God may be in the details, but for filmmakers, it’s easier to get a more down-to-earth expert on the set.
From the oenophiles of “Sideways” to Giorgio Armani’s stylish eye in “De-Lovely” to Stella McCartney’s designs for “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” to culinary star Thomas Keller’s kitchen in “Spanglish,” consultants contributed much authenticity to this year’s Oscar contenders.
The glamorous collaboration between “De-Lovely’s” filmmakers and fashion maestro Armani was the result of a web of personal connections. Helmer-producer Irwin Winkler is a longtime friend of Armani’s, scribe Jay Cocks introduced Armani to the world via a Time magazine piece, and actress Ashley Judd had Armani design her wedding dress.
Costume designer Janty Yates says it made perfect sense for Armani to dress Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) and his wife, Linda (Judd). “They were the top end of the market in their day,” she says. “Cole Porter’s tailor was Italian, his wife dressed in nothing but haute couture. They even had their own private train with a carriage for nothing but their clothing.”
Yates describes how Armani pulled suits from various collections in order to personally tailor clothing for Kline’s character. For Judd’s bias-cut cream satin wedding gown, “Janty brought out photos of women’s gowns from the ’20s and I picked out a couple I really liked,” Winkler explains. “Then Janty and I sat with Giorgio, showed him what we wanted, and he made a sketch from Janty’s research and what I thought appropriate for the film.”
The Armani relationship paid off in more than one way.
“Armani didn’t charge us anything and he helped with cross-promotion. He took out ads for the picture when it opened, gave us space in his stores, devoted store windows to ‘De-Lovely,’ the trailer played at his stores and he sponsored the premiere in Paris,” says the vet helmer.
Fashion designer Stella McCartney’s friendships with actress Gwyneth Paltrow, actor-producer Jude Law and producer Sadie Frost led to her costume design work on Kerry Conran’s “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.”
In keeping with the pic’s retro sci-fi world, McCartney gave Law and Paltrow’s characters strong silhouettes.
“The fact that there weren’t many costume changes I thought was a good thing in a way, as it made me create layers,” McCartney says. “I tried to bring as much versatility into the garments (as I could).”
Through much of the film, Paltrow wears a tweed suit made feminine by the cut, a signature McCartney touch.
“I don’t think you notice the costumes too much, which is fitting for the film. They work hand and hand with finished product and don’t stick out like a sore thumb,” she says.
Ideally, costuming and production design enhance storytelling. In Alexander Payne’s “Sideways,” the bucolic Santa Barbara County wine country melds with the action.
” ‘Sideways’ shows the complete spectrum of winemaking and its social strata. It took lots of research to absorb it,” says production designer Jane Stewart.
With more than 100 wineries in the county, in-depth research included select wine tastings and touring the scenic Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Rita Hills wine regions. Both the estate vineyards of Sanford Winery and Andrew Murray are both prominently captured in the pic.
Wine broker Bradford Iwanaga of Santa Barbara’s Bradford Wine Group served as a consultant and helped mitigate local skepticism.
“Everybody in the area was suspicious at first,” he says. “I thought what I was bringing would flip them out, but a lot of them had previous bad experiences with film productions. Some immediately saw dollar signs, wanted higher production fees, their tasting rooms redone. There were some pretty bold demands.”
Frank Ostini at the Hitching Post restaurant was initially concerned about the principal character’s constant drinking.
“I didn’t realize it was funny. I couldn’t see the humor in the script which came from the actors and timing,” says Ostini.
He also urged Payne to switch out one of his Pinot Noirs for another, even writing some explanatory dialogue.
Cooking scenes in James Brooks’ “Spanglish” offered a taste of a chef’s working life, adding particularity to Adam Sandler’s characterization.
Thomas Keller, whose French Laundry is hailed by Bon Appetit and the Wine Spectator as one of the top restaurants in America, was the film’s real-life role model — as was his restaurant’s kitchen, which was replicated for the film.
“Jim is a perfectionist this way,” explains production designer Ida Random. “He likes everything to be exactly as it should be.”
Re-creating the French Laundry on a Sony soundstage was a months-long project for Random. “We can so easily research and do anything, but we had Keller and his voice, a pattern was already there. We just had to ask him questions and look at his restaurant (for the production design).”
Alterations had to be made for cinematic effect: The cooling room was encased in glass, and wheels were attached to restaurant equipment to accommodate camera positioning. “It was really an artistic group effort between Jim getting what he wanted, Thomas Keller, the cinematographer’s lighting needs and us getting the look we wanted,” adds Random.
“Filmmaking is so detail-orientated, like fine dining,” says Keller, who spent three days looking over Brooks’ shoulder. “Everything needs to be accurate. The film represented food in an authentic way, with integrity, I hope people appreciate that.”
But for outside expert consultants, there’s also the upside of exposure. “Sideways’ ” spot-on sense of place has already resulted in an unexpected payday for the wineries and restaurants involved.
According to Bradford Wine’s Iwanaga, monthly sales have doubled at those wineries prominently featured in the film, since its release. Notes the wine distrib, “So many were skeptical, now it’s a bandwagon.”