Producer Damien Parer had been researching Orry-Kelly [the legendary yet little known Australian costume designer Orry George Kelly, who worked in Hollywood from the 30s to the 60s] so the idea for the documentary film really came from him. Parer sent me an outline of Orry’s life and really the key reason I did it was because I had never heard of him. I read what his film credits were and until [costume designer] Catherine Martin got her fourth Academy Award last year, he had the most Academy Awards of any Australian. I read the names of all the films, like Some Like it Hot, American in Paris, Casablanca — half of cinema history — and I was “What? This guy is Australian?” That is what hooked me.
I am also a huge fan of the art of costume design myself. I have worked with some of the most amazing costume designers in the world. People think it is just about making actors look pretty, they believe that half the time they turn up with their own clothes and work out their own hair-do. What they don’t realise is there has been months of planning and testing done. Australia has produced amazing costumer designers that are unheralded.
The more we researched, the more things came out about Orry’s life, and about living in that whole Golden Age of Hollywood. He was the head of costume design at Warners through that absolute Golden Age of cinema from 1932 [to] 1945. Many people consider that was a period where some of the most amazing films were made. He sustained such a long career [working on 282 films]. His three Academy Awards were in the last 10 years of his working life — he probably would have won a lot more if they had one for costume design earlier on, but that award only began in 1948.
He was interviewed every time he came back to Australia through the 30s and 40s, and the headlines would read “our famous Orry-Kelly from Hollywood”. We even found advertisements for the films that came out at the time, and they put a tag-line that said “our Orry-Kelly” so he was very well known in Australia in the 30s and 40s. There was such a change of era. I was a young film student around the time of the new wave in film in the 1970s; old Hollywood was naff and over. For me, as a film student, I was going to see French