Chatting with Costume Designer Malgosia Turzanska was inspirational, educational, and fun! She’s a true talent and someone who is obviously in love with her job. Maggi
To learn more about Maglosia, go to her website: http://www.turzanska.com
Matthew Toffolo: I recently interviewed director Rebecca Miller about the film “Maggie’s Plan” and she raved about her working relationship with you. How did you find working on the film and collaborating with Rebecca?
Malgosia Turzanska: Rebecca is a wonderful artist. She is a fearless writer and director and honestly, she took a chance on me. The images I brought to the first interview were so abstract, that it really took courage to trust they would end up as regular clothing rather than people dressed as snowflakes. I am very grateful to her for that trust, because it lead to one of my favorite collaborations. I am very proud that the costumes ended up a little pushed and I have Rebecca and our fantastic actors to thank for embracing them and encouraging me to push further. Julianne, Greta and Ethan are such smart and sensitive artists and working with them was very inspiring.
The rest of the team as well — DP Sam Levy, Production Designer
Alexandra Schaller, Producer Damon Cardasis — they’re wonderful to work with and created an environment where we could really find the world of the film together and end up in a very satisfying place, having a lot of fun on the way.
PHOTOS: Original Maggie design sketches from “Maggie’s Plan:
MT: Do you have a favorite working experience? What film are you most proud of?
Malgosia: I’ve been incredibly lucky to have worked with talented directors whose vision I fully believed in, so I enjoyed basically every project I’ve been on, but there’s a few stand outs.
“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”, directed by David Lowery was an amazing
experience. David Lowery is one of the most brilliant directors of his
generation, and I absolutely love the lyrical, sensuous movie we made.
The people I met during that shoot have become my dearest friends and I hope to continue working with them forever, as they bring out the best in me.
“In A Valley of Violence” directed by Ti West was an absolute blast. It’s a
revenge western set in late 1870s, with Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, Karen Gillian, Taissa Farmiga, and Jumpy the amazing dog. It was just joyous, and brought back together part of the ATBS team. I am very very proud of that one and can’t wait to share it with people. It’s opening in theaters this September, but will screen at BAM in New York during the upcoming cinema fest if you want to see it before then! That shoot was a also a beautiful adventure, including rattle snakes, tarantulas and a whole lot of mice. I also learned the hard way how difficult it is to shave a buffalo hide.
But I’d go back in a beat.
“Hell or High Water” was another favorite New Mexico escapade. A modern western with Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster and Chris Pine, it was written by Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote Sicario, and directed by David Mackenzie.
David was wonderful to work with and fearlessly walked the tight rope
between bleak and sexy, hopeless and funny, making a film that is
enjoyable and entertaining, but also incredibly heart wrenching and valid. I really can’t wait for August, when it’ll open in theaters.
PHOTOS: Original sketches from Malgosia and on set photos from the film “Hell or High Water”:
MT: What type of film (genre, setting etc..) would you love to do costumes on that you haven’t done yet?
Malgosia: I love movies that are firmly set in reality, and then have an unexpected, magical element introduced to that reality, shifting the rules and creating a new logic, unraveling into a different dimension. My absolute dream would be an adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita”, which is one of my favorite books. I get goose bumps just thinking about it! The second one would be an adaptation of “The Tiger’s Wife” by Tea Obreht, who is an outrageously talented young author and whose next book I’m waiting for very impatiently.
MT: Rebecca talked about you building a character from the inside out. How you need to know the person before you dress them. Can you share your plan/structure when you begin a project?
Malgosia: It starts with the script. I read it once or twice and create a primary, emotional response to the whole piece or to specific characters. That phase tends to be pretty abstract, raw and untethered. I’m often drawn to images that are seemingly not relative to the story, but I later discover that they become the core of the design. So I don’t censor myself at that phase and just go with my gut. Then I do a proper breakdown, which helps me learn the script by heart, and research it properly. I study the specifics of the period and environment where the story takes place, which includes reading books, looking at photos, going to museums, watching movies — whatever is available. That’s one of my favorite stages, because you come across so many unexpected tidbits that gradually shape the design. I then create a moodboard for each character and start sketching. I find that sketches are a crucial part of my process. It’s a moment where I start asking specific questions about the characters, when the initial abstract ideas begin to take a concrete, realistic form. Fabric swatches are very informative and inspiring during that phase too — color and texture are my favorite things to play with, and often I’ll dye or fade swatches to see what happens to the color or pattern and find surprising outcomes that I wouldn’t necessarily think of off the bat. Of course throughout the whole process, I talk to the director, DP and PD and exchange ideas to make sure we’re on the same page.
Then comes the actual shopping/building stage. We use the sketches and boards as a roadmap, and decide what we’re making from scratch and what we’re buying or renting. Usually the things that are purchased are either altered heavily or dyed, so very few things actually are off the rack, unless the character calls for it.
