Interview with Gloria Bava (Costume Cutter, Australia) from The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

By Paul Martin March 30th, 2012, in Official Interviews, The Matrix Reloaded

Archival interview with Gloria Bava from the official Matrix website.

BACKGROUND

MATRIX: What is your background?

GLORIA: I started working as a Costume Cutter specializing in men’s tailoring in South Australia in Adelaide, working for the South Australian Opera company back in the earlyeighties. From there I had a short stint in Brisbane, and instead of going back to Adelaide I decided to try my luck in Sydney. I’ve been here since about 1989, working initially on musicals in the theatre company here, Sydney Theatre Company, and then slowly finding my way into the film industry. As the film industry started to grow there was a lot more work available, so I was lucky enough to get a couple of jobs on some Australian films. From there I got myself known and then moved onto the big films, where I am now.

MATRIX: How did you get into cutting originally?

GLORIA: Funnily enough my grandmother was the one who inspired me, she gave me my first sewing machine when I was about 5 years old, and she used to baby sit me a lot so I was always playing on the sewing machine. I always liked making things and doing crafty things, at high school I was designing and making clothes for friends at school – I went to a girls’ school, so I had a lot of clients. I decided to do, of course, Fashion Design, a natural progression, and studied that for three years in South Australia at the main college there, which doesn’t exist anymore. At the time it was mainly a couturier type course, where they taught you to make each garment individually and to drape it on the stand, the French way of doing things. Unfortunately the year after I left they closed that college down and amalgamated it with another college which specialized in mass production, so I was lucky enough to get the proper training to do what I do, otherwise I would have missed out just by one year.

In that course I was taught to design, draft patterns, to grade, and to actually sew, the whole process involved in making a garment. After that I had my own fashion label for two years with a friend, we were in a partnership together. Then I decided to try my luck overseas in England, so I did that for a while and came back to Australia, getting a job at the opera company. At that point I hadn’t done any menswear, but the gentleman who was supervising there at the time said he’d train me, so he basically taught me and gave me a few tricks and I learnt how to do period men’s cutting on the job. Now I can cut every period of costume, from medieval times up to contemporary times, which is quite good, I like it. I didn’t think I’d have what it took at the time, but apparently I took to it like a fish to water, so I’ve been doing it ever since.

MATRIX: Is fashion completely different from costume cutting?

GLORIA: Costume was originally fashion; if you look at garments in their own period, they were items of fashion, so they are a form of fashion. On a movie like this one, the costumes are very related to fashion. The last few films I’ve worked on have been contemporary sci-fi films, stylish looking films where the costumes have borrowed a lot of their influence from what people are wearing today. So the seventies look finds its way into the movie with the collars and the way the trousers are cut.

I have noticed, with everything I’ve worked on, whether it was something back in 1989 or 1992, even an opera, a lot of the styles were borrowed from what fashion was dictating at the time. There was one incident where I went back to the opera company and was looking in their store room for something (they’ve got thousands of costumes there), and I saw costumes from an opera built in the late seventies. I was amazed because when I looked at the costumes, and they were supposed to be medieval costumes from the 1300s, they looked like seventies clothing. They had that look, in the fabric and the colors, because you could only buy what’s available at the time in terms of materials, so the costumes were inspired by fashion and what was going on at the time. The way the costumes were cut had a look about them that you could tell they were made in the seventies, it was quite bizarre actually.

MATRIX: Do you cut a costume in its traditional cut from the period it existed in, or as that silhouette would be realized today?

GLORIA: That’s the difference, I cut the way they were in the period. I always go back to books and use them as a reference. I’ve got a good collection of pattern making books, so all the pattern pieces are actually identical to how they were constructed back in those times. Myself and a few other Cutters use traditional methods. The only time I’d use modern day pattern making construction skills would be if I was doing a fashion oriented type film or commercial. But even then, because I really like period cutting, I sometimes combine the two. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last few years. I rarely ever make a suit you can look at it and say it’s very contemporary in the style lines and the way it’s been cut. Most things I make have a period look about them, and that’s why Costume Designers sometimes employ me, because they want to have something a bit different. They don’t want to have something that looks like it could have been bought from a shop off the rack, because they’re very limited with what they can buy and put into a film, at the end it all looks the same, so then they’re dictated by what the other Designers are doing out there. I find it challenging to combine two periods, say the 1800s with now, a modern front with a period back.

MATRIX: As a Cutter, what is one of the main differences between opera and film?

