"I gotta have colors around me or I go nuts. I hate drab. " - Suzette
"I'm the same color as the Department of Motor Vehicles!" - Lavinia
After eight weeks of prep work in January and February of 2001, THE BANGER SISTERS was just four days from shooting when the director of photography had an emergency that would require him to leave the production. Producer Mark Johnson managed to secure a replacement - Karl Walter Lindenlaub, a highly respected DP who had worked on such films as INDEPENDENCE DAY and THE PRINCESS DIARIES - to step in and take over the project.
With only a few days to catch Lindenlaub up on everything that had previously been prepped for the film, Director Bob Dolman said he sequestered himself, Lindenlaub and Production Designer Maia Javan in a Santa Monica hotel for a day and night of intensive overview. The trio watched countless films from the '60s and '70s to give Lindenlaub an idea of their vision. Two days later, they began rolling film.
One of the major changes that Lindenlaub effected when he joined the production team was making the decision to shoot the film in anamorphic rather than the previously planned super 35. The format, which has a wider aspect ratio that cuts out top and bottom but allows for wider shots, has often been used for epic films and increasingly more often in the last 10 years for dramas and comedies. "It's a great way to give it a classic feel without having to be too tight on the actors. I don't think comedy is from extreme close ups, you want to see body language. There's a lot of comedy and drama between Goldie and Susan and Goldie and Geoffrey and you can play a lot of two-shots as a one-shot and see their reactions without having to cut all the time," Lindenlaub says.
The shoot took place over a mere 24 days, which required an elevated concentration on the part of both cast and crew. "These are big movie stars who are used to twice the amount of time and much bigger budgets. .. You couldn't have two cameras shooting millions of feet of film. We had one camera, a very small technical package and that means you have to rehearse and make sure it works without having months of safety nets in editing. " Lindenlaub prefers the abbreviated schedule. "You have to commit a little more, which is a nice thing. Films are more personal that way. 20 years ago, people didn't have 100-day schedules all the time. They shot fast, and they played fast as well. When you have this kind of talent, you can do that, they have a great sense for timing. You don't have to have safety nets everywhere. You can play it in one shot. "
One of the biggest missions for Production Designer Maia Javan was creating the two completely different worlds that THE BANGER SISTERS lived in - Suzette's Hollywood life and that of the Phoenix-based, starched and pressed Lavinia. To create the differentiation and develop a visual theme throughout the film, Javan went back to the place that inspired Writer/Director Bob Dolman to write the film in the first place - the graduation of his eldest son. In the screenplay, he had painstakingly described the graduation scene as being filled with hundreds of students in blue robes. She and Costume Designer Jacqueline West weaved that hue, or the lack of it, throughout the film. "We worked toward blue, which was symbolically the phoenix rising from the ashes into the sky. .. the resurrected self awareness for both of them and the resurrection of their sense of self. " Javan says.
In designing the costumes, West worked hand-in-hand with Javan to create the visual separations between Lavinia, who she describes as "trying to fit a mold that she felt was going to be a safe haven for her in life. I made her wardrobe very conservative, almost a little like armor. .. Lavinia's whole world is beige. There's nothing that's going to rock the boat or shake anything up. She's going to be accepted by the other corporate lawyer wives even though she comes from this wild background. Her world is all about a lack of color. " The beige dress that Sarandon wears throughout much of the early scenes of the film, West describes as "almost a girdle, keeping all her wildness in like armor. "
To get the right look for Suzette, West followed several older female groupies around to various L. A. clubs to see how they dressed. She had expected to see a lot of short skirts, but was amused to learn through her research that the women prefer pants because "the seats aren't very clean in most of these clubs. " The look she designed for Hawn was "someone who grew up in the '60s but was still trying to appeal to rock 'n' rollers and lead a rock 'n' roll lifestyle. .. .skin and freedom and looseness and flamboyance. "
The film begins with Suzette working at a Hollywood club, and then at her apartment, which was shot in a real Hollywood apartment. The two environs are "very wet and colorful and visceral," Javan says. West outfitted Hawn in black for the opening scenes and "let her wardrobe get much lighter as she went to the sun from the darkness of Hollywood and the nightclubs and her nightlife. " Javan also made sure that the vehicle that would take Suzette on her path toward enlightenment - the car she lovingly refers to as "the Shitbox"- was blue.
