Jobs Q&A With Costume Designer Lisa Jensen

Posted: July 9th, 2013 | Author: |

Dressing Steve Jobs: a piece of cake, right? After all, he mostly stuck to wearing the same thing day in, day out: those infamous 501 Levi’s and a no-nonsense black turtle neck.

In upcoming biopic Jobs, we discover not only how the billionaire founded his Apple empire (alongside co-founders Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne), but also how he came to end up in that singularly straight-forward attire.

Directed by Joshua Michael Stern, Jobs stars Ashton Kutcher as the man himself, and follows Jobs from college drop-out to the most celebrated entrepreneur of the 20th century.

But what was it like literally putting Kutcher in Steve Jobs’ shoes? We gave Jobs‘ costume designer Lisa Jensen a call to find out…

What sort of research did you do for the costumes on Jobs?
The first piece of the puzzle in doing a historical-based story, of course, is the research, capital R. Step one is to get the essence of each year of the script’s story in front of me, in bulk, mostly in ‘real people’s fashion’, being aware of fashion trends, but not owned by them. Then also to look backward from our time line in clothing styling so that our characters have a sense of history to the lives we meet them living.

Regional reality to our story is absolutely key. Most all of our action happens in Los Altos/Palo Alto/San Francisco, CA. A short stint at Reed College in Oregon in ’74 and a trip to India in ’75, and a convention for Apple in Hawaii in ‘83 were the only other locations outside CA, and these were specifically researched. Thanks to my 23” apple computer, my 17” apple laptop computer, my iPad, my iPod, and my iPhone (thank you Steve Jobs) and the amazing internet I pulled tons of photos, testimonials, perhaps secrets and dreams, many precisely dated to my world.

Our film hired an archivist for a time as well who found extraordinary information from far corners of reality.

Did you speak with people who knew Jobs?
I did speak with some people who knew Apple/Mac and Jobs, but our company was not the ‘official’ (for lack of a better term) Steve Jobs movie. We didn’t use the Walter Isaacson’s biography, nor were we the big gun Sony Pictures that was in the process of writing their Jobs movie as we were shooting ours.

We were advised by our company to keep a strict protocol in relationship to contacting the people our characters were based on. That is to say, any contact was made by our director, producers, or archivist and relayed to us. We had weekly intensive department head meeting to share our information and to coordinate our time lines.

Which eras does the film cover?
The script covers the years from 1971 to 2000: from the time Steve Jobs was in high school playing pranks with Woz (Steve Wozniak, played by Josh Gad) and their pals with Woz’s telephone dial tone imitating blue box, way before Jobs had a thought about computers, to his 2000 stage unveiling of the mind-bending iPod.

Nearly 30 years of story telling , with many characters, and oodles of background extras. In fact, Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs had between 75 and 80 different day changes over the course of the 2 hours/29 years of our narrative.

What was director Joshua Michael Stern’s brief when it came to the film’s costumes?
Joshua, with whom I have made another movie and whom I adore, gave me two very strong directives. Number One: Let’s make the costumes appear as cool and sexy as we remember we felt while we were wearing them, not necessarily how we may have looked. Especially those really embarrassing years in the ‘80s and the occasionally awkward ‘70s.

Movies can have a quality of aggressive portrayal of a period of dress, hitting the icons loudly, especially these decades – a thing we didn’t want to do. Number Two directive (this was the hardest): We were to save Steve Jobs’ classic iconic look (even worn in variation in the ‘70s) for the very last scene of our movie. Black mock turtleneck and jeans. He would only appear once in his ‘uniform’. Challenging.

Did Ashton Kutcher rely on the costumes to get into character?
Ashton Kutcher was extremely dedicated to his character on absolutely every level: mannerisms, voice, walk, diet, personality, hair, facial hair, age makeup, clothing, what he carried in his hands going into the office… You name it. That dedication and precision is a pleasure to work with.

Ashton, in preparation, took on Jobs’ ‘fruititarian’ diet (which also landed him in the hospital) and quit working out to lose body weight and muscle mass that he, Ashton, has and Jobs did not. We shot, for the most part, chronologically. Ashton began our shoot as the lanky teenager of 1971 then slowly put on weight and changed his body language to become the older, rounder man Jobs was in 2000 at the end of our story, before his illness.

Did Kutcher have any suggestions of his own?
Our collaboration was very smooth. We both had incredible research, thoughts and opinions and melded them. We agreed on specific beats, say the exact tie, shirt, shoes, suspenders etc for a re-enactment of an event, and we discussed the arcs of Jobs clothing over the years for emotional high and low points, maturity and immaturity.

Of course we are telling a true story, but when one studies the well-documented life of Steve Jobs one sees the good, the bad, the beautiful and the embarrassing all presented independent of the emotional beat of a script’s storyline. Plus, with the photo research, we also had to weed out the staged photo-ops that peppered Jobs’ life.

Our story worked at telling a day to day narrative. Ashton and I worked at weeding out the staged research and aimed at keeping the intimacy of the script and the essence of his character in the nuances of Jobs’ very emotional and driven life.