GLORIA: The amount of pressure you’re put under is different. It’s much easier to work on an opera because you have, say, six to ten weeks pre-production, and you’re working towards one day, so you can pace yourself. There is a design presentation initially, before you start working on it, and you are given your designs and what you’re going to be working with. You have a meeting with the Designer to discuss how they want things to look, and then you can organize yourself in such a way that you say to yourself, I’ve got ten weeks to make this in, and you can then go ahead and do that, working towards the one day. With a film you don’t have that. You might have a few weeks of pre-production and then you’re on the film. While the film is being made, you have to come up with garments maybe two days before, a day before, or an evening before they will be shot, so you don’t have as much time, therefore there’s more pressure.

MATRIX: On stage, detail doesn’t ‘read’ so it is not applied as carefully as it would be in film; are your costumes more detailed now that you work in film?

GLORIA: When I worked in both the opera and theatre companies, we went to a lot of effort to make costumes very authentic. A lot of times we were in a setting which was quite small, especially with the Sydney Theatre Company (I was there for about 5 years), so people could actually get a really good look at the costumes close up with most of the stages that the plays were on. We went to a lot of effort to make sure the detail was very authentic, and there was a lot of attention to detail, we didn’t ever compromise anything. It was exactly the same standard of work as if it was a film, I have never changed anything.

It doesn’t make any difference to me, whether it’s theatre or film, although there is a quality control element in film. For example, if there is a scene with a head shot, the collar has to be perfect, so I’ll make sure the top stitching is straight and everything in the neck area is absolutely spot on, and if it isn’t, it has to come off and be redone. I go through and check things before a costume goes on set, otherwise someone else will pick up on it and it will come back and there’ll be less time to alter it. There is that element of quality control, which you don’t get in opera or theatre, because you usually have time. There’s usually a two week costume rehearsal period for opera and theatre where costumes are ready, and they’re rehearsing in them before opening night, so there’s enough time there to pick up any problems. Whereas here you haven’t got any time, you’re basically making a costume, and if someone runs in and says they need it now, they have to take it, so there is no room for error.

MATRIX: What are some of the other films you have worked on?

GLORIA: I’ve worked on the first MATRIX, Moulin Rouge!, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, and The Queen of the Damned, which was a Melbourne production. This year [2001] I madly worked on Scooby-Doo, I started working on that the first week of January, right through to June. They started pre-production here in Fox Studios [Sydney] in another building, we were here for a month building costumes, then they took us up to Warner Bros. Studios on the Gold Coast and started filming virtually straight away. We were there the whole time basically. There were a lot of costumes, it was a very colorful show.

NEO’S & MORPHEUS’S COSTUMES IN THE FIRST FILM

MATRIX: How much work did you do on the original MATRIX film?

GLORIA: I was contracted to build the male lead costumes, that is, Neo’s and Morpheus’s costumes.

MATRIX: When you say ‘build’ do you mean cut and stitch?

GLORIA: Yes, everything. At the time I was working from my own studio, so I wasn’t in the Costume Department the production had allocated, which wasn’t here at Fox Studios, it was down at the wharf at the time. I would go in there with the garments, do fittings, stay there for a while and talk to Kym [Barrett, Costume Designer] about things, do my fittings and then take the garments home with whatever materials I needed. I worked all hours of the night to try and get all the duplicates made and then bring them back to the Costume Department.

MATRIX: So you made every single one of Neo’s and Morpheus’s coats in the first film?

GLORIA: Yes, that’s right. There were five of each, and they were quite time consuming too because of all the seams and the detail. You don’t actually see all the detail, you see some in Morpheus’s coat, but you don’t really see it in the black coat Neo wears.

MATRIX: Do the agents of the principal actors send out their measurements?

GLORIA: Yes, I sometimes get the measurements faxed at home, and that’s what happened with Neo’s coat, especially because it was on short notice. Before I came into the work room I had had the measurements faxed to me, so I could start drafting Keanu a personal block [basic pattern] to his personal measurements. Everything I do it custom made, I don’t use stock patterns or anything, it’s all built from the ground up.

MATRIX: What was the process from design to filming of Neo’s and Morpheus’s costumes in the first film?

