Costume Supervising 101

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What the heck is a Costume Supervisor anyway?

Most people have no idea what I do. Even people that know my job title still don’t know what I do. I don’t fault them. I had never heard of it either, until I began working in costumes. Much of the time, I’ll just say I “do costumes” when people ask me what my job is. But please, indulge me as I explain.

So as the title implies, I supervise the department. Now, exactly what does that mean? It can depend a lot on the designer, the type of show – movie, television, theater, new media… and the relationships that existed prior to you joining the production. I will give you a general overview below, referring specifically to my own experiences.

Reading/Breaking down the Script(s)

First things first. I read the script (or scripts, if it’s tv).

  • What genre is it? Each particular genre calls for a different need.
  • Is it action? Will we need a dozen multiples of certain clothing items, accessories, shoes?
  • Will there be stunts? Who is the coordinator?
  • Horror film/Blood & gore? Who is the Special Effects Coordinator and can we talk blood? And once again, mults, mults, and more mults. (mults = multiples)
  • Is it period? What time period is it? Do I need to set up accounts at rental houses, prep my contacts to let them know what we will be in search of?

What breakdown software are we using? How soon can the account be open and how many users can we have?

So I generally like using Synconset for my breakdowns. I was an early adopter and I pushed it on every production I’ve ever worked for. It’s far from perfect but it does a great job of importing the script and starting the breakdown process for me. Even though I still owned the originator, CPlotPro, once Sync came out, everything else became obsolete.

What’s in a Breakdown?

A breakdown tells the costume crew how many principal characters, day players and background performers there are in the script, what scenes they are in and what is happening to them in those scenes. Here you will also find information on the stunt performers and where they will be stepping in for the actors.

The breakdown tells the story of the clothes –

  • how many changes there are,
  • when they happen,
  • when they need to be doubled, tripled or even quadrupled – depending on the needs of the action.
  • Is the actor in the scene? Or is it a stunt double? Or even a photo double?
  • Are the actor(s) doing something dangerous? Dirty? Will they get wet? Will there be nudity?
  • Are there children in the scene?
  • Greenscreen? Bluescreen?
  • Visual effects?
  • Every one of those scenarios require different supporting materials that it is part of my job to ensure are available to my set costumers.
In my office, on the set of Naomi (tv series)

Monique Younger supervising the Costume Dept. on Naomi (CW Network/Array)

Let’s specifically talk children.

There are a lot of rules to follow when you have minor actors on set. For example, when they’re in for a fitting, a parent or guardian must be with the child at all times. When they arrive to work, there have to be dedicated separate changing space for boys and girls that are also separate from the men’s and women’s changing space. The Locations Department isn’t always aware and we have to work with them to find tents or more space in order to fulfill that obligation.

Greenscreen? Bluescreen? Grayscreen? What?

The scene is taking place on the bridge of the space shuttle, or in an underwater kingdom of in some alien fantasyland that only exists in the minds of the Director and Production Designer. How do they shoot that? They key out the background and replace it in post, of course!

That’s where the Costume Department has to keep a watchful eye. Communication is key here. Never assume it’s definitely green. Some effects teams don’t like it because it casts off a green hue. Imagine that you’ve decided to put your main actor in blue because of an assumption that there would be greenscreen, only to find out, in the 11th hour, that it would be bluescreen and there is no way your actor can wear the change he was supposed to because otherwise he’d be in the scene looking like Max Headroom?

greenscreen spaceman set
Space set on Kevin Probably Saves the World

Green Screen wall

It is my job as Supervisor to have all of these discussions with the other department heads and know what they are planning so I know how it affects my department. The job entails being able to both look down the road at what is coming up while still keeping a watchful eye on everything going on in the present in order to keep it all on track.

Just a small snippet of the job. Stay tuned for more info on being a Costume Supervisor…

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