FILM COSTUMERS - FINISHED COSTUMERS
I am often approached by people interested in working as a costumer
Your question about film costuming opens a can of worms.... You may know that the only official Film Costumers Union is the Motion Picture Costumers Union Local 705 in Hollywood. There are some "mixed crafts" locals in which individuals work as costumers and some "theatrical wardrobe" locals who have members that work as film costumers.
Local 705 is divided into Finished Costumers, Custom Made Costumers, Costume House Costumers, and Television Costumers. The Finished and Custom Made Costumers work under the Film Production Contract. There are separate contracts for the Costume Houses and the Television Costumers. (Further information regarding Costumers and the unions that they are affiliated with.)
Historically, the only way you could learn to be a film costumer was by working your way up the ranks. One usually started working as a stock person in one of the costume rental houses or one of the studios in Los Angeles. Anyone wishing to "break-in" to film costuming, who hasn't had the good fortune that you have just experienced, finds themselves in a "catch-22" circumstance. To qualify for union membership in the costumers union requires 30 days of work for a union company. To be hired by a union company you need to be a union member. Obviously it is possible to overcome this contradictory situation, since there continue to be new members joining the Motion Picture Costumers Union on a regular basis.
The Costumers Union, Local 705, has an active Education Committee that tries to fill the gap in available "public classes" by providing classes and workshops for its members. I've been trying to write a text book for about 20 years based on the classes I taught in LA. It has been a long range goal of mine (and other's that I've inspired) to create a structure for training and bringing film costumers into the union that is as strong and wide spread as the structure we have in this country for theatre costumers. Unfortunately, transitions like this take time and there's nothing I can just hand to you that will truly prepare you.
Exactly what part of the costuming job will you be doing? Will you be working with a professional film costumer? If so, they will understand that you are not experienced and that they will need to be instructive with you.
A good aptitude test for a costumer is: if you love and enjoy all kinds of people, have an strong knack for the care and feeding of human psychology, can pay attention to 4 things at the same time and make good snap decisions about each one in immediate sequence, you've probably got what it takes.
Film costuming is a combination of theatricalized character dressing, knowing how things will read on film, what is going to show on camera (letting you know where you can take short cuts or fake it) and how not to create color and value combinations that make it difficult to light.
You need to be an outstanding psychologist and astute diplomat for handling insecure actors, directors, producers, other costumers, makeup and hair people, all of whom can make life really difficult in various ways.
Resourcing is a specialized area... many costumers believe that their resources are part of what gives them an edge over another costumer...their "book" is their life.
I have, over the years, seen many people get started in the career of a film costumer by starting as a local hire, with no experience, to work with experienced union costumers on a film that is being shot in their home area. Many of them have gone on to become some of the most respected currently working in the business.
As for the life style:
The process is fascinating, exhilarating, and exhausting. While you are on the project, that is your life. There is little or no time for anything else. (It is very difficult to maintain a marriage, let alone a family.)
Wardrobe people are unusually among the first crew to arrive on the set and usually just about the last to leave. You are lucky if you get an "8 hour turn around" (8 hours from the time your sign out to when you have to be back). When you are working on location (outside of Los Angeles or New York) you will be working 6 days a week. If you are lucky, you will catch up on your sleep and do laundry on Sunday. You have to be really in good physical shape, practice good nutrition, exercise seriously and take good vitamins.
There will be some days when you know the only thing that is keeping you going is your respect for the costumes as an artform.
There will be other days, when you are on the set, watching the process of film making, when you will be in joyful awe of the people you are working with and the life experience you having.
© 2004 Stephanie Schoelzel