GLORIA: For the first film I went into the Costume Department and met up with Kym, who I’d worked with at the Sydney Theatre Company when she came out of NIDA [National Institute of Dramatic Art], so I already knew her. She gave me some drawings to interpret – they were really nice illustrations actually – of Neo’s and Morpheus’s coats. Because it was a last minute thing, she talked through and described to me verbally what sort of thing she was after. The coats didn’t have to be exactly like the drawings, I could do an interpretation of them. I drafted an initial pattern and made a coat from black cotton drill I use for toiles [garments for fit and look] and that was based roughly on what Kym had told me she was after. I did that with both Morpheus and Neo, then went back to the Wardrobe Department to see Kym, and we put the toiles on the dummies. We talked about the coats, and she drew on the black drill with chalk where she wanted seams put in and described what sort of collar she was after, because we hadn’t refined that yet, Kym wasn’t quite sure. Upon seeing the initial coat she could draw in the seams and say, “I want the skirt part a bit fuller, the waist a bit more nipped in, and the shoulders a bit broader, we need to have gussets under the arms…” things like that, construction details.

I went back to the studio with those coats, cut them up, and basically used those as pattern pieces and made another one of each, toile #2. I made the coats again in the black cotton drill, with top stitching and everything to look like the final version would look, and they were the ones we fitted onto the actual actor. The two Directors [Larry and Andy Wachowski], the brothers came in and had a look as well, and Kym described to them where we were going with the two coats. They were quite happy with the progress.

From there we refined them a bit and Kym put in some more style lines and gave me some more direction of where to go with them, and then I came up with the final version of each, which I actually made in leather. I rearranged all the style lines, for Neo’s coat in particular, in such a way that it would be very flat at the front and very, very full at the back. Everything was cut diagonally – the darts and the style lines were all cut diagonally – although you couldn’t see that in the film. It was great that Kym gave me a lot of artistic license with my pattern making, she wasn’t particular about what I was doing with the style lines, as long as I gave her the fit she wanted, which was good for me because I got to be a bit artistic with it. We made Neo’s original coat in a silver gray leather, we’ve actually got it here, it’s exactly the same as what you see in the film, but the one you see in the film is the black.

MATRIX: Why the change from gray leather?

GLORIA: It changed because the Directors wanted something that was able to billow and float. There is a reference in the script to ‘liquid sky’; they talk about Neo, and the look they were after was more like a coat that would liquefy with the surroundings, that would be floaty and billowy, and they couldn’t get that with the leather because it was too heavy. The leather just wouldn’t move, they put a wind machine under it and it just sat there, it didn’t do anything, especially because I had cut it so full at the back, and it had a bit of a train on it as well, so it just didn’t do anything. It looked great at the time, but it just didn’t do anything, so we decided to go with another fabric instead of leather.

Morpheus’s coat, the green one, was always intended to be leather. They flew the leather out from a company in New York that printed leather; they had specifically asked for a particular design. I went ahead and cut that coat out and made it, Morpheus has quite a few of those green coats. Now on this film, the same green coat is being repeated.

MATRIX: Were you able to go back to the same company in New York to have the leather dyed and printed?

GLORIA: Apparently the company who did the original fabric in New York has closed down. They found someone else, but I don’t think they came up with exactly the same as the original because I have all the original samples and it doesn’t quite look the same. I think it will look just as good, it’s the same color, a very deep MATRIX green I call it, bottle green.

MATRIX: From when Kym gave you the initial sketches of Neo’s and Morpheus’s coats to when they were solidified, what was the time frame?

GLORIA: That was over a two week period, there were only two weeks before they had to go on camera. The Wardrobe Department was set up and they were already in production, but they were making a lot of costumes for the minor characters and they were making a lot of repeats of everything, so they were busy doing that. Jenny Irwin was making all of Trinity’s, the women’s costumes, and she was doing a great job of that, so I basically concentrated on the male leads. Working at my own studio was good for me because it allowed me the freedom to work late hours, long hours, I couldn’t have done it if I had to clock on and off. I basically worked through the night to come up with coats #2, #3 and #4. I did the whole process myself, making the patterns, cutting them out, sewing them, everything, and then driving back and forward, so it took a while.

MATRIX: Where did Neo’s coat fabric come from, was it specially made for the production?

GLORIA: Neo’s fabric was sourced around Sydney, and they found it in Sydney at a tailoring supply place. It had to be the right weight, it had to be the right shade of black, it had to have a matte-ness about it, not shiny in any way, and it had to have the right sort of loose weave. It was more like a twill weave, which was very good to work with, and it wasn’t a real black black, it was bordering on a charcoal to black shade. When they found the fabric they bought lots of it, and I think ended up making about four of those coats.

MATRIX: The principal actors and their stunt doubles all did wire work and other stunts; what kinds of adjustments were made to the costumes to accommodate their actions?

