You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Production and Costume Design Propel Films to Kudos Contention

Collaboration between key artisans holds the key to success on the awards circuit

Whatever happens on Oscar night, “The Danish Girl” costume designer Paco Delgado and production designer Eve Stewart will always have Captain Morgan’s Rum.

It’s hard to imagine a wider gap between the cool, austere look of “Girl” and the set on which they first worked together while director Tom Hooper was making a commercial for the brand, yet the pair were a match made in heaven. Since then, they’ve scored Oscar nominations on each of their subsequent collaborations. (In addition to “Girl” they both worked on 2013’s “Les Miserables.”)

Unsurprisingly, there’s great affection between them.

“Paco is a genius,” says Stewart. “I’m really careful and quite logical; he’s thrilling and running through doors with a feather, screaming ‘This is it! This is it!’”

Delgado is no less effusive. “We share the same passion for color, for texture – she has an amazing visual mind,” he says. “We have a very good time.”

This year, three films (of five) are nominated for Academy Awards in both production and costume design (“The Revenant” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” are the others). And while costume and production designers tend to be hired separately, it does appear that a seamless, organic final product grows naturally from a true meeting of the minds.

Still, it’s not an easily explained or manufactured concordance. Stewart feels that her simpatico with Delgado is helped by their shared art school and fashion backgrounds. “There’s a little less conformity in those places,” says Stewart. “The rules are not so rigorous.”

“I love to work with a person where you share the same sort of inspiration, and I feel like I can follow her lead,” says Delgado. “When you have an understanding like you do between me and Eve, we sometimes come to the same conclusions before we talk to each other.”

The more often costume and production designers are paired, the more the bond strengthens, creating a shorthand that adds value for a director.

“If I was a director, I’d want a unified visual package,” says production designer Jack Fisk, who paired for the eighth time with costume designer Jacqueline West in “The Revenant.” “When you’re working with a director for the first time you have to earn it a little, but once you have that trust he can relax. We’ve got his back.”

Fisk and West both have a shared interest in the great outdoors and Native American/First Nations culture, interests that dovetailed ideally for director Alejandro G. Iñárritu.

But it’s not just about pleasing the director. Shared mindsets mean the designers can produce a shared vision that meshes on the screen. “You’re already halfway there when you’ve worked with someone before,” West says. “I don’t have to show Jack everything I’m doing, or travel miles to the set. You feel you’re all working to paint the same masterpiece.”

Yet a shared history isn’t always a requirement for potential Oscar success: “Mad Max” was the first time costume designer Jenny Beavan paired with production designer Colin Gibson, and both ended up with nominations this year. In their case, respect for their mutually very different backgrounds was key: Beavan is best known for what Gibson calls “bonnet and bustles” movies.

“This was outside her area of expertise, but her different viewpoint added to the language of the film and brought a freshness to it,” Gibson says.

“I was absolutely a new girl,” she says, acknowledging she was coming on board a production train that had been moving on and off since the mid-1990s. “Colin was busy in his workroom and always changing stuff so I didn’t always see a lot of him.”

It was a process that worked, based on a final product, and involved some creative invention – the key young actresses were asked to help design their outfits, for example. But it also led to some creative differences: dozens of sandals and shoes were constructed for the starving masses, then ultimately abandoned to better serve story.

Still, even without a grand connection, Beavan was astounded by the expansive work Gibson accomplished with the vehicles, weapons and sets. “There probably were moments when I could have killed him – there’s a moment on every film where you want to kill everyone, because we’re human and it’s stressful, but I remember my mouth dropping in awe the first time I saw the vehicles set up in that armada,” she says.

In the end, what matters is what shows up on screen – and by its very nature that means that all the hard work by both production and costume design takes a back seat to the story. For West, that’s absolutely the sign they’ve done very well.

“When I went to see the film at the premiere, I thought they were blowing cold air in the theater,” West says. “I was freezing. I had forgotten I did all those costumes; I was so pulled into the story. And that’s the test: Is everything right together? Then we know – we’ve all succeeded.”

More Artisans

  • Queen of Scots Hair and Makeup

    'Mary Queen of Scots' Hair, Makeup Artist Gave Substance and Style to Battling Queens

    Jenny Shircore has done the makeup and hair of several queens over the years: Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (she won an Oscar for the former) and Emily Blunt in “The Young Victoria.”  In fact, she had to be convinced to do it again for Saoirse Ronan’s Queen Mary and Margot Robbie’s [...]

  • Marvel Studios' BLACK PANTHER..L to R:

    Ryan Coogler on How 'Black Panther' Broke Barriers Below-the-Line, Too

    With more than $1.3 billion at the global box office, “Black Panther” was one of the year’s biggest hits. Though some people expected just another superhero film, the project turned out to be much deeper and more complex than that. Many called it a social turning point because it was the first blockbuster with a [...]

  • Payroll Specialist Cast & Crew Sold

    Payroll Specialist Cast & Crew Sold to Investment Fund EQT VIII

    Payroll specialist Cast & Crew Entertainment Services has been sold by Silver Lake to the investment Fund EQT VIII for an undisclosed price. Cast & Crew, based in Burbank, Calif., and founded in 1976, touts itself as the premier provider of technology-enabled payroll and production-management services to the entertainment industry. Services include payroll processing, residuals [...]

  • Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard

    New 'Star Trek' Series to Shoot in California, Selected for Tax Credit

    CBS’s new “Star Trek” series, with Patrick Stewart reprising the role of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, will shoot in California and receive a $15.6 million production tax credit. The California Film Commission announced Monday that the untitled “Star Trek” series and eight other TV series have been selected for the latest tax credit allocations totaling $90 [...]

  • Alfonso Cuarón, Emmanuel Lubezki Discuss the

    Alfonso Cuarón Details 'Roma' Cinematography With 'Gravity' DP Emmanuel Lubezki

    As part of an overall push to bring Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” to awards season voters, Netflix’s “‘Roma’ Experience'” played host to guild and Academy members Sunday in Hollywood. The all-day event featured panels focused on the film’s crafts and an audio-visual installation akin to the streamer’s FYSee initiative for Emmy contenders, featuring costumes and art [...]

  • 12 08 _148.NEF

    Mississippi Beckons Producers With Southern Charm, High Incentives

    Mississippi may not be the first state that comes jumps into the mind of a producer considering locations for an upcoming shoot, but the state has a lot going for it, including a picturesque Southern ambience, antebellum homes, rich farmlands, pine forests, Gulf coast sands and casinos – not to mention significant rebates on qualified [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content