Interview with Dan Bronson (Costume Supervisor) from The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions (2003)

By Paul Martin April 11th, 2012, in Official Interviews, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions

Archival interview with Dan Bronson from the official Matrix website.

SCRIPT BREAKDOWN

MATRIX: How long have you been involved with this project now?

DAN: I started the fifth of September, 2000, so it will be coming up on two years pretty soon.

MATRIX: What was the first thing you did back on the fifth of September, 2000?

DAN: I usually start off by breaking down the script, thinking about the budget, where we’re going to film it, and how much of it is going to be manufactured versus purchasing and hire. Step one was also trying to get an idea of where Kym [Barrett, Costume Designer] was going and the type of fabrics she was looking at using. There’s so much to take on in that first month or two on a project like this because it’s all designed. We’ve probably bought three or four principal pieces of clothing, and outside of that everything has been made. So trying to get a grasp on where you’re going with the film and getting ready to put the first budget in can be a challenge. I think I put seven budgets in before we got a budget lock.

MATRIX: Do you recall your first reaction when you read the scripts?

DAN: That it’s going to be a big long journey, and doing the two films back to back is going to be an extraordinary event. It’s a lot to take on, so you just break it down into little pieces and try to launch different stages in good time.

MATRIX: Can you talk about that the intricacies of how you break down a script for costume?

DAN: This is much harder than doing a conventional script because when you read the average script you’ll determine that there is day to night and night to day, and those are really the lines you draw. But with this there are different realities and there are no rules in the Matrix, so Trinity can change in the middle of a sequence and you don’t have to really explain it. It’s really about what Larry and Andy want to do visually with the project.

MATRIX: How can you make a costume budget before filming actually starts, when you don’t know what fabrics will be used and how many characters need costumes?

DAN: It’s something where you really use your background and your experience, and there’s a lot of guesswork and a lot of padding of budgets. For instance, you don’t just do one garment, you may sample fifteen or twenty different types of cuts and lines. It’s hard to factor that in to where a Producer will read it and believe it, so you have to be very clever in the way that you formulate the budgets as to where you give yourself the freedom to have all of these different options, but in a way that doesn’t look like you’re wasting their money. There’s a fine line between how to make it believable, yet give yourself enough money to do all the options.

MATRIX: At one point for the Zion Temple there were only going to be 700 extras, but a couple of days later you had to clothe 900 plus.

DAN: It’s what we do. Basically they’ll tell you that they’re going to hold the numbers down, but you know in the back of your mind and with your experience, that on the day they’re going to want to push the envelope and get as many people as they possibly can. You just have to factor that in to your manufacturing costs. You’ll bump up the costs of the manufacturing where on the day you know that you’re going to get it for less, so you can maybe squeeze a few more costumes in. We’re constantly doing that – trying to get those extra fifteen garments made because we know that we’ll need them in the end.

MATRIX: Did you and Kym start at the same time?

DAN: Kym started about a month before me, which was good because she started getting some of her early concepts and direction, and when I came on she had a list of ideas and things for us to start researching. Larry and Andy had given her direction on a type of garment that they wanted us to provide for Neo, so we got our samples going straight away. It was good that she had that time before me so she could get her designs ready and we could launch straight into the manufacturing.

MATRIX: How is the decision made about which costumes will be purchased and which will be made?

DAN: Through talking with Kym, and we focus on what is important. Those things are going to be made because they exist in the right cut but not in the right fabric, or you won’t be able to get it in the right size, so we really try to determine what the money shots and garments are going to be. We also allow ourselves enough time and money to make those and to sample them and test them. On the less important characters or the less important pieces, we may purchase something or knock off something else.

MATRIX: Has there been any product placement for costume in these films?

DAN: As in the first MATRIX, the “ship crew” boots were supplied to us by Air Walk per Kym’s design. But because it’s such a stylized film there’s nothing out there that is really MATRIX-like; everything is so specific.

