About The Look Of The Film & The Costumes
The filmmakers also used specialized photographic and processing techniques to achieve the unique look of American Outlaws. "Les
Mayfield expressed a lot of concern in prep about the fact that most modern film stocks are quite contrast-y," states director of photography Russell Boyd. "We both agreed that this contrast was not appropriate for American Outlaws. We also took a long look at the works of
western artist Frederic Remington, whose subtle use of color and light seemed to evoke an emotion that took the viewer right into the period of the mid 1 800s."
Recreating an authentic western "look" on film proved a challenge for Boyd, a veteran cinematographer. "I had to scratch my head for quite a while to figure out how we could even get close to achieving a similar feeling until I remembered a rarely used laboratory technique that is the opposite to 'push' processing," Boyd explains. "Push' processing is where the negative is under- exposed, often because there is not enough light to get an exposure, and the lab is asked to then extend the development time to compensate. This has a side effect of increasing contrast After a lot of testing, we settled on doing the opposite. That is, to over-expose the negative - by one stop - and had the lab reduce the development time by an agreed amount. This is known as 'pull' processing. This produced less contrast and slightly muted colors. We also added an antique suede lens filter to help add a very slight sepia tone."
"The point of departure for a costume designer is always the director's vision and how to help him and the actors build characters," says costume designer Luke
Reichie. "Though the actors' costumes are period accurate, we toned down the heavy period look because we wanted to have a bit of contemporary feel to it. The period should not get between the character and the audience."
"The research found in books and catalogues from this period are of made-to-order, European-influenced clothes," Reichle continues. "But that clothing is not really what real pioneers wore. So to really get into the period we tried to uncover what clothing was practical and
worn everyday, as opposed to what was published in a fashion magazine."
The color palette of the characters' costumes is key, as it helps the viewer subconsciously distinguish between the different groups in the story. "The James Gang is essentially dressed in very warm earthy (browns and greens) camouflage-type colors when we first meet them in the Civil War," notes
Reichle. "Those colors continue throughout the film. The same is true of the bad guys — the
Union Army followed by the railroad villains and Pinkertons — who are in cool colors of navy blues and grays, giving a cold and industrial feeling. It's quite a juxtaposition. From the beginning, Les wanted
consistency. The audience might not notice, but this kind of attention to detail docs leave an Impression."
The costume department opted against using authentic woolen fabrics, however. "It's blazing hot here and to have them in that heavy material for twelve weeks in the summer, in the middle of Texas, they'd sweat away," Reichle says with a laugh. "Many of the fabrics that we chose are period-looking cottons, very roughly sewn, and a lot of linen. The clothes have to have a lot of room to accommodate guns, riding and stunt pads. The dusters have high back vents to fit over horses."
Just one principal duster coat could take as much as 100 hours of work or more because the garments are hand cut, over-dyed, stone washed, hand worked, and hand painted to make them look old. "One of the biggest challenges with the James Gang is once you get eight guys on horses in hat and coat, at a distance they all look the same," notes Reichle. "We had to create costumes, colors, and shapes that gave each man a very strong and
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