You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

'Hateful Eight' Costume Designer Courtney Hoffman On How Tarantino Dragged Crew “Kicking And Screaming Into Greatness” – AwardsLine

UPDATED on January 8th at 12:30 PM with clarifications.

SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details from Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.

Courtney Hoffman is rapidly becoming one of the most well-known and respected costume designers in Hollywood for her star-making work on Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, as well as on such well-regarded indies as Palo Alto. Previously collaborating with Tarantino on Django Unchained, as one of several costumers working under costume designer Sharen Davis (The 5th Wave, Get On Up), Hoffman has found a fruitful collaborative relationship with the auteur and had a lot of fun tinkering with western archetypes on Tarantino’s latest. Here, Hoffman discusses her transition to Tarantino’s official costume designer, her love of the western genre, her collaboration with the hair and makeup artists on set, and her upcoming work on films by Matt Ross and Edgar Wright.

You did some costume work on Django Unchained, but The Hateful Eight is your first Tarantino film where you handled all costumes yourself. How would you characterize that transition?

Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx in Django UnchainedI think one of the biggest strengths of that transition was that I was first-hand witnessing the needs of the set of a Quentin Tarantino movie. I witnessed his enthusiasm. I witnessed his deep care and love for his crew, his attention to detail, his fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants improvisation. And from there I really felt armed with the knowledge of the needs of the film. On Django, we also did a snow unit so I had a taste of the terror that was ahead of us, in that degree.

It was a really wonderful opportunity to come back into a family because, really, Quentin creates a family, and I had the opportunity to prove myself in a new way. In the same way that Quentin’s actors benefit from the fact that he doesn’t choose the biggest star—he’s not choosing the movie star of the moment, he’s choosing the person that’s right for that role—he does that with his department heads as well. I think Yohei (Taneda, production designer) would agree with me, that being given that opportunity and having that shot, everyone does their best. You look at (Walton) Goggins’ performance, and that man is through and through a movie star. But had it not been for Quentin taking him from television, he might not have that life that he will have now. So I think we all benefit from the fact that Quentin uses his power to really look for the people that he believes in, and not just pick the people that might be obvious.

What were your early conversations with Quentin like regarding the costume design?

the hateful eightIt starts with a script. Quentin gives us a wealth of information. It’s a trail of breadcrumbs, drops of different places that these characters have been, that they’re coming from. Whether it’s actual descriptions, like he’s wearing a cavalry coat and has a Lee Van Cleef vibe, or facial hair, and starting with the script, it’s about really knowing every prop that comes out of every pocket or every tiny reference… Whether it’s Oswaldo in a three-piece gray suit—he’s like an English fop, he’s a little man—or Joe Gage, who’s a tough cowpuncher—whatever it is we’re getting from that script.

Starting from there and working from that imagery, I then start to work with actual imagery—whether it’s research or filmic references—to have a touching point of “Yes, no, yes, no.” My fitting room is all set up like Minnie’s— it’s a white snowy backdrop with furs and antlers. I try and create the world as much as I can. And then I had mannequins. So it was like, here’s four versions of this character, here’s two versions of that… Obviously, filmic references were the main partspaghetti westerns of the 1960s and ’70s. From there we get the actors and it becomes alive. So as much as I execute what we’ve agreed upon, I also always have a stash of wild cards, because we just as easily could say, “You know what, let’s try a white hat, let’s try a top hat.” It’s really fun. Quentin is in every fitting, which is a very rare thing to have. And it really enhances that experience because I am there to facilitate the moment when that actor becomes a character. And the creator of that character is there to manage and direct the entire experience. You get answers and you know right away what does and doesn’t work. Sometimes maybe we’re stumped for a couple of days, but overall it’s a very hands-on process. (Quentin) has a lot of opinions. He brings such magnificent ideas to the table. He always takes things to the next level and he likes to say that he drags us kicking and screaming into greatness.

Are you a fan of the western genre?

Actually, like two months ago, I was flown to Colorado to be on a panel about westerns. My first film I designed was a western. And I was literally in New Mexico on the plains, by Georgia O’Keefe’s ranch, dirtying up a cowboy when I got the call to go work on Django. It was such a serendipitous thing because I had already started immersing myself in the genre. And I would say I have now lived in the 1800s for three or four years and I’m loving it. I’m like “Captain Pioneer Woman.” It’s such a wonderful genre because there’s a set language and within that language you build new sentences, and that’s a really exciting thing to be able to do. To work within a framework, especially on a film like Hateful Eight, it’s basically setting up the western archetypes—the bounty hunter, the sheriff, the prisoner, the damsel in distress.