MATRIX: Once the budget is approved and Kym has designs drawn, what is the next step?

DAN: The next step is to determine where you’re going to manufacture the goods: if you’re going to set up your own shop, or if you’re going to use outside vendors. We ended up doing both because we had a lot of lead time, although a lot of it seemed to get eaten up with trying to get approvals on the budgets. We had seven months of preparation, but by the time we got everything approved we probably only had two and a half months to make the five thousand pieces for this one large scene that was imminent [Zion Temple].

At the point when it’s due, you realize that you can’t manufacture all the goods in-house, so you start using outside vendors, and obviously going with the most cost efficient way to go. We’re definitely looking to stretch a dollar to give ourselves more garments, so in the end we can dress that additional two hundred on the day that they never gave us the money to do. Basically, that’s the process.

MATRIX: How were the costumes of the principal actors solidified?

DAN: It is a trial and error process because on paper you can’t tell how it moves, and movement is so important to this movie, especially in the fighting sequences. For instance, the coat that Keanu [Reeves, Neo] wears is made in seven different fabrics for very specific different scenes, due to the way each fabric flows and moves. We also have to take into consideration the type of harnessing that we’re going to be doing in stunt scenes.

There are so many aspects where the Visual Effects Department will have input, the Stunt Department will have input, as well as Andy and Larry [Wachowski, Writers / Directors] and Kym. It’s a collaboration of a lot of different people and specifications to decide which fabric we will have to use on a particular day. This film is very unique because of all the different criteria.

MATRIX: Do you work to make the actors feel happy in their costumes?

DAN: Yes, that’s ultimately what we want to achieve; to have Larry and Andy and the actors and ourselves be really satisfied in what we’re doing, and that it really works.

ZION TEMPLE

MATRIX: Of the sets in California, which was the most challenging for the Costume Department?

DAN: The Zion Temple would have been just because of the sheer size of it, and the fact that there were about fifteen different garment types. When you’re dressing a thousand people you really have to stretch your creativity to make those fifteen different styles of garments look individual, to make everybody look different and interesting. You do that with accessories, basically.

MATRIX: Was that a case where individual technicians in the Costume workshop had the opportunity to individualize different costumes?

DAN: Yes, exactly. There was a fit crew of about seven and we were going through fitting about eighty people a day, so it was a very intense pre-fitting process. You don’t really have the time to fine-tune those accessories, so we’ll get the basic outfit on them, take pictures, and Kym will look at them and make some adjustment notes like to add beading here, add a scarf, or take this away. As you’re going through everything you have a time limit on it, because the Extras will start backing up and you’ll look over and there’ll be a hundred people waiting for you, so you’ve really got to pick up the pace. A lot of times we’ll just do the basic outfits then Kym will look at the pictures and make suggestions, and we’ll make those adjustments and on the day they look great.

MATRIX: Was there color distinction from one costume to the next?

DAN: It’s very interesting because in Zion there’s a very close color range, so you have to use accessory color to make it interesting as it’s all really monochromatic. There’s a really fine line and you need a good eye. We had really good people working with us in the Bay area [Northern California] and in Australia who have good eyes and know how to coordinate all of that. It’s all done under the scrutiny of Kym and myself as well; we tweak things, pull things back and sometimes put in a little bit more.

You have to look at every scene as an individual scene, not as part of a whole because it’s just too massive. You look at those fifty people you’re dealing with in that shot, and you make those adjustments at that point. It’s a very big film, but you do it in very small pieces, so you adjust it that way.

MATRIX: Did the Directors give you any backstory on Zion that helped with what kinds of fabrics should be used?

DAN: Basically we worked with Owen Paterson [Production Designer] on the color schemes and the renderings of what Zion was, which gave us a direction of where we would go with both color and fabric textures and sheerness. Larry and Andy always like to have a bit of sexiness to the scenes, so that gave us a direction in terms of the weight of the fabrics – they wanted us to go very sheer fabrics in Zion.

