Brow Beat

How Ocean’s 8 Put Together a Gala Worthy of the Met

Director Gary Ross on recreating the star-studded event, getting Anna Wintour’s blessing, and pranking Cartier.

Sandra Bullock in Ocean’s 8.
Sandra Bullock in Ocean’s 8.
Barry Wetcher/Warner Bros.

This post contains spoilers for Ocean’s 8.

In the unabashedly girly Ocean’s 8, Gary Ross has traded what he calls the “male energy” of Las Vegas, the setting of much of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy, for the glamor of New York City. The centerpiece of the movie is the annual Met Gala, the star-studded fundraiser that benefits the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. As Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) and her crew conspire to steal Cartier’s most valuable jewel off the neck of a vacuous actress (Anne Hathaway), the action takes place against the backdrop of the museum’s unmistakable Temple of Dendur, while the characters rub elbows with the likes of Serena Williams, Heidi Klum, and Kim Kardashian.

The many famous faces and elaborate costume exhibition in the movie might trick you into believing that Ross somehow filmed the heist during the real Met Gala. But, in the spirit of the movie’s own heist, the soiree is actually a very convincing fake, staged specifically for Ocean’s 8 with assistance from Vogue and the Met Museum. Slate spoke to Ross about how the faux gala came together, including what he had to do to wrangle all those celebrity cameos. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Marissa Martinelli: How much of what we see in the movie was filmed on a set and how much is the real Metropolitan Museum of Art?

Gary Ross: It’s 50-50. Me and my production designer, Alex DiGerlando, really had to go over how all the pieces, soundstage and practical, in different locations, were going to fit together to become one place.

The kitchen where Cate Blanchett and Mindy Kaling are working was a practical restaurant kitchen in Manhattan. The areas around the bathroom where they create the blind spot were a set on a soundstage out in Bethpage, as was the costume exhibit we created, where there’s water underneath and they steal the jewels at the end. All the stuff in the Temple of Dendur is practical at the Met, as is all the kind of stuff with casing the Met and the scene where Sandy [Bullock] plants the faux Banksy, a slight revision of Washington crossing the Delaware.

What were the logistics of filming inside the Met? I imagine there must have been rules to protect the art.

They were so wary at first when we came in and said we wanted to shoot this much. They’ve allowed filming there before, but on really discreet things for a day or two. We were coming in and saying we wanted to shoot there for two weeks. We had an initial meeting with Dan Weiss, who’s the head of the Met and a wonderful guy. He and I just started talking about art history for a while. It wasn’t calculated on my part, but I think he saw that I loved paintings so much that I wasn’t gonna wreck anything.

One of the best things about making a movie—and I felt this filming Seabiscuit on a racetrack or Hunger Games in the woods—is going into an environment that inspires you. I was excited about being around all that art. So I promised him we would adhere to protocols that were superspecific.

What kind of protocols?

We were allowed to move our equipment into the museum every day at 5:30, which means we didn’t get a shot until about 8:30, when the sun went down. And then we really had to stop shooting about 3 to 3:30 so that we could get all of our equipment out of there by 7:00 so that they could reopen the museum. It was literally a “night at the museum” every night for 10 days straight.

Normally, when a director calls a safety meeting on a film, it means that we’re going to be doing something dangerous. There’s an official function of calling a safety meeting. It isn’t just like, “Let’s talk.” It triggers certain events. I called safety meetings for the art. At one point we were working in the John Singer Sargent wing and we were under the Madame X painting that I love in the corner and I thought, any one of these is worth more than the budget of the whole movie. If I put a crane through Madame X, that’d be a problem.

How much input did the Met have about the aesthetics of the movie’s gala? The big mystery of the real-life event is that there are no cameras inside, so only ticketholders get to see what it looks like.

It’s like the Skull and Bones of the social world! We did it very much in conjunction with Vogue and the Met. That sort of collaboration with them was a big deal. Hamish Bowles, who is the European editor of Vogue and is very involved every year in putting on the Costume Institute’s exhibit, helped us design ours, and so we had original McQueens, Gallianos, and Jean Paul Gaultiers there.

All to create an atmosphere of European royalty, which is the theme of the exhibit—and the ball—in the movie.

