MATRIX: Outline what a Costumer does.
BARBARA: It’s kind of a broad term. A Costumer could be someone doing fittings on actors, they might be organizing costumes on set, or they could be stitching with us. The Los Angeles Costumers’ Union is much more categorized. There, Costumers don’t go between alterations and the set, but up here in San Francisco we don’t have those categories, so if you have the ability, if you can do everything, then we could be doing everything, either at once, or at different times during a shoot.
MATRIX: What is your background?
BARBARA: I started in repertory theatre in the early 1970s, then I moved out here to California and worked at American Conservatory Theater, ACT. My first film was called The Right Stuff, it was filmed here in San Francisco, and that’s when I branched out and started to do film work.
MATRIX: How does film differ from theatre as far as costume is concerned?
BARBARA: There is much more detail to a film costume. In theatre the phrase is, “it won’t read”, meaning you won’t see the detail from the front row of the theatre, so the detail doesn’t have to be as finely stitched as in a film costume. If the camera is on an actress, and there’s a close up on her face, you have to be very careful that the stitching is all done right and looks perfect. In film you also have what they call doubles or triples of each costume, because the costume may have to deteriorate throughout the duration of the film, or a stunt double may need a costume. So each costume, if it’s a custom made garment, has to be made exactly the same. For instance, if the costume is a paisley shirt, you want all your paisleys in the same place on each shirt. There’s a lot more detail in film than there is in theatre.
MATRIX: Directors use many different shots – they might be doing just a head shot which will show detail on a neckline, or a foot shot which will show detail on the hem or cuff. Does the Director give the Designer or Costumers any idea what might be shot for each costume?
BARBARA: No, you just assume it’s all going to be shot. As soon as you think it won’t, it will be. You’re particularly careful around the face area though, because that’s where the close ups are. Basically, you just assume that all your work is going to be seen.
MATRIX: What have you been specializing in for THE MATRIX 2 and 3?
BARBARA: On this shoot I’ve been doing alterations. We started out with 750 fittings of extras [for the Zion Temple scene], and then we went up another 200 extras, who we started fitting the day of shooting, 100 at a time. All the costumes were made to order down in LA, so we had a huge stock here in Alameda, but we had to alter each costume to fit the particular extra. Earlier, about three months ago, we fitted the principal players in the costumes they are wearing on this part of the shoot, and because they had never worked in their clothes, we have just refitted them .
MATRIX: Why are all the costumes being made in Los Angeles?
BARBARA: That’s where they set up the production, and Kym [Barrett], our Designer, had her designs executed down there. There were so many costumes they were sent out to be made in cut and sew shops and different costume houses around the city. The sheer number of costumes meant it was pretty prohibitive to wait till the last minute to sew them. That’s all been in the works since, I believe, January 2000.
MATRIX: How closely were the hundreds of extras’ costumes fitted?
BARBARA: Very closely, because they all had all different characters. For instance, the Priestesses in blue were all individually fit and altered. There was a specific costume for each of them because they had repeat performances. They were what is called a Featured Extra, so they would have a more fitted costume than others. Kym had a definite look where she wanted a real slim line for the Priestesses. So if there were too many gores in the skirt, we took them down to maybe three gores, because she had a definite vision of how she wanted the lines to be.
MATRIX: How involved were you with fitting the hundreds of extras?
BARBARA: I wasn’t. Nancy [Hart Servin, Costumer-Alterations], my partner, and I were back here waiting for the costumes, and doing the alterations as they came in. Initially there were 750 extras, and each extra might have as many as three or four costume pieces. So, four pieces times seven hundred – you might have as many as 2800 pieces of clothing that have to be altered. We had all we could do just back here in alterations.
MATRIX: Is this the first time you have dealt with such a large number of extras all at once on a film?
BARBARA: I did a film called The Bachelor, where we had to dress 750 potential brides in wedding dresses. We fit 250 brides a day, and we only had three days to put it together. That was a lot of people and a lot of organization to get out the door, and then 3.30 in the morning calls, with very long days.
MATRIX: Each extra has a different body shape, what kinds of alterations did you do to individual garments?
BARBARA: From anything as simple as shortening a hem, to totally re-cutting jackets or pants. The less costumes there became in our stock, the bigger the alterations got, because there wasn’t much to choose from. We also did a few special effects things for Keanu Reeves [Neo]. For instance, there is a scene where Agent Smith’s hand goes through Neo’s coat in the Burly Man fight, so we made a little special effects door in his coat to make it look like his hand was going right through the coat. That was probably my favorite project.