MATRIX: What sorts of safety considerations were there on the Zion Temple set with the candles, torches and extras?

DAN: Those safety requests came in quite late and we basically had to bring in a crew of eight people for three weeks to fireproof every costume in Zion. Originally we resisted that a little bit, not because we like to have people burn, but because it definitely affects the way things move. It stiffens them and makes them very salty-like; it gives a kind of crust to the clothes. We were hoping to limit it to different groups of people that were around the torches, but Warner Bros. wanted us to make sure that everybody had a fire-retarded costume on so we had to do all of them.

MATRIX: How were they fire-retarded?

DAN: There’s a solution that we put into a Hudson sprayer – which is a kind of large garden sprayer – and you lay the clothes out on racks and you basically get a fine mist on each piece – you don’t saturate them – and then let them dry in the sunshine. We did that for each of about five thousand pieces, so it was a large endeavor.

THE AUSTRALIAN SHOOT

MATRIX: Moving from one country to another is a little unusual in a movie; what were the logistics of that?

DAN: We had a great team of people in Oakland [California], and everybody was very experienced so they knew exactly how to do the carnets [customs permits]. When we stopped filming we had three weeks to clean, package, inventory and carnet everything that was coming to Australia. Then we unpacked it here and the Custom Officers took random checks of it. Elly [Kamal], our Assistant Costume Supervisor over here did a fabulous job of arranging the department, so it was literally a matter of pulling costumes out of the box and hanging them on the racks.

MATRIX: Was there staff waiting in Australia for when filming finished in the US?

DAN: Yes, about six weeks before we came over we had set up Elly and the Department Coordinator, Sue Osmond, and they had done the staffing of the rest of the department. I budgeted the Australian section just prior to coming over and gave them the budget in order to do that. They knew exactly what to do because they’re so good at it, so it was really easy to come over, and it made the transition very simple. We had about six weeks before we started filming.

MATRIX: How did the staff in California tell the people in Australia how to repeat particular costumes, such as ship crew costumes?

DAN: In terms of the manufacturing we did bring some of our patterns over, but no two tailors will cut a pattern the same way, so basically they took a lot of our garments that we had established in the States and made their own patterns. We ended up making hundreds more of them over here.

We also have a big dye shop here as we did in the States, and we sent over a lot of the formulas from the there so our art finishers here would know exactly how we achieved those colors. There are definite color palettes to this movie, which are basically our bible, our law.

MATRIX: Was the transition from one crew to another smooth?

DAN: It’s interesting because it was almost like doing another movie. We had two weeks off, which was fantastic, got on a plane, arrived here in the middle of winter in a brand new environment with brand new faces. Everybody was happy, nobody was scarred from 3 months of filming and 7 months of prep, so there was a great enthusiasm and fantastic Aussie accents, so it was uplifting. It was also my first time in Australia.

VISUAL EFFECTS SHOTS

MATRIX: Which visual effects shot was the most challenging from your point of view?

DAN: Probably the single most difficult thing was in one sequence – the stunt team came up with this thing they call a twisty belt, which is a harness that is worn in the mid section. Basically we had to create the top half of a costume and a bottom half of a costume that attached to this belt. It was very difficult because of the length of the coat that Keanu wears in the scene; the puppeteering and movement of the skirt of it was very difficult. We had to use flying rods in it and position them in a particular way. It took numerous fittings and lay outs and Gloria Bava, one of our Costume Cutters, and I – our brains were smoking, it was so difficult to lay out and try to make it look natural.

Once they put him up there in the harness and it was proportionately in the right area, we had additional pressure from the Visual Effects team that each inch of body they had to digitally replace costs so much money, so they wanted to us to reduce the expanse they would have to digitally create. That was probably the biggest challenge, and we worked it out on Chad, [Stahelski] Keanu’s stunt man. Keanu is very amenable when you need him, but this took about 8 fittings to get it right, and you don’t want to bog down Keanu with 8 fittings, so we worked it out on Chad and on the day we hoped it worked on Keanu.

