A24’s newest film, by “The Daniels,” (Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert) Everything Everywhere All At Once has taken the box office by storm recently. The word-of-mouth praise for the film is rooted in its craftsmanship, which pushes subtlety out the window to truly encapsulate its title. In a month of Multiverse movies, “The Daniels” has shown what’s possible when every aspect of the film is committed to a multiverse story. It’s a film that has burrowed its way into my mind, heart, and soul, and I had the pleasure to talk with Anissa Salazar, the hair department head for the film, about the challenges that accompanied this project and how she achieved the various character looks that define the film.
Benjamin Wiebe: You’ve been working with the Daniels a while. If I remember correctly, you worked with them on Swiss Army Man, which was their first major film. What was that like? How has it been going from film to film with them and seeing that their selves grow as filmmakers and yourself as a hairstylist?
Anissa Salazar: Um, it’s been a terrific journey. And I wouldn’t change it for anything else. I remember being on the set of It’s Always Sunny, and I got the script for Swiss Army Man and immediately said, “Yes!”. And a lot of people told me I shouldn’t have done it. And during the process, I saw something in this script that was very unique. And I think that’s something that’s so special about the Daniel’s pieces, whether it’s a commercial, or, you know, a Facebook ad or a feature film, they always can engage with the audience and carry throughout the film. So, you know, everything that you’re seeing is a journey and an experience that’s pretty unique, unlike anything else you’ve ever seen. So even a movie about a farting corpse, you know, sparked my joy. And it’s been really terrific to see them just grow as not only filmmakers, but as artists. In an interview they did, I think Dan Schneider said that this was a recycled ideas of everything Rihanna said no to and I thought that was so funny, because that’s kind of how I feel when I work on big TV shows. I feel like some of my ideas are just recycled. And you know, now it’s really interesting when people are like, how did you get inspiration for this and that, and there’s a background, of course, but kind of the same thing. As an artist you have this individuality of creativeness that you want to just immediately explode. And whether that’s in your medium of filmmaking, or being a makeup artist or a costume designer, or anything at all, and I think it was something I could kind of run with that was pretty enjoyable.
BW: Oh, for sure. Speaking on building and recycling those ideas, I must ask about the bagel hairstyle for Stephanie Hsu. I don’t know how many times you’ve been asked about it. But how did you get there? How did you know how to even make a bagel out of hair? I mean, I’ve got long hair, and I have no idea. It’s insane and I love it, and I need to know how it was made.
AS: Initially, they wanted some type of celestial goddess idea for Jobu in her evil villain look. And this is the ultimate villain look throughout the film. And for me, I immediately thought, “Well, we should make something that is similar to a bagel shape on her head, because that’s obvious”. And they were pretty into that idea. So I wasn’t necessarily trying to mimic an everything bagel. I was just trying to think of a design that could show the same shape that you immediately would reference. Then I wanted to add something a little bit more complex to the design. As you can see this character is going through way aides have emotion. And there’s so much complex levels of this person. I kind of wanted that to read also with her hair, and got Michelle Chung, the makeup department head, a really good friend of mine who I referred on to this feature, in on this idea. And she had these ideas of this look she wanted. And then surely the costume designer also had like this beautiful beaded all white gown. And I thought, okay, we can use like pieces of the beads and layer them into this hair, but I wanted it to be like a really fun structure, just kind of everything happening. Like there’s a lot of noise. And it was a series of foam cutouts, wires, extensions, over five styles and different type of braids. And I kind of just kept building and I have these photos of like a pre structured hairstyle on myself that I sent to the Daniels. I was like, this is where I’m going with it. And it was just like two braids on my forehead and a bagel head thing they’re like, looks great. So I think that’s just another nice quality of working with somebody who respects your work and trust is your opinion; it’s a part of working with the Daniels, you know. And it was so enjoyable to do that. So I had a good time. Yeah, it was it was kind of all over the place.
BW: I mean, this film was called Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. And I’m like, I don’t know, is there any better way to describe it than “it was kind of all over the place”? I mean, I wrote a review. And I was like, “where do I even go? Like, how do I encapsulate this experience of 140 odd minutes?” So how was it like working on this project of complete maximalism?
AS: It’s hilarious, our breakdown of locations really pushed us forward. We filmed in the IRS building and for majority of the film, and it was an old Bank of America, mortgage building, and, like, very, very corporate. It had like a huge gym level, huge cafeteria and everything was abandoned. So we took over the gym area, considering like, we can get the actors quickly in the works in and out, and their stunt doubles, and etc. And it would just make more sense than having a trailer. And so we use the back of the mirrors of the gym as like our whiteboard. And we just had like 1000s of papers as our breakdowns just to kind of reference daily. And, you know, for the most part, one or two days probably changed, but the schedule was pretty spot on. And I could only imagine what that took after writing this film that they were like, “okay, now we have to do a breakdown of our shooting schedule,” which was probably a nightmare.
BW: I mean, I’m glad I’m not a script supervisor, because I’d be intimidated.
