Interview with Kym Barrett (Costume Designer) – Part 2 – from The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions (2003)

By Paul Martin March 20th, 2012, in Official Interviews, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions

Archival interview with Kym Barrett from the official Matrix website.

THE SEQUELS

MATRIX: When did you start pre-production for the sequels?

KYM: We started pre-production in August 2000, in Venice [California].

MATRIX: How difficult was it for the Costume Department to start this project in one hemisphere and complete it in another?

KYM: It’s difficult because you lose your crew; obviously you have a different crew in each place. There’s only been Dan Bronson [Costume Supervisor] and I who’ve stayed, the only two people who are the same, which is good, because usually it’s just me who stays the same. It’s good to have someone who shares that knowledge with you, to take and pass on to new people. Every place we go, we can always find good people, I’ve never had a problem yet, so long as there are a couple of you who know the story. Of course, coming back here [Australia], some of my crew are the same people who did the first one, so they have a concrete knowledge of things, they know the actors well, and can communicate with me.

Logistically it’s difficult, but it’s fine because the idea is the same. So long as the idea stays the same and the story is being told, then I think you can go anywhere if you don’t let it overwhelm you; it is quite overwhelming to keep moving and move your family.

MATRIX: There are more characters in the sequels, which means a greater variety of fabrics; what kind of fabrics are you working with?

KYM: I go and buy the best fabric for the job, sometimes it costs nothing, and sometimes it costs a lot, there’s no real logic behind it. I go and I see it and I touch it and I think this’ll work for something. Most of the time there are only six things left in the fabric room by the end of the film. By now the buyers are very used to what I like; how much texture, how much sheen etc. We’ve got a shorthand where Shareen [Beringer, Costume Buyer] knows she’s not going to buy something in this tone of red. Never. And fabric always needs to be a certain weight, because of the actions the actors need to do in it.

I’d love to go to Premiere Vision [yearly fabric exhibition], walk around the fabric fair and go, “Ooh there’s the Trinity fabric”. But the Trinity fabric might end up being from a hardware store, because it’s the right fabric. Then some seemingly insignificant piece of a costume for some person in the background will have a really expensive fabric, just because it looks good and it matches their hair. It’s good to have that freedom, it all tends to even out in the end. Sometimes I tell Dan I’ll bargain him five rolls of one fabric, if I can have that really expensive piece. When it’s still sitting down there every time I walk past it, I think I better work out what to do with it. On the other hand, when there’s a costume in big volume, I’ll always try to use something that’s not as expensive, but still good, to balance it out. It’s like getting your nails done; you have to have a few moments where you can go a little bit far.

MATRIX: For the sequels, how have the key characters’ costumes developed?

KYM: Supposedly only seventy-two hours have passed between the first movie and the second movie so, for the characters, not a lot has changed, except that we see them jack back into the Matrix. Neo, because he has already taken such a long journey, when he jacks back in now and he’s got his new costume on, you can see he’s more confident, that he has a stronger presence. He has a more severe silhouette, he’s not kind of hunched and shy in a shabby old suit, he has placed upon himself, in his jacking in, a different persona. That’s in the way he stands and the way the costume stands on him, rather than him having more jewelry on, or being more shiny or less shiny. It’s more of a subconscious thing.

His strength comes from within, which is hopefully how all characters make their journey. I mean, hopefully you don’t have to put flashing costumes on them to be able to say, “Wow, he’s turned into somebody new.” I think Laurence has a little more of a chance to be a bit more flamboyant, which is partly the character of Laurence, and partly that his character has a little bit more freedom to do that within the story. I think Carrie-Anne is the most constant in that journey; she’s very similar. She’s a little more feminine in this movie in general, but that’s good because she’s fallen in love, so the story has brought that out in her. So I think it’s really the things that have come from within the characters that have propelled their costumes, rather than them saying, “I didn’t get enough costumes in the last movie, I want a few more”.

MATRIX: Once shooting starts, how does your job change?

KYM: Once you start shooting, you don’t tend to have time to illustrate much. I was pregnant with my daughter in pre-production, and I knew at some point I’d give birth, so I decided I was going to illustrate, to get as much work out as I could to get a firm idea of what I wanted so I was prepared for shooting. In shooting you don’t have time to sit down and have a little scribble, you need to go, “Okay I need it by tomorrow, it has to look like this, I know they like this, this and this. I’m going to take a chance I’m right, please do it this way, and thank you Gloria for staying up all night”. You can only do that if you ‘re prepared, so you go out and buy lots of fabric you have no idea what you’re going to use it for, then the day before you can go, “This’ll work, this’ll work and this’ll work. See that pattern? Let’s change it to do this.” It’s a more frenetic process once you get into shooting.

MATRIX: That must allow your staff a certain amount of creative freedom.

KYM: What’s the point, otherwise? It’s not my world. Every day I learn stuff from everyone who works here, and I just keep it away in the back of my brain, so when someone says to me, “But you can’t do it that way”, I say I can, and I know because I’ve seen it done. If I was a great tailor, I’d be down there doing it myself. You hire the best people you can, because they can best realize the idea you have. Their creative freedom only makes you look good and makes them happy in their job, which is the most important thing.

MATRIX: Are there any particular craftspeople you’ve brought into the Costume Department?

KYM: Yes, people like Gloria [Bava, Costume Cutter], who worked with us last time; it was important to me for them carry on through. A lot of people are new, but then we’ve also had things made in LA, and we’ve had things done in Oakland, so it’s been very diverse. For the crew who put together all the extras, I’d write notes on the photographs and say, “Add some beading, add some shells, add some this, that and the other.” They look at the costumes we have done before, and come up with their own version, which is a great thing, because it means every costume is individual.

