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Vanessa McMahon


Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)

 


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Michael Kaplan and Me at AIFF 2011

 

Costume Designer Michael Kaplan

My interview with Costume Designer Michael Kaplan

Fantastic fashion figure, costume designer Michael Kaplan attended the 2011 Aruba International Film Festival for a 'Conversations With' panel session led by journalist Brandon Harris. He spoke at length to press and film aficionados about his illustrious career in Hollywood as costume designer for some of the most celebrated films of cinematic history.

Before his ‘Conversations With’ panel, I sat down with Michael Kaplan for a one-on-one interview during the AIFF 2011 and we spoke about his latest projects, his past ones and his ceaseless inspiration when designing for the silver screen.

ME: So, you are here in Aruba to speak to us about your fascinating (and to many of us bewildering) career as a costume designer for film. Can you tell us about your latest project?

MICHAEL: Well, I haven’t come to Aruba with a film here, which is a new experience for me, but a great one. But I did just finish MISSION IMPOSSIBLE (2011) and I’m about to start STAR TREK (2011/12).

ME: Super cool. That was filmed in Dubai right?

MICHAEL: Yes, it was!

ME: So, can you tell us how you went through the process of designing for MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, for example?

MICHAEL: Kind of like I do for every movie. I read the script and start kind of knocking ideas around in my head and then have discussions with the director for his ideas and his input and you know, how he just feels about the movie in general, kind of like the flavor of it. Then, I start doing sketches, meet with the actors as they’re cast.

ME: I was going to ask how closely you work with the actors.

MICHAEL: Very close.

ME: Yeah, I guess you’ve got to know all about them and their personality, etc.

MICHAEL: That enters into it. But, you know, there’s many layers or levels of my work. I would say first and foremost my job is to read the script and kind of define the characters and create clothing that will help the actor walk through the film and be that character. But also, in doing that, you have these actors who’ve been dressing themselves all their life and they have a lot of insecurities about their body. They have a lot of opinions which may or may not be correct but you still have to, you know, whether they think they’re too small or too fat or too whatever…

ME: You’ve got to cover the weak spots and insecure places…

MICHAEL: Yeah. Though you can’t ignore that. I mean, you have some beautiful beautiful actresses who are just perfection and she thinks she’s fat and you still have to kind of address that make her feel as good as possible in the costumes so she can not think about anything else but her job.

ME: Wow! That must be incredible! Do you work on locations sometimes too? I mean, is it an ongoing process even during filming? Are you making the costumes the whole way through or do you make all the costumes beforehand?

MICHAEL: Oh! No no no. You’re making costumes all the way through the film because you never have enough prep time and the actors are not all cast or present at the beginning of the filming so you have… You’re producing the costumes throughout the whole shoot. I mean, you’ve done a lot of work before the shoot ever starts and you’re ready for the first week or the first two weeks but you know, there’s no way to produce all the costumes before the movie and then go away and have the movie go on without you. I’m on until the last costume is established.

ME: So, it’s almost a nonstop fashion show in a way. You’re always behind camera ready.

MICHAEL: Yeah, and every time there’s a new costume then I need to be there on the set to make sure the director doesn’t want to change anything and it’s not what meets the eye.

ME: Yeah, that’s why we’re all so curious. One rarely hears about the work of a film costume designer and yet your work has so much to do with the realization of the film. Um, how did you get into costume design and did you always know you wanted to do this?

MICHAEL: I think subconsciously I did but growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia it wasn’t anything that I could’ve actually have said to myself that I wanted to do because it never seemed… It always seemed like such a fantasy. It didn’t seem like within the realm of possibility that I could be a Hollywood costume designer. I went to art school in Philadelphia. I studied sculpture and painting, sculpture and drawing. And when I got out of art school I realized I didn’t really have the temperament to wake up every morning and make fine art. So, I started working as a commercial artist doing graphic design and illustration and I did that for about a year and I wasn’t happy. I guess it became clearer and clearer what I really wanted to do so I thought I would give it a try. So, I moved to Los Angeles. I had no friends there, you know, limited amount of money and just thought I would see if I could, you know, make this fantasy a reality.

ME: And are you in New York or LA?

MICHAEL: Both. I live between both places.

ME: Do you have a favorite film that you’ve worked on?

MICHAEL: Uh, I have a few favorites. I mean, there’s no way you couldn’t have BLADERUNNER be a favorite. It’s so many other people’s favorite film. I love everything about the experience of FIGHT CLUB because I loved making it, I loved the process, I loved going to work every day, I loved the actors, I loved Helena Bonham Carter and Edward and Brad and all the other actors that were in the film. So, to work on a project that you really enjoyed doing while you were doing it and then have it kind of come together in a way where you’re really proud of the look and the affect. And I think it was such a great script that’s why it kind of remains in my mind as a favorite.

ME: And you mentioned what you’re working on next, the new STAR TREK. That’s exciting. Have you already started to make designs for it?

MICHAEL: No, I haven’t even read a script yet. I haven’t even started working on it. So, I’ll go back to Los Angeles the 2nd week in July and start prepping it and then we don’t start shooting until the fall.

ME: So, maybe you can tell us how you feel to be here in Aruba? You’re about to do a ‘Conversations With’ at the Paseo Herencia Theater. That should be very interesting.

MICHAEL: I’m really exciting to be in Aruba. I’m not too happy about being in front of an audience. It’s my least favorite thing to do. I think I’ll get through it. But the film festival is great. I mean, just to be able to go to movie after movie and also listen to Jonathan Demme talk about his career for over an hour and then Kim Cattrall. They’ve set the bar really high for me for my talk.

ME: Well, you don’t have a little profile. I mean, you have quite a history in the business so I’m sure you will have lots to talk about.

MICHAEL: But they were so articulate. I mean, they told such interesting stories and presented themselves so well so… I mean, hopefully I can get the organizers of the festival to not be disappointed and sorry that they asked me to do this. [we both laughed]

ME: Well. It must be amazing to have your stamp in the history of filmmaking. I mean, congratulations and thanks for talking with me. How long are you here for?

MICHAEL: Tonight’s my last night actually.

ME: Oh no, well, we’ll celebrate tonight at the party. See you at ‘Conversations With’.

Then we hugged and Michael went on to his next interview and (hopefully) to the beach for some sizzling Aruba sun. I have to say the Michael was really a highlight of this second annual Aruba Film Festival. His energy was positive and his character what Italians would call ‘solare’ meaning very sunny, super sweet and sincere. Hoorah for MK! Go see his latest designs in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE- GHOST PROTOCOL (2011).

Interview by Vanessa McMahon on June 13, 2011.

photos of Michael Kaplan by Vanessa McMahon

 

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