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Rebel Moon Costume Designer Stephanie Portnoy Porter Looked To The Past

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Rebel Moon cast (Credit: Netflix)

Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire is filmmaker Zack Snyder, clearly, living out a childhood dream of making a movie with all his favorite sci-fi staples and toys. The movie wears its references on its sleeve without shame. Familiarity and all, a Snyder film is still a Snyder film, in which the aesthetic is his own and turned up to 11.

There’s Snyder’s grit and pop, which at its best, excites with lavishness. For over a decade, costume designer Stephanie Portnoy Porter (Prey) has had a hand in shaping Snyder’s aesthetic. She worked as a costumer on Sucker Punch and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and then moved up to costume designer on Army of the Dead and its spinoff, Army of Thieves. For Rebel Moon, Porter was in it for the long-haul; the shoot for the two-part story was over 150 days.

Shortly before her nomination at the 26th annual Costume Designers Guild Awards, Porter spoke with Below the Line about world-building with Zack Snyder, including the cultural and historical references in Rebel Moon.

Below the Line: Is the world-building a part of the appeal of working with Zack Snyder? 

A behind the scenes image from Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire (Credit: Zack Snyder)

Stephanie Portnoy Porter: There is the cool thing about doing movies with Zack is that the script that we shoot and the film that winds up getting released is only a part of the story. He develops the mythology and the history and the depth and backstory of every character, every symbol, everything. So, even if something is wild and crazy random seeming idea, it’s not because when you zoom out and you look at the whole scope of the story of the world that he develops, it totally makes sense. So, that is something that I love, love, love about making films with Zack. 

BTL: An example of that in Rebel Moon is the religious-looking figures following the Admiral (Ed Skrein). We don’t really know their deal, but clearly, it’s suggesting religion plays a role in the evil empire. 

Porter: It’s this blurred line between religion, between health and wellbeing, between the military and the politicians. People will fall in line and believe a lot of stuff that seems crazy if it’s attributed to religion, like blind belief, blind faith. 

A scene from Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire (Credit: Netflix)

BTL: So, for those characters, how were your designs influenced by the mythology Zack and the writers built? 

Porter: So the idea of those characters, they serve a lot of purposes. They record the history, so there’s always one that’s writing in a book. They are a religious presence, almost condoning in the name of God or higher power, whatever it may be, the acts that are unfolding. So it was important to create a silhouette that was familiar within our frame of reference of religion. And also, make them kind of terrifying, because there’s no question whether those are the good guys or the bad guys when they walk in the room.

It was important to tap into that emotional frame of reference that we have and capitalize on that for their aesthetic. And then, we remove their identity. So creating this mask, and if you see a closeup of the mask, they’ve had their mouths removed, so there’s no voice. They don’t really have a voice. Words that are etched in where the mouth would be so that they all carry this consistent message that there’s unity. Whether that’s unity for good or for evil remains depends on what side of the coin you’re on… But yeah, their mouths have been replaced by a consistent message. 

BTL: How about designing costumes for Kora (Sofia Boutella)? How’d you want to help define her? 

A scene from Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire (Credit: Netflix)

Porter: Well, like what I was saying with the mythology and the history of this world that we’re taking a peek into, which was fully developed and plenty of conversations with Zack, and honestly, conversations with Sophia. Sofia’s ancestry is North African. We used some of the symbols and motifs from that part of the world in her costumes at certain points in her story, so that was important to her hole. 

Ultimately the most important thing, my job is what it looks like. What does it look like? Also, the performances are important. Sofia, in particular, she needs to be able to move and fight. What she has on her body can’t inhibit that. It can’t get in the way of her doing her job to tell the story of the film. We needed to make sure that what she wore, she was able to do the work in and it would make sense for her character too. 

BTL: The cloak, in particular, looks beautiful. 

Porter: Thank you so much. Sofia, she’s a dancer and she’s very aware of what her body does and how her body moves. She owned it. Not everybody could put that on and pull it off the way that she did.

The first time we shot it she’ was walking down this ramp, and the wind catches it and kind of billows it. Sofia feels what the wind is naturally doing, so she moved her body in a way that encouraged that. Everyone who was standing on set, myself included, were like, “Whoa.” 

A scene from Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire (Credit: Netflix)

BTL: Do you and Zack exchange a lot of real world references? Did you discuss specific fascists and freedom fighters? 

Porter: Of course, of course. Because in the beginning when you’re working on a project like this that does not have any source material, the canon starts with us. At first you’re like, cool, we can start from scratch, we can do anything. And then you sit down and you’re like, where do I start? This is outer-space and in the future, and whoa, where do I go?

A scene from Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire (Credit: Netflix)

But then you kind of think about, okay, this is Earth 2024, and what are our Earth’s frames of reference? And so, rather than using straight line real world references, I try to focus on [evoking] emotion. In general, most people when they look at a picture of a basket full of kittens will feel warm and fuzzy inside. Conversely, if somebody looks at a picture of a snarling grizzly bear, that evokes fear.

