Just came off the high of talking about Costume Design at CAFTCAD’s CAFTCADEMY 101, where we present a 2 day seminar weekend for costumers either entering the Film & TV world, returning to it or wanting to expand their knowledge base. Being in a room of keen costume types inspires me greatly for the future of our industry. I also get to check out who will be presenting me with my Industry Icon Award at the CAFTCAD Awards many years from now. There were several volunteers for this role and I will be checking out their style so they don’t upstage my dress in the year 2047.
Following the Costume Supervisor, Assistant Designer, Costume Buyer seminars, I took a different turn and spoke about how to prepare and navigate a costume design interview (because no one ever talks about that. Like NO ONE. Like it’s some great government secret and you can’t possibly share your ‘tricks’ with the competition). How to have read the script and bring some visual ideas to that meeting, how to be aware that the meeting was more about the producers/director/network and their belief that you were the right person to bring their project to life. If you were the right fit for their circus- and they might be blind to the fact that you were going to have to be a lion tamer in the fitting room.
When I was younger and in these meetings, I thought it was about how much they liked me. How much I needed them to select me and therefore I had to be something they would love/need/require for their show. This led to me ‘designing’ what I thought they would want to see, for dressing how I thought I would look 'cool' in skinny jeans and a leather jacket. But I realized over the years that it was important to present the vision I was excited about. Because at the end of the day, I’m going to be living a creative life for the next 5 weeks to several years with these people and if I couldn’t express my ideas now, then I would be just an impostor who didn’t connect with their vision. I then went on to talk about the process of actually costume designing, and how fittings would go, and what to do with a hungry actress who felt too fat.
On the car ride home I realized what I missed in my 1 hour 6 minutes (yes, I went over my time). The great importance of what happens when you DON’T get the job.
So you get a nice rejection call or email or maybe don’t hear anything at all (I once called a newly opened production office to ask who their costume designer was because they never got back to me. Invariably the PA did not mangle my last name on the phone as I obviously didn't get the gig). There were shows I mourned and questioned myself over with regret. And several in a row. But in retrospect, there were so many things that came out of those so thought, ‘lost’ shows. I had got to immerse myself in a new world, time period, character, genre of a script. I got to do research and hone my design skills. I got to learn how to navigate different personalities in the room. I got to learn how to listen. And in more than one instance, someone in that room brought me back for another interview on another show because they remembered me and my inspired AKA ridiculous idea that everyone should wear accessories made of paper.
Not getting the show is part of the growth as a costume designer. I realize that show was not meant for me. It was meant for someone else’s trajectory. Instead there was another one. Or I was to go to Paris and write a novel, or create the first Canadian Costume Design Awards.
(SHAMELESS PLUG NOW)
BTW, tickets on sale for the 2nd Annual CAFTCAD Awards March 1, 2020 in Toronto. Open to general public, but CAFTCAD Members get discounts. Buy them HERE if you want to celebrate the costume talent we have in Canada and have a great outfit that seems like too much anywhere else.
Long time no post due to all my type strokes being given gleefully to The CAFTCAD Awards as soon as I finished Season 12 of Murdoch Mysteries. As well as being the co-chair and president of the event, I am honoured to say that I have been nominated along with my teams, in 3 categories. Well sorta 4.
Episode 1203 of Murdoch Mysteries, My big Fat Mimico Wedding has been nominated for Best Costume Design in Television- Period. As well the building team of Erika Fulop, Julie Munson, Mary Furlong and Charlene Seniuk have been nominated in Excellence in Building (the cut and creation of the costumes) for Murdoch Mysteries Season 12.
In the Web Series Category Chateau Laurier garnered my second CAFTCAD Awards Nom. This 1912 piece previously won Best Costume Design Award from the International Academy of Web Television Awards in 2018. Producer and Director James Stewart sent me a message as soon as the submissions were announced and asked to submit on my behalf.
And the third(!) one came for short film based on a Margaret Atwood short story, ROPEd set during the witch trials of the late seventeenth century. Very kindly Producer Jordanna Aarons also asked to submit me and my team for the awards.
