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Costume Designer Courtney Hoffman Discusses “The Hateful Eight”: The Suit Makes The Man

By: Marjorie Galas

Courtney Hoffman didn’t take her interview with Quentin Tarantino lightly.  Despite clocking some prior experience with the director while working on “Django Unchained” as Christoph Waltz’s personal costumer, she wanted the position of costume designer on “The Hateful Eight,” and she knew there was only one way she was going to get it.

“I researched the old west, I watched everything, I got as much background as I could so I could be prepared,” said Hoffman.  “I had everything I needed to get that job.”

Hoffman’s efforts paid off.  Once firmly in the position, Hoffman found a unique way of approaching the question of “how many shades of brown can you come up with?” designers face when dealing with the Western genre. Instead of focusing on the appearance of the costumes against the wooden background of Minnie’s Haberdashery, she used a white background, indicative of the blizzard that encompasses the story.

“They all left in the snow, so I designed in the snow,” said Hoffman.

All character’s outfits were custom built using natural fibers including wool, wool gabardine, fur and leather.  During this design process, Hoffman wove the characters’ backstories into their garments, concealing their identities within the clothing’s details.  Jody’s (Channing Tatum) crew, for instance, had Mexican elements (such as boots and leather) mingled with the personalities each man was emulating, making their exact origin purposefully challenging to pin point.  Joe Gage’s (Michael Madsen) cowboy’s bandanna, roster-print shirt and vest made him look like a toy “right out of the box.”  Tim Roth’s Oswaldo Mobray wears grey tweed and a check patterned vest and grey wool tie to capture the flair of proper British businessman.  Bob, a Mexican native probably the least conditioned for a blizzard, was swaddled in a massive fur coat.

“We called it the ‘coat of many cats.’ Quentin liked to say it looked as if he had been scalping cats along his way,” joked Hoffman.  “It was made from eleven different types of faux fur.  We had to make eight replicas of it.  The craftsmanship that went into it was extraordinary.”

Throughout her research period, Hoffman discovered many confederate military members made their own uniforms, resulting in variations within the styles to occur.  Armed with this knowledge, she captured an “attractive disarray” in the design of Bruce Dern’s General Sandy Smither’s jacket.  His confederate stripes illustrate his former position of power, but the outfit was muted to emphasize his defeated nature.  Tarantino had some very specific terms for Samuel Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren outfit that trumped authenticity, particularly with Warren’s crimson scarf and vibrant yellow lining in his cape.

“There were coats with that lining but we took liberties on where the lining appeared,” said Hoffman.  “Quentin wanted the drama felt when he raised his arms.”

Noting the cape would realistically appear tattered and damaged from years on the road, Tarantino requested Hoffman age the gloves not the cape.  Warren’s white leather gloves reveal the extent of his journey.  All other aspects of his uniform, from the buttons to the boots, maintain proper authenticity.

Continuity proved tricky at times.  The final scene featuring Warren and Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins) was shot over the course of the week.  With their jackets off, the two men were dressed in white shirts and black vests; a visual representation of the unity their character’s developed.  Working with large quantities of blood, Hoffman always had to have at least 16 duplicates of each piece on hand.  Noting Tarantino gravitates towards natural reactions that occur during a performance over scripted ones, crew members were on hand to wash out clothing and blow drying items so there would be extras available as the needs arose.

“Nothing is ever manipulated,” said Hoffman.  “It may be scripted that a character is shot in the arm but during the scene he may be shot in the leg, so I have to be prepared for that.”

Further complicating continuity was the fact that most of the shoot-out was orchestrated not by visual effects but squibs rigged within the costumes. Tarantino prefers practical effects whenever possible: Hoffman recalls prepping crew members who were used as the dead bodies at the beginning of the film: “There were special treatments done to add ice and make them look like they were frozen and dead.”

Hoffman made 140 coats on the film and maintained authenticity as much as she could.  However, for one crucial scene, she relied on modern technology to assist an actor clad in nothing more than boots.

“The boots were sheep-skinned lined.  We had hot packets and electric socks that we’d keep switching the battery on to get through the end of the day,” said Hoffman.  “There wasn’t much more comfort we could provide.  Quentin doesn’t mind his actors getting a little uncomfortable sometimes.”

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