Keith Richardson is a veteran fashion instructor at the Toronto Film School. In this guest article, Richardson discusses Costuming for the Film and Television Industry and the various roles fashion professionals can play.
Costuming for film and television is a fast-paced and exciting career. Every garment that you see in a film and on television helps to develop and create the character, and it takes many people to create the wardrobes for some of your favourite films. The simple graphic t-shirts on The Big Bang Theory, to the intricate costumes on Game of Thrones, help to define each character, and also to differentiate characters from one another.
There are a number of career opportunities in costuming for Fashion Design and Marketing for Fashion and Entertainment students and graduates. To get your start in film and television I recommend you volunteer for as many productions as you can to gain the necessary experience, especially on-set experience. This includes any work you might do for a Toronto Film School production. As you gain experience, you may try to get work on some non-union productions. Once you have the required work experience, send your resume to the two film unions in Toronto (NABET 700 and IATSE 873) to get on the permit list. Here are the details of many of the jobs for fashion graduates can get in film and television.
The costume designer is in charge of designing every garment that will be shown in the film or television show. Some garments will be purchased and others will be made, or built to the actor’s measurements. The designer meets with the director, production designer, and other key department heads, to create a colour palette, and a costume story
Costume designers always begin with a script. The designer will break down the script into different characters, the colour palette, wardrobe needs, character personality, different days, action shots and more.
Films and television shows are shot out of sequence, usually based on locations, and actor availability. So one day you may be shooting the end of the film, and the next day shooting the beginning. Accurate record keeping and continuity from scene to scene are extremely important. The designer must know what every single actor will wear on each and every day of shooting.
The designer must also take into consideration the season, the budget, as well as the actor’s personal preferences, for example, some actors refuse to wear fur, others have body issues that determine the wardrobe of the film or TV show.
The assistant designer is the go-to person if the designer is not available. The assistant works in the office, or studio with the designer, and helps develop the wardrobe looks for the production. Depending on the size of the production, the assistant designer’s job description may also overlap other jobs.
The costume supervisor develops the budgets, and costs for the costume department, coordinates fittings of all the actors, does any online ordering of clothing, determines labour costs, and does the labour and spending tracking.
The set supervisor is the eyes and ears of the costume designer on the actual film set. Often the designer is in an office at another location, however, the set supervisor is in constant communication with the designer to ensure the correct vision of the film is achieved.
The wardrobe assistant is a general position, that may include, sizing garments, organizing clothing, laundry and dry cleaning. The assistant is also responsible for pick ups or drop offs of clothing to the set. This job also requires researching and helping to design and maintain the overall look of the movie.
Film productions are constantly moving from location to location, and the clothing is stored on a wardrobe truck. The truck supervisor works on the truck, and must ensure that all the actors costumes are in their dressing rooms in time for filming. The truck supervisor prepares the costumes for the next days shooting, and does any repairs on costumes if required.
On-Set Wardrobe Assistant
The on set wardrobe assistant helps dress actors and extras, and may be required to hold umbrellas and coats for actors, so that their costumes don’t get wet, or damaged by weather. The on-set wardrobe assistant should also be prepared to load racks, do repairs and alterations on costumes.
Shopper / Buyer
The shopper, or buyer is required to purchase costumes as well as costume supplies and notions. The buyer must understand how clothing is made, and all the materials required to make a complete garment. She must keep an accurate record of all purchases, and maintain all receipts. The buyer is also responsible for any returns of costumes that are not used in the production. The shopper will be provided with a vehicle, from the transport department, so must have a valid drivers license. The buyer must understand malls, retail stores, vintage store, costume rental houses, as well as the city streets and highways.
Extras Background Coordinator
Organizes all the clothing and wardrobe necessary for background actors, and extras, and ensure continuity within every shot. The people you see walking around in the background of a movie, must not clash with the look of the production, and are often designed to be neutral to the main characters.
Cutter / Tailor
The Cutters and tailors are in charge of drafting or draping of costumes for the production. They must attend all fittings with the talent, noting all changes and corrections. Many costumes are purchased, however, for period productions costumes are made, or built. Also, any garment required in a stunt or action shot, may require multiple duplicates, that may not be available in the shores, and these would need to be built to the actors measurements.
These are the people that sew the costumes together, as well as doing all the alterations, for garments that will be worn by the actors. The alterations may be as simple as hemming a pair of pants, or as complex as removing a jacket sleeve to shorten it from the top.
This is the person that ages the costumes, to make them look worn, or gently used. Almost all costumes are aged, and this can be as simple as washing the garments or more complex breakdown by dyeing painting and treating the costumes with chemicals for desired effects. Its very rare that a designer will want the actors to wear brand new clothing. Also, pure white fabrics, and some striped fabrics create flares or optical illusion on screen, so these garments must be tinted, or treated to reduce these flares. The breakdown artist must be able to create gunshot holes in garments, with the appropriate staining, as well as bloodied garments for zombie movies.
This person dyes both costumes for breakdown, and aging, but also may be required to dye fabrics and notions for costumes that will be created. The designer may require a particular color for the movie, and this might not be available in the fabric stores. The Dyer will dye it to the exact color specifications, as necessary.
Commercial and Print Stylist
Commercials are usually less complex, have smaller budgets than feature films, and have shorter lead times. The commercial or print stylist is hired to select, or design clothing, or mini productions, and must work extremely fast. This job may also include personal shopping, celebrity styling, image and style consulting.