Film Industry Jobs: A Day in the Life of a Costumer

This is part three of our interview series with veteran film and TV costumer Dawn Leigh Climie, part one discussed the process of getting film industry jobs, part two the hardest film she’s ever worked on and the final chapter dives into what life on set is really like. And for the latest jobs in the film industry, check our job board. Enjoy!

film industry jobs costumer

Film industry jobs can put you just about anywhere in time from westerns to outer space

Movies provide an escape from the real world, a chance to put yourself in the shoes of another for two hours and envision a life separate from your own. Those two hours of magic take months, sometimes years, for hundreds of employees to help create.

It isn’t just the final visual that is art; it’s the process as well.

Everyone has a role, a carefully crafted duty they must complete in expert fashion to keep things rolling. An orchestration of hundreds all focused on one main goal with thousands of tasks supporting it.

One such role is in the costume department, where Dawn Leigh Climie has been applying her expertise for years, “this is an amazing career that can open your eyes to the wonders of the world we live in.  You can stand by collect your pay check and see nothing more than the daily grind, or you can see the amazing talent that surrounds us.

“We are magicians, artists, creators… with the ability to help shape the future reality for this generation and the ones to come.”

For a closer look at what life is truly like on set, we turn the page on part three of our interview with Dawn Leigh Climie:

You started out working in the sewing room and dressing backstage, and have worked up to Set Supervisor – take us through the normal career path for someone who wants to work in costuming (while fully realizing there is no such thing as “normal”)

Climie: It is not as common today to start in theater and move to film.  Depending on what city you live in, there can be two separate unions that you would need to be part to work the way I did.

A normal path would be to start with the basics… pick up some of the skills that you know you will need. Personally I would tell anybody who wants to be a costumer; learn how to sew.

film industry jobs being a costumer

The job of a costumer is extremely hands-on and always changing (Photo courtesy: Don’t Shoot The Costumer)

I know that sounds strange but you would be surprised how many are unable!  You don’t need to be a couture sewer, but to be able to understand how to alter, sew a button on, or turn up a hem.  This is a fabulous skill… anywhere you go!

Then start as a prep costumer.  This is a base position in our department and it is all encompassing.  Prep costumers have to learn how to be the ‘Jack of all Trades’ of the department.  They pack, unpack, ship, sort, size, dress, fit, breakdown, shop, sew and do everything else that can be thought of.  When you have done that position for a few shows then you will have a much better understanding of what everyone does that is working with you.

I worked in this position, and still take day calls in the role between shows.  I think it has made me much better at what I do and how I do it.

From prep costumer, try and get some experience in the shop during a build so you can understand the process of taking a costume from concept to set.

Then move on to working as a truck costumer if that position is available.  Being a truck costumer gives you the valuable planning and logistics background that will serve you well in everything you do, as well as an incredible problem solving attitude that comes from handling the myriad of other responsibilities that come with the job, from dealing with cast at the trailers to properly hot-stocking costumes with a complex series of breakdown phases.

Having a good understanding of what is required from people in every job in our department makes me a better supervisor.

Film industry jobs are each very unique – what is a day on set like for a costume set supervisor?

Climie: This is a hard one.  The job will vary depending on the working style of person in the position.

For me, I always start early, often about hour before my call time.  I like my alone time; I can focus on my continuity notes, paper work and get myself ready before the questions start.

Once my truck costumer arrives, I help load rooms, dress background, answer questions about the day.  I talk to the Assistant Directors, the Designer, and my costumers.  We make a plan for the day and deal with any problems that arise.

While shooting, I take care of the cast and their costume continuity on camera.  This means working with other departments, such as props, makeup, hair, SPFX and VFX to make sure that the continuity flow is correct and that we are all on the same page for what we are doing.  This also involves the comfort of the actor, hot, cold, wet… we costumers deal with it all.

film industry jobs practice being a costumer

While working on the movie 2012, Climie was asked by the film designer if she could wrap turbans…which she quickly learned by watching Youtube and practicing on a friend

When lunch comes, I eat and go through notes for the next day of shooting, answer any questions and deal with any issues that arose during the morning.  Back to shooting and set after lunch.

At wrap we empty trailers, clean up the clothing, wash and turn around anything for the next day and go over the costume line up.   We deal with any final issues that we may have for first thing in the morning.

Lastly, I say thank you to my crew!  This is truly the most important part of my day… saying thank you and appreciating the crew that I work with.  It may be only two of us or a crew of thirty, but this isn’t a job that is done by only one person!

As a costumer every film you work on tries to convey a certain era of time – how much research do you have to do for each job and are there certain resources you use?

Climie: I always do research.  It is now so much easier with the Internet.  Everything, well almost, is right there at your fingertips.  I will up-load some pictures on to my tablet.  I love to have something that is a visual reference when I am talking to a designer or a director.

I don’t choose the costumes, but I am responsible for finishing touches that happen just before we roll camera.  I want to make sure that the tie knots are appropriate and what the designer wants, or if the breakdown/ageing is at the stage they want it.

Depending on the show, my research is not as much about the clothing than what people look like after a volcano explosion, or a fire, or a fancy dinner out… how to make people look real in any given situation.  And if I have a collection of photos that myself and the designer have gone over, I can use them as a show and tell with the director or actors if needed.

When you sign on for a certain project – let’s use The Bourne Legacy as an example – do you know at the outset how long your commitment will be or is it more of a fly by the seat of your pants environment?

Climie: Mostly yes!  That sounds funny… when you first get the call asking you to do the show, you usually get a rough start date for the project.

Bourne was supposed to start shooting early in December. So your start date could be any time in December, maybe in November, and then again it could all push and you don’t start till January.

film industry jobs the challenges of working on set

Multiple locations in various countries with numerous challenges vaults Miami Vice to the top of Dawn Leigh Climie’s most challenging projects

The same thing happens with the end date; additional shooting could be required, or a longer wrap needed. Bourne was scheduled to end sometime in February, so that means work could actually end anywhere in that month or shortly thereafter.

When I went away for Miami Vice, I was told I would be finished work by Oct 10th but I didn’t fly home till Dec 18th.  It happens… not often though.  Budgets on larger pictures will have some leeway to shoot longer, but not usually that much.

My husband [screenwriter] Mike Adams and I know that anything can and will happen, and we are just prepared to go with the flow.  The film workers’ motto is never book anything that can’t be cancelled or changed!

We try to keep our lives very flexible to allow for our careers. It keeps things interesting!

Big thanks to Dawn Leigh Climie for her incredibly thoughtful responses to our questions, there is a lot to be learned here. Please check out Dawn’s Blog, Don’t Shoot The Costumer for even more incredible insight, and if you’re looking for jobs in the film industry click here!

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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 WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

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

Comments

  1. I really love to join in Film Industry, I am an experienced Illustrator and I can make nice Storyboards. I am desperately seeking a Job.

    • Steve – we currently feature over 500 jobs in the film industry and over 3,000 in TV! ….all you need is one to think you are the right match – Check out what we have to offer and go for it! – Brian

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  1. […] or feeling slow throughout the day or even worse, the dreaded hunger headache that strikes after being on set for a 6am call and having no food until […]

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