One of my favorite Oscar nominations this year was Mark Bridges getting the call for his work on Paul Thomas Anderson's “Inherent Vice.” I only wish David Crank and Amy Wells could have joined him because the design of this film was out of sight (to say nothing of Robert Elswit's lush lensing). Still, it's sort of serendipitous that it's Bridges and Anderson (in the adapted screenplay category) representing the film, as like Elswit, their collaboration goes all the way back to the beginning, but unlike Elswit (who won the Oscar for “There Will Be Blood”), Bridges had yet to be recognized for a PTA movie.
I talked to Bridges, who did get his own trip to Oscar's stage for “The Artist” a few years ago, about that and a whole lot more earlier this week. The research and engineering that went into bringing these costumes – and, by proxy, these characters – to life is really something else. So read through the back and forth below, and at the bottom, check out a few of Bridges' pre-production sketches alongside the completed costumes in a little photo gallery.
“Inherent Vice” is now playing. You should go see it.
HitFix: Hey, Mark. How's it going?
Mark Bridges: Good to talk to you. Good. Good. Good. Good. What can I in enlighten you on?
Quite a bit, I'm sure! First of all congratulations. I'm really happy for you.
Oh, thank you.
This was actually a nomination that I was kind of pulling for. I thought maybe the costume designers would be cool enough to do it and they did it so I kind of let out a little mini cheer when I heard your name called.
Thank you so much. I was a little surprised. That fifth slot always could go a lot of different ways.
It's an interesting branch, though, because they often, regardless of perceived quality – though I think “Inherent Vice” is one of the best movies of the year – they'll nominate movies that maybe didn't do well with the critics or whatever. They focus on the work. Have you always found that as well?
Yeah. I have. But also it's really gratifying because I've been working with Paul Thomas Anderson for 20 years and this is the first time – not “Bogie Nights,” not “There Will Be Blood,” not “The Master” – but “Inherent Vice” is the one that got the nomination. So that's kind of exciting. Lucky number seven.
Absolutely. And I was going to ask you about that. I mean as you say, you guys worked together for so long and you finally got in for “The Artist” but had not gotten in for a PTA movie yet. So it's nice that the two of you are nominated here.
It really gave me chills that after all these years it's the two of us representing this film and so it's kind of fun.
What were some of your references, if any, that you had your eye on in working your way into this world? Other what was inherent in the book, of course.
Yeah. I always love to look at movies from the period because they're usually a real slice of life, of the moment. So there were some really funny movies about Hollywood, specifically, and Los Angeles at that time. We looked at this weird documentary that Paul had found called “Mondo Hollywood” and then also this film called “The Baby Maker” with Barbara Hershey, and “Alex in Wonderland,” in which Donald Sutherland is this director who sort of blows up and has these meetings at MGM and stuff. And it's right from that period. He can't decide whether he wants to go all out and spend $70,000 for a house. It's a great slice of that moment in time. So I look at that because it's primary research and it has so many little details and I try to get the DNA or the shortness of a skirt or the shape of a pant or something like that. Also just clicking on really broad subjects on Google Images, because you'll never know what you're going to find. I never usually put in the subject clothing; it's usually a much broader subject than that. And then you find images that are evocative of a moment or something you never even would have thought of.
So between the Internet and films – there was a great book, a photo book that's come out, a couple of them, about the surfers of that period. So it was shape of bathing suits and how people wore their hair and things. So it all just gets put together little piece by little piece like a jigsaw puzzle. And then also, once I kind of get down the shapes and things like that, then I go out and put my hands on clothing and I find things that I didn't even know existed and that would be really cool, or a piece of clothing has the character of a person. It's just, again, little tiny pieces and little tiny steps. I think I had like eight weeks prep. But with Paul, I'm always involved in the writing process. “There Will Be Blood” we had table reads, like, two or three years before we ever filmed. For “There Will Be Blood,” I keep discovering versions of the script. I probably had, like, seven versions of that script. And “The Master,” too. So actually I'm lucky working with a writer like Paul that I actually sees it along the way and I'm able to look at research and things at my leisure, sometimes a year in advance.