AS: Every day, none of us knew what was happening. And again, I think that’s kind of the exciting thing about working with the Daniels is, you say yes. Because you know, it’s going to be fun, you’re gonna have a good time, they create this amazing environment to work in. And you’re doing it for the passion, like, “Do you love this or not” kind of feel, you know? And so every day we’d ask the Script Supervisor, right? Like Julia, “Does this match this?” And she’s like, I don’t know. And then we’d go, we’d go ask the Daniels and Chung about whether the continuity of the shooting schedule matters. We’d get so caught up in the minutia of a hairstyle and the costume changes, and the Daniels would quickly alleviate our worries, telling us that those worries don’t matter. And every day was “it doesn’t matter”. And we’re just all looking at each other, like, “Oh, my God, I’m gonna have a meltdown because I work on corporate TV”. So ponytails have to match, and I’m over stressing about losing a haircut. So it was, it was definitely a process. It’s always tricky to do these interviews because I’m like, Okay, let’s just try to pull it all together. But as you remember about those experiences, its set yourself back into that same mindset and the I think I’m a pretty organized person, but you know it. Everybody kind of lost it.
BW: Oh for sure. There’s so many distinct styles in this film, for everyone, but even on a singular level there where so many designs. Take Michelle Yeoh, who got so many different styles that we see a glimpse of in like a flash, and that’s it. Those ones were only for headshots, so you have to capture what that universes Evelyn was like through her expression, her makeup and her hair, and it works flawlessly. How much of the day would you say you spent on hair styling and makeup before even shooting happened? What was that like?
AS: Well, Michelle obviously had a lot to do for days. We wanted her to get in and out of the works quickly. So if I got to have her first, we’d style her in under 10 minutes in the morning, then send the restraints makeup, or add the finishing the touches on set. We wanted to prioritize her time, so she could feel comfortable in this character and ready and had the time that she needed for herself to prepare and for rehearsal and do all her personal things. So I’d say the majority of our time, out of the plus 14 hours a day we were on set, was spent physically doing the hair makeup and costume changes. I can’t exactly remember, but there had to have been up to like 10 changes a day during some weeks. Again, we tried to shoot the IRS stuff first, and then would sprinkle in what made more sense, building on to the foundation of looks throughout the day. So communicating that with AD team and the Daniels to let them know that it might be easier if we start off with this more basic look, and then build from there. And we were very limited with the assistants available to us. And they helped us kind of just pump people out through the works all day, every day. But on our bigger days with more cast and stunt doubles, we had day players, which was really nice to just kind of take a little bit of the load off, even though we were still just pumping through. So I’d say definitely more than a majority of the day was spent getting people in and out of the works. And specifically for Michelle, she had around 40 changes initially. Throughout she had at least 25 different hairstyles with hair pieces and wigs and you know, her character is like, unpredictably chaotic and stressed beyond belief. So we felt that this had to match her costume, this had to match her hurry up and go lifestyle. You know, this is a character who feels like your mom or your auntie or your neighbor and caring about others and always on the go and doesn’t stop. And so we just wanted her to be as authentic as possible to that role and that character. And I don’t think at first she was as happy with the hair and makeup because of course everyone wants to look beautiful, but I think that’s what makes Michelle Yeoh such a true professional is she’s ready to do whatever she needs to do to embody a certain character. And it was really, really exciting to see that kind of process happen because this is somebody who’s again, an icon and stunning beyond belief. And so to make her look distressed and frazzled was not only hard, but a nightmare for us.
BW: I can’t imagine it. It’s impressive. Though there were times that you did get to make her look really pretty, specifically with the genre changes in the film. I know when I was watching it that there was times when it was a drama-comedy, and then a scene later, it would become a Wong Kar Wai film. How did that change your approach to the hairstyling for the film? Were there days where the Daniels would shoot these scenes specifically around the look of Michelle? How did the costume changes impact the overall shooting schedule of the day? Was there a lot of switching costumes mid-day?
AS: Yeah, in a sense all the looks of course are based off of the schedule and we wanted to accommodate that because time is money in this business. So again, starting off with Michelle’s base look for the first month was really great, because we got get that huge chunk out of the way, which felt like most of the script. Then, building off of that, we would say okay, this makes more sense if we shoot her and the full IRS look now, and at the end of the day we can do this other look so that we don’t spend as much time re-styling Michelle. So not to say that we definitely had a say in shooting schedule but it definitely helped that me, Michelle, the makeup department head and costumes department kind of sat together and discussed the best order to minimize the costuming time. We’d pick out the looks that all got progressively get more challenging and difficult to establish, so that we could tackle them on a lighter day when there was time to do that. A great example of this is when Stephanie was dressed as pink Elvis. The goal was to have her come out of this universe looking like a badass. So when we got to the set, I remember Daniel Kwan saying, “Is it cool if we take off the pink wig and slip it backwards? So she like pops her head out of it.” And I almost wanted to body slam him. And of course for anyone else I would have said absolutely not, I would get any actress back in the chair; we need to do it properly. But I love them so much, and I was like, “Sure”, ripped it off of her head, as deadly as I could, and twisted it around. And then she did the gag where she pops out of it. And of course I’m like such a nitpicker when it comes to watching my work back on film. But it actually works really well with the editing and performances, and it plays out very beautifully and is really exciting to see. So I would do I would do it all over again.
BW: Fantastic. Yeah, I think that’s all of my questions for you today. This has been really fun.
AS: Yeah, well, I’m glad you enjoyed the movie and thanks again so much. And I’m glad you enjoyed it and hopefully you go see it a couple more times.
BW: I know I will be watching it again, it’s such a good film. This was absolutely fantastic. Thank you so much.
(Interview edited for clarity and length)