The same is true with certain clothing, silhouettes, colors, stuff like that. And so, while you wouldn’t be able to pinpoint one specific reference for the Imperium uniforms, where I drew inspiration was across the board, fascism through history, like a shape here, a proportion there, a color there. It’s this mixed bag of the history of fascism and bad guys. 

A scene from Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire (Credit: Netflix)

BTL: What about the hat Nemesis (Bae Doona) wears? Was that a real-world reference?

Porter: It is a traditional Korean hat that was mostly worn by male nobility, and it’s called a Gat. Zack texted me one morning super early, which is normal. I think most people in the film industry are early morning people. He texted me a picture of it, and at first, I was like, “Huh.” I kind of knew the broad strokes of what it was and who wore it. 

I was very much wanting to empower Doona as a woman, as a Korean woman, but then, hold on a second, we’re not in Korea. We are in space. Here is this amazing shape that’s strong and emotional, that emotional frame of reference that is somebody who owns their space. We didn’t need to assign a specific historical reference to it. And so, we made it out of a different material, sheer; it was able to be worn both on her head and on her back.

It created different silhouettes. Zack and our stunt coordinators, it was always thought through where the hat was going depending on what the action was. The hat was not only a part of her costume, but a part of her action, which I thought was cool. 

A scene from Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire (Credit: Netflix)

BTL: How is it working with Zack, not only as a director or writer, but as a cinematographer as well? 

Porter: He’s a dream for a costume designer or for anybody who has a lot of prep work to do prior to filming because he knows exactly what he is going to shoot. He draws every frame of the film, he storyboards every frame of the film. I think adding the role of cinematographer to all of the hats that he wears has only improved the forethought that we can put into our work to take advantage of some cool framing and lighting elements.

I’m always interested in the camera test. For us, the lighting that Zack uses is very unique and interesting, and his color processing is also very unique and interesting, and it does stuff to colors and to contrast that’s very different than what you see with your naked eye. And so, doing these camera tests and knowing that Zack is going to not only be shooting this and directing it and lighting it is so helpful. We can do cooler stuff since we know in advance what it’s going to look like. 

BTL: He’s a huge fan of the movie Excalibur, which is sometimes directly referenced in his work. Did you both discuss that film or medieval times for Rebel Moon?

Porter: Yeah, definitely. We drew from Arthurian Knights and, of course, Samurai and warriors. Throughout history there are brave warriors fighting fully for what they believed, and they are everywhere in this film.

You can see references to, yes, Excalibur, and you can see references to Samurai. Again, it’s not going to be an exact replica of a knight of the roundtable, but you’re going to see a silhouette that is familiar and makes you think of that. Like, why am I suddenly feeling Lancelot-ish? Or why am I suddenly having memories of Ronin? That kind of thing, because we took little elements to evoke those feelings.

A scene from Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire (Credit: Netflix)

BTL: Let’s talk about the brothel scene, which isn’t a shy Star Wars reference. What kind of atmosphere and world-building did you want to accomplish with that sequence? 

Porter: That scene in particular was so much fun for all of us. On my end, I am a big fan of the whole Brechtian alienation of your audience, using that as a device through design, creating a look… I’m guilty of being probably the worst over-thinker on planet earth, so tell me if this is too meta or whatever, but what I wanted to do was to embrace not only what people commonly perceive as something that’s alluring and attractive, but also embrace stuff that’s been traditionally not seen as alluring and attractive; stuff that is very real, though.

A scene from Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire (Credit: Netflix)

Different people, different shapes, different ages, different everything, and to make it as beautiful and sexy as possible. I wanted to do that to draw audiences to a creature that was nothing that they would’ve ever thought was attractive before, but they’re suddenly drawn to it and questioning, why am I drawn to this thing? So, that was my hope.

Also, anything that can create this gritty, beautiful visual, and childlike excitement, Zack really leans into it. When I really started going crazy, like, “Oh, maybe this character is half-pony,” he let me run with it in a way that I’m not sure other directors would’ve had that same faith and trust. 

BT: Audiences will see a lot more of your in the director’s cut of Rebel Moon. Any costumes that didn’t make the PG-13 cut you’re excited for people to see in the R-rated version? 

Porter: Oh my gosh, God, we shot for like, was it 600 years? It was a lot. It was a lot. I had this thing, this post-it next to my desk that wrote out every world, I think there’s 13 or 14 different worlds that we created for this film. It was almost like a checklist. As we would complete one world, I would check it off and then the next one. Literally every day we were in a different world.

For me to say what is not in this film or what is coming up, it’s hard to say. I literally cannot tell you. I do know that the film, this film that Zack and Dody [Dorn] edited together from the work that we did is just visual candy. I’m so happy and proud of the work that we all did. 

Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire is now available to stream on Netflix.

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