Earlier this year, I sat down with Assistant Costume Designer Ellen Falguiere to talk about her work on the hilarious film The Other Guys (out on DVD tomorrow, December 14). Ellen is a costume designer in her own right, having designed costumes for the Emmy-Award-winning TV movie The Flight That Fought Back, and she has a long history assisting designer Carol Ramsey. Here we can see how costumes make it to the screen from an assistant costume designer’s point of view (one clue: tons of hard work). Wear your comfy shoes, folks!
Among genres, films usually fall into one clean category. Action film: Die Hard. Comedy: Meet the Fockers. The Other Guys straddles the two genres, with equal and ever-present elements of both. I haven’t seen an action sequence as breathtaking as the opening of The Other Guys in years. And yet, with Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg’s performances, I haven’t seen a comedy quite as funny in a long time, either! It’s a difficult task to design for both worlds, action and comedy, without losing either the credibility of the action or the visual joke of the comedy. Carol Ramsey and her team succeed in both.
The task of making this film was enormous – from day one, there were two units shooting simultaneously, in vastly different, distant locations. There were thousands of background players. There was an entire police force. Detectives. A police funeral requiring dress uniforms. A New York Knicks basketball game. Oh, and did I mention – tons of stunts? How does one approach this task with only six weeks of prep?
One way: two assistant costume designers. I am sure that costume designer Ramsey had to fight production to get this – but with two units shooting simultaneously in locations so far flung, it would take a day to drive between them – they must have seen the light and the sense in it at some point.
With approximately $600K (more or less) in the costume budget, it would seem like you could just throw money at these logistical problems to make it easier, but consider this – you can only get one fitting with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for one afternoon, in Florida. Tomorrow. You’re shooting in New York. And oh yes, his costume is first-up on the first day of shooting… on second unit. So you have to establish the costume on a stuntman. I’d say you’d be flying to Florida for that fitting, pronto.
The film has (on one hand) a very glossy, high-end look to it. On the other hand, there are tons of cops and working-class types in the film as well. The rich people look exquisite, and the cops look, well, like cops. The balance here was very good. You have a Gucci suit in the same scene as a suit from J.C. Penney – it’s realistic in the context of the film, and lends credibility to the characters.
I talked with Ellen about how it worked, buying hugely expensive suits – and needing sixteen of them for the various stunts. How does it work?
We’re talking about Ershon (Steve Coogan)’s suits… You said that you bought some that were Hugo Boss?
And then some that were Gucci…
What were his stunt requirements like?
The final sequence for the Hugo Boss suits – we figured that between first and second unit, we needed sixteen suits.
How much were those apiece?
About $800, with our discount.
And then shirt and tie?
Shirts, about $150, and the ties $100 and change. But when you’re buying that many, you contact the vendor and have “a chat”. (laughs) We found some ways to save money by buying white shirts that looked similar that were less expensive. We could use those for various different things – rigging, plate shots – we had to buy a lot of different sizes. There are different stunt men who do different things, some can jump, some do rigging. We don’t just have to plan for the actor, and the stunt double on first unit, there’s a stunt double on second unit and sometimes you have to plan for different stunt doubles that are doing different things. That makes it even more complicated because you have to get a variety of sizes.
The Gucci suit that he wore in one of the scenes … of course the one he picked, we couldn’t get any more of, and it was a $3000 suit, so we bought fabric and knocked it off. It was cheaper.
Tell us about the scope of this show:
There was so much work – there were so many actors. A lot of the movie is really determined up front. It’s a huge amount of work. One costume designer just can’t possibly handle it all on these really large, big-budget movies that start out with two units. I think it’s important to give credit where it’s due – to the assistant costume designers – because there’s a shorthand with the designer and the assistant designers to just pull the whole thing off. It makes things go easier for production, and there’s no way a costume designer can do it completely by her/himself. They need support, and I think that’s what we ultimately provide for the costume designer- we are part of a huge support team.
You’re another pair of eyes, another pair of hands; tell us about how you do the shopping, how does she prep you for that?
We talk about the character, we talk about the actor, the sizes, what we think will work on him – it’s different for every actor and actress. We talk about what colors would look good, what they can pull off, what might work, what might not work. You ultimately want to go with the storyline, but it’s good to be creative. An assistant designer can bring something else to the table besides just what the designer is thinking. The designer is thinking about a lot of things, s/he’s the captain of the ship. Their plate can sometimes get so full. Sometimes an assistant designer can help with the smaller, little details, helping to finish off something.
So there’s sort of a requisite level of trust there between a costume designer and an assistant costume designer, to follow through with the vision?
Definitely to follow through with the vision. If the designer has to move on to something else that’s much more pressing or if there’s been a change in the storyline or a change in the script, which happens very often – pink pages, blue pages, yellow pages – if we’ve started on a certain path with an actor, I can finish that up while the designer moves on to somebody else. That’s really important when you’re trying to accomplish a huge workload.
A lot of times we’ll play leapfrog, assistant designers. We’ll start on something together, and then the designer will go on to the next thing, and I’ll finish the first thing up. Then the designer will use the other assistant costume designer to start with another actor, and then I’ll move on to somebody else. We play leapfrog so that we can get everybody done in a short amount of time. With a short prep time on a movie – we had six weeks of prep on this one – to start out with two units, right up front? It was important to get things started, then the designer could leave and jump onto the next person, she’d do her thing, and I’d jump in to finish that up. We’d start it together and then when I got her vision, I was able to finish it off.
What were your hours like?
(laughing) On average about fourteen hours per day.
In prep and shooting? That was a lot of work you had to do.
Well, making movies you know it starts out slow, and then it sort of builds. I would say in the heat of production, which is like the last three weeks of prep and the first two to three weeks of shooting, it gets up to fourteen, fifteen, sixteen hours a day. And then the movie gets to a place where it kind of calms down again.
And so now you’re working on…
Who’s designing it?
Carol Ramsey. (giggles)
So this is what, your tenth movie together?
I think so. Our tenth movie together. It’s fun. I think our second unit on this one is three days. (laughs) It’s like, a walk in the park.
Big thanks to the fabulous Ellen Falguiere for taking the time to tell me about her work on this movie. I thought it was totally hilarious – Eva Mendez and Mark Wahlberg steal the show. I really hope you can all see it – it’s entertaining, super-funny AND action-packed!!