Film Industry Jobs: An Insider Perspective on Starting the Journey

film industry jobs dawn leigh climie

Costumer Dawn Leigh Climie takes us inside the world of film industry jobs (Photo Courtesy: Don’t Shoot the Costumer)

Entertainment jobs require a different type of person – someone unaffected, possibly even entertained, by chaos.

Nowhere is that more evident than in film industry jobs where working in odd locations for long hours becomes part of a life you now consider normal.

For costumer Dawn Leigh Climie, a film industry veteran with over 53 movie and TV credits to her name, the journey is a thrilling adventure, not a grind.

“This is not a job, it is a lifestyle. Normal people work eight hours and then go home to see their family in the evening. Working an eight-hour day is something we do before we have lunch,” says Climie.

“We in the costume department work fourteen to eighteen hours a day and sleep about five hours a night. Film industry jobs are something that you need to love. It can be crushing if you let it. But the truth is, for me, this is a job that is more rewarding than any I can imagine.

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“We help create something that can change everything about how people see, think, and feel… even if only for 2 hrs in a dark theater, or an hour at home!”

Breaking into the film industry requires tenacity, networking and of course a little bit of luck – to find out more about how Dawn Leigh Climie began a journey that landed her on the set of movies like Miami Vice, Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol and The Bourne Legacy, enjoy part one of this three part interview series:

You studied Apparel and Design in college, then continued your education at the Banff Theater of Fine Arts to specialize in Historical Costuming – how did you go from that educational experience to your first film industry job?

Climie: I grew up in the industry.

film industry jobs costumer

Climie (left) and a co-worker practicing tying up a corset (Photo Courtesy: Don’t Shoot The Costumer)

My father worked at ITV in Edmonton Alberta, for 25 years. My sister and I watched behind the scenes during the news, helped out by acting in commercials and sat in the back of sound stages while they shot movies.

Being on-set then wasn’t like it is now, we never got near the monitors or the director’s chair or the craft service table. But we did sit and watch everything unfold, from the cast working their craft in front of the cameras to everything behind the scenes, including each of the different departments.

Because of my dad, I was given the opportunity to volunteer on the set with a local designer.

Having a parent in the industry can be a benefit when you are starting.  (I know, duh, right?  I admit it… pure nepotism!)  Having an in, whether it’s a parent or a friend, gets you in the door quicker, you get a faster education on how things work in the entertainment business and how hard you will need to work to be successful in it.

But having a parent in the industry has its challenges too; the one thing I had to do was work hard, really hard, to prove myself to others.

In the beginning, I was told very regularly that the only reason I had a job was because of my father. It was up to me to prove that I deserved to be there because of what I was made of and what I was capable of.  That was something that I had to do on my own. In effect though, that work ethic keeps me employed today!

What was your first big break?

Climie: My first break… well I got hired on a union show.

I had never seen a costume truck, everything we saw at ITV was in studio, or knew about truck costumers, but after a rather funny interview with the designer, she choose to take the chance on me and I managed to get the truck costumer job.

It was a challenge everyday.

I didn’t know what I was doing but learned what I could from those around me and just went after it. I guess what I showed was the willingness to learn because the designer asked me to do the next show and continued to hire me.

How does it work after that? You do a good job and the opportunities keep coming your way or are you always hustling around trying to find the next gig?

film industry jobs costumer

A makeshift cardboard costumer display board created while on location (Photo Courtesy: Don’t Shoot The Costumer)

Climie: It is two-fold; yes, if you do a good job, you can be asked back for another, but you always need to keep looking for work and continue to prove yourself; the search for the next level never stops.

There are many costumers that have stayed with one costume crew for a large part of their careers. I think the type of working environment you create in those situations can be wonderful. But, when staying with the same group, you will be at the whims of the designer or coordinator. That means if they decide to take some time off, then guess what… you will need to also take the same time off. You can take another job with a different crew in the meantime but you risk getting out of sync with your regular crew

There are advantages and challenges to both philosophies I think.  I have worked both ways. It is great to roll over to another show with a full crew.  Each person knows how each other works and how they need to do their job to support those around them.

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I also love to open myself up to working with new people. Taking a show with a crew you have never worked with before means that you have to push yourself to adapt to new communication styles and working habits.

