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Best Costume Design: Courtney Hoffman on Costuming Captain Fantastic

Courtney Hoffman is on the phone from New York. She’s heading to Colorado, as her car is there, before heading back to LA. “I’m living the Captain Fantastic,” Hoffman jokes.

Hoffman recently received her first Satellite nomination for her work on the film, but the NYU graduate has previously worked on films such as Django Unchained, Dark Shadows, The Hateful Eight, and Magic Mike to name a few.

We caught up to talk about her work on Captain Fantastic the surprise Best Picture Contender:

Awards Daily: I love that you’re living the Captain Fantastic. I saw the bus on Sunset Blvd a while ago, and it surprised me.

Courtney Hoffman: Were you excited?

AD: Yes, I was. I freaked out. It was there, parked outside for a screening. Well, there’s a lot of Captain Fantastic love.

CH: I’m so happy because I actually did this before The Hateful Eight. I knew back then when I read the script that this was the most special movie I had ever read. It just has that heart and soul that I think a lot of things don’t have. I’ve just been waiting and waiting, knowing how special it was.

Through the last awards season, I was so proud of The Hateful Eight. I went from the mountains in Washington and the coast to the mountains in Colorado for The Hateful Eight. I did them a week apart.

AD: You’re just going to be living in the mountains.

CH: I would like that.

AD: What did you and Matt Ross discuss when it came to costuming?

CH: He really let me integrate a lot of the ideas I had onto camera. So, in the making of the flower crowns, or seeing the kids drawing on things. It got integrated into what we see on screen. That was really cool.

AD: You like giving your actors freedom when it comes to costuming. How did that translate here?

CH: The biggest thing with kids and these bold looks we were conceiving were about making sure they were gravitating towards them so it wouldn’t feel like they were forced into anything. I had to make sure their spirits were as invested as I was.

I picked pieces that I thought told the story, and then I’d sit on the floor with the small kids, played with the clothes, and we’d draw on them. We’d talk about the animals they liked. That was why we made the boy wear the whale costume. We wanted it to seem like it was something the other kids could have worn. You’ll see, if you look closely, the kids actually wear each other’s clothes throughout the movie. When you do things like that, it’s extra work and you have to make sure you’re prepared for it because all these things are one of a kind.

My whole team worked hard to make sure the vision that we had for the stories that the clothes were trying to tell came to fruition.

AD: What did you think as you read the script? Did you visualize the costumes?

CH: Matt’s script was so brilliant. I read these characters that had these fascinating interests, they were so smart and so refreshing, that I knew their clothes could be all of those things and really break boundaries and not subscribe to trends. There were a few things that weren’t honoring the characters he wrote. Matt was actually really receptive to my collaboration, more so, we really just connected. Matt has a great sense of style and he really trusted me. We really connected on that trust level, and I said to him that there are things that aren’t correct for what your characters would wear.

One of the things was the big church scene. In the script, the girls were wearing ballet costumes, and one of the kids had a Batman costume. I said, you made a bold choice, but now we need to figure out what the emotional connectivity is between the clothes and the scene with their mother. So, it was about making sure that every piece of clothing that they were wearing was something honoring their mother, and not just being loud to be loud, but being loud to celebrate what she brought to their life.

So, we had this wonderful collaboration, and there were a lot of conversations like that. He just created such an amazing playground for us, and I knew reading it, I thought I simply had to get this job, and I knew how special it would be going into it.

AD: Those costumes in that scene are great. The red is so vibrant and powerful. What did you tell Viggo about that costume?

CH: The shirt that Viggo wears, it’s something he wore to his first wedding. I wanted the funeral look for him to be whatever Ben married Lesley in. So, you could put this through line that they’d been this outrageous couple since the beginning, and they’re going to end this outrageous couple. I kept thinking what does he get married in. Viggo brought in this shirt, and I thought we needed the perfect cherry suit. I looked around the world for this suit, there was one, and it was out of the box. It didn’t fit him perfect, but it was great because it’s been sitting in this box, and he’s busting it out for this occasion. It was fun to be able to do that with the story.

AD: There’s a lot of realness with the costumes. How did the color palette work for you with this?

CH: I wanted it to be freeing. I wanted there to be an element of, What if I didn’t care what anyone thought of my outfit? What if I just got dressed? I think that the louder and bolder choices are to do with color. Those are things that if kids saw them, or if the teenagers didn’t worry what others were saying, are outfits they would gravitate towards. They’re fun, lively, and expressionistic. I think really making sure we created a world where they could do that.

They’re aware of their activities and based on those activities they’re wearing different types of things.
We wanted to create almost a uniform language too. It’s almost like a team when they’re working out, so we wanted that look. There is the regimented look when they’re hunting or working out. The biggest thing was we wanted the clothes to feel like they weren’t from a mall.

I made up rules about where they’d get have gotten their clothes from. Maybe the wife, Leslie would have let them pick out five things a year from a thrift store. I had to figure out what they thought was well made. We used American brands and clothes that they would have had for over fifty years and will have for another fifty. It was about finding durability and free spirit.

AD: Where did you source them?

CH: We built a lot of things. I had a great group of girls who helped sew the denim dress. We darned and knitted and fixed socks. If they lost a button, we’d replace them with different buttons. Anything, we didn’t make we’d look everywhere for the right piece. It needed to look like they had assembled from all over, and everything had to have a different story.

These kinds of movies are so special to do. The awards buzz is exciting because the budget is so low. I personally sewed and dirt-aged the clothing, so it wasn’t glamorous at all, and that’s what made it so special.

AD: You used Etsy?

CH: The thing I love about Etsy is this family are craft people, and half of Esty is that. I found this woman who makes masks out of roadkill, and she made the bobcat head for Zaja. I picked the piece of roadkill as in what animal she would find in the woods, and what she could have killed. It would have been an ambition kill for her and she would be proud to wear it.

AD: What are you working on now?

CH: I just directed my first short starring Laura Dern.

AD: That’s so exciting.

CH: I was in Colorado, in the mountains, writing the feature. It’s so exciting and people are into it. Hopefully, the next time we speak, we’ll talk about my movie.

It was made with a grant from Refinery 29 and Women in Sundance, alongside Chloë Sevigny and Kristen Stewart, and it’s called the Shatterbox Anthology. That’s me now.

AD: That’s a new and exciting move for sure.

CH: The costumes are great, but it’s a real celebration of women.

AD: You did the costumes too?

CH: My assistant technically did them, but I got involved. I have my hands in everything. It’s such a fun transition because I always get into trouble for caring about everything.