Making a film means getting really good at plate spinning, and oftentimes, the plate that falls first is the one that the wardrobe rests on. However, finding the right costume to dress your characters in not only helps tell your film's story, but it also raises the production value a great deal. We take a look inside the conceptualization of the costumes in American Hustle, revealing just how important the costuming in your film can be.
For a lot of low-budget filmmakers, getting your hands on any amount of money is a huge deal, and being frugal and smart about where it goes is the name of the game. Unfortunately, giving your film a decent costume budget is a difficult task, which means the thought behind costuming tends to only go shirt deep. ("Do the cops look like cops? Is my protagonist wearing pants? Yes? Move on.")
In a Hollywood Reporter article, five costume designers, Catherine Martin (The Great Gatsby), Michael Wilkinson (American Hustle), Mary Zophres (Inside Llewyn Davis), Trish Summerville (Catching Fire) and Daniel Orlandi (Saving Mr. Banks) talk about what inspired them to create the wardrobes for their respective films. Though most of us wouldn't even dream of having the budgets these artists were able to work with on just the costumes alone, their processes of creating outfits that both looked great on-screen, as well as added to the narrative is something we can all learn from.
For his work on American Hustle, Wilkinson had to find pieces that were not only right for the period, but right for the character's personalities, emotional states, and the overall theme of the film. Wilkinson says:
David O. Russell created this amazing story full of characters who are constantly reinventing themselves to keep their head above water. You have people dressing to be the people they are aspiring to be. For a costume designer interested in how people's personalities are expressed in their clothing, that stuff is golden.
According to THR's article, many of the costumes were made from scratch, and wanting to give the film a "gritty, real" look, Wilkinson studied photographs of people from the era in order to avoid overt clichés. In this exclusive clip from Variety, we get a behind the scenes look at Wilkinson's costuming choices on American Hustle:
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=G88sZ7RJ8G8
Most of us are familiar with certain tropes in costuming, like using a certain color to indicate an emotional state. Red is often used to communicate passion, love, anger, or danger, whereas blue is used to communicate sadness, (alternately) happiness, depth, or calmness. But, you can take costuming further than simple color symbolism. Oftentimes we remember a costume from a film because it encapsulates the personality of the character wearing it. Think Annie Hall -- Diane Keaton's shirt, tie, vest, and chinos (menswear) speak volumes about her character, a free-spirited woman trying to find her way. (Interestingly enough, Annie Hall's costumes came from Diane Keaton's own closet.)
To find out more about how the four other costume designers approached the costuming of their films, be sure to check out THR's post here.
What approach do you take when designing the wardrobe for the characters in your films? Are costumes an aspect of filmmaking you tend to put by the wayside? Let us know in the comments below.