As the film moves into Phoenix, Javan describes Lavinia's world as "dry and very uptight, very monochromatic, the color of the DMV, as Lavinia says, and you can really see how she has become a self-control freak as well as a control freak and has really squeezed all of the essence out of her life. She put her and all of her children's relationships in jeopardy because of this super controlling, uptight nature that she developed to counter-balance how wild she was. "
To give the Chatsworth-located home the Phoenix/Lavinia feel, Javan added cactus plants to the outside garden areas and changed the "furnishings so that it was very, very controlled and meticulous and Type-A looking. .. everything was beige and monotone. .. We wanted everything to look like it was about to be shot by "Architectural Digest'" except for the kids' wing, and in particular, Hannah's room. "We decided that Hannah had a lot of Suzette in her. .. Hannah's room is green and there are lots of interesting textiles. That's probably what terrifies Lavinia, because she sees a bit of Suzette and herself as a youth. "
Similar to Lavinia, Geoffrey Rush's character, Harry, also required clothing that worked like a suit of armor. West says, "His wardrobe, when it starts, is all very buttoned up and contained. .. His sleeves are buttoned, his neck's buttoned and he's in this vest going to Arizona. Like a turtle shell, the vest was like his cushioning, his padding, his protection against the world. " When he meets Suzette, he is freed from his shell, "he loses that vest and his wardrobe opens up, his shirts loosen and his sleeves get rolled. " West said the vest, and the loss of it were such a prop to the film that she had copies made for each of the crewmembers at the end of the film.
The introduction of blue into the thematic color palette becomes very apparent when Suzette and Harry settle into their hotel. "The walls were a deep, achy, unhealthy blue, because the story is trying to move forward; the characters are trying to break into the sky and the openness and the freedom that they're going to find at the end of the movie. "
The juxtaposition between the two women's current lives seems never more apparent than when we first see Suzette in Lavinia's perfect beige home. "Suzette brings in this burst of peony pinks and turquoises and lights her world up and finally, Goldie's freedom and her openness and her honesty infect everybody in Lavinia's family to the point that Lavinia wants to just go out on the town with her. It frees her to cut her hair and change her clothes and get out of the rigidity of her girdle-like beige world. " But not too far out of her world. .. West points out that even when Lavinia borrows Suzette's skin-tight snakeskin pants, she still "chooses the most sedate of Suzette's wild, flamboyant wardrobe. "
Blue becomes a predominant color in the scene when Lavinia and Suzette go to the club - Suzette in her blue tie-back halter. But Javan points out that the shades of blue are different than those of the club Suzette worked in at the onset of the film, "We tried to make it more alive. It's the future for them. "
The first time blue is introduced into Lavinia's home is when the women return from the club and hole themselves up in Lavinia's basement to explore their infamous collection of celebrity "memorabilia. " The basement, which was built on a stage, was designed by Javan with Sarandon's input. "Susan really had us organize the basement. She wanted labels on every shelf. Even though she never threw anything away, everything was very organized. .. We really wanted to show that she needed to save everything that she had in that life that she had built for herself in Phoenix to reaffirm that it had really happened. .. And once the "rock cock collection" came out, Lavinia's world really starts to loosen up. "
As the film builds toward its denouement, the women come to terms with how the choices they've made have affected their lives. It's with a renewed appreciation in themselves that they perch atop a billboard like they did so many years ago. Fittingly, they are surrounded by azure skies. And, as the graduation scene begins, the vision that Dolman had since the day his son graduated is realized - blue robes and crystal-clear blue skies. The film closes with Suzette and Harry riding off into the sunset. .. in the blue "Shitbox. "