“Building the Character a Closet”: Costume Designer Trish Summerville on the 1930s Hollywood Style of David Fincher’s Mank

Tomris Laffly
December 4, 2020
Filmmaker

A repeat David Fincher collaborator after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) and Gone Girl (2014), multi-award winning costume designer Trish Summerville has been signing her name onto numerous challenging film and TV projects throughout her storied, genre-spanning career, including the likes of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Red Sparrow. But Mank—Fincher’s meticulous creation of the Golden Age of Hollywood through the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz’s writing of Citizen Kane—and working in black-and-white presented a new challenge for the artisan, who had only done small projects in monochrome previously. “We were lucky; we were able to do a lot of camera tests prior to shooting,” explains Summerville. During the prep, her process included placing period-specific garments in various settings and taking black-and-white photographs of them on her phone, just to see how the colors would translate. “I was figuring out what’s going to be the closest to the lighting and the [shooting] style,” she recalls. “And then [focusing on] the details you see: what colors read well in black and white, what completely disappears, goes flat or absorbs too much light. I was looking for things that fit different scenes and have reflective qualities.”

Summerville went wide and varied for her detailed research of the era, reaching for magazines and looking at real-life photographs and cinematic references as much as possible. She kept a close eye towards representing every walk of Hollywood life, in order to project a complete and credible vision of the time. “As a costume designer, I don’t want to just have a fashion show,” Summerville says. “I’m into character development. I really enjoy working with actors, helping them get to that character, letting them have a new adventure in a new journey.”

Summerville recently spoke with Filmmaker, breaking down the intricate details of her work on Mank.

Read the full interview

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