I wish all the nominees from across Canada all the very best and am thrilled to be in such talented company. It's exciting to know that many nominees and their teams will be flying into Toronto for the event at the prestigious Aga Kahn Museum on February 10th.
How lucky I am to have the support of productions that recognize the work of their departments and I was honoured to even be submitted. And wonderfully surprised to be nominated. Let's hope I don't win them all as I am already quite happy with the award prototype (with chipped wing) to filter the winter light through.
Tonight, Monday March 12th, Season 2 of Backstage premieres on Family. I love this cast and crew so much! Every day was an explosion of creativity during a fast paced and sweaty summer shooting schedule with my excellent costume team.
Alex Kavanagh, President of The Canadian Alliance of Film & Television Costume Arts & Design (CAFTCAD) announced the inaugural Costume Design and Arts Awards ceremony. Joanna Syrokomla, past president of CAFTCAD, will be the Chairman of the event. The CAFTCAD Awards will take place in Toronto in late winter, 2019.
The mandate of the CAFTCAD Awards will be to promote and celebrate Canadian Costume Arts and Design and to recognize the breadth of talent, the scope of contemporary, period or fantasy elements, differing media platforms, running lengths and budgets that exist within Canadian film and media costume design and arts.
“A ceremony which honours the excellence in design achievements of Canadian costumers and artisans is long overdue. Their contribution to the evolution of the Canadian film and television industry cannot be underestimated and recognizing these immense talents with a proper event that allows for nation-wide eligibility is something I am very proud to be spearheading,” said Event Chair, Joanna Syrokomla.
Costume designers and artisans who are either Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada and have worked on projects (feature film, short film, television, music videos, web series, commercials) which have been produced within Canada (costumes must have been primarily built/created in Canada) will be eligible. The eligibility period for the 2019 CAFTCAD Awards is January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018 for projects that have been released theatrically, online, on streaming services, on television/cable, or participated in accredited film festivals.
The final list of prize categories is still in development, but will include: Film: Contemporary, Film: Period, Film: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, TV: Contemporary, TV: Period, TV: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Original Web Series, Commercials, Music Videos and Short Films.
Media contact: Cynthia Amsden Roundstone Communications, Cynthia@roundstonepr.com, 416.910.7740
It’s happened us Costume-All. Standing at wrap in the costume office with miles of racks of clothing (most made of non-recyclable fibres that will never decompose), exploding piles of department store shopping bags, tangles of hangers and mountains of out of date paperwork. As well as being beat by the shooting schedule, you’re now responsible for this pregnant avalanche of garbage. You try and have a wardrobe sale but more often than not people don’t want any more clothes and the costume houses are overflowing. Then you decide to donate but the backs of the major thrift stores are minefields of dirty textiles and the front offices filled with dirty politics.
What can we do?
Sheila Pruden, Costume Supervisor
There are checklists that the major studios require Costume Supervisors to fill out to list what environmentally responsible things the department has done on a show. They include things like recycling paper, printing your financial records double sided, limiting printing (using online services), recycle ink cartridges, using cloth garment bags, WetCleaning rather than Drycleaning, washing in cold or cooler water, hanging to dry when possible. Reusable glass or metal containers in the dye room. Using the the least toxic products possible for breakdown.
Nicole Manek, Stylist and Costume Designer, Owner of Life of Manek
I second hand as much as possible, research big box stores and try to buy from those who are the most ethical. Reuse as much as you can. On Baroness Von Sketch, I took to dying garments a different colour and using them again, also turned a lot of dresses into tops, again to reuse.
Getting rid of the re-usable in the Greater Toronto Area (that isn't a major thrift chain)
The Clothes Off Our Racks takes donations of clothing, shoes and accessories directly from costume departments and re-distributes them to homeless charities and non-profits. These are some of their recipients.
www.readysetrecycle.com gives a few great options to uphold their mandate of diverting 1000’s of pounds of film costume, props and scenery from landfill. They can arrange your wrap sale, give you a commission on your items sold from their warehouse or post your items on their website.
