True Colors

Costume designer Trish Summerville enters the world of black-and-white filmmaking for Mank.

Jessica Shaw
February 12, 2021
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Costume Sketches by Gloria Young Kim

The first thing Trish Summerville heard from her friends when she signed on to be the costume designer for David Fincher’s Mank was, “That is going to be so easy for you!” People wondered how difficult it could possibly be to dress a cast for a black-and-white film set in the 1930s and 40s, about Herman Mankiewicz, the screenwriter who penned the first draft of what would become Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. “I kept hearing, ‘You can just use any color you ever wanted and never worry,’” Summerville recalls, laughing at the thought. “That was definitely not the case.”

In fact, it couldn’t have been further from the truth. Summerville is a Hollywood force herself, having costume-designed films like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Fincher’s Gone Girl and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, among others. Before Mank, she had worked on projects that incorporated black and white through flashbacks, but she had never done a complete picture sans color.

She immediately immersed herself in the style and learned some tricks of the trade. For instance, a light blue might be beautiful in person, but it’s going to look light gray onscreen. A true black can be too severe; navy reads as a softer alternative. A dark or saturated color that’s striking in real life will seem equally flat in black and white. On top of that, some fabrics strobe and some patterns with contrasting colors resemble confetti. Even a color that looks great can distract an actor in a dialogue-heavy scene and should therefore be avoided.

“Any project with Dave is a dream and you know it’s going to be challenging and exciting, Summerville summarizes, calling me from the set of Slumberland, her next film, “but my brain definitely had to adjust.”

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