So many things like that, with puppeteering and flying required such guess work. For instance, we were doing this one scene in the Burly Brawl and would watch a rehearsal where there were 8 stunt clones and you would see, almost in terror, what you were going to have to do to their costumes to accommodate the wire rigs and know that you’d have about 15 minutes to rig it after the rehearsal. They’d break the rehearsal and there’d be a team of us knowing exactly what we’d have to do, and we’d have about 10 minutes to do side picks, one center back on one stunt guy, and we would have to put another guy in a jerk vest and have two different picks on him to go up and back. It was surgery on these costumes, and such a short time frame to do it in; it was a little frightening sometimes.

When I first budgeted the part of Neo, I think I put in 10 of the coats that he wears. We’re probably up to about 60 because it’s all about special rigs and special fabrics, so it’s very technical.

MATRIX: Could you elaborate on what picks are for those who don’t know.

DAN: Basically the stunt person or actor has a harness on underneath their costume with a hook that attaches to wires. We need to make holes in their costumes so the wire can attach to the harness. A lot of times, if they’re going head over heels, they’ll use side picks. If they’re being descended or ascended or being jerked back, they’ll use a center pick in the back where they’ll have good leverage to jerk them back. There are so many different flipping, twisting, turning, jerking movements that it’s phenomenal; the stunt team and the wire team just keep on coming up with these challenges. It’s up to us to camouflage the wires as much as possible, so there’s a lot of collaboration between them and us; visual effects is always wanting to hide them as much as possible so they don’t have to remove them digitally.

MATRIX: What are the flying rods you mentioned in the skirt of Neo’s coat?

DAN: We wanted to have the skirt of his coat waft and beautifully float and have that perfect balance of weight and flutter. Sometimes, because of the wire work, when he went upside down the coat would envelop him and cover his face, so we would sew channels in all of the seams and put lightweight fiberglass rodding on each seam. There was a different weight of rodding depending on whether his coat was wet or dry or if we were using the hero fabric, or the super burly fight weight fabric. We had different weights of rodding that we put in the channels to accommodate perfectly the right amount of flutter, but not to have it envelope him.

MATRIX: How are costume and bullet hits worked out?

DAN: I would have to say that the Special Effects Department probably hates us, because they usually like to have a fairly heavy weight porous fabric so they can score the fabric on the bottom side of it and tape their squib onto it so it’ll puncture through and then have a blood bag. Some of the fabrics we were using on this show were PVC, like Carrie-Anne’s costume, which is impossible to control a squib hit with. It was either that or a sheer fabric – just completely the opposite fabrics that they would normally work with.

MATRIX: Do you make excess costumes so they can destroy different ones?

DAN: Yes, basically we tried to give them three takes at everything that would require a squib going through it, but we’ve learned our lesson and we’re doing more now because we’ve gone up to 6 and 7 takes.

MATRIX: What was the most challenging costume scene here in Australia?

DAN: I would have to say that it would be that twisty belt situation in a wet environment and no wires with both Hugo and Keanu in the twisty belts. We were nervous because we didn’t have the availability of the actors to test every one of these different rigs on, so the factor that you don’t really know if it’s going to work drives you insane until you get there. We had a lot of nervous energy, hoping that we’d have a job the next day!

MATRIX: Neo’s coat has a number of different fabrics; are you responsible for purchasing or locating fabrics?

DAN: Basically we’ll have the shoppers go out and get different swatches of fabrics and Kym will choose the fabrics she likes the most, and those are not always the ones where there’s the most availability on yardage. We’ve gone into scenes with 6 cassocks, which is the coat that Keanu wears, where we really need 8 or 10 or 12 cassocks. We don’t always have available the meterage or yardage that is the perfect fabric, so that can be a little nerve racking.

That’s really hard on our Set Costumers because they have to maintain each costume so well. They’re mending it and they’re looking out for it, and if it’s not a sequence where we’re going to see it closely, they’ll go with an old battered one, and when it’s a close up they’ll make sure the perfect coat is worn.

