Since I receive dozens of such queries a year, I thought I'd write the following for everyone who ever wanted me to tell them how.
If you’re wanting to break into the costume-film industry, first look in your heart to see if there is something else you can possibly do. Hours are very long, tiring and can be quite boring, damp or even freezing if you’re on set or the truck. Shopping lines are also long, bags and bags of clothes and shoes are quite heavy, receipts and dealing with someone else’s money boggling, and parking, mind bending.
Egos and insecurities abound in complicated ways only exasperated by actresses starving themselves and producers being smashed down by network executives over budgets. Bad taste is everywhere with peculiar reasoning’s for choices that can shift from moment to moment.
Also being a purveyor of garbage- the purchasing of cheap clothes (as there’s always a budget crunch), the plastic bags and hideous tissue paper the store clerks push upon you- and knowing it’s all a major world polluter, between the waste and fabric fibres getting into our waterways and food- all this can weigh upon your environmentally friendly soul.
Of course there can be huge rewards- why else do thousands of people enter and remain in the film business? It’s the second highest employer in Toronto (or so I’ve been told). The cash is sweet, just fill your pantry when you can (when I first started I literally would take my first pay cheque and buy canned and packaged goods to sock away for the hungry times and there were many of those at first), and contribute to your RRSP’s or other investments. You might get to travel or at least see many a church basement for lunch.
If you ever wanted to join the circus and be surrounded by creative yet odd people, also a perfect lifestyle for you. Those who adored summer camp or after school drama classes where you would create new families and creative projects wherever you went, also up your alley. Getting all the elements together, seeing it well lit, and well acted by beautiful people is extremely rewarding. Telling a story and giving an audience a reason to feel or think or laugh- adding to the general consciousness of behaviour and entertainment, really quite priceless. And the clothes left over and the wardrobe sales...
Ok Jo. Nice preamble. So how do I break into the Hollywood North Biz?
Have skills. Make sure they’re visible on your resume. Can you sew, photo shop, weave pussy willows into gold, DRIVE?!
(Please tell me you can drive). How can you make yourself useful or even invaluable to a costume department? I met one assistant who volunteered at an event and helped me sweep a 10,000 foot studio with a huge smile. I remembered her later and the cute business card helped too. She also had incredible shopping bag folding and organizing skills as well as other huge talents and she’ll take over my job one day, but that’s a few decades away (maybe). Do you have an instagram page or website that shows your painting, pattern drafting, quirky adventures? Share that. Also triple check your spelling of everyone's names. The time I received an updated resume with my own name spelt wrong...
CAFTCAD is an incredible resource for costume professionals in Toronto. Through volunteering on initiatives like the Bespoke Newsletter, the Movie Wardrobe Sales or the Film Festival Party is the best way to meet other costume types who will remember you and hire you when in a crunch. Also by being a CAFTCAD member, other members post job opportunities whether it be a costume for Miss Universe Canada (true story, that awesome and much tweeted Hockey Dress? Through CAFTCAD and designed by Alex Kavanagh), or volunteer on a short film or design a low budget web series- these chances do happen. I have seen many careers expand, grow and jump due to their involvement in CAFTCAD. For reals. Other avenues would be mandy.com or craigslist- I got a period docudrama from craigslist once. Contact the Canadian Film Centre and see if you can volunteer on any of their projects- you’ll meet your future paying employers there. Sending your resume to working designers is also not a bad idea, again make sure you don’t send your costume design resume to a costume designer when you want to work for them. They just won’t hire you. And please tell me you can drive.
As for shadowing- I think it’s a tremendous idea but comes with a lot of issues on most film and tv sets. Firstly, the union wants to make sure that all positions of the department are filled by working professionals from the union (those who pay their dues and stuff) and that the ‘Shadower’ is not taking any one else’s job. And secondly and most importantly is insurance. A Production is insuring its employees, not guests or visitors. I once tried to arrange a shadowing opportunity for my employee on another show and though the wardrobe department was all for it, I would’ve had to have permission from the company. It’s also high stress on a film set and being distracted by well meaning questions can throw some people’s (me) concentration off. Perhaps non union films, commercials, print jobs would allow it but again, permission from upon high needs to be obtained. And a non disclosure agreement signed too.
And if you want to keep working and someone recommends you for a job, send them a thank you call, text, email or batch of balloons. They didn’t have to recommend their competition. Also if someone asks you to work for them but you are not available- respond and tell them thank you, but I am not available. The not returned phone calls make me not want to call them ever again.
Any more questions? Please ask in the comments below. I'm available to answer as I am also looking for a job in the film business...that is until I get a call.
Just love dressing up, dressing other people up and talking about it. A lot. And laughing too.