Tim Roth in THE HATEFUL EIGHTAnd then from there, you’re breaking and recreating them and playing with the things people are going to rely on seeing. The best parts about the design, that we didn’t even intentionally set out to do, are two things. The first is that it feels like each of the characters has just come out of their own western, so they almost aren’t all in the same world but they look like they’re part of this new universe, which was the success of Quentin’s aesthetic. The second was that it starts as a spaghetti western, aesthetically, and it ends like a Peckinpah movie. By the time you end it, it’s like that last scene in The Wild Bunch. And the two of them are gritty and bloody and real and sweating. And you feel it, and you feel the pain. That was a really organic discovery.

What are your responsibilities as a costume designer on set? It would seem like a lot of your work is done before shooting the first frame.

From the set of THE HATEFUL EIGHTYeah, absolutely. God bless Quentin for always keeping us on our feet. As much as you would think the set would be in and then you’d just go on vacation, he finds a way to make you sweat for every single day of that shoot. The cool thing about it was that I was able to be a positive presence for the actors. I’m the first person they see in the day and the last person they see at night, and I did whatever I could to help those actors facilitate being those characters, whether it was helping Jennifer Jason Leigh into her corset in the morning, or just overseeing things as whole, trying to find a new type of electric warmer to keep these actors warm. We were running around all the time.

And then when you get to blood… I knew that Quentin agreed on, say, 10 multiples (of the costumes): “We’re going to do it eight times.” I knew that was going to go out the window. The Chris Mannix/Oswaldo shoot-out we did 16 times, and I had eight coats for each of them. That means we’re hand-washing it between takes—we’re scrubbing them. We’re frantically blow-drying and we’re helping them tape new fabric in. It’s amazing that those moments are so quick because if they were any longer, it would be really ghetto and really improvised. But that’s the fun of his sets, is that we all work together. It doesn’t matter what your position is, we’re all in the trenches, we’re all on the front line and we’re all working towards winning this war.

What was it like working with the hair and makeup heads on this film?

Unlike most movies, where the costume designer might have more of a dictation over that, here, all of us work from the understanding that this is Quentin’s vision. Quentin is the one that’s giving the direct orders to hair and makeup. But that being said, when it comes to ways that we can work together, we’re always in communication. There is a thing where Quentin will tell each of us something that the other person needs to know. Without us communicating with each other, we might not get to know. We’re pretty much always like a little underground railroad—“I heard this. I heard he’s going to kill Smithers this way.” It’s almost funny. We all ended up sitting together almost every day, piecing together little bits of information. And it’s really cute, because we all want his vision to come together.

Was your interaction with the makeup and hair team more extensive than it might be on other films, given the extensive bloodshed involved?

Oh yeah. The number of days that you had my costumers on the bottom half of an actor and hair and makeup people on the top half of the actor—it was like a carwash. And let me tell you, Quentin is a-waiting on that car. He has the keys and he’s just tapping his foot. It’s a group effort, and the nicest thing about his movies is, if there’s blood on the floor and you’re a grip, and you don’t have to do anything in that moment, you’re on the floor cleaning the blood off, to help the set decorators. We all work together, and that’s a very rare thing.

At a screening of the film, someone mentioned that Michael Madsen’s character, Joe Gage, is a dead ringer for John Wayne. Was that intentional?

Michael Madsen in THE HATEFUL EIGHTActually, that wasn’t a direct reference, but it’s funny that you say that because me and Quentin really wanted Joe Gage to look like he had just been opened out of a toy box, and was just a doll of a cowboy. And let’s be honest: If you look at John Wayne, he’s a doll of a cowboy. His clothes are always so perfect, the fit of them. So I can totally see that. In terms of performance, I think John Ruth feels more like John Wayne in some ways. But aesthetically, of course, I get that vibe. Also, if you look at The Searchers, you’re like, “Did anyone really wear that red and that blue, like, really? Was any guy in the 1800s really wearing that, or is that just the ’50’s ideal of a western?” I think there’s that aspect of it.

Up next, you have Captain Fantastic, which just got accepted into Sundance, and Edgar Wright’s next feature, Baby Driver. What do we have to look forward to with those?

Yes, tomorrow I ship out to do Baby Driver. It’s definitely a fruitful year. With Captain Fantastic, (writer-director) Matt Ross is such a visionary. It’s Viggo Mortensen raising his seven kids in the forest of Washington, and after there’s a death in the family, they basically have to reenter society. From a costume perspective it was such a dream job. I was in Washington and New Mexico for it when I was preparing my interview for The Hateful Eight. So I was also in this perfect western setting where I was collecting books and furs and antiques to fill the interview and the office once I got the job. It was really a serendipitous one-two punch, going from that movie to this. With Baby Driver, I couldn’t ask for a better director to follow up Quentin with. Edgar is such a wonderful person and such a visionary. It’s contemporary but I think we’re going to be able to do some really fun things. And I look forward to trying to nail the Edgar Wright universe as much as it was exciting to nail the Tarantino universe.

