I had a chance to ask some probing questions of Jennifer Starzyk, costume supervisor of Brüno. How do you break down a script that writes itself as you shoot? What are the logistics of shooting all over the world, trying to keep it a secret? Jennifer shares her experience making the film – fashion, weird trailers, and SBC (that’s Sacha Baron Cohen to the cognoscenti). Read on!
How did you get hooked up with costume designer Jason Alper?
I was put in the running for Brüno through another costume designer, Christopher Lawrence. He had worked with the producer who was looking for someone who had experience in all classifications, along with the right personality to be flexible with spontaneous as well as scheduled work. One of the phone calls I received from the production office before I came into interview was something like, “Hi. We can’t tell you about the project. It’s documentary-like. We’re looking for a really good supervisor. But there will be no trailer and no crew.”
How much prep time did you have, and where did you do your prep? Did you have any help? Costumers? A PA? I couldn’t find any credits like that on the film. If you did this all by yourself, I am so in awe.
When I came on, I believe our prep time was about a month. I think Jason had been on for about a month before that also. We had very little help which we knew going into it. Probably the next person in line that worked the most was a PA, Steven Lieberman. He helped with tons and tons of pick-ups and returns.
A majority of our prep was in Los Angeles. We had about 6 chunks of filming, with down time in between each shoot. Our longest period was about 3 months of 6 day weeks (always 6 day weeks), all around the US and abroad. So we initially prepped in LA, then we would start back in LA before we would leave for locations.
What did the script look like? Being an improv/reality piece, I can’t imagine what the script would actually consist of. How did you break it down?
There was an actual written script that grew and grew. I had never seen anything like it. The scenes by the end were numbered something like 14abj! So there was definitely something to break down for a mostly improvised movie. I did numerous breakdowns throughout the movie.
How much did you make to order? Where did you have it made? Which pieces turned out to be the biggest challenges for you?
We had a few great seamstress, tailors and specialty craftspeople that worked on specifics. J&M made some pieces that were unfortunately not used in the movie. Amy Brownson made the Velcro suit and the Dove of Peace costume. Anne Edwards Richardson did all of the knitted items. Perry White made OJ’s leather pants and the clear vinyl 3 piece suit. Andre #1 made a few shoes, but unfortunately they were not seen. Last but not least, milliners Anita Hopkins and Rod Keenen made most of the hats.
The biggest challenge that I can think of was the Velcro suit. The logistics of SBC’s comedic style and the fact that we were not in a staged, controlled environment made it a challenge. Jason Alper had always wanted a Velcro suit on Bruno, just to have him stick to himself during an interview. However, as the movie progressed, Sacha Baron Cohen incorporated scenes around it. We needed to make sure Bruno would become a Velcro magnet to himself and anything around him. Sounds like nothing but in Milan, we were lugging around suitcases with specially-made curtains, dresses and props (including an ironing board with a special cover) that we knew would stick to him. We also tried several versions of Velcro and styles of suits to see what would work best. What worked best was the original!
Did you work directly with fashion designers? I saw Cavalli and Gucci in the film; just wondering if they cooperated and gave you promo merchandise, or if you had to do it the hard way!
We did not work directly with the designers because we signed such a strict confidentiality agreement and everyone was a possible “target.” We also shot fashion week much later in our filming so we didn’t know what city or which designer Brüno may have wanted to meet.
I was also wondering about the “fashion” aspect of the film – was anyone on to you guys? Da Ali G Show was so huge, certainly people recognized Brüno, no? How did you get around that? What was the reaction of the fashion crowd when you were backstage at the show?
The hair and make-up artist, Thomas Kolarek, worked specifically on making sure Brüno looked different than the “Ali G” Brüno. I think a couple times an interviewee would tell SBC that his sense of humor reminded that person of Borat. And one of the cage fight girls thought he was the guy from “Talladega Nights.”
When you were shooting, who (from the costume department) was on set, if anyone? Tell us a little bit about how the show worked – Did you have to hide the production facilities from the public?
Jason Alper always set and established Brüno’s look. We would then be close by or on-set. We mostly worked out of an RV, commercial style. We definitely had to hide that we were anything other than a “documentary” film crew. We would get Brüno ready and then normally he would then be transported to location in a van.
What were your costume facilities like – did you have a regular office? Trailer?
If we were in Los Angeles, we worked out of The Formosa Lot. On location, we started the day in a hotel-room-turned-costume-office. Then we would load everything we needed that day into the RV. There was a lot of hoping you didn’t forget something if they decided to change the schedule out on the road. It all worked out.
