How ‘The Kitchen’ Production Team Cooked Up 1970s-Era Clothes, Cash and Guns

Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss play women who take over their husbands’ criminal business in Warner Bros.’ “The Kitchen,” adapted from the DC/Vertigo comic book series by Andrea Berloff, who also directed. Costume designer Sarah Edwards and prop master David Schanker used their skills to create a supporting parallel story for the characters that evoked the look and feel of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in the late 1970s.

“The story starts out with the girls under their husbands’ thumbs,” says Edwards, who used costumes as a visual representation of each character’s arc. As the women find success, it became important to show that “suddenly their clothes reflected the new means they had. They changed their hair, they changed their clothes and they started wearing more jewelry.”

Edwards researched the period thoroughly to find the right balance of colors, patterns and textures. Much of what the actresses wear had to be specially designed because of the difficulty in finding specific examples of clothing from 40 years ago, let alone the multiples required for a movie. “You don’t need just one costume but several — for them to go into water or get blood on or for the stunt double,” she says. 

Denim turned into an unexpected challenge, since jeans are made differently today than they were in the ’70s. “Now there’s a lot of pre-fading to jeans, and
that didn’t exist,” she says. “Now jeans are all broken in. It starts with the fabric. It’s the dyes, the weave, the color and the wash.” While Edwards designed most of the jeans seen in the movie, she admits to one “cheat” in using a pair from McCarthy’s now-defunct clothing line because their retro style worked well on the actress.

Actual cash plays a big role in the film, and Schanker knew that for it to look right, he had to find vintage bills. “Newer money has larger heads [on the front] and they’re not necessarily in the center,” he says. “They’ve added color into the bills over the last decade, and the designs have changed.”

Federally authorized prop money looked wrong on screen when the actors counted it because the texture was different. So Schanker had to find older bills. Adding to the degree of difficulty: Old money is destroyed as new bills are put into circulation; prop houses’ supply of such bills was insufficient for the movie’s needs.

“I had to find collectors who had enough of it,” he says. “And we bought it at more than face value. The $100 bills were about $140 each.” 

While contemporary movies featuring bank heists and large quantities of cash can get the real deal from a bank — protecting it with security guards on set — Schanker didn’t need to go that far. He had about $10,000 on hand, and it was mostly smaller bills.

Prop guns also were researched to be accurate to the time and place. “The guns are not only period correct but correct to the neighborhood and income of each user,” he says. 

Schanker worked with director Berloff (an Oscar nominee for co-writing the screenplay for “Straight Outta Compton”) to map out every gun the characters carried. “There were some scripted scenes where people were getting rid of the guns after a shooting, and that would mean they would need to pick up another gun somehow,” he says. “So what gun would they get off the street illegally at this point in New York history?”

Though it may seem that props and costumes are two separate departments, they actually work together quite closely. For a scene in which the women handle a great deal of jewelry, for instance, some of it came from one of Schanker’s sources, and some of it included jewelry the characters wear. “I’ve worked with David before,” says Edwards, “and it’s all a collaboration.” 

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • Ad Astra

    How 'Ad Astra' Production Crew Created Authentic Look for Brad Pitt Space Drama

    In “Ad Astra,” Brad Pitt’s astronaut Roy McBride crosses the solar system to find and confront his long-lost father, requiring the movie crew to create an authentic-looking future that conveys the theme of traveling long distances to learn the lesson that it’s where you started from that has the most value. “Visually, the aim was [...]

  • Women in Animation Logo

    WIA Partners With Animation Mentor, Toon Boom to Expand Scholarship Program

    Women in Animation has partnered with Animation Mentor and Toon Boom to expand the organization’s WIA Scholarship Program with workshops and software packages. WIA scholarships are given to animation students with a financial need and who demonstrate talent and passion for animation that will lead to a promising career in the field. The Animation Mentor [...]

  • Steven Poster ICG National President

    DP Steven Poster to Receive SOC Lifetime Achievement Award

    Stephen Poster, cinematographer on such classics as “Donnie Darko” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” will receive the Lifetime Achievement Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Camera Operators at a ceremony on Jan. 18, 2020. SOC grants the award to an Individual who has served the community at large and/or the Society through outstanding service [...]

  • Swedes Call for Incentives to Keep

    Swedes Call for Incentives to Keep Potential Runaways at Home

    Horror film “Midsommar” did it last year. A new adaptation of the Swedish classic “The Emigrants” will do it next year. Prestigious productions that could have taken advantage of beautiful Swedish locations and craft expertise continue to run away to foreign locations for lower costs and tax incentives. Despite having a strong film industry creatively [...]

  • Game of Thrones

    Ireland Lures Filmmakers With Locations, Expertise and a 37% Tax Credit

    Few locations on earth can match Ireland’s proverbial 40 shades of green. In addition to its restful hues, the island nation also boasts alluring lakes, rugged windswept coasts, small charming hamlets, rustic farmhouses of aged stone, hilltop castles and breathtaking expanses of wild scrubland. Bustling and modern Dublin, Ireland’s capital, will be the largest English-speaking [...]

  • UNDONE Animated Series Amazon

    How Animated Series 'Undone' Used a Mix of Techniques to Tell the Mind-Bending Tale

    When Kate Purdy wanted to tell a story about the nature of reality, she knew she wanted to play with perception and time, fade in and out of memories and give voice to visions that only her main character could see. And it wasn’t long before the executive producer and co-creator of Amazon’s new series, “Undone,” [...]

  • John Wick: Chapter 3

    James Cameron, Keanu Reeves Starring in '2nd Unit: Invisible Action Stars' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Rootbeer Films has completed “2nd Unit: Invisible Action Stars” with James Cameron, Keanu Reeves, Mark Wahlberg and Halle Berry, Variety has learned exclusively. The film explores relationships between actors and stunt performers — a topic at the heart of Quentin Tarantino’s recent “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Joe Mantegna narrates “2nd Unit: Invisible Action [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content