Exactly. We had designs that were kept in a kind of archive in Europe that were sent over and we had to take extra special care with those. You know the scenes with the water, where they have to sort of get by the moat that’s part of the exhibit? In real life, we had just a tiny section of water and then the rest was done on the computer in CG because the humidity would’ve harmed the dresses. There were considerations like that.

I realized early on that this needed to be a collaboration, because they’re kind of giving us something they’ve created and letting the world finally glimpse the inside. It had to be authentic and something they could feel comfortable with. We had a lot of meetings with Vogue. Anna [Wintour] signed off on what we were doing and was incredibly gracious. Eaddy Kiernan, who plays Anna’s assistant in the movie, is actually the person who plans the real Met ball. We originally had just one scene with her, and then she was such a good actress, so we just let her keep going and added more scenes for plot purposes.

Speaking of cameos, there are tons of celebrities who appear in the movie as themselves. A few have small speaking roles, but others, like Kim Kardashian, are just sort of hanging out in the background. How did you wrangle so many famous faces?

I realized early on that we would have to have as extras a lot of very famous people who are not used to ever being extras in their lives. So we created an area upstairs that was kind of a posh club with good food and drinks and nice music and a lot of Cartier jewels for them to wear in the scene if they were so inclined. Then, when we needed a shot, we would go upstairs and ask them to come down for a half an hour and then they got to go back to the party. I’m not sure we could’ve gotten anyone to do it if we’d just put them in a holding pen.

Any favorite cameos?

I’m a huge tennis fan, so it was a thrill having both Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova in the movie. They weren’t there on the same day, though, so they couldn’t play against each other in ball gowns. I mean, Serena’s probably the greatest athlete who’s ever lived. Olivia Munn, Katie Holmes, these are people who just really got into the spirit of it and had fun.

I’m leaving a million people out, but there are tons of people in the fashion world who, if you’re not familiar with that world, you’d never even realize they were there. People recognize the Winklevosses walking down the stairs, right? But they don’t realize that for a moment, you also see Alexander Wang standing at a table or [Tommy] Hilfiger.

One of the paradoxes of this movie is that you have some very famous Met ball attendees playing ordinary characters in the movie, including Rihanna.

Isn’t that weird? Very meta.

How do you even go about dressing someone whose outfit steals the real show every year for a fake version of the event?

Our designer, Sarah Edwards, did an incredible job with very little prep. She, along with the individual actors, reached out to various designers and fashion houses. Rihanna’s dress is by Zac Posen, I believe Anne Hathaway’s dress is Valentino, and that insane creation that’s on Helena Bonham-Carter is Dolce & Gabbana, right down to the aviary headpiece that she had.

That was a very Helena Bonham-Carter dress.

That was a very Helena Bonham-Carter decision. Trust me, the fact that there are birds in her hair was her idea. Part of the process was just getting out of the way and letting these women collaborate with the fashion designers. I’m never gonna tell Cate Blanchett what to wear, anyway. Her wardrobe in the movie is so uniquely her and Sarah’s creation.

Did Sarah Edwards also dress the famous extras?

Yeah, very much so—again, in collaboration with them. Like, when Olivia Munn shows up, that’s a dress that she wanted to wear, but we gave them assistance, availing them of options, things like that. And upstairs, in this sort of party that we created, there were millions of dollars of jewels that Cartier brought in that they could accessorize with.

Did Cartier send a security team to accompany the diamonds, like in the movie?

Yes, there was a lot of security around that, and they did have a guy that was very much like our guy in the movie. [Co-screenwriter Olivia Milch] and I had just invented this security team, assuming this would be a necessary component of the plot, but when Cartier showed up, it was almost exactly like what we’d written.

I did mess with him at one point, just for fun. I went up and said, “I’m about to do this shot with Anne [Hathaway]. Can I have her earrings?” And he went, “Anne has her earrings.” And I went, “No, she doesn’t. You have her earrings.” And he goes, “Anne doesn’t have her earrings?!” I was like, dude, I’m just messing with you, she has her earrings.

You made him sweat!

You know, we could’ve just stolen all those jewels, instead of making a movie, but we thought it’d probably be better to make the film.