Was it tempting to ‘glam Jobs up’ at all?
Jobs had many arcs in his way of dressing throughout his life: all of it relatively subtle, much of it precise, perhaps even calculated, none of it completely linear from youth to maturity. In fact, towards the end of our story Jobs had taken to dressing with some of the casualness, even youthful sloppiness he had as a kid, at the office.

We stayed as true as possible to each twist and turn, and aimed at a dignity and simplicity Jobs kept in his dress. Never was there a desire to ‘glam’ our character up, reality was the key. ‘Glam’ came from an inner intensity, not clothing.

How many pairs of jeans did you get through?
Jobs was a jeans guy. From his youth onwards: Levis 501’s. And the fact that Ashton wears them so well was excellent.

As I mentioned, Ashton lost weight, perhaps 25 pounds, maybe more, to get his body into character for the earliest scenes, but on the first day of shooting he began to eat more substantial foods to gain weight for the later scenes. As you can imagine, we had many different washes and distressed ageing on our classic Levis in a range of sizes. If Ashton needed an extra inch on a given day, we had the jeans. Doing the math I’d say we had about 60 pairs of jeans. In pounds of weight, that’s a lot of denim hanging in our wardrobe trailer.

Which outfit was most difficult to create?
That’s a tough one. I don’t think there was any one costume that was all that difficult.  The biggest challenge was to make subtle clothes alive through so many years and be quiet and true without feeling repetitious and mundane. I mean, we are talking about computer people, lots of them and mostly guys, Silicon Valley execs, only an occasionally slightly flamboyant character, and very few female characters. How crazy and complicated can one get? We aimed at telling a good true story, and I think we did that well.

Was it difficult to source the vintage costumes?
We sourced our clothing from a number of places: some thrift/vintage shops in Los Angeles (Iguanas, the Salvation Army, Goodwill) but the bulk of our clothing (much due to our budget and schedule) came from costume rental houses in Los Angeles. Western Costumes, Universal Costumes, and ABC Costumes were very resourceful and incredibly generous to us on our shoe string budget.

We had the fortune to meet and work with a wonderful tailor in Los Altos/Palo Alto, the location of our narrative: Mario Cassara of Cassara Brothers Clothier. Mario is a second generation tailor, his father was the tailor to many Apple executives during the years our story portrays, with Mario next to him coming of age. Mario custom made suits for Ashton as Steve Jobs, for Matthew Modine as Vincent Sculley, and JK Simmons as Arthur Rock. There is nothing like the real deal to get authentic cut, drape and fabrics.

New Balance manufactured for us, from the old molds, the exact sneakers Jobs wore. Levis started us on the road with our mountain of jeans. Johnston and Murphy generously helped us with dress shoes for some of our executive characters. Thank goodness Berkenstocks are just about the same as now as in 1971. And we shopped at the ever classic Brooks Brothers for pieces that spanned decades in one big beautiful clean store; and we found suits from the archives and in the showroom of Malibu Clothiers in Beverly Hills that dressed a number of our parade of ‘80’s and ‘90’s executives. And, I really have to say, my costume crew was incredible: so dedicated, tireless, and talented. It takes a tight family to make a movie.

What was it like working with Josh Gad (above), who plays Steve Wozniak?
Josh Gad is a crazy funny, dedicated, intelligent, totally involved in his character kind of an actor, but can break character to just hang and talk. I know Josh really dug his character, researched him from every possible angle, and gave him a lighthearted, incredibly available humane funniness we, as observers of the Steve Jobs centric organisation, can’t be certain but really trusted and wanted to believe he had.

We all knew Woz was the brains of the operation, but not the star, he really wanted to hang with those (and at the beginning of the computer revolution it was kids nearly 10 years his junior) who appreciated his abstract sense of reality that allowed him to create and share his computer brain magic and a sense of not being owned for his ideas.

How did you go about creating his look?
Woz was number two at Apple, and not well-documented photographically. There are very specific beats in our film that I made certain Josh and I consulted then I duplicated those looks exactly. Woz was kind of a dandy in a geek-funky-cool sort of way in the earlier years.

We went with that, until he got lost in the Apple organisation and almost forgotten by Jobs until he came to Jobs’ office one night and called it quits. Josh is a big guy, bigger than Woz, and not an easy fit for vintage thrift and rentals. We pulled what we could from our sources, but I found myself shopping retail (oddly and happily from JC Penney and Sears a kind of vintage feeling grouping of short sleeve shirts, two of a shirt cutting part of one into the exaggerated ’70s collars we needed. The ’80s were easier to pull together with an eye to classic clothing pieces from many retail sources.

There are iPhone apps now that help you put together your own wardrobe. What’s your feeling on that?
iPhone app to put together a wardrobe?  Cool, I’ll look into that. I don’t think Steve Jobs would have needed such an app. Or to put it another way, he was the app – he found his look, stuck to it, made it alive, comfortable and cool no matter how often he wore it.

Jobs will be in UK cinemas later this year.

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