New Circles , 161 Bartley Drive 416 422-2591
New Circles runs a clothing bank that has a client list of 12,000 people who receive free clothing. There are special events for teens, Halloween, Christmas and Prom and back to school. They also operate a mobile mall for seniors who cannot get to New Circles to access the clothing bank.
There are specific items they do not accept, please check the web site.
What about Textile recycling?
I found a company called Textile Waste Diversion who though enthusiastic about diverting textiles from landfills in Ontario, admits that what they collect still gets sent overseas. You'd have to reach out to them directly as their list of donation bins page is broken.
The Footprint of Show Shopping
I admire the costume departments that have their shopping bags from Aritzia to Zara alphabetized for easy returns. (For those of you who aren’t aware, we buy many options for costume fittings- whether size, colour or style because usually you get limited time to have the actors try on their possible costumes so invariably there are always returns of the un-worn garments to the stores, (hence the term ‘returns’). But I can’t stand being responsible for all those shopping bags at the end of a show. I have to ask for no bag at the cash, remind them again not to bag my items, and then fight them from adding tissue. The plastic tags that hold the 4 so necessary tags that come with each garment, as well as the shoulder ribbons/loops that just creep their way out to one’s décolleté during in-opportune moments (that we tear out) are just enough garbage to handle. I always ask my team to use large reusable bags- our favourite are the large blue ikea ones as they can hold the world and I don’t care how classy they make me look. I have one less disposable plastic bag on my conscience.
Brenda says it all, but with more class.
Gold Shopping Tips from Brenda Broer,
Costume Designer and Costume Buyer
We all joke about the mountain of bags at the end of a show but it’s surprisingly easy to avoid. I try to have my own reusable shopping bags with me when I’m shopping. My favourites are from Winners and Michaels, as they have comfortable handles which are long enough to sling over your shoulder, and fit a surprisingly large amount of clothes. Others have told me the MEC large totes are their favourite. And don't forget about IKEA!
I accept tissue when formal presentation is an important part of the experience at a store or I’m buying something delicate. When it is undesirable to fold the garments even for a short time I accept garment bags which I reuse more than once. Retail staff will often be curiously persistent in trying to convince you to take their bag when purchasing, but they are all infinitely happier when they don’t fill their garbage bin with your large clunky bags.
I organize returns in clear shoe bags and they stay neat, folded and it's easy at a glance to see which store they are from. This system also improves the speed of the return process by taking up much less space, which requires less trips to the car.
Your hands will be liberated for opening doors, texting, paying for parking, and, it’s easy to step aside after a transaction because all of your things are neatly over your shoulder already.
Yes, yes, plastic bags are recyclable according to www.toronto.ca including dry cleaning bags and Ziplocs - if they get to the blue bin. But why not limit them? They likely have to be sent overseas and melted and remade into another plastic item and then shipped back for our very important consumption.
Of note is Wotever Inc, in Toronto that provides extremely useful items such as hangers, kit supplies, garment care, and water and warm up gear. Every in store purchase is always packed up in a re-used shop bag donated by productions.
Yes! You can recycle that!
All those scripts and shooting schedules (un-shredded- it gums up the recycling machines otherwise), manilla tags, dry cleaning bags, Ziplocs, safety pins (only the broken or bent ones or else how will the department function?), laundry detergent bottles, wet one containers, completely empty aerosol cans and their lids- separated, lint brush holders without the sticky rolls, plastic thread spools, shoe boxes,
Boxes that contained expensive gifted chocolate (but not any of the fancy foil or glitter wrapping).
No, that’s just garbage
Thermal paper receipts (!),Top stick, double sided tape, markers, pens, sticky lint brush sheets, dryer sheets, rubber bands, hot shots, insoles, sticker backings, tissue paper (I know it makes you feel like a princess by unwrapping those froths but say no to that shit- well, sigh, unless it’s Alexander McQueen sequins), take away coffee cups, bubble wrap, binders, used wet ones (don’t flush them either! They don’t disintegrate) hangers both metal and plastic (it's cheaper to landfill them then recycle), printer ink cartridges, photo paper, batteries, notions, clothing, shoes, shoe laces, broken jewelry, broken buttons.
