Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" is a Western version of "And Then There Were None" with period detail that pops, thanks to the large-format, widescreen splendor of Ultra Panavision 70. As a result, it should garner several craft Oscar nominations next week.
Of course, the director demands an organic authenticity and shooting in Telluride (both with or without sufficient snow) provided an additional challenge. Even construction of the set for Millie's Haberdashery was done on location (except for some minor onstage work at LA's Red Studios, where they lowered the temperature to 30 degrees and raised the humidity to 96%).
For production designer Yohei Taneda ("Kill Bill: Vol. 1," "Ghost In the Shell 2"), the primary design reference for Millie's Haberdashery was the general store in "Shane." Visually, though, he thought of Vermeer for his sense of mystery and spatial divide. As Taneda crucially pointed out, Minnie's Haberdashery is many things, except a haberdashery, which is key to understanding Tarantino's peekaboo narrative.
"Each character has his own section, so I designed eight separate zones," he explained. "For example, the bar and the kitchen space, and the dining space and the bedroom space. Our set is small but wide [to accommodate the Ultra Panavision 70 camera].
"With Quentin, there's a lot of reveals as you go into the story and, with the reveals, you understand history. It was very specific in the script and is an important point for me. Serving two bottles of tequila, one bottle of mezcal and one bottle of brandy qualifies you as a bar. Serving stew qualifies you as a restaurant. Minnie's partner, Sweet Dave, is a very important person for this design. The sign is from Sweet Dave but the handwriting is Quentin's."
Costume designer Courtney Hoffman (promoted after serving as personal costumer to Christoph Waltz on "Django Unchained") immersed herself more deeply in Western lore, and found a trail of breadcrumbs to follow in Tarantino's script. "It's such a great vessel in whatever given time period it's made," she said. It was about functionality, comfort and style. And all of the wardrobe was hand-made.
"And then on top of that, it's a complicated layer of who are they pretending to be versus who are they? And how does that influence the way the costumes fit and the way that they wear them? It's a little bit of excavating what's in Quentin's mind that he doesn't have the language to use."
Samuel Jackson's Major Warren took a while to find, but Lee Van Cleef was a major influence. "Sam's so debonair and in the end his costume is like the Lincoln letter: it has a disarming effect on the white people that he meets," Hoffman continued. The yellow lining of his coat is very colorful, but his gloves are the highlight for the costume designer because you can see every crease in Ultra Panavision 70.
Kurt Russell's John Ruth, though, represents the most imposing force. "I wanted his costume to physically take up space the way he takes up space in the room," she explained. "That coat's actually based on an archival piece from the Autry Museum. It's made from different buffalo hides, cut at different lengths from different seasons. We found this place called Merlin's Hideout, which is the buffalo hide supplier of the world in Wyoming."
But Hoffman's favorite coat was designed for Demian Bichir's Bob the Mexican: It has 15 types of fur that are all hand-patched. "And we had to make 10 of them, so the craftsmanship that went into aging and matching the fur was demanding."
Mark Ulano, Tarantino's long-time sound mixer, faced another set of environmental challenges that were intrinsic to the story: "That is why we're at 10,000 feet at 20 below every morning in Telluride," he said. But the situation here was rigorous as well as dangerous. "If you're not acclimated for both altitude and cold, you're gonna get injured. And you're not alone—everyone's in that same situation. And you don't just drive up to the set and you're there. Some of that was true at Millie's but all of the external stagecoach work was in places that people just don't go to.
"You're either hiking in and hauling your gear or snowmobiling to a drop-off point. Then there's the impact that it has on your tools—I use electronic devices and you're at the extremity of their intended environment. So you have to think in those terms so they don't fail at the worst possible moment (with both a cold and warm set of gear).
"And what is the sound going to be in such an environment? There's 30 different ways of creating mechanical snow and we had challenges of real snow and not enough snow. And the stagecoach was being towed in pristine snow by six horses or mechanical means. And everyone brings it like musicians in a group."
Editorially, meanwhile, the impact of the claustrophobic setting and the use of Ultra Panavision 70 meant that the acting ensemble had to always be at the top of its game as well as off book because the frame was so wide and there was nowhere to hide.
"So we would do weekly screenings in 70mm and getting to see it play out was thrilling," recalled editor Fred Raskin. "Frequently, we were not cutting as often because you could see the actors' eyes and the depth in their performance with such clarity and the framing was so beautiful.
"For me, the biggest challenge was the section of chapter five, right before the massacre, when all of the characters are getting into position and all of the members of the gang are doing their flirtations because, the way it was shot, you could see the other characters in the background of each character's tableau. So we had to be very careful where we were cutting to the different tableaux and how long everything was taking, and it probably took me four passes when I did my first assembly of it before I got it really right."
One of Raskin's own contributions wasn't even visual: the idea of playing the sound in the background when John Ruth's stagecoach first arrives was attempted during his first assembly, which Tarantino liked. "That led us to realize that we don't need this next scene and it almost functions as suspense music for that whole scene. It sets the stage nicely for what we know is coming."