I attached an image of our “trailer” on the worst occasion at the Talk Show (Good Morning with Richard Bey) in Texas. Our main 15-foot attached trailer was stolen, so we had to load into a little cube truck. It was lit by the transportation department shining headlights from another van into the truck so I could see. It still makes me laugh.
How many costumes did Bruno end up having for the film? How many fittings did you get to have with Sacha? Did you do the fittings as-you-go, or were most of the garments complete by the time you started shooting?
Brüno ended up being established in about 100 costumes, but only half are probably in the final movie.
Because SBC had so many different roles in making the movie, it was really hard to get stretches of long hours for fittings. I think we were able to fit half the costumes before the movie initially started shooting. However, we gathered lots of new changes along the way. Jason is so used to working with Sacha and knows Brüno inside and out, we would never memo anything. Not to mention, he would be adamant if he knew Brüno should wear it.
Can you describe the collaborative process between Jason, Sacha and Larry Charles?
They are all very close and work together in different ways. Jason and Sacha have known each other since before Ali G, so there’s a long-term working, brotherly relationship there. Larry Charles and Jason love to have long, engaged talks and dream up crazy ideas and scenarios for new projects. Jason would come into work in the morning and out of the blue say things such as, ” Brüno should be dressed as Mother Teresa.”
Did you have stunts that required doubling?
No stunt doubles. Sacha prefers to do his own.
The other characters: Lutz, the gardeners, OJ – did you get fittings with them? I imagine you were all over the country, so it must have been a logistics issue…
We had fittings with all of the above in LA before we started shooting. Jason discussed with Sacha and Larry about keeping Lutz in the same look the entire time which is his “uniform”. We scrambled with some of Baby OJ’s looks that were SBC’s last minute ideas in the middle of nowhere.
OJ’s leather pants – custom made? And the GAYBY shirt? Cowboy boots? Custom made? Who/how/where? They are fabulous. Did you need doubles – one set for each twin baby?
The direction given was to mimic a Brüno look and of course, having “Gayby” on a shirt was instructed. The Gayby shirt was printed at The Wizard. The leather pants were custom made at the last, last minute by Perry White. They were pretty amazing! The boots were from a local Texas cowboy store. We had doubles for sure for the twins.
When the movie was shot, were there disclaimer signs like “By entering this area, you are consenting to be filmed for a movie, you release your image, etc.”? I ask because with big crowd scenes like the cage fight, how else do you get permission? I also ask because of logo clearance – if people show up to the cage fight wearing big “Budweiser” logo t-shirts, would you (costume department) be required to make them change out of the shirt? Or are those the people you gave “Straight Dave” t-shirts to? Just thinking about this because it is always such a huge nightmare for us to police the BG for logos. Did it apply, in this case, because it was kind of like a documentary?
Basically, we did not re-dress background. The “Straight Dave” shirts were mainly props in a way.
The bondage gear – I saw the credits that it was custom-made. Because I have to know, how the heck did that happen? It is such funny stuff, the Davy Crockett Hat, etc., In what capacity were you guys involved with its creation? Did Jason design it, and have it made, or what, exactly? It was amazing. Was it expensive?
I think the Davy Crockett bondage outfit was something the producer Monica Levinson picked up in someplace like Aspen. She produced Borat too, so she’s been living and breathing the two movies and knew Jason would love it for something. Jason just knew to put it in that scene, and then there were the multitude of manacle meetings after the fact. The other bondage outfit that was custom made was from Siren in Los Angeles. That was the entire purple and green latex outfits both Bruno and Diesel wear (seen in the scenes in the beginning of the film with Brüno and his pygmy Filipino boyfriend).
Speaking of expenses, what was your overall budget? You can give ballpark figure if you want, or you don’t have to answer at all. I just think that what you guys did was outstanding, and it would be great to know what you had to work with.
A good portion of the budget went to paying retail for designer labels. We were not in a position to let people know what we were filming, so if we wanted it, we had to pay for it. The old-fashioned way.
What was the weirdest or most unexpected thing that happened while you were shooting the film?
I’m not at liberty to say.
Ooooh, intriguing!!! Any additional stories you’d like to share?
I still get a kick when I start a story saying, “When I had to sneak into Milan Fashion Week back stage…” I guess I would say if I had to do it all over again, I would.
Thank you, Jennifer for sharing your stories and experiences with us on Frocktalk – hats off to you and Jason Alper (and everyone else who helped you) for pulling this off!! Awesome!!