GLORIA: Usually there were different coats set up for different purposes. In one of Neo’s coats there was a sleeve was taken out, so it was velcro-ed in place. That was the scene where he was on the roof and gets shot in the arm by one of the Agents, Neo is doing some gun slinging, takes the guns out, and then he gets shot in the arm. That coat had the removable sleeve because they wanted to rehearse the scene over and over – the shooting part of the scene – so they had a whole lot of sleeves they could put back in to replace the sleeves torn by squibs. It was cheaper than making ten coats. On this film you basically have to make ten coats, but on the first one they were trying to economize by just having the sleeve made and velcro-ing it in.

Another adjustment was made to the coat that you see in ‘The Making of THE MATRIX’, the scene where Neo is wearing the coat and he’s wired up and the coat is billowing. The coat in that scene I cut about four feet longer at the back. It is longer than the coat you see in most parts of the film to allow for the billowing. I cut the panels at the back a lot wider and longer, so it was like the train on a wedding dress, and then the wind could go underneath and billow it out.

MATRIX: Did you spend much time on set or testing the costumes to make sure they did what they needed to do?

GLORIA: No, that was all left up to the on set crew, and to Kym as well. If there were any problems they’d call me on the mobile and I’d have to whiz over, pick up the garment, fix it up, and bring it back. There weren’t really any problems, so I didn’t have to worry about it, they took the coats and they worked fine, that was it really. The problems were ironed out before I even gave the final coats to the Costume Department because I made two initial toiles and the actors could walk around in the coats to test them. Neo was wearing holsters underneath, so he could test to see if the coat was going to sit over the holsters all right.

MATRIX: Were you involved with fitting Keanu Reeves?

GLORIA: Yes, I think I had three fittings with him. The first time I think he was a bit like, “Where am I, who are these people?” He was very cooperative, he put the garment on, did the actions he knew he had to do in the costume so I could gauge if I should add, say, more to the sleeve to make it a bit more user friendly. From memory, he was quite friendly and affable at the time. He stood there and put the coat on, and luckily the Directors were there talking to him and so was Kym, so he was distracted from what I was doing – pinning behind him. I would do what I had to do, then he would walk around and test that it was feeling okay and it wasn’t too tight anywhere, and test that he could run in it and do a lot of arm movements.

THE MATRIX SEQUELS

MATRIX: Was there any hesitation when you were asked to come back for THE MATRIX sequels?

GLORIA: No, no hesitation whatsoever. I actually really wanted to work on this, I was quite excited about it. I had heard, probably about 2 years ago now, that there was going to be a sequel, so I was hoping I’d end up working on it again because I liked the work I did on the first one. It is very much my sort of thing, my style, so it is good to have the opportunity to do the same, to repeat that and to expand on it. Since then I have done a lot more movies and I’ve got even more experience, so I can bring that into these two films.

MATRIX: For the first film you worked on Neo’s and Morpheus’s costumes, how has your role changed on this production?

GLORIA: There are so many more characters in these films, it’s such a much bigger production, so I have a bigger workload, basically. There are more lead characters and I’m responsible for the [male] leads, so I’ve got more costumes to make. Also, for each person they have more repeats on this one – there are a lot more stunts and things happening, so there tends to be five or six of every costume. The budget is bigger as well, so they have money to make more costumes for each character. I’m involved with the fittings as well. Being in charge of the men’s department, I have to go into the fitting room a lot and oversee any problems with costumes, or deal with the fittings. I then instruct notes to be written up for each character, what the alterations have to be, and then put them in action in the work room by giving the people in the work room the actual work to do, explaining how the alterations have to be done.

MATRIX: Is the creation process the same as for the original film where Kym gave you a sketch and discussed each costume with you?

GLORIA: Yes, it is the same. I notice that every Designer has a unique way of working, and Kym has her own way too. Hers is very much an intuitive type of thing, where she describes verbally what she wants. She gives you a working drawing and describes verbally the feel of the costume, what the final look of it should be, and then gives you some samples to go by. She’ll pick another costume off the rack and say, I want this detail from here, or that detail off that lapel, or maybe you can incorporate that and put it into the new costume. So it’s good, I find I work quite well with Kym and understand where she’s coming from.

Kym basically lets you come up with the goods in your own way, she doesn’t interrupt the creative process of the Cutters. Roger [Tait, Costume Cutter] and myself go and fiddle around on the dummies, come up with ideas, make samples, and she’ll come down and say, I like that, or can you change that a bit? I’ll go ahead and make the first costume, then we try it on the actor, and if Kym wants to change something, she’ll usually do that in the fitting room when she sees it on the actor. She is also limited by what the Directors want too, we can go ahead and make something that looks great, then when photos are taken the Directors might think the color is too strong, so we have to change it a little bit. Initially, she lets me do my own thing really.

