Tomorrowland: Interview: Jeffrey Kurland

Jeffrey Kurland has the unique distinction of being the costume designer of 15 films for Woody Allen, from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s. He has since realized the visual story for over 40 films, collaborating with such renowned directors as Milos Forman, Neil Jordan, Steven Soderbergh, Michael Mann, and Christopher Nolan, and winning a BAFTA, and the Costume Designers Guild Award as well as The Hamilton Timeless Style Award, and an Oscar nomination. He spoke with Paul Simpson about his work on Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland

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What did you think would be your biggest challenge, and what ended up being your biggest challenge on Tomorrowland?

I think the biggest challenge was almost obvious when I first read the script: how do you present the future as not the future, but as a different dimension of the future? How much changes, and what is the appearance of the people in that dimension? What do they look like? What are they like? What makes them different from what we are now, and from what one thinks of as futuristic? It definitely is futuristic but it is on a different plateau because you’re in a different dimension.

That was what I thought would be the most challenging and what turned out to be the most challenging!

It’s the old line about nothing dating like yesterday’s futures…

Exactly. I didn’t want it to appear as just another futuristic movie. It needed to have some sort of thought, come through a mental process – what is the mindset of the people that are there? What do they bring with them? For me, it was a combination of history combined with the present to form the future – if that makes any sense!

It sounds like something of a refining process…

Yes – to me it was pulling things from the past that are definitely innovative and fabulous and original, and updating them, but including them in the present to then form the future, to constantly try to make things better.

Was there a throughline for Athena (Raffey Cassidy) in terms of how she appeared in the different periods?

The trick with Athena is that she never ages or changes; she is perennially 12 years old. Although luckily she’s much more advanced than that, in appearance she is that way, and the audience needed to believe she was a 12 year old girl until Brad chose to tell them that she wasn’t. That dictated certain parameters as to how her look would be for quite some time.

Her look does change with the decades, as other people come to what is known as Tomorrowland. It does change to a certain extent, but there’s a certain uniformity to her look that needed to be maintained.

Remember, they’re in the 1960s present day [at the start of the film]: she needed to look like she lived there. She needed to look like a 12 year old girl in the 1960s. That dress: the design was very much ’60s but the fabric was very much ahead of its time. The print and the lines are based on the golden ratio – all those lines are theorems which are linked together, and the closer you get you see it’s all printed.

The fabric has a warp and a weft to it so when you look at it in certain angles of light, it becomes not shiny but flat; but when you turn it to a different angle, it becomes shiny. When they go into Tomorrowland, even the fabric changes and becomes shiny. All those things were connected to what that character was supposed to be.

When you’re trying to achieve that sort of effect, presumably you’re working very closely with the DoP and the director – or do you concentrate on what you bring to the table and trust they’ll do their side of it?

No, there’s a lot of discussions: interdepartmental and extra-departmental discussions. We brought it all together. There are certain things that the fabric has to do so we did it very much in conjunction with one another.

Did you have a throughline for the two aspects of Frank – boy and man? Would someone in their fifties wear something that reflects what they wore as a kid?

The throughline is more between the son and his. He was probably more influenced by his father than he knew, and that was definitely reflected in the way he dressed and the way he presented himself. That link was a very important link emotionally and needed to be shown. As a boy, he dresses like a boy in the 60s, but as a man, as he grew up, he slowly turned into his father!

Tomorrowland is an unusual movie – a more gentle film than we’ve had in recent times…

I couldn’t agree with you more.

What do you think the appeal of something like that is?

I think it has great appeal. It has a great positive message to it, there’s an uplifting spirit to it which is great, a spirit of adventure that moves you forward. I find it very appealing, especially for families and younger people. It was a pleasure to work on and to watch.

Tomorrowland BluOnce you saw it on screen – edited, graded etc. – which costume were you the proudest of?

I can’t really pull out one. I look at the entire movie in total.

I was blown away when I saw it on the big screen. It’s such a big movie and wows you, because it gives you exciting moments one after the other and this different world and environment. It all came together so beautifully.

I loved the collaborative nature between all the departments – costume, lighting, everything – it looked like one movie that all came together under the auspices of one mind.

Often it can be 16 different people trying to row the boat in different directions…

Not this one. Everybody was really happy for Brad to be the captain of this one!

TMW logoTomorrowland is available on Disney Blu-rayTM  & DVD 5th  October

(c) 2015 Disney

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