The first paragraph of the book is what opens the movie, that bit of narration, and it's interesting because it's immediately evocative of look and clothing. This note about Shasta “looking like she swore she'd never look.” I haven't actually read all of the book, but how much of that kind of thing is in there that helped your process?
I read the book and some of it doesn't translate for my world, like what would actually have been accurate of the period. He wrote it much after that period. But basically this was part of the detective part of my job that I really loved, where it's “in flatland gear looking how she said she'd never look.” What does that mean? Then I go into my character work, which is, “OK, she lives here. This is where she associates. She's sort of vaguely dabbling her toe into modeling with Mickey Wolfmann. What is the complete opposite of beach wear?” Then I put all of those things together: Hancock Park plus actress plus Mickey Wolfmann plus that moment in time equals… So much of my job in this thing was a combination of reading Pynchon's intent or vibe of Pynchon, and then making it three dimensional and bringing it to life and making it photogenic and making it tell a story and having it be a real person. But then luckily I was free enough to take the ball and run with it, so to speak.
Let's talk about the colors. I've talked to Bob Elswit a couple times this year and I tell him that it's almost not fair, the amount of blue and orange contrast throughout it, because that's such an inviting, complementary contrast. But what did you and Paul talk about as far as what this color palette would be and what it would mean?
I know what you're talking about, like her orange dress in the beginning and the beautiful outside blue, the beach outside, like right from the beginning, it grabs you. For me I'm always trying to be specific about a period. And so between the DNA of what Pynchon wrote about things like Rudy Blatnoyd's ultraviolet blue suit, well, I made two suits for that. One that would be ultraviolet and the other one was a little more viewable plum. And the plum is what we used, ultimately. So I just tried to go with the period colors, and again, always striving to tell a story. I mean he talks about Bambi at the Chick Planet massage parlor, appears there in a day-glow, psychedelic bikini. Well I thought, “Why not use psychedelic patterns?” It doesn't have to be day-glow because that doesn't photograph so well, but certainly that multiple of colors…
So if it's at all successful and I look at the movie – I've seen it like three times finished – I'm very, very happy with the colors, their combinations, how they work in a scene, because they're pretty much dead-on colors used in 1970. And so that's part of their appeal. Paul and I are a little more emotional than, like, sitting down and getting any kind of plan, per se. I mean I think he had a color plan in “There Will Be Blood,” because Jack Fisk had a strong feeling about that. And then in “Magnolia” we had a strong plan, that it should feel like “Ordinary People” and “The Verdict” and stuff like that, which was sort of this '80s non-color, like, no blue. And then in “Boogie Nights” I used, like, five different palettes depending on where we were in the story. So that's the only time that I think they've been sort of cerebral choices. This is more emotional and looking at the whole thing as a whole and seeing if the little piece of the jigsaw jibes with the whole.
What would you say was your favorite costume to design on this one?
That's a toughie. Maybe Sloane's bathing suit. Sloane Wolfmann wears that really crazy, like, cut-out bathing suit that like comes at you, but then from the back, all it is is those shoulder straps and her little really low back where you see the little top of her butt crack. [Laughs.] So it's, like, that look one way when you're coming to you and then another thing when you're walking away. And also there was Dr. Blatnoyd's receptionist in that vinyl jumpsuit. Which a black vinyl jumpsuit was something that was mentioned by Pynchon but I had wanted to go off of this other design from the period, this Rudi Gernreich bathing suit. We went to the LACMA Museum, to their archives, and actually looked at a garment to figure out how it was constructed. So probably those two things, the cut-outs, the bathing suit. Maybe if I had to say one it was probably Sloane's bathing suit. And we had several fittings to try to get to the engineering right. Ultimately it worked and she [Serena Scott Thomas] felt comfortable and it looked great.
Well, like I said, congratulations on this. I love the movie so much. I've seen it a couple times now and I'm really happy that you finally got in for a Paul movie.
Yeah. Thank you so much. Thanks.
Have a good week.
Cool. All right. Take care man.