MATRIX: How many of you are there in the work room?

GLORIA: It fluctuates – there’s a core group of about 5 of us full time – that’s two Cutters and three people sewing. Then there are casuals who come in as they’re needed, when it’s busy, but it seems that we’re busy all the time, we’ve always got casuals. At the moment we’ve got about 8 people, I think the most we’ve ever had is 9 people, so anywhere between 5 and 9 people basically.

MATRIX: What kinds of fabrics have you been working with for the sequels?

GLORIA: The fabrics this time around, again because it is such a big production, are more of everything, and more variation of everything. I think every type of material has been covered in the sequels. We’ve got everything from wools to plastics to synthetic type materials, to natural fibers and leathers, vinyls, PVCs, even things like wet suit fabric and foams. There are a lot of really nice expensive woolen fabrics for the men’s coats, some really beautiful materials. Kym picked all the linings for the men’s coats, all the linings in those coats are vintage linings, original ones you can’t get anymore. There’d be pieces of fabric rolled up, 5 meters of lining, for example and I’d have to try to make five coats and put that inside and make sure they lasted. There are some really interesting materials, hopefully you’ll see them in the film.

MATRIX: What are some of the details on the costumes for the sequels?

GLORIA: There has been some beading on some of the female leads, and little things like beaded bags being made and beaded shoes, things like that. It’s been a real gamut of styles of costumes really. You’ve got the really masculine, butch pieces, and you’ve got the really feminine, beaded, frilly, pastel shaded type colors. There’s a real range of colors as well.

STUNT & SPECIAL EFFECTS COSTUMES

MATRIX: Do you coordinate with other departments who tell you what they need for different stunts?

GLORIA: They come here all the time and chat to me. In the last two weeks I’ve been doing a lot of Second Unit work, which is filming all the stunts for a particular scene. They have one unit which is just the acting side of it, and then another unit which is just the stunts and the blowing up and killing of people. I’ve been concentrating on that, which means I have been liaising with the stunt department, the actual stunt guys, with Glen Boswell [Stunt Coordinator] and Chad Stahelski, who is Keanu’s stunt double. I talk to Chad quite a bit because I have access to him more than I do Keanu. The Special Effects Department and I have to work together, so whatever project they have going, whoever is in charge of that, comes in and talks to me. I have to incorporate their ideas into the costumes so we can actually make the stunt work. There’s a lot of that going on, which is a good learning experience because I haven’t had the chance to do that very much in Australia. This is the biggest special effects / stunt show I have ever worked on. For instance, there’s the Pyro Department, a whole department set up with people who blow up things, and they come into costume as well. If a costume has to have bits blown out of it, then I have to accommodate that, making things detachable so they can rip.

THE LAST WORD

MATRIX: You mentioned that in the first script you read about Neo’s coat being like ‘liquid sky’, how closely do you work with the script to pick up small elements like that?

GLORIA: When I start working on a film I’m given a script to read, so I have an understanding of the story and the characters, who they are. I also read the script to pick up on little nuances like ‘liquid sky’ that the writer puts in. There are descriptive elements you wouldn’t normally find in the actors’ lines, you find them in the description the writer puts into the script in brackets, where he makes a description of the scene and what it should feel like. If you don’t get to read the script, you don’t really get to know what is going on, and you can miss the boat sometimes.

MATRIX: When you read the script for the first film, did you immediately get it?

GLORIA: Yes, I think I did. It dealt with a lot of themes and issues of today really: the feeling of emptiness a lot of people have, displacement from society, and a feeling of imminent destruction, all of those elements. And now, three or four years later, even more so, those things are taking place. A lot of society seems to be moving in that direction unfortunately – the world the way it is, the chaos of the world. The themes of chaos have always been elements of all cultures, right back to prehistoric times, so that is something I picked up on in the first film which is carried on to these two.

MATRIX: During production of the first film, was there a feeling the film would be a success, or was everybody just working to make a great film?

GLORIA: I think everybody was just working to make a great film. At the time I don’t think people ever really realized, I didn’t realize, I had no idea, I was trying to get everything done on time.

MATRIX: This time around is there more pressure?

GLORIA: There is a sense of pervading pressure I think, because there’s bigger money involved, more people involved and a bigger cast. In the past, sequels have been made and sometimes they don’t end up living up to the expectations of the first one, so there’s always that hanging over people’s heads I suppose. But I think the second one will be great, it will probably outdo the first one. They haven’t gone drastically beyond the first one, they’re just building upon it, adding more to it.

 

MATRIX:Thanks Gloria.

Interview by REDPILL

December 2001

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