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How I made the least fashionable film ever
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1/21/2016 8:05:24 AM
Posted: 9 months ago
As awards season beds in, it"s worth looking at what makes for Oscar bait. Take Spotlight, a film that follows a crack investigative team at the Boston Globe in 2001 as they attempt to uncover historic reports of systematic child abuse by Catholic clergy.
The story it tells is true and fearless and the case eventually became a blueprint for further expos"s all over the world. The performances are strong, and tick-box stellar. Style-wise, the film is equally uncompromising, and since Oscar glory generally requires actors to undergo a complete visual transformation, the cast of Spotlight should be a shoo-in.
It was a tumultuous time in American politics, culminating in 9/11 " which becomes a key point in the film"s narrative. Everyone looked a bit rubbish too; buckles, bootcut jeans and exposed thongs were considered aspirational " pre-normcore pantsuits, badly fitted leather jackets and khaki, the reality.
It is, arguably, the least stylish film of recent years. Costume director Wendy Chuck, who previously worked on Twilight and Sideways, says that was the point: "If they looked unstylish, ie authentic, I " consider that a success. Every film is about telling a story, of course, but it was important that characters were treated with the utmost dignity considering the subject matter, which is why they had to look as real as they do. Everyone had their uniform, but in their own bland, non-fashion way."
A lot of costume research was geographical. There is a Boston uniform, according to Chuck: a blue shirt and khaki trousers, and dark brown shoes.
Chuck also spoke to real Globe reporters Mike Rezendes and Sacha Pfeiffer to ask where they shopped, "which was mostly discount stores, Gap and second-hand shops". The costumes in question are old, unironed shirts, used leather jackets and drab trouser suits.
Real journalists, it seems, aren"t afraid to wear the same shirt two days running, or for years. "It"s a process to get that look," Chuck explains. "You want to break stuff in " essentially stonewash the whole wardrobe. With shirts, you need to pick something in a cheerless colour " light blue or khaki green " then pop a bit of cascade in the wash, maybe a little bleach, and that takes the colour out. Or you put a tennis ball into the washing machine, which breaks down the fibres and makes them look old." Then it"s a case of just wearing the same shirt two days running or "leaving them unfolded on the back of a chair so they don"t look crispy new".
The hardest thing was deglamorising Rachel McAdams. For the actor, who plays Pfeiffer, they used Hillary Clinton"s (famously noughties) trouser suits as a moodboard and worked backwards. "Sasha was on a budget in real life, so used to go to discount stores " she was a big fan of khaki pants and T-shirts. I remember talking to her and she described herself as "anti-fashion". Clothes weren"t important."
Wide-legged pants and ill-fitting nylon shirts were McAdams"s go-to look, and while the whole aesthetic has shades of Vetements scruffiness, she didn"t exactly shine. It was only when images of McAdams on set were released and Twitter reacted that Chuck realised things had gone too far: "We had to be careful not to make them look clownish, and they almost did. And there were some that we had to take in because they didn"t feel right. And [the actors] didn"t want to wear them " in fairness, they looked ridiculous."
Rezendes, played by Mark Ruffalo, is an erratic journalist with a maverick approach to reporting. We get a sense of that from his leather jacket, although Rezendes did wear something similar. Chuck found hers by trawling through second-hand shops. "That jacket was key to his characterisation, as were the used Dr Martens boots and loose-fitting Levi"s, which I think were second-hand." She also worked from photographs of the team after playing golf, which explains some of the sporting outfits.
The accuracy might feel unsettling for real journalists to watch. "I"m not aware of journalistic dress, but I know it"s not really a visual medium. These reporters were desk sergeants. There wasn"t a culture of dressing up. And it was important to this is that they look approachable." One scene, in which Pfeiffer successfully doorsteps a former priest, is delicately underpinned by her standing tentatively in a rain-soaked beige outfit. "Being in the field, you need to assume a look that people feel safe so they talk to them. They want to blend in."
"It"s a case of modification, supporting the story without detracting from it too much," Chuck says. "I had to tell that story and the costumes were always going to be an effective way of telling [it] without doing a disservice to the journalists in question."