But it's still really, really hard.
Many offices and shows don't recycle other than paper. But there are blue bins and composting in the kitchen, and sprinkled around all the trucks in base camp you say. It's unfortunately just optics, Location Manager Jonathan Matthews tells me. We as responsible individuals have to follow the rules of what garbage to throw where because most often everyday the recycling bin has food matter in it, and the landfill bin full of soda pop cans. There isn't sorting time of a film set's garbage factored into the budget and if it isn't sorted, it's all going into landfill.
Knowing this, my department and I take turns taking the departments recycling home to add to our residential pick up. I've cringed more than once to see what going on in the recycling bin placed next to the wardrobe truck. But my hands are full of Armani with a cell phone attached to my head and my truck girl calling my name- how can I start sorting everyone's garbage?
What else can we do?
Saving the unclaimed water bottles that litter every set and use the water for the iron or washing on the truck. Or even taking them home to water your plants (and then recycle)- true story of Rachel Ford.
Using online systems like Sync OnSet to share information, fitting and continuity photos, therefore not printing continuity photos or throwing away printer cartridges.
Costume Crew bringing their own re-usable plates, cups, cutlery to limit the disposable ones for the set or office.
And yet there's SO much more to be addressed, including the dye and breakdown room, those materials and their disposal. Here's the link to the Household Hazardous Waste Site in Toronto. They'll do a 'Toxic Taxi' pick up of between 10-50 litres or kilograms- maybe team up with the paint department and see what they're off loading. There are also drop off locations.
But what about cardboard hangers? Likely they could fit in our existing hanger stands and you could get the show logo printed across them as promotional pieces as well. What actor doesn't want to see their face on their costume hangers each morning when getting dressed?
The Smart Hanger and Green Hanger are two options online. From the Smart Hanger website:
"The Smart Hanger is completely recyclable through the City's (Toronto) blue bin recycling program, whereas plastic and other paperboard hangers do not meet recycling standards, and along with more than 90% of wire hangers about 300 million a year end up in landfills across Canada."
It seems that both productions and individuals need to take extra care and time with the acquisition and disposal of all our materials- which we all know is difficult in the race to the next shot. But what else can we do?
I'd love to hear your suggestions for creating a sustainable costume department in the comments section below, so that my next show can add one less thing to the landfill.
With generous input from Nicole Manek, Karynah Zeh, Rachel Ford, Sue Daly, Anna Dal Farra, Sheila Pruden, Anya Taraboulsy, Adriana Fulop, Beverley Law, Peter Webster, Chris Letman Roberts, Jonathan Matthews and Kimberley Stanley.
The day before Halloween and we knew what the rest of our 2017 was going to look like. My team and I were going to camera on an action film in Toronto and many multiples of leather jackets, jeans and boots you could run-away-from-bad-guys-from were purchased. It wasn't a very creative costume design but a really terrific group of people, and I was worried about being bored as we were going to establish all the major looks in the first week of camera. Our costume department looked like a clothing store with dozens of pairs of the same jeans- though to the audience it would look like the lead would wear the same pair throughout the picture. And then the word came down that we had to return the entire clothing store. The movie had been CANCELLED.
We spent the next few days returning everything and apologizing to our vendors and costume crew. Kisses goodbye and then back home to stare at my kit strewn cross the living room floor. It wasn't likely a new project was going to come before the holiday season and I resigned myself to pajamas and the second draft of my novel. I did a closet purge, tucked the kit away into it's crevices all the while unaware of the un-suspecting plot twist the Fates were weaving for me.
Then the phone rang.
