It's now time to explore ethical clothing outside of my personal closet. I have had the pleasure of interviewing film writer/director Li Lu about her film "There is a NewWorld Somewhere.", and how she approached creating a wardrobe for her film with a less wasteful/more ethical frame of mind.
How did you create the wardrobe for your movie?
I had the pleasure of working with two incredible women to create the looks in the film - costume designer Gina Ruiz and costume supervisor Laurence Lightbody. Since our film was about a road trip, we had a creative idea - what if we "packed a suitcase" for each of our lead characters? When we pack for a trip, we always pack a few choice pieces, everyday items, and some stuff to sleep in. So, when our characters are beaming, feeling in love, they wear something that makes them feel good. When they face conflict, their wardrobe dulls, becomes more conservative. The flexibility of this "suitcase" really gave us another way to tell the story and create the mood of our characters' internal journeys. To capture a dose of reality, we made sure every piece of clothing was reused into another look.
How do you plan the looks in each scene?
So before the shoot, we did fittings with each of our actors. We saw what worked and what we were lacking. We also talked about token pieces - items we'd see in every look, like meaningful jewelry or bags/purses. After taking a lot of pictures of our actors in each piece, Gina, Laurence, and I had a long meeting and talked through every single look in the film. In pre-production, we have the script supervisor do a "story day" breakdown that outlines the actual day/night breakdown of time in the film. So the three of us walked through the entire span of time in the film, thinking what our characters would wear, including what they'd add on at night, or take off in the day. It's an intricate process, but every decision is deeply rooted in reinforcing the internal life of our characters in this subtextual way.
Do the actors have say in what they are wearing?
It's collaboration at its fullest - it's definitely a delicate balance between what the director, costumers, an actor all want. And at the end of the day, it's the actor who has to wear the clothes and do his or her best, so the buck kinda stops there!
What does that process generally look like? (Tell me about how it is generally really wasteful).
I've worked on all kinds of productions. The scope and budget of wardrobe changes depending on what the job is, and who's paying for it. A high concept music video with, let's say Lady Gaga, is going to look like a circus when compared to a car commercial. Unless it's a car commercial with Lady Gaga…
On bigger productions there's more of everything - bigger stars, more money, flashy producers. So naturally, there's more cooks in the kitchen. The production might have a sponsorship or product placement deal with certain brands or PR firms, so stylists have to work within those confines. There's a ton of PR companies with showrooms that serve the industry. You can find gorgeous, intricate haute couture, as well as standard everyday looks (jeans, t-shirts). These PR companies have a really great relationship with costumers, personal stylists, and the talent they dress. Sometimes, talent will demand that their "glam team" be hired for the shoot, so there's that. There's also huge rental warehouses. Every big studio has their own costume department, and others like Western carry lots of specialty looks, including some pretty historical stuff. I once rented wardrobe that was used in "The Good Earth," a classic film made in 1937 with Paul Muni.
But for the most part, costumers usually shop on their own. The production gives them an overall budget for purchases, and they are responsible for how they spend it. After they get sizes, the costume department goes out to shop and "pull" from everyday retailers. Some retailers in LA have "studio accounts," so after the production ends, the production can return the items for a reduced buyback. After they "pull," the process is like what we did - have a fitting, take pictures, review - but the process of approval differs per kind of production. For commercials, the looks need to be approved by the agency (who commissioned the commercial to us, the production), then ultimately, the client (the brand we're selling). After looks are approved, the hard no's get returned, but the maybe's are always kept. Opinions change, and costumers need to have backups on hand on the day of shooting. After the shoot ends, the production can either keep the looks that were captured (in case of reshoots or additional scenes) or everything gets returned. If some items can't be returned, those pieces can be added to the costumer's "stock" (their own collection) or donated. There's also a few resale shops in LA (like "It's a Wrap") that exclusively sell wardrobe recycled from shoots.
So that's how it's "supposed" to be done, but sometimes, a lot of stuff falls through the cracks. Because budgets are usually tight, costumers might have to shop for volume and not quality. Don't forget - they have to dress everyone you see on screen! There's a lot of waste - stuff can be lost in the process of buying and returning, because costumers need that volume to pull from on the day.
How did you work to make it different?
So the usual process can be wasteful, but it allows for certain costumers to build really great stock. For an indie film like ours, Gina pulled some great stuff from her stock. It's great that smaller projects like ours can benefit from the trickle down process of bigger productions. We also pulled a lot from our actor's closets, and even my own. And a friend of mine linked me with a great eco-friendly lingerie company called Clare Bare, who ended up providing all the intimates for Agnes. I love their stuff, and their beautiful bras really added so much to Agnes' looks. It was a fun process to throw all these options in, but also, big shout out to Laurence, who had to keep track of what was who's!