The Production Designer for ‘Silence’ Did Double Duty as Its Costume Designer
There are a lot of things that come into play when you put together a film. You have to have a script, a director, actors, and then you have to find locations and build sets and get costumes and essentially build an entire world within which the actors operate. Production design and costume design go hand-in-hand: you don’t want actors in a film set in the 1800s to be wearing clothes from the 1600s, and you want your costumes to be in constant dialogue with your sets. If an environment is wet, or dry, or cold, or inside, or outside, the clothes reflect that. Because of this, the Oscar-winning production designer for Martin Scorsese’s epic Silence, Dante Ferretti, also acted as its costume designer.
Ferretti won Academy Awards for his production design for Scorsese’s Hugo and The Aviator and Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd. And this actually isn’t the first time he’s worked two jobs: for Scorsese’s Kundun he designed both costumes and sets as well. He spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about working both jobs at the same time, and said that apparently it’s a common practice in his native Italy.
It’s not so unusual, at least here in Italy, that a production designer is also the costume designer. Italy can claim production/costume designers as internationally recognized as Danilo Donati and Piero Gherardi. I already had these two tasks in [Scorsese’s] Kundun. After that movie, Martin asked me to be the costume designer on another project, about Dean Martin, but that movie was never shot. And then he asked me, once again, to create the costumes for Silence. I simply and gladly accepted his offer, especially because, in my opinion, a production designer that is also a costume designer offers a more defined visual identity to any project.
He’s probably right that it’s much easier to incorporate costumes into environment when you’re the one in charge of both. They actually had to build a lot of the Japanese locations in a studio in Taiwan, although a lot of the film was shot on location.
A great part of the footage was shot on location with ad hoc-made constructions. Three seaside villages were built on location, and a portion of Nagasaki was constructed in the studio's backlot. Everything you'll see about Nagasaki was created and described with the greatest precision: the temple, fruit shops, porcelain, ceramics, clothes and everything else.
Oddly, the priests’ costumes were the most difficult to design.
We had to study a way to standardize their costumes to those that were used for the general population of 17th century Japan, because it was necessary the three fathers not be recognized as strangers or as Jesuits. I’m particularly fond of one we designed for Father Rodrigues [Garfield], [one that was for] a Japanese middle-class and married version of him, while during the entire movie we were used to seeing this one Jesuit dressed as a poor inhabitant of a Japanese village. We also styled 80 Portuguese and Dutch bourgeois costumes. All of them were made in Italy and then brought to the set.
A ton of hugely complicated tasks for a hugely complicated movie. Silence apparently was still being edited down less than two months ago from a cut longer than three hours. From what I’ve heard, it’s a stunning picture, and even in the trailers you can see Ferretti’s expert eye at work.
Silence hits theaters December 23.