"Hey Jo. Can you get here tomorrow?" And here was Winnipeg, Manitoba- known for it's neo-classical architecture, frigid temperatures, and warm hearted crew- I was to discover. Over-stuffing suitcases with winter gear and running shoes, I arrived early Monday morning to a Victorian period piece set on Blackwell Island and a terrific director (Karen Moncreiff) and producing team (Juliette Hagopian, Howard Braunstein and Justin Kelly). Sitting in a large, empty costume room they asked me, "Can you really do this?" (Like can you really costume design a film set in 1887 with uniforms, winter exteriors, breakdown and no period costume house in Manitoba with a challenging budget and oh, 3 weeks to camera?) I answered with the calm smile of naivety, "Of course I can. What choice do we have?"
Geoffrey Rush's belief's in Shakespeare in Love (above), kept us vaguely sane.
My loyal assistant designer Charlene Seniuk combed Toronto rentals which were limited due to two other projects of a close time period having already pulled everything of interest and I was flown to Vancouver for a day to discover the gem of Costumes Period- a rental house specializing in Victorian costume where I thanked the costume goddesses for the available bounty and Beverley Wowchuk who owned it.
Back in Winnipeg, we worked and sewed and laughed and cursed and froze and quickly went to camera where we JUST had enough of what we needed (not that there was ever any time to acquire more) and made it work and people were happy (if not a little cold sometimes) and we didn't hold camera (too much, it WAS a Victorian film with corsets and detachable collars and lace up boots and bum pads and petticoats and shit).
Lifetime has given the green light to Nellie Bly (working title), a psychological thriller inspired by the groundbreaking 19th century journalist, with Christina Ricci (Monster), Judith Light (Transparent) and Josh Bowman (Revenge) attached to star. The film is in production for 2018 premiere on Lifetime.
Ricci plays investigative reporter Nellie Bly, who’s on a mission to expose the deplorable conditions and mistreatment of patients at the notorious Women’s Lunatic Asylum, and feigns mental illness in order to be institutionalized to report from the inside. The movie is an account of actual events surrounding Nellie’s stay beginning after she has undergone treatment, leaving her with no recollection of how she came to the asylum or her real identity.
I had no idea that I would end up scouring for lace trim and vintage buttons in theatre basements, running through historical monuments and snowbanks and meeting some of the best people when I first saw that plot twist top meme posted right before Halloween. Thrilled for the adventure times and surprises.
Below is a quick compilation of some snaps from that whirlwind. Thanks Winnipeg! See you in a few hours as I'm about to return to you to wrap...
A half hour Halloween Special I got to design with my favourite people at Fresh TV and DHX for Family Channel.
Really fun to come up with a new character look for the lovely Julia Tomasone from Backstage.
A couple months late and I clue in that ROPEd won Best Historical Drama at the Atlanta Film Festival. This short film is based on Margaret Atwood's haunting poem 'Half Hung Mary'. I'm terrifically proud of the whole team and Riel Stone and Jordana Aarons for creating a project in which I could add to the historical element of the story through costume design.
20 years ago I started in the film business on a film called Breakout starring James Hong. I was fresh out of Theatre School and the astrologer I hung out with at a used bookstore introduced me to an art director who heard her film was looking for costume peeps. And somehow, though to this day I have no idea how, I got the job. I was paid $300 for a six day week and I thought I was rolling in it! The department had no knowledge of continuity, multiples or why we would have to be responsible for umbrellas, I mean, I'm a grown up and I brought an umbrella to work...
16 hour days, running my butt off chasing after actors (there were lots of kids in that pic), Macguyvering hems and I realized I LOVED it. There was no where else I wanted to be than in a parking lot beside a film set. And funny enough, even with my inexperience, they offered me to be the designer of their next film, but that's a horror story for another time.
Gearing up for TIFF 2017, which really means trying to decide what to wear to my favourite annual events such as CAFTCAD, William F. White's, DGC, The Black Ball.. Perfect time to be between contracts to see what everyone is wearing.
Really looking forward to my costume display of ROPEd to appear at the Windsor Arms for CAFTCAD Celebrates Costume Event.
Haven't decided on my ensembles yet, but with the fall weather we're experiencing already, perhaps I'll be able to wear sleeves for the first TIFF ever.
Just love dressing up, dressing other people up and talking about it. A lot. And laughing too.