Costume Designer Trish Summerville on Diving Into Hollywood’s Past in “Mank”

Susannah Edelbaum
January 25, 2021
The Credits (MPA)

David Fincher’s black and white epic, Mank, revisits the storied Hollywood era of the late 1930s when Orson Welles was writing what would go down in history as one of the best films of all time, Citizen Kane. But did he write it alone or with the help of Herman Mankiewicz, a once sought after screenwriter fallen prey to twin drinking and gambling problems? In Fincher’s version of events, based on a screenplay by his father, Jack Fincher, Mank the man (Gary Oldman) may have burned through the industry’s goodwill, but he was indubitably a co-writer on the film. However, the question isn’t central to Mank the movie.

Instead, the film’s focus is a gloves-off look at the gilded lives of Depression-era honchos Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard), William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), and Irving Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley), and the effect their political meddling and pay machinations have on the vast army of writers, grips, costume designers, and makeup artists who work beneath them. For Mank costume designer Trish Summerville (Red SparrowThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), “one of the things I really enjoyed about the film was that we got to dress every walk of life of the 30s and 40s.” Though much of the film is set in an out-of-the-way house where Mank has been set up to heal from an injury and dry out, and spends most of his time in bed in a robe, Summerville’s work spans ample plebeian daywear to Marion Davies’s (Amanda Seyfried) furs (a high-end faux fur hand-painted to mimic silver mink) and gowns and the sharply tailored suits favored by Los Angeles power brokers of the day.

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‘Mank’ costume designer Trish Summerville: It’s not just black-and-white, it’s ‘Fincher-vision’

Daniel Montgomery
January 20, 2021
Gold Derby

“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 DaviesWilliam Randolph HearstLouis 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.”

Designing costumes for black & white ‘Mank’ is more fun than it sounds

Costume Designer Trish Summerville (Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Janet Kinosian
January 13, 2021
Los Angeles Times

When director David Fincher called to tell costume designer Trish Summerville that his long talked-about film “Mank” — starring Gary Oldman as “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz — had gotten the green light, she knew it was destined to be “smart, funny, poignant, beautiful; it would tick all the boxes!”

“I definitely jumped at the chance,” says Summerville, who worked with Fincher on numerous other projects, though never before on a black and white feature film. “Besides a great story, with David I knew it was going to be incredible. I love working with him, and aside from this, he’s one of my favorite humans.”

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The Design of ‘Mank’: How Costumes and Sets Energized David Fincher’s Homage to Old Hollywood

TheWrap magazine: Costume designer Trish Summerville and production designer Donald Graham Burt take us behind the scenes.

Joe McGovern
January 12, 2021
The Wrap

A version of this story about “Mank” appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

“Fincher-vision” is the term that costume designer Trish Summerville uses while discussing her experience working with director David Fincher. “His mind is so clear about what he wants, but there’s still room for spontaneity,” she said. “That’s why there’s so much happiness in the craft departments on his films. And so much repeat business.” Production designer Donald Graham Burt echoed her sentiment. “When David starts telling me about a new film, he visually sees the whole thing in his head,” he said. “But there’s room for expansion creatively.”

Those qualities were essential to “Mank,” Summerville’s third project with the director and Burt’s sixth. (Burt won an Oscar for 2008’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; Summerville’s other credits include “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and “Red Sparrow.”) Fincher’s look at the screenwriter of “Citizen Kane” is a rich evocation of 1930s Hollywood that’s grounded in the reality of its time and place, though the film was shot in silvery black-and-white.

The two department heads talked often, ironically, about color. “There are some colors that don’t translate well,” Summerville said. “Salmon and chartreuse and acid greens are jarring in black-and-white. So Don and I talked a lot about our color palettes.” Summerville also reminded Fincher, making his first black-and-white feature, not to place too much trust in his eyes and instead view everything through the camera monitor.

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Making of ‘Mank’: How David Fincher Pulled Off a Modern Movie Invoking Old Hollywood

The director had to employ digital advances to achieve a vintage aesthetic in telling the tale of ‘Citizen Kane’ screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz: “If we had done it 30  years ago, it might’ve been truly a bloodletting.”

Rebecca Keegan
January 11, 2021
The Hollywood Reporter

Screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz never sought credit for conceiving one of the all-time great ideas in the history of cinema — the notion that the Kansas scenes in The Wizard of Oz should be shot in black and white and the Oz scenes in color. In fact, for much of his career in Hollywood from the late 1920s to the early ’50s, Mankiewicz seemed to view his scripts with about as much a sense of ownership as a good zinger he had landed at a cocktail party.

But what fascinated David Fincher was that when it came time to assign credit on the screenplay for Citizen Kane, which Mankiewicz wrote with Orson Welles in 1940 (or without, depending on your perspective), the journeyman screenwriter suddenly and inexplicably began to care. Precisely why that happened is the subject of Fincher’s 11th feature film, Mank.

“I wasn’t interested in a posthumous guild arbitration,” Fincher says of Mank, which takes up the Citizen Kane authorship question reinvigorated by a 1971 Pauline Kael essay in The New Yorker. “What was of interest to me was, here’s a guy who had seemingly nothing but contempt for what he did for a living. And, on almost his way out the door, having burned most of the bridges that he could … something changed.”

Shot in black and white and in the style of a 1930s movie, Mank toggles between Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) writing the first draft of Citizen Kane from a remote house in the desert and flashback sequences of his life in Hollywood in the ’30s, including his friendship with newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), who inspired Citizen Kane, and Hearst’s mistress, actress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried).

