lot of people who are fans of Joaquin's pants in the movie which are just, amazingly high cut on him. [laughs] How did those come about for his character?
It’s something that I love. We copied real pants from the period. It’s what really makes it look period because there’s nothing like that today. And I look at some of these movies that were made in the late 30s and 40s and it is unbelievable how high [these pants are], the space between the armpit and the top of the waist is like 6 inches. [laughs] And I actually think at the time it was for modesty’s sake, because the higher the pants, the more they drape away from your body at the genital area and with pleats and everything it just makes it really full there. So you would never see any outline of anyone’s genitals.

So it’s perfect for a guy like him, the pants being up that high and all those pleats can conceal the erections that he may have during any given time, that little horndog! And Joaquin worked that stuff too, he felt those pants high and that’s where he bent and that’s how he took his stances. The way he worked with jackets and things. With an actor like Joaquin, my goal is to make him be able to live in those clothes. So it’s always very gratifying when those clothes somehow make them somebody else.

And you can see that the way he’s wearing his clothes is informing how he’s carrying himself. It’s amazing that Freddie the character really looks nothing like Joaquin Phoenix, his face and body, it’s really an incredible transformation.
I think so too. I think he did an amazing, amazing job. And he was a pleasure to work with, absolutely.

Were there any unexpected challenges making this film? Anything that you hadn’t anticipated?
Let me go into the dim recesses of my mind, luckily you repress all those and forget about them. [laughs] You know, it was what it was. We shot a lot up at Mare Island up in Vallejo and I think one of the challenges was reality vs. what we’re trying to put on screen. It’s supposed to be a yacht going from San Francisco through the Panama Canal to New York. And so I dress it like we’re in the tropics but the reality is we’re shooting in San Francisco harbor in June, which as Mark Twain famously said, the coldest winter he ever spent was summer in San Francisco. [laughs] So while the clothes were trying to say one thing, the reality is that everybody had long underwear on under their resort clothes. So that’s why you see them in blankets and things during the wedding. So that was the biggest challenge, trying to make it believable that they’re going through the Panama Canal but dealing with the oh-so-breezy San Francisco body of water.

I know that “Inherent Vice” is gearing up now. Is that something you're already starting to think about?
Oh yes. Yes I am starting to think about it. So much of my work is who’s going to play the role, so I would probably prep differently for “There Will Be Blood” if Daniel Plainview was played by somebody other than Daniel Day Lewis, you know? So right now I’m just waiting for casting to be finalized but certainly trying to take in as much as I can of that late 60s Los Angeles.

You guys have already done 3 different period pieces together so I'm really curious how you’re planning to interpret the late 60s...
We really haven’t had any meetings yet, I want to sit down with him. I think it’s an unusual piece. I think it’ll still be Paul Thomas Anderson and probably try to feel very real but I don’t think we’ve really settled on what this movie’s going to be yet. I really don’t. So it could go a couple of different ways at this point. But it’s funny, I’ve been researching and looking at a lot of films at the end of the 60s. There’s a film called “Candy” [a 1968 satire starring Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, Walter Matthau, John Huston, James Coburn, Ringo Starr and Charles Aznavour] -- as well as other films that I’ve been looking at -- that are satires but they’re broad and they have very iconic people in them. So I’m playing with that idea in my mind, whether that’s something that Paul’s going to want to latch onto, [I’m not sure].

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  1. Holla!
    All these are very interesting and enjoyable thanks.

    Any update on that WGA interview transcript happening?

  2. Shit man, that's amazing. Jack Fisk coming up and now this, awesome.

  3. Man, you guys are amazing! Is there any other "definitive resource" websites that you know of for other directors? I would love to have one for Martin Scorsese or Terrence Mallick for instance...

    Lots of great info on this site. It's been going a while. You'll probably have to dig in to the blog section to find good stuff though.

  5. these interviews are fantastic!

  6. Thanks. Freddie's cloths show a lot about his personality. It's very messy and not very well formed. Great job Mark!

    BTW: Is there any relation to Jeff Bridges ?

  7. this was really interesting. very telling about PTA's process. I'm gonna be so hyper-aware of the clothes in his movies now. Great job!

  8. I could just thank you again and again for these... and I will

    But, with this, the producer and some of his cast members like Phil Hoffman... it is a blessing that not only has he been able to put together this "family" of collaborators, but that we get to reap the benefits of those creative relationships

    On a side note... I saw on the twitter stream on the left regarding the real or not so real friction between Weinstein and Annapurna, and it was unfortunate how the Scientology angle of "The Master" swallowed all the headlines... not only was it not really about that, or about so much more, or something somewhere to the side of that... I think people also don't care about that as much and it doesn't put butts in theater seats... Harv may have had the right idea about the soldier angle, but either way, it's clear that this film probably wasn't an easy sell for most filmgoers... Sounds like "Inherent Vice" will be more