January 20, 2021
“I keep making this joke that it’s Fincher-vision because it’s not just black-and-white, it’s this really specific way that he’s going to light the film,” says costume designer Trish Summerville about the unique visual style of “Mank,” directed by David Fincher. The film tells the story of “Citizen Kane” writer Herman Mankiewicz, and it’s shot to resemble films of the 1930s and 1940s. That presented Summerville with equally unique challenges and opportunities. We spoke with her as part of our “Meet the Experts” costume designers panel. Watch our interview above.
“The black-and-white was the most challenging thing: figuring out how we wanted to make that work, doing different testing on clothing and fabrics … so we could see how it would read,” Summerville explains. “Even though you think you don’t need a color palette, you really do, because if not, when you’re looking at it with your naked eye on set, it becomes very jarring.” And understanding color was crucial for achieving the right effect in the finished product “so that when it read in black-and-white on the screen and on the monitors it didn’t just all come across as flat, it had dimension to it, sheens and tones.”
It helped that the film was portraying so many well-known figures with documented looks and styles — not just Mankiewicz, but Marion Davies, William Randolph Hearst, Louis B. Mayer, and more. “We could find things of [Mank] at work, on sound stages, and also at home,” Summerville says. “We even at one point found these images of him at one of his kids’ bar mitzvahs, so that was great, it was a whole family photo.”
But in a film with so many male characters, it was also important “to give each one of the men their own kind of characteristics and dress them towards who those characters really were … so that not everybody read as a navy suit in a room.” That research and detail, in collaboration with Fincher’s direction, Donald Graham Burt‘s production design and Erik Messerschmidt‘s cinematography, “all of it has these special touches that make you feel you’re transported to the 1930s.”