To see a featurette on the costume design of The Hateful Eight, click play below:

  1. Please — what a bore. I fell asleep twice watching the screener. Yap, yap, yap… This film is at best, a bad stage play. Stop trying to convince us it’s something more. I am an Academy voter and there’s not a chance I nominate this 70mm/digital Ambien OD. I’d rather watch Jackie Brown again.

    1. This is why assholes like you should not have an academy vote. But not because you don’t like the Hateful Eight! It’s because of your preconceived bias you already obviously have against the film or perhaps Quentin Tarantino. Regardless you exemplified yor idiocy, put it out on full display! I just hope your statement about being an academy voter is as big a bullshit as was your unprofessional comments made above…

      1. Why the hate? The person just expressed an opinion in bold terms and there was no indication of preconceived bias. The person watched a screener and has opinions that have been expressed by many. A ‘top reviewer’ likened the film to an Agatha Christy salon piece in a positive manner and the film was indeed presented onstage before production. Many Academy members are troubled by obvious references (homages?) to other films and this film has many. Younger viewers my be unaware of them as their viewing habits started with STAR WARS (another unabashed ‘homage’ film). Tarantino has gone out of his way to publicize the film’s technique (70mm) and veteran filmgoers (Academy Members) perhaps don’t agree with the notion of style vs substance and may regard this as a publicity stunt. I personally found the film misogynistic, racist, inaccurate, verbose, derivative in parts, overwritten, overacted, perverse (in a bad way), pretentious, overlong, and unenjoyable. I await your venom.

      2. Nope not bullshit. Have been a member for 18 years. No preconceived bias, it’s just a bad film. But thanks for your personal attacks over a comment I made about a film you obviously had nothing to do with making (in fact I wonder if you’ve ever made any films).

        Way to be open-minded to differing opinions though…

        1. You could have seen the film at many 70mm screenings but you chose to watch a DVD. I wish you weren’t allowed to vote.

          1. Screeners are important because many Academy members aren’t available to screen films in theaters and there are Academy members around the world. Why do you presume this member was available for a theatrical screening in 70mm? The person didn’t like the film and wouldn’t have seen it had it been only available in a theater. The only way to win the vote was by screener. Screeners are important for a more democratic vote in the Academy as there are no members that go to see everything. Critical observers have noted (in these columns) that the film doesn’t really benefit from 70mm. Remember, Academy members are members of the industry with cinematic experience and achievement. They aren’t just fanboys.

          2. Wow, so you wish I wasn’t allowed to vote because I don’t have the time to go to a screening and see a film in 70mm? If the movie is so utterly dependent on the viewing format to determine whether or not it is a good film, then it’s even worse than I thought.

            Good filmmaking should be good in whatever screen format you happen to see it. With the industry in such a state of change, if movie makers are going to be married to their films being seen in a specific venue or format, then the industry is in real trouble.

            I appreciate the grandeur of 70mm and the immersive experience of seeing it on a large screen in a big theater with great sound and comfy seats, but the truth is, in this case and in my opinion, that only would have made the film bigger and louder but not better. Dorothy Parker had a great quote that is apropos here: “There is less there than meets the eye.”

            By the way, most voting Academy members see the majority of the eligible films that they see each year on screeners. I watch maybe 80-100 films a year this way. I think my opinion is informed (though it is subjective), and whether you wish it or not, I do get to vote. I suspect there are many fellow members who feel the same as I about the film and likely many others who feel exactly the opposite. I guess we’ll know the results when the nominations are announced.

  2. there is only one Set Decorator on a film. what she said was ” you’re on the floor cleaning the blood off, to help the set decorators.” I’m sure what she meant to say was “…to help the on-set dressers.
    thank you.

  3. “You look at (Walton) Goggins’ performance, and that man is through and through a movie star. But had it not been for Quentin taking him from television, he might not have that life that he will have now.”

    Get the eff outta here. Walton Goggins is talented as hell and the industry has known it for years. If his intent was to have a film career or be a “movie star”, it would have happened with or without Tarantino’s input. She speaks as if he was some unknown who Tarantino saved from the cesspool of television and elevated to the glory of film by pulling a great performance out of him.

Comments are closed.