Costume designer Wendy Cork talks us through the challenges of dressing time travellers from the 1940s to 1990s.
Based on the famous short story All You Zombies, Predestination chronicles the life of a time-travelling policeman who must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time. The film is the latest sci fi offering from Brisbane twin brother filmmaking duo Peter and Michael Spierig, whose last flick Daybreakers picked up a cool $65million at the international box office.
Here, Wendy Cork talks channelling Bowie for Ethan Hawke and divulges the Melbourne shops she frequents for sourcing costumes.
I’d love to know what your first reaction was after reading this script…!
WOW, WOW, WOW, what a great ride! was my first reaction to the script. I am a great lover of short stories and I loved how effectively the script adapted Heinlein’s short story to a film length journey, and what a buzz for an audience this trip could be.
Surely this must rank as one of the more complex gigs a costume designer can work on? I imagine it might have felt like Cloud Atlas, as in, you’re creating six different movies (or settings) in one.
Indeed this was THE most complex costume plot I have ever come across and truth be known I really think even the Spierig bros had no idea how to tackle what they had created, costume wise. It took months of Skype discussions before we officially started, they had a complex time line chart which moved in circles across the page like some crazed Latin American dancer!
I made a chronological chart of the film, each character’s silhouette was mapped out visually, each scene was entered onto the chart and then colour schemes were applied to each of the worlds we needed to create. The chart was over 3 metres long and became an invaluable reference point. Sounds dry, but it was actually a creative, visual time map of the film.
Daybreakers also had a very compelling style to its costumes and sets. It feels like the Spierig Brothers have a very clear vision when it comes to the role of design in their storytelling.
The twins create wonderful visuals, they are incredibly collaborative and surround themselves with like-minded collaborative people, it’s a real joy to work with them. They have a strong sense of what they want but embrace all ideas team members bring to the table. This results in a cohesive design with many ideas funneling into one outcome.
I read that you approached the design by creating a different colour palette for each era, I love that idea. What were the main themes?
The worlds were all vastly different and yet needed a visual cohesion, so yes, each world has a different palette. I think the palette reflects the mood of the era as well as the emotion of the piece at the time. The design concept is really for the makers to understand, it’s not what the audience should be conscious of. The audience should enjoy the ride, we just put those concepts in place for a team to have a construct to adhere to. Not to impose a dogma over enjoyment. Just watch it and enjoy!
It’s so much fun seeing the different sets and fashions for each decade, especially my favourites the 40s, 50s and 60s. I loved watching Sarah Snook’s silhouette change over time.
I’m glad you noticed, her changing silhouette was quite deliberate. Mr Robertson (Noah Taylor) on the other hand is always in a suit… also a very conscious decision, the never changing Mr Robertson.
What about dressing Ethan Hawke?
I’m a big fan of Ethan’s work so it was a great honor to work with him. He is a very intelligent actor who needs a reason for what he’s wearing. We found this image of Bowie in A Man Who Fell To Earth that we all loved and this became a starting point for Ethan’s costumes. From there we sought out icons of music and art history from Warhol, to Keith Richards, Patti Smith, pioneers of their time to guide the way. Unconventional heroes I guess. There was always a quest for authenticity even within an unconventional story. Ethan is a great collaborator, he is in it for the art, not for the glamour, I admire that.
How many clothes were made for the film and how many were sourced? Was it a matter of hitting up Vinnies for the retro periods, or were there any particular shopping haunts in Melbourne that proved fruitful?
Many of the clothes were made, most of Ethan’s definitely and of course all Space Corp. That look was such fun to create. The fifty’s are over 60 years ago, no we did not hit up Vinnies for anything. There are some wonderful vintage places up Smith St, Circa Vintage in the city and many more. I spent my weekends scouring Melbourne. Suffice to say, no stone was left unturned, no vintage collection was safe!
Is it harder looking for period costumes in Australia compared to the likes of say London, where costume houses have millions of garments for film and television? Especially when it comes to dressing extras for all those scenes.
Australia offers a smaller choice yes, but you have to know how to maximize your resources. More choice won’t necessarily give you a better design outcome.
Did you look to any particular films for inspiration?
No, not really. I researched more fashion trends, music and art through the periods. Mary Quant, Pierre Cardin are obvious for certain looks, it was such a rapidly changing time. We go from Dior’s post-war New Look through the Cold War, explode into the anti-war freedom of the hippy era, gently sidestep the Vietnam war and onto to the stark 90’s technology.
Life, history, art, music, fashion and a great script with wonderful directors and actors, I think these were my real inspirations.
Predestination is in cinemas across Australia from August 28.