For Maggie’s Plan for example, my design for Georgette was inspired by frozen twigs and cracked ice and various textures of snow and fur, to emphasize her Viking nature, so we ended up building quite a few pieces in house. Her grey leather minidress, the fur vest and one of the fur stoles.
We added leather trim to a few tops for more detail. She also wears beautiful custom-made No.6 Store clog boots that I ended up changing the color of to fit in more with her controlled palette. But there were a few pieces that we were in love with from the very start that became her signature, like the gorgeous blush pink Ryan Roche sweater which was just perfect the way it is. For Maggie’s costumes, it was crucial to feel the handme-down and reused nature of the clothes— she is so practical and so careful of not being wasteful that we did not want anything of what she wore to feel new, but still wanted to retain the unabashedly vibrant hues.
We used a lot of vintage clothes that we altered and dyed (a big thank you to my husband for letting me turn our home bathroom into a dye room for weeks) and also were very lucky to get pieces from Archerie NY that have the feel we desired but fit a modern shape beautifully. We found a lovely men’s double breasted coat and turned it into a single breasted women’s one for her, changed buttons on pretty much every garment for various reasons (like the ones on the dressing gown that Ethan Hawke’s character unbuttons, one by one). And just all in all, made every garment personal to the character.
I feel this specific process is emblematic to my general way of working. And it’s exciting every time!
PHOTOS from “Maggie’s Plan”. Pictures taken by Jon Pack:
MT: How early do you get hired in pre-production? Do you work and report to the Production Designer? Is your wardrobe budget already set in stone by the time you begin your first day?
Malgosia: It varies from project to project, but around 5-6 weeks of prep is what I’ve usually been given so far.
The budget discussions happen during prep, so all should be agreed upon, unless there’s a huge change to the script, or for example a shift of a number of period extras from 20 to 200. It’s all a living, shape-shifting organism until it’s picture locked!
The collaboration with the Production Designer as well as with the DP is
crucial. We perform a creative cross-pollination of sorts, exchanging ideas, lookbooks, comparing fabric swatches and paint chips and making sure the various layers of the world we’re creating are congruent and that we’re not stepping on an another’s toes in any way.
MT: What are the key differences when working on a TV series in comparison to working on a movie?
Malgosia: In film, you have the luxury of having a complete arc of the story and of each of the characters from the get go. You can break down each character and graph their progress through the story and plan out the emotional or practical changes to the costumes to design it from the
beginning to the end. In TV, you have a script to an episode or two and
then a general idea of what’s happening further in the season, but without the specifics. Also, the arcs are more open-ended, as you’re never sure if season 2 will or will not happen, or will a certain character be involved in the following season or not.
MT: What do you look for when hiring your assistants?
Malgosia: I’ve been very lucky to find incredible people that I work with over and over again, who are talented, hardworking and generous. They know me through and through and speak my language perfectly, so there’s no need to establish an alphabet every time we start a new project. I hope they know how much I treasure their presence in my life, both professional and personal.
But when hiring new team members, I look for honest people who are not sissies, who are curious, efficient, don’t melt under pressure, have a sense of humor and who treat work as an adventure and an opportunity to learn rather than clocking in and clocking out.
MT: What type of skills do you need to be a great costume designer?
Malgosia: I think imagination and the love of story-telling are key. Not being afraid to get your hands dirty, whether digging through batches of moldy thrift store bails for treasures, or some last minute distressing of a too-pristine hem.
Finding sunrises enough of a reward for getting up at ungodly hours.
Creative problem solving. Letting little things like an unusual button or a
faded piece of lace speak to you. Being ready to be creatively challenged at every step, and to challenge others if need be. But most importantly, understanding that the initial sketch is not the be all end all — it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s not a fashion plate, but a tool to collaboration with the whole team.
MT: What movie, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?
Malgosia: It’s not the movie that I’ve seen the most, but it’s seminal enough that I feel I should mention it —Almodovar’s Kika was the first movie that I ever saw that made me think of costume design as an art form. I was in high school probably skipping a math test or something like that, and happened upon its screening. I had no idea who Almodovar was, and sat there saucereyed, having some sort of a religious experience. I was especially blown away by Jean Paul Gaultier’s creations for Victoria Abril’s character. Such joy!
But the two films that I love beyond anything else and that perfectly reflect my own film aspirations are Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (Melissa Toth’s costumes) and Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich” (Casey Storm). Both written by Charlie Kaufman, so I guess there’s that!
But also, I would be dishonest if I didn’t mention my guilty pleasure —
Wayne Wang’s “Maid in Manhattan” with costumes by Albert Wolsky. I love that it’s a Cinderella story where the magical garment that transforms a maid into a princess is a pant suit! How brilliant!
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.