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One of the most creative, behind-the-scenes film careers is the one in which you get to make the actors look like the characters they are playing. The costumes used in a television show or a film may simply be everyday clothes, which perhaps only need a bit of tailoring. But they could be elaborate futuristic garments, such as you would see in the Star Wars movies or on a television show like Battlestar Galactica, or period costumes, as on a television show like Deadwood or a movie such as Pride and Prejudice. Wardrobe people are responsible for making, arranging, and taking care of all of the costumes and accessories that are worn by actors and extras in a television or film production. Other titles you may hear are wardrobe assistant, wardrobe master/mistress, costume designer, costume supervisor, costumer, wardrobe coordinator, or key costumer. Each of these jobs is slightly different, depending on the level of experience and responsibility. Let us just talk about working in the wardrobe department in general.
The wardrobe people do many things. First, they must have a discussion with the production designer and the director to decide what type of costumes and accessories are going to be used in the production. Next, the wardrobe person must design and then either find or make all of the costumes and accessories that will be worn. To do this, he or she often has to do some research to find out what clothes from a particular period looked like. The wardrobe person works very closely with the director and the script supervisor to make sure that the costumes look as they are supposed to from one scene to the next.
The wardrobe person needs to be sure that each costume looks right under the lights that will be used in filming. Sometimes the costumers spend a great deal of time searching retail stores and resale shops for appropriate costume pieces. For other projects, the costume crew may actually be responsible for creating the costumes from scratch.
The costume designer is the main talent behind the costumes. As with most behind-the-scenes work, you, as a costume designer, will first have to read the script for the television show or the film. You will sketch out your costume ideas as they come to mind. Then it will be your responsibility to produce these costumes and be sure they fit the actors properly. You work on the set the first day each costume is used during the shoot to be sure that it really looks the way it is expected to look. You will be responsible for fixing anything that may go wrong, like a split seam or a broken zipper. Your costume supervisor will be there to help you with these tasks. He or she will keep all the paperwork on the costumes. Your key costumer will maintain the integrity of the costumes from day to day. Just as the script supervisor oversees the continuity from one shot to another, the key costumer takes great pains to ensure that the costumes look the same on the last day of shooting as they did on the first day. The key costumer is also the one who works the closest with the actors. You get to tell the actors which costumes to wear, when to wear them, and how to wear them. People on the wardrobe team are responsible for such tasks as making and cutting out patterns, altering costumes to fit the actors, cleaning and repairing the costumes, and dressing actors.
The wardrobe person must have a good understanding of many of the properties of fabrics, such as how durable they are, how well they dye, which types work best under certain lights, and other such matters. He or she must have a background in costume, fashion, and fabric history. A particular fabric might look terrific on an actor playing a certain role, but if it's a period piece, it's going to be important to know whether or not that type of fabric was worn or even existed at that time in history. Of course you will also need an eye for the basics: color, texture, and shape. In addition to possessing obvious talents such as good measuring, pattern-making, cutting, and sewing, an eye for detail, and strong design and planning skills, a wardrobe person also should have solid contract negotiating skills, computer skills, and a lot of self-motivation.
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