THE COSTUME DEPARTMENT

MATRIX: How is the Costume Department set up?

DAN: Kym is the Costume Designer and she deals with a lot of things beside the design concept. She has to feel comfortable with her cutter fitters, the people who are making the costumes. She has to feel comfortable with the shoppers; that they seek into where she’s at, that they get it and are on the same page.

My responsibility is delivering the goods, making sure we’ve got the proper shop set up with facilities and staffing to accommodate all of her designs. Budget-wise that’s my responsibility as well: trucks, how many people, how many machines, how big the dye shop should be, all of those factors. I have an Assistant Costume Supervisor, Elly Kamal, who shares a lot of those responsibilities with me. Beyond that she is the person I look to to find all of these fantastic people because she knows all of the different strengths of the different Costumers. She knows who the A, B and C list people are, so I leave it up to her to make those decisions and considerations.

We have a big workroom, where we manufacture the principle costumes here at Fox Studios. We also have an art finishing shop that does all of the dyeing and aging of the costumes, and then we have stand bys who dress the actors, and we’ve got a large group of people who dress the large scenes with extras as well. I think there are probably about 25 of us.

BACKGROUND

MATRIX: What got you into the film industry?

DAN: My brother is a Costume Designer, although he once was a Costume Supervisor like I am now. I have always been enthralled with the mystique of the business, so when I was 22 I took a job opportunity at Western Costume, which was where I got a lot of my training and made a lot of contacts. I started out there and have been chipping away at it for 25 years.

MATRIX: Which projects have you worked on over the years?

DAN: Prior to this I worked on Hannibal, and I work a lot with Ron Howard so I did Apollo 13; How the Grinch Stole Christmas I was a supervisor on, and I’ve done Batman and Robin, Men in Black, and there are a few more!

MATRIX: Do you specialize in special and visual effects driven films?

DAN: I don’t specialize in them but I seem to get my fair share of them. I’ve done about 5 space related films, and have worked on many films that have a lot of flying, and a lot of visual effects. There’s no reason why, I just end up on those projects.

HEL NIGHT CLUB

MATRIX: Once these films are finished and out there on the big screen, which costume scene do you think that you’ll have the most pleasure out of watching?

DAN: I would say – even though it was one of the worst scenes to work on – the Hel Club is probably going to get the most comments of any sequence in the film.

MATRIX: Is it true that many of the extras in that scene wore their own clothing?

DAN: That is true; it’s a fetish scene so we had a couple of very interesting casting sessions with the Casting Department and Elly and Sue Osmond, the Costume Coordinator, and I. It’s a very different world and we ended up with probably 70% of the 200 people wearing their own costumes. We had a lot of accessories that we put over theirs; it was a collaboration of their pieces and ours. What is interesting is that the other principals who are in this sequence – the Merovingian, Persephone and the Train Man – had very strong and interesting costumes as well.

MATRIX: Why was the decision made to hire people and their clothing?

DAN: It’s such an expensive thing to do, a good latex cat suit is probably $500, and you can’t spend $1500-2000 on each extra; even on the biggest budget you’d never be allowed to do that. We used a lot of their own foundation pieces and put our corsets or dog collars or interesting headwear or masks or other paraphernalia on them to bring everything into our world.

MATRIX: What kind of direction did the Directors ask for in that particular scene?

DAN: They said they wanted upscale fetish. That was our direction when Kym and I had the initial meeting with them. Then it was basically up to us to start bringing them visual reference on that, and samples, and start doing show and tells. We dressed up our first group of extras and showed them, and if it’s a principal actor we’ll do a show and tell. Other than that, we’ll start showing them pictures as we’re doing our fittings so that we’ll get an indication if we’re going in the right direction. That’s generally our process. Larry and Andy, they don’t need to say very many words to get you going in the right direction.

MATRIX: Thank you Dan.

Interview by REDPILL

May 2002

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