Interview: Discussing the Intricate Costumes and Looks of ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ With Shirley Kurata, Michelle Chung, and Anissa Salazar

Working on a film like Everything Everywhere All at Once seems like an ambitious task, especially when you are responsible for creating the character’s costumes and looks for each universe they inhabit. For costume designer Shirley Kurata, the biggest challenge in approaching the movie’s costumes was how short the preparation time was:

“It depends on how much prep time you’re given, alongside the budget. You have to take those factors into place. We can all agree that our prep time was concise on this film. Did we have any camera tests for this film or not?”

Michelle Chung, the head of the makeup department, answered Shirley’s question and stated, “We only had camera tests for the main character’s normal looks. We came up with everything else as we were shooting.”

For the head of the hair department Anissa Salazar, there were “a lot of collaborative meetings between the Daniels, the hair, makeup, and costume departments. It was fun because we all bounced ideas off of each other and thought had a bunch of like ideas on standby, which was really fun.”

Salazar added that creating the film’s hairstyles required a balance of what the Daniels wanted and their own vision of the characters:

“We took a little bit from the script, which was what the Daniels [Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan] wanted, and then put our own vision to them. For this film, in particular, it was important that the uniqueness and individuality of each character could carry out through the film and its multiple storylines with a shared vision in the hair, makeup, and costume departments. That shared vision is important because the film’s main objective is a sensory experience for the audience.”

For Chung, collaboration was vital, especially by taking direct inspiration from Shirley Kurata’s costumes:

“I was making mood boards as I went along, looking at the costumes and taking inspiration from that, but also from images that I had pulled and ideas that I had thought of. I ensured that each look was very distinct because they all came from different universes.”

Kurata added that all departments “were in constant communication by email, text, in person for what we had in mind, but also after the fittings, talking with the actors, trying things, with what direction we were looking into. From there, we can bounce off more ideas or variations from it, which involves even more constant communication with each other.”

In creating multiple looks for the same character, Salazar explained that “continuity didn’t matter for the Daniels. I remember they were either like “that doesn’t matter” or “trust us. Of course, because we were hopping in between so many universes, continuity does matter to an extent, but it was nice to know that that wasn’t going to limit us.”

For the makeup department, one of the biggest challenges was figuring out how to distinguish each character’s looks, as they are played by the same actors, as explained by Michelle Chung:

“Working on Stephanie Hsu‘s character to look different in each universe was my biggest battle because you want her to look different in each universe, but it’s the same face. You then have to pick looks that are distinct from each other. For Michelle Yeoh‘s character, I wanted to establish a very different Evelyn in the main world compared to everywhere else, to ensure that we knew this was the worst version of herself. I made her the most tired and bedraggled in that universe. But Evelyn could look a little bit better in any other universe to establish a difference between her character and the different universes she inhabits.”

For Salazar, this process required “a lot of quick decision-making that had to happen on the spot. Thanks to the Daniels, they trusted us immensely and always said, “OK, cool. That’s what you want to do that fits that world; do it.” There wasn’t much time to do makeup tests and things like that. We had to prepare the night before shooting or the day of, and many quick changes kept happening.”

In designing the multiple costumes for Jobu Tupaki, Kurata talked about the multiple influences that inspired her for the character:

“In the movie star universe, we wanted to make her more like a 1940s film star, especially with the hair and makeup. I was mostly influenced by anime cosplay looks for some of the other scenes, especially for the Gothic Lolita and K-Pop star. I also love Japanese avant-garde fashion. That played a part in creating a jumbled Jobu look, which is the look where she has all the different elements before she gets almost sucked into the bagel.”

What’s great about Jobu is that she changes costumes multiple times during a given scene, especially during the one in which she fights police officers in a hallway. Kurata revealed that “she wasn’t supposed to change as often because she was initially supposed to get shot in the Elvis costume, but I had told the Daniels that there’s a budget issue that I didn’t know if we could get many Elvis suits made. You probably need at least five of those made if we’re going to squib her and get her bloody.

We came up with something else that was much easier: the Luchadora look. I was able to get multiples of that fairly quickly. Because we’re constrained by time and budget, we’re able to change, and it works positively because seeing her change so quickly made it so much more fun and exciting.”

While designing Michelle Yeoh’s hair, Salazar talked about how difficult it was to make her look as less glamorous as possible than her “normal” look in the IRS office:

“Her manager was with us while filming, and she would always be like, “Enough!” I created a specific gray into her hero wig, and she would say, “Okay, that’s too much gray!” But we still need to age her a little bit [laughs]. In that specific part of the film, her hair is frazzled. She wasn’t well put together. Evelyn is all over the place. Michelle trusted us immensely, which was the biggest reward at the end of it. She was a team player, and we were always on the go.

We’ve all worked in independent film and started our careers in commercials where time and budget are limited. Between all of us having that experience, it felt like the most passionate indie film you’ve ever worked on because everybody in their departments was so passionate and creative and brought everything to the day.

I feel like you can see that on screen. It translates it so beautifully. People did care and wanted it to make work. Though we all had concerns, questions, and challenges, no one resisted. You just trusted the process and got it done, and everyone was happy at the end, which was fantastic.”

Everything Everywhere All at Once is now available to rent or buy on video-on-demand.

[Some quotes were edited for length and clarity]


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Written by Maxance Vincent

Maxance Vincent is a freelance film and TV critic, and a recent graduate of a BFA in Film Studies at the Université de Montréal. He is currently finishing a specialization in Video Game Studies, focusing on the psychological effects regarding the critical discourse on violent video games.

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