Terminator Genisys: Largest Scale Feature in Series

Although a few of the characters of “Terminator Genisys” may make their entrances sans clothing, the overwhelming majority of scenes required actors to be suited in clothes and gear apropos of the era and their scripted purpose.

Costume Designer Susan Matheson

Designer Matheson was eager to meet the challenges of a big-budget science fiction film: “One of the most exciting aspects of getting asked to design this movie was the final war set in the future—knowing that I would have this entire world that I could create from nothing,” says Matheson. “In actuality, the reason I decided to become a costume designer for film was really the fact that I was completely inspired by ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Mad Max.’  Those are the two movies that said to me, ‘Oh, I don’t have to be designing costumes for Shakespeare—I could be taking these elements and putting them into a film.”  So inspired was the young Matheson by the visuals of these films that her designs for a college production of “Macbeth” included a gas mask on a sleeve and a prominently featured leather biker jacket.

The various groups and periods covered in the screenplay compelled Matheson to seek authenticity for each specified character and situation.  Take the human resistance fighters making their last stand against machines:  “They’re a ragtag group of people that are just making do with what they’ve found in this post-apocalyptic civilization.  They’ve looked through the rubble and they’ve repurposed things.  So, for example, I’ve got people wearing armor made out of a California license plate, and arm and shoulder piece made from repurposed tires.  These warriors are going to use anything they can get their hands on to produce their own gear.”

Matheson worked closely with Burton in fashioning the body armor for the resistance and, once created, they needed to be covered in “the post-apocalyptic dust.”  That’s where the cement mixers came in—the shop reverberated with multiple mixers going at all times, and costume pieces were subjected to a tumble with rocks and gravel, “because once you throw something into a cement mixer with rocks, especially if they’re rubber pieces, they start to pick up a patina.”  After the mixers, pieces were sprayed with various applications of glue, dirt and paint, all to achieve the look that “these people have been living, sleeping, eating in these outfits continuously without any change.”

But beneath all of the armor, dirt and grime, Matheson strove to create the sense of a Los Angeles after the blast.  She explains, “If we had had an explosion in Los Angeles in the ‘90s, what would people have looked like?  The culture in the city features a lot of team wear, the Dodgers, the Kings, the Lakers.  There is a conglomeration of multiple cultures and ethnicities, and also the influence of gang culture.  The camera may not catch everything we put in, but we worked to establish a sense of the city if it had nearly been annihilated in the ‘90s—even down to a Hello Kitty T-shirt requested by David Ellison.”

Specificity of time and place is also seen in the costumes of the story’s main characters.  Punk rock culture of the ‘80s informs what Sarah wears—leather biker jacket, cargo pants and Doc Martens (“And she’s ready to kick ass,” laughs Matheson).  Once Reese is displaced into 1984, he steals the pants off of a homeless man, and then dashes into a discount department store, where he dons a military surplus trench and a pair of Nike Vandal sneakers.  (Matheson proudly explains that one of her greatest triumphs on the project was when she heard that Paramount had persuaded Nike to re-create the original Nike Vandal from 1984, “down to the color and the Velcro straps!”)  Two costumers were sent on thrift stores expeditions, one time turning up the drab green trench—which turned out to be a popular coat from the period, “so that started a hunt to try and find these trenches all over America, with people calling everywhere in the country to find the Kyle Reese coat.”

Collisions of Past and Present

Those collisions of past and present were not infrequent during shooting.  One such occurrence resonated deeply with producer Dana Goldberg:  “One of my favorite moments was when we were shooting at the Griffith Park Observatory the very first night—it’s Arnold’s reveal in the movie, where Arnold as the Guardian comes upon Arnold as the 1984 Terminator.  And I looked around at the crew, the night we were shooting it, and every single person—male, female, 20, 60, it didn’t matter—had the same grin, because we were watching Arnold do that thing…  The man has done a tremendous amount of impressive things in his life, but here is the thing he was born to do, and he’s phenomenal at it.  All of a sudden, we were stepping back in time, remembering being in the audiences for T1 and T2.  And we were here, now, with him, back in this character he knows like the back of his hand.  Then, we were all stunned when he fired off a shotgun four times and never blinked.  We were all deeply impressed by the fact that somehow, you could actually shoot off a fully loaded shotgun four times and not blink once.  Then he told us that he learned how to do it on the first Terminator film.  And I don’t think he’s ever blinked since, I’m not sure!”

No stranger to big sets and big projects, Emilia Clarke was still impressed by the enormous undertaking of filming “Terminator Genisys.”  She says, “It’s just epic.  For every three minutes of footage onscreen, it has taken something like two weeks of shooting.  Every minute detail has been thought through and beautifully executed.  Every member of the crew is incredible, the sets are insane, the costumes are amazing.  There is just so much—and I also have to keep reminding myself, while I’m in the middle of this epic scene and I think it couldn’t get any better, that these are totally without special effects, that we’re only filming about 60%—it’s going to look that much cooler, with lots of crazy stuff happening…and no tennis balls on sticks, either!”

Largest Sclae Terminator Movie

Producer David Ellison says, “This is the largest scale Terminator movie that’s ever been made.  There are bigger action sequences in Genisys than any prior Terminator film.  You’re going to see the fully rendered future war, which nobody has ever been able to do yet, and you’re going to see new Terminators that will hopefully have the exact same impact as when you saw the T-1000 back in 1991.  We have set the bar incredibly high, and we’re going for it.”

For producer Dana Goldberg, the size of the film is in direct proportion to the level of talent present in the filmmaking crews.  She comments, “It’s a big, big movie.  We shot from April through to mid-August, with a lot of six-day weeks.  We had a phenomenal crew who just killed themselves to bring this thing to the screen.  No one ever quite understands how much work goes into everything you see on the screen—from hair and makeup, to stunts, to visual effects, to special effects, to rigging, to grips, to lighting, and on and on.  It’s a giant undertaking, a movie of this size, and you need all of those pieces working in unison to get it right—and we were beyond fortunate to have a crew that did it right.”

“It’s interesting,” says director Taylor. “We’re sort of letting the audience know that we know what they are expecting and then, ‘Whoosh!’ trying to flip it. And that’s something that goes deep into the DNA of the Terminator movies: Cameron’s first movie uses Arnold’s character in one way and then he completely inverted for the second and nobody saw it coming. You can go into new territory with characters that you already have a feeling for but they take you somewhere that you never saw coming.”