When I was at Edinburgh College of Art studying Costume Design and Construction I had a great time... The course was fun, you did lots of designing and making. You came up with your own briefs so you could go as big and as bold as you liked. There were even extra courses in screen printing, historical costume and breaking garments down.
We were also encouraged to do two or three work placements whilst studying. I ended up doing over 20 and thank god I did...
Because university does NOT prepare you for the working world of film and TV.
We weren’t taught on set etiquette, which when working in this fast paced yet delicate industry is vital... especially if you’re going to be the one asking actors to strip off! We weren’t taught how to alter garments quickly – our pattern cutting tutor was fantastic but not all of her disciplined methods translated easily to working on a busy set when you have 30 seconds to alter a pair of trousers, whilst the impatient director is standing over you. We weren’t even taught how to negotiate rates of pay, or even what an acceptable rate was. There seemed to be a hush hush, taboo element to asking a tutor what you were actually supposed to charge.
I left university and had literally no idea how to...
a. Find a job and
b. What to charge for that job
So just before my university library card ran out I went and photocopied The Knowledge. This was a £200+ book that listed thousands of industry people. They are now thankfully online – so finding the information is much easier and cheaper!
From this book I emailed over 200 Costume Designers (rooky mistake number one - it’s usually the Costume Supervisors who hire trainees and dailies) and from all of these emails I got just one reply. The one person who did reply and end the misery of my email black hole was a designer called Scott.
He was working in Manchester on a children’s BBC show called ‘Jinx’ and offered me a few weeks work as a costume trainee. It was perfect, I packed up and stayed back home while I worked on Jinx.
Walking into the BBC studios on Oxford Road on my first day only to be met by a poker faced security guard who demanded my name was scary. But when he checked his list of the people permitted to enter... I got a handed a card and told to head on through the barrier.
The two weeks passed quickly and to be honest I can only remember snippets of the whole thing. After this Scott passed my name onto a producer who hired me as the designer on a web series called Girl Number 9, and every job that I've had since then I can trace back to Scott. Either he recommended me directly or I have met someone on a job I got through him. And sad as it is with talented students graduating every year it really is ‘who you know, not what you know’. You literally never know where a chance encounter or in my case, email will lead. If Scott hadn’t taken (rare in this industry) pity on a student that he didn’t know I wouldn’t have done 99% of the jobs I have worked on. Which is a terrifying thought.
So to wrap up this post (which has gone slightly off track) if you or someone you know is studying Costume or Fashion Styling, and have questions about any aspect of the Film & TV industry, from how much to charge per day to whether on set catering is any good. Then just let me know – the best way is to reply to this post and then if someone else has a similar question they can see the answer too. Or if you’d prefer drop me an email with any questions and suggestions for posts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m afraid I can’t offer work placements, as I said in a previous post I don’t do a lot of costume work anymore – if you’re interested in why though I can always explain and tell you of some of the pro’s and con’s of this career!