A filmmaker known for his compulsive attention to detail, Fincher had even more reason than usual to treat every decision with care on Mank, as he was working from a screenplay written by his father, journalist Jack Fincher, who died in 2003. Jack had taken up the subject in retirement in 1990, just as David was on the eve of directing his first feature, Alien 3, and the two would try throughout the 1990s to get the film made, with potential financiers put off by their insistence on shooting in black and white.

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Painting in Black and White – “Mank’s” Costume Designer Trish Summerville

Lena Basse
December 7, 2020
The Golden Globe (HFPA)

David Fincher’s latest work, Mank, allows viewers to experience one of Hollywood’s most legendary films, Citizen Kane, from behind Orson Welles’ camera. From the sound design mimicking crackling film reels to the classical composition of its cinematography, the film is an impressive recreation of the golden age of Hollywood. One of the most notable aspects of Mank’s immersivity is the elaborate and meticulous costume design, headed by Fincher’s long-time collaborator Trish Summerville that started on the set of the 1997 thriller The Game, where she was assistant costume director. Since then, Summerville has worked as head costume designer in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) and Gone Girl (2014), fully winning over Fincher’s trust. The Mank director admitted, “I couldn’t be happier … My involvement [with costumes] is almost nil. You get Trish, and you get out of the way.”

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Mank Cinematography with Erik Messerschmidt ASC

Ben Consoli
December 18, 2020
Go Creative Show

David Fincher’s highly-anticipated Netflix film MANK is here! Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt ASC explains how modern equipment and techniques were used to create an authentic-looking 1930s black and white film.

Erik and Go Creative Show host, Ben Consoli, discuss why they chose not to shoot on film, how shooting & lighting black and white is different than color, Erik’s philosophy on camera coverage, and so much more!

What you will learn in this episode:

  • Prep and working with David Fincher (03:31)
  • Authentic black and white visual approach (16:02)
  • Shooting with deep focus (21:44)
  • Lighting for black and white (23:15)
  • Lighting dissolve transitions in Mank (26:24)
  • Transforming 8K footage to look like film (30:43)
  • Why shooting on film was never considered (35:43)
  • Filtration used on Mank (40:30)
  • Philosophy on camera coverage (44:40)
  • Filming and lighting the election party (53:12)
  • Using ND filter contacts for actor eyes (57:40)
  • Production design in black and white (01:04:24)
  • And more!

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‘Mank’ Costume Designer Trish Summerville on Designing for Real-Life Old Hollywood Figures

L’OFFICIEL speaks to the costume designer about outfitting characters like Orson Welles, Marion Davies, and more Hollywood figures in David Fincher’s ‘Mank.’

Sophie Shaw
December 8, 2020
L’Officiel

In Netflix’s newly released Mank, Hollywood’s latest movie about the movies, glimpses of the era’s glitz and glamour are thrown amidst the alcohol-sodden life of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), or Mank, as he works on what would become his and Orson Welles’ magnum opus, Citizen KaneFor Costume Designer Trish Summerville, she wanted to show a piece of Hollywood history through an honest portrayal. “I don’t want to do a pretend version of what Hollywood should be,” Summerville tells L’OFFICIEL

Like many buzz-worthy films in history, excitement for Oscar-contender Mank built thanks to a key name tied to the project: David Fincher. The exacting director was a draw for Summerville, who previously worked with him on Gone Girl and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Everything else—like doing a period piece, filming in black and white, and working with an all-star cast—was a plus from there, according to the designer.

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The People Who Can See Inside David Fincher’s Head

The famously meticulous Mank director is surrounded by collaborators tasked with turning his most ambitious ideas into reality.

David Sims
December 9, 2020
The Atlantic

Early in Netflix’s Mank, the screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) ambles onto an outdoor movie set, where he bumps into an array of glamorous characters. In a scene full of repartee with real-life figures such as the actor Marion Davies, the film honcho Louis B. Mayer, and the mogul William Randolph Hearst, the visual details of the environment might seem unimportant. But to Mank’s director, David Fincher, they mattered. “The grass was not to David’s liking, and the sky was not to his liking, so all that’s been replaced,” Peter Mavromates, his co-producer, told me. When making a movie, Fincher literally controls heaven and earth.

That example sums up the capricious-sounding, godlike power of a director, especially in the age of digital filmmaking, which allows for total command of every frame. But as with all of his movies, Fincher’s vision for Mank was realized by a group of dedicated collaborators, most of whom have worked with the director for many years across projects. This film, which Fincher mulled for nearly three decades, is unlike anything he has made before. An unusual-looking-and-sounding film set in the Golden Age of Hollywood, Mank reflects the aesthetic of the 1930s with its black-and-white cinematography; an echoey, old-fashioned sound mix; and a brassy, orchestral score. But Fincher also wanted it to be a distinctly modern film, which posed many unique and fascinating technical challenges to the creators charged with bringing his lofty ideas to life.

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Costume Designer Trish Summerville on the Glamorous Looks of ‘Mank’s’ Amanda Seyfried

Summerville discusses creating the stylish looks in black and white for the actress, who plays star Marion Davies in the new David Fincher film.

Degen Pener
December 7, 2020
The Hollywood Reporter

When costume designer Trish Summerville first started working on David Fincher’s new Netflix film Mank, “even people in my crew and friends were like, ‘This would probably make things so much easier.” That’s because the film is shot in black and white. In fact, though, the opposite was true. “It actually made it a bit more difficult,” says Summerville. “When you shoot in color, you have all these different shades and tones you can work with and you can do stuff that’s tone on tone.”

What she found out — while researching the period and visiting costume rental houses, where she took photos of garments in black and white — is that not only are many options are no-go but that other problems present themselves.

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