shit-fire-and-save-matchesThe other day on set, our actress yelled, ‘Shit fire and save the matches!’ in the middle of a scene.  Nope, that wasn’t her line… she had fumbled her actual line a few times in a row and was getting frustrated with herself.

It was funny!  I almost cracked up in my hiding place behind a lighting flag.

I was reminded of this yesterday after reading a blog by the Anonymous Production Assistant.  Kendra wrote in and asked the Anonymous PA about how to talk to and deal with actors on set.  Anonymous wrote a great response about how a production assistant could approach dealing with cast.Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 7.12.32 PMAnonymous said we all have to remember that the cast are just people… but people that have been in front of the camera their entire career.  For some of them, their on and off-screen lives are written and talked about continuously.  So we need to be professional in our dealings and respect their private space.

paparazzi_rollGood advice and good thing I didn’t crack up with our actress… although this particular person is so wonderful, I don’t think she would have minded too much.:)

Costumers don’t have a choice; we have to deal with the cast, often in the most intimate and vulnerable situations.  Which makes it really important for us to learn how to professionally get along.

Even if you’re hired to work with the background players during a show, and you think you may not get too much of a chance to work with the main cast, you still have to be prepared.  I often pull my background costumer in to help with the main cast for very active or crowded scenes.  It could be as simple as holding umbrellas or warm up jackets.  But it could also be that the cast are so spread out that I can’t do my final touches on everyone in the room.

Let’s face it, the costumes and the cast who wear them are the reason we have jobs.  And let’s admit it, sometimes our cast look damn good in those costumes!  And sometimes… the person inside the costume just doesn’t feel as good as they look.

Empathy.  To communicate with and work with our cast we need to have empathy.


The Matador

Costumers are often brought into what would normally be a very private area of most people’s lives.  As I said in my blog last week, we see them right down to their skivvies, and, depending on the scene, even less. We help them dress and undress.  We know if they are having “tummy trouble” or just a really bad day.  And we also clean up everything.  As one of my actresses said to me, “I am so sorry but my costume looks like a crime scene!”  (I will leave the vivid details to your imagination.)

Getting to know your cast is more than sitting and having a conversation with them, which, depending on the cast member, some love to do… you may end up knowing more about some actors than you know about your own sister by the end of a project.  Then again, some of them may never mention anything beyond work and their costume.

At the beginning of a show, you often know nothing more than rumor or second hand news about your new cast members, so you need to stand by and use your eyes.  They are like every other human being; you can tell when they look cold, when their feet are hurting, or when they are content.Chaplin1_HRESThink of yourself, what are some of the things that you do out of habit?

Me, I usually slide my sleeves up mid high on my forearms, but when I am thinking about something I often pull them down and grab them with my hands, and when I am frustrated or hot I push them up to my elbows.  When my feet are sore, I roll out on to the outside edge of my shoes.  When I am cold I hug myself, hands to my shoulders.  Also, I am fairly self-sufficient, I like to take care of myself.  I don’t need someone to always ask if I need something.  I’ll ask if I want it.

Watch for these kinds of ‘tells’ with your cast; the little ticks, body language and expressions that tell the story of how someone feels.  All people have little fidgets.  Being able to read your cast this way can help you anticipate their needs almost before they know they need it, and without asking.  When you get to know these ‘tells’ on your cast, it can help you to know what they may do while in front of camera… and what they need from you in terms of care to help them get the most out of their performance, or just make their day better.

The lovely Lana Parrilla, the Queen, in Once Upon A Time. She is an amazing actress and a costumer’s dream. This is a lady that knows how to work a costume! And what did she want from me on set? Just to know that I cared as much about her and her character as she did!

But there is a fine line between professional attentiveness and standing there gawking!   Don’t just stand there and stare at them, or worse constantly fawn over them… remember we are not stalkers, just people that want to help!

Along with their usual tells, cast will develop new habits with their costumes while performing and between scenes.  If you watch, you will learn little things like if they are right or left handed, do they like to put things in their pockets, do they undo collar buttons between takes, do they put loose pieces like gloves or hats down in random places or do they always go to their cast chair.Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 10.26.42 PMIf you have a cast member that is a little forgetful with their small items, such as hats, gloves, or purses, then you know to carry those with you at the beginning of the day or at least always carry doubles with you so you have a back up if something goes walk-about.  With ladies that carry purses, I ask if they want to put all their personal treasures in their handbag at the beginning of the day.  This way they have their phones and sides in their own bag and are less likely to leave stuff somewhere along the way.

ksmn3342lI had actor on one show that loved to zip his front zipper of his jacket up and down… up and down.  This was his fidget before a long dialog scene.  So I waited until we shot the first take that the director liked, then, I put a quick stitch in along the zipper line for the continuity placement of where the zipper ended up.  This way for the rest of the scene, when I walked away from touches and he started to move his zipper up and down during the slate, I could call out to him, “Zipper”, and he would zip it up until it stopped… continuity winner!Costume-Animals-Funny-Bears-720x1280

Even though there are some cast that love to be fussed over and like constant attention, most are like us; they just want to go to work, do a good job and not have to be bothered a whole lot.  They have a private life and you are a their new co-worker… not their next best friend.  Respecting them and their space will normally be returned with grateful kindness that allows you to do your job.  Let me put it this way, imagine trying to do our job, and always having to be in the personal space of someone who doesn’t respect you or the work you are trying to do… not fun.

And it’s supposed to be fun, right!

Be the person that quietly inspires the best in the people around you, including the cast you work with.  Create ways to be empathetic with your cast, read their quiet signs of need and find ways to do your job as unobtrusively as possible… this is what makes a great costumer.

Until next time…


  1. Really terrific advice. Working with actors in film and television is also very different than in theatre. It’s much more of a moment-to-moment partnership on Broadway, because once the show starts, it’s a train rolling to the end. With the breaks and set-ups and hurry-up-and-waits and 18 hour days, the mental fatigue affects everyone differently as well.

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