I like the idea that we don’t just ship out everything to some beader, give them a pattern and say, do this. It’s nice that some of the girls are good at macramé, so they did some and asked what I thought of it. I thought it was great, and I hadn’t thought of it; it looks good, fits in, and uses up all our beads and our stock. The best part of working with a big number of people is that all those thoughts, all those talents and all those little things, all come together and make a realistic world that’s not just my world, or Owen’s world.

MATRIX: What are some of the challenges you’ve had on the sequels that you didn’t encounter on the initial film?

KYM: Most things have been more challenging, just because the movies have to appear as simple as before, but they have to be better. And technically they are better, technically they’ve advanced so much. The actors are better at kung fu, they’re better at wirework, they’re faster, they learn quicker, they’ve taken less time to lose weight; everybody has advanced. I think we all move faster and better, and we have less discussion time because we’ve all got the same information from before, and we’ve had time to actually digest it and look at the movie and go, “Okay last time I did this. This’ll work better this time.”

Now I know what to do, I don’t have to spend my time and my money working out what this fabric is going to do, or what this harness is going to do. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we’re just getting better at making wheels. So everything really has been more of a challenge in a way, as well as less of a challenge. I’ve been able to look at things a little bit longer, I’ve had the time to stand back and think about everything and reassess it and make the right choice. When you first do something, you make a choice, and five out of ten times you’re wrong, you have to do it again. And this time, maybe I’m a little better at getting a bit closer the first time.

MATRIX: Do you feel the pressure that these films need to be better than the original?

KYM: No I don’t, because the story the story was always written as a trilogy. The story is the story and that’s what’ll take us through to the end.

THE SCRIPTS

MATRIX: Do you remember when you first read the second two scripts?

KYM: Yes. First of all we weren’t allowed to for ages, then we got the second script and had two weeks to read it, then we had to wait for three weeks before we could read the third one because they wanted us to digest everything. I was just glad that the story made me cry a couple of times, because it’s not a story that you necessarily expect to. I thought the second two scripts had more scope for Carrie-Anne, and they had more emotion. I knew they’d be good, but was happy when I read them.

MATRIX: When you first get the scripts, what is the process of breaking them down costume by costume?

KYM: For me, I read it once, come up with ideas for things, then talk to the boys and Owen about them. It’s not until we’ve actually made some decisions that Dan will sit down and technically break the scripts down, working out what is continuity to what, and if we need ten of these and five of those.

We have to present a budget really early on, which is kind of crazy, because you do a budget, and then I’ll have another meeting with the brothers and they’re like, “Well… we’re going to make ten of them instead of three, and we’re going to change the fight.” The studio will try to lock you in to a budget quite early on, when you’re still working with words on paper, and you haven’t tested anything: you haven’t had a screen test, you haven’t had a rain test, you haven’t seen what fabric bullets come through better, and which fabric blood shows up on.

The breakdown is really to facilitate an initial budget, and then hopefully you can avoid locking yourself into that, because everything changes every day. One day they’ll say, “We need two hundred people”, then on the morning they’ll say, “Well actually, we want three hundred people”. In the back of your mind, you’ve always prepared for three hundred. I’ve always squeezed out more costumes than we really had money for because I know, on the day, there’ll be naked people in g-strings wrapped in a sheet, standing in the back row because we didn’t have enough costumes for them.

Costume numbers are an amorphous thing, and your intuition kind of predicts how many you really need, and how many they say you need. That comes from the breakdown, and the breakdown comes from having a fairly good idea about how the brothers see the scenes, and once you see storyboards it’s better. Larry and Andy are really good at storyboards because pretty much what they storyboard, they shoot, and it’s not like that in a lot of movies. In a lot of jobs scenes are storyboarded, and then the Director goes, “Hey Kym, we need to see 360 degrees on this scene, so you need hobos over there and prostitutes over there and the Choir of St. John’s walking down the road.” You’re always using up money ‘just in case’ on most movies, for things you never see. Whereas on this movie, we can really use our money on what you’re going to see in the frame, because ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they stick to what’s in the frame.

Do you have a storyboard ‘bible’ here in the Costume Department to see who is in a scene?

Yes, we use it to double check. First of all, you decide if a shot is going to be talking heads, and with Larry and Andy it’s good, it’s hardly ever just heads talking. Owen has usually had most of the sets designed so that you either pull in or pull out, in one long corridor. Generally, we’ll shoot a wide with head to toes, and we’ll pull in to somebody, or we’ll shoot them there and we’ll pull out of them.

MATRIX: Do the storyboards also help with the Special Effects shots, knowing that this actor is going to be doing that in their costume, so therefore this needs to be done?

KYM: As soon as you see a bullet and blood spurting out of somebody’s jacket, you know you have to make five jackets. You have to make one beautiful one for walking and talking, then you have to make one that’s going to cover up a bulletproof vest and a squib, etc. So immediately you know it’s going to cost this much, it’s going to be this many, and it’s going to take this long.

You must have spent quite a bit of time with the Special Effects Department on this film then!

Yes, Dan gets all those jobs – he gets the boy jobs. We usually discuss where the best place for it is, how to design the costume so we don’t have to make ten beautiful coats to blow up, we make five beautiful coats, and we blow up ten shirts because we leave the coat open. We make the coat so it can never shut, but it looks good open, as though it could shut… we work our trickery. That’s where Dan and I would work out those ways of sleight of hand, he would more likely go and deal with how much blood and where the explosion comes from.

MATRIX: Thanks Kym.

Interview by REDPILL

May 2002

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