MATRIX: Do you work directly with the Visual Effects Department for costumes like that?
BARBARA: Yes, Dan Bronson, our Supervisor, and I worked with them. They also asked us to bead Neo’s coat because their computer needed to pick up and kind of read different points on the coat to accomplish the effect digitally.
MATRIX: A large amount of wire work is done on this film, have you had to make alterations to stunt double costumes so they can work more easily?
BARBARA: No, they actually do that on the set, although we repair a lot of those costumes. That’s what they call pick up points for the wires, and that’s just opening the coat where it needs to open to facilitate the wire hook up. We usually get the costumes back after the Set Costumers open them up too much or they get ripped, so we repair them and send them back out. When I’ve worked on the set, you open the costume up right there because it’s done on the spot, it’s not anticipated, it’s whatever is called for.
MATRIX: What was one of the more challenging costumes on this production for you?
BARBARA: Doing some of the special requests for the stunt people was challenging. Like covering motorcycle boots to look like patent leather boots. We put a lot of hours in, so that was a challenge in itself – the amount of hours that we worked.
MATRIX: I understand they will archive the principal actors’ costumes at Warner Bros.; what will happen to the hundreds of extras’ costumes?
BARBARA: Warner Bros. usually gets the archived ones, they’re held in case they come back and do THE MATRIX 4 and 5. If they’re stock costumes, then sometimes they’re sold to other production houses, and they go into a rental house after that. Trinity’s costumes are mostly patent leather or vinyl, and they had to be dyed so they’re a bit fragile for her action scenes. Nancy has been doing a lot of upkeep on Trinity’s catsuits, as we call them. There were two stunt women who were also in identical Trinity costumes, and they had to be specially repaired and treated. There were always blow outs in the costumes from motorcycle stunts, and boots that didn’t look right, so Dan would often walk in the door at 5 o’clock at night, and we’d have to figure something out by 7 o’clock the next morning.
MATRIX: Did each of the stunt people only have one costume?
BARBARA: No, they had doubles. One may have even had triples. But accidents happen, so it was necessary to keep repairing things.
MATRIX: Is there anything of note about other principal characters’ costumes?
BARBARA: Well, there are the clones, all the look alike Agent Smiths. That was a fun day here when they put the suits on and we lined them up, trying to get them all to look alike, particularly size wise. Dan handled that. I think they ended up with three or four suits each because of the Burly Man brawl. Every morning we were greeted with more blow outs from the Burly Man brawl, so that all had to be adjusted and taken care of. A lot of the suits were made in Los Angeles and then came up here and were finished off after fitting.
MATRIX: So each one of those Agents’ suits was custom made?
BARBARA: The Agent Smith suits were specially ordered, and the green suits too, that was all done in LA. We also made things here, we custom made Japanese tabi shoes for the extras, and we made some for the principals. We made a lot of fine woolen ponchos for the Priestesses, or the Handmaidens, as we called them.
MATRIX: Are you a fan of the first MATRIX film?
BARBARA: I’ve seen it one and a half times now, and I’m still trying to figure it out, it’s not an easy film for me to figure out. I saw part of it again this weekend and I like the fact that Keanu Reeves says ‘okey dokey’ before he jumps off the roof. That’s one of our favorite scenes in the alterations shop, that he says ‘okey dokey’.
MATRIX: Is everyone in the Costume Department looking forward to seeing the next film?
BARBARA: Oh yes, we definitely want to see the next two films and where they lead to. I think there’s kind of a cult following for THE MATRIX. I like the concept, what they’re trying to say in it, because I think we’ve all felt like machines or batteries, or that our reality is not what everybody thinks it is…”Am I sleeping, or am I awake?” I think that’s a natural sort of human reaction to life, so it’s interesting to see that the brothers [Larry & Andy Wachowski, Writers/Directors] have written this, something I think a lot of people think or feel about things. But where it’s going… I don’t know who The One is.
MATRIX: Have you spent time imagining how these 900 or so extras fit into the next film?
BARBARA: Yes, I figured that out. They’re like the revolutionary society down in Zion. But I don’t think all of them are really revolutionaries, I think there’s a trick up the Directors’ sleeves, so we’ll see. I didn’t read the script, so we’ll see if my assumption is right, but I know there’s something other going on than what looks like.
MATRIX: Thanks Barbara.
Interview by REDPILL