It is a great way to keep your name out there on the open playing field and lets you see what is changing in the industry.  Working with new people and crews opens you up to new ideas… which is never a bad thing.

You’ve worked on set with a vast array of people over your career – what would you say, either in relation to skills or personality, leads to a long career in the film industry?

Climie: From my perspective, there are two things that lead to a long healthy career; always learning and honing your craft, and having an adaptive personality.

Skill is always important.  The more you understand about the understructure of the job the better you can make decisions about how to solve problems that arise.

Our industry is constantly changing.

film industry jobs costumer truck

Staying organized plays a vital role in being a film costumer (Photo Courtesy: Don’t Shoot the Costumer)

It, like everything else, evolves every few months with new technologies and information. The basics of our job are still the same, but you need to keep up with the advancement in technologies to keep yourself aware of what will be needed for each new shoot.

Personality needs to adapt and evolve as well.

We can learn and change our persona to help us work better in different situations, under pressure and with a huge spectrum of personalities.  We all work very long hours in confined environments… we need to be able to work hard and get along with all members of the crew and the cast.

When I am looking for a crew, I want a person that is skilled, and more importantly, I look for a people who are willing to come to work with a positive attitude and give their all for the day, no matter what.

I’ll take a great attitude over less experience every time.

Being able to adapt, assumes that one is aware of how their work attitude affects others.  This is a huge part of success… being honest with yourself about how effectively you communicate.

Have a good look in the mirror every once in a while.

I love the bio on your wonderful blog ‘Don’t Shoot the Costumer’ – you talk about your first day on your first movie set and your boss describing how to read a ‘call sheet’ – now you’re the expert, take us through what a call sheet is and how to read one.

Climie: Reading a call sheet is like a quick overview of what your day, week, and scenes may involve.

First thing to note: at the top of the call sheet is what time ‘crew call’ is.  ‘Crew call’ is the time when the entire crew is expected to be working.

On the back of the call sheet, your specific ‘call time’ will be listed. This is when you are scheduled to begin working. The call sheet will include a ‘shooting call’, which is the time after crew call, when the assistant director would like every one ready on set to be able to shoot the first shot of the day.

A costumer’s call time can be any where from half hour earlier than crew call to 5 hours earlier, because we have to dress the cast and background players.

The scene breakdown on the call sheet tells us what order we will attempt to shoot each scene throughout the day. This lets us be prepared to have everything we will need with us to make shooting each scene as smooth as possible.

The call sheet also includes quick info on:

  • What schedules we are currently working with
  • The daily weather
  • Any safety requirements
  • The closest hospitals
  • When and where lunch will be
  • Emergency contact numbers for crew such as head of locations, assistant directors and production managers.

Actually this could go on and on… there is so much information on the call sheet that it can be a little over whelming for newcomers to the industry.

But given time, people learn to use the call sheet… every person has one in their pocket and they are constantly referring to it between each scene.

(Editors note: For a fantastic glossary of film industry terms, from an expert, not a classroom, refer to the glossary on Climie’s blog “Don’t Shoot The Costumer”)

Key Takeaways from “Film Industry Jobs: An Insider Perspective on Starting the Journey”

  • When your first big break comes around, don’t say ‘no’ just because you lack some confidence in doing the job. Dawn Leigh Climie accepted her first opportunity as a truck costumer despite never having worked in that role before – she figured it out and has made a very nice career from it!
  • Having someone you know helps get you in the door quicker, but it also can create doubt amongst co-workers. If you get your first film industry job because of a parent or friend, plan to work extra hard to prove you have what it takes.
  • You’ll have choices of how you want your career to develop – do you want to latch on with a certain director, costumer or set designer? If so, plan to be at the mercy of their whims. You can also plan to skip from job to job working with various crews, but that can be daunting as well. Find your personality match, if you crave some consistency try to hook on with a crew you can continue working with.
  • To have a long career in the film industry – always be able to adapt, and have a great personality – both things go a long way.

Part 2: A First Person story from Dawn on the Hardest Film She’s Ever Worked On (Publishing Monday 11/11)

About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the broadcast media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for &

Recently Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, you should.


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