Name: Sarah Dutton
Title: Costume Designer-Maker
Credits include: The Underwater Realm, Jana "Avalanche"
music video, Wolf Girl trailer
Interview Date: February 2014
Q. Hi Sarah,
give us a little background on yourself before you became a costume
designer-maker? (degree, relevant work experience, interests,
A. I've had a keen interest in clothes and story
telling since I was a young child. Whilst at college I organised
work placements at the New Vic Theatre in Staffordshire. They
produce plays in house and the theatre is in the round, so it's
challenging and fast paced but lots of fun. The designer there,
Lis Evans, became my mentor and supported my application to Wimbledon
College of Art to study Costume Design.
Q. And how
did you first get into the film industry as a costume designer?
A. After I graduated I got a contract working
in production at the BBC. I changed show every few weeks and gained
a huge breadth of experience in a short space of time. I learned
about all the things that make a production actually work, from
insurance and finance to artistic control. After about a year
there I got a phone call asking me to go to Cannes Film Festival.
Some friends of mine had won a cash prize through a Raindance
Film Festival competition to make this crazy sounding film. That,
for me, was the start of the Underwater Realm journey.
area of costume design do you specialise in?
A. The nature of designing is that the outcome
is dependent on the story you are telling. You have to get inside
the character and understand their place in the context of the
story. Then you can start to get an idea about what the right
clothes for the character are. That can take you in all sorts
of directions: period, contemporary, fantasy, or a combination
John Wilson Photography |
John Wilson Photography
Q. In your
line of work are you limited solely to film or do you work in
other industries too?
A. I've worked in lots of different industries,
including fashion, film, theatre, commercials, music videos, burlesque
and performance art. The design process is always the same, although
you can end up with very different outcomes!
practical and mental skills are required to be a costume designer?
A. I think that it's important to have some sewing
and construction abilities in order to understand how clothes
are put together. You also need to be able to draw, or have some
way of visually communicating your ideas. Imagination, budgeting,
time management, problem solving and negotiating skills are all
necessary to get the job done, especially if you're working solo.
Q. Do you
have to attend lots fashion shows and industry events to keep
abreast of new fashions and tooling? If so which are the best
A. Fashion is a completely separate industry
to costume. Designers will only reference fashion when it is relevant
to the character or story.
Q. How do
you go about designing a costume?
A. In an ideal world I would receive a script,
create a breakdown and budget, negotiate, then research, design
and realise the costumes. My experience of small scale projects
is that there's a lack of either budget, time or both, and so
you start the process by reading the script (if there is one!)
thinking about what's achievable rather than what would serve
the story best.
kind of research do you do for each project?
A. Every project has different demands as to
the kinds of research that is required, but my two favourite sources
of information are libraries and museums. Directors often have
research of their own to show you, and you build from there. You
also have to consider the work of the Art Department and of Hair
and Makeup. When all the visual departments collaborate the result
is a much more believable aesthetic.
do you draw your ideas and inspiration come from?
A. I can't tell you exactly where my ideas come
from. Sometimes it's conversations with your colleagues, or a
particular piece of research, or something you see on the tube.
I once interviewed the cast of a play whilst they were in character.
My conversation with one of the actors led into him describing
the kitchen of his fictitious house to me in minute detail. By
the time I left the rehearsal room I had designed his entire wardrobe
in my mind.
at what point are you brought on to a production?
A. That depends on how organised the production
is! My Dad always said "you get what you pay for" and
it's true. The more time and budget a costume department has the
better the costumes will be. The shortest amount of prep time
I've been given was 2 days. I managed to make 3 costumes and source
4 others. I'm not sure how, and I don't make a habit of working
like that, but I thought the idea for the project was good and
so I went for it. Of course, with more time and money those costumes
would have been better.
Q. Do you
make all your clothes from scratch or modify existing ones to
suit the production?
A. That depends on the production. Sometimes
it has to be made because you can't source it. In other instances
you don't have time to make, so you hire items from costume houses
or buy clothes from the high street. Sometimes you have to do
all three to get the costume right, on schedule and in budget.
My personal preference is for making costumes, because I think
it gives you a greater degree of control over the outcome. It
can be expensive
because the time of skilled people isn't cheap but it is worth
Q. How long
does it typically take to make a costume?
A. There is no single answer to that question
because it depends on the costume. A shift dress can be made by
an individual in a day (excluding fittings and adjustments), and
I've heard that the Batman suit had a whole team working on it
Campling - read his interview our sister site ActorBase.com
Do you have to design costumes to be practical (e.g. movement,
stunts, safety, durability) or is it merely down to aesthetics
and how they look on camera?
A. Working out what is required of the costume
is part of the realisation process. Sometimes there are things
that you designed that aren't possible for technical reasons,
and you have to compromise or problem solve.
worked on The Under Water Realm, a series of 5 short films shot
mostly underwater – what challenges did this bring to your
role as costume designer?
A. The Underwater Realm is by far the most challenging
project I've designed. Shooting underwater brings its own unique
technical challenges. From a design point of view the project
spans five time periods and includes a mythical aquatic race,
all of which had to feel realistic whilst being true to the story.
There were budget restrictions too; we produced over 50 costumes
on a £5,000 budget, which isn't easy when you're importing
fish leather and casting sculpted costumes in expensive rubbers.
There were also personal challenges. No one was paid to work on
the project so all the costumes were produced by team of my friends
in the studio I lived in. That went on for 18 months whilst I
was working other jobs to pay the bills. Without the support of
that costume team I would have collapsed with exhaustion after
the first week of 22 hour days.
costume has been the most fun, sensational or ridiculous you have
A. There are lots of costumes I have enjoyed
working on, but I think that the coat I made for Joe Black is
still one of my favourite collaborations. He's full of ideas and
so much fun to work with because has a great sense of character
and he's not afraid of theatricality.
Scott Chalmers Photography
Which genres of movie are the most fun or interesting to work
on from your perspective?
A. My dream job would be to design a Sci-fi.
There's so much scope to play with because it hasn't happened
yet. Bladerunner, Firefly, Fifth Element - all totally different
and all amazing design aesthetics. I'd love to work on something
that could be added to that list.
Q. How important
is it for you as a costume designer-maker to be on set and why?
A. As a designer, being on set is pure magic
because you see your costumes come to life when they're combined
with the performance and the work of all the other departments.
The on set job of the department standby is different to the role
of the designer. They keep continuity, look after the actors and
make sure the costume looks as it should, whether that's neat,
muddy, wet etc.
Q. How important
are contacts in the film industry?
A. I don't think it's possible to get work in
the Industry if you don't have contacts. How you get them in the
first place is fairly open ended - I've met people at events,
through social media, by recommendation, on jobs and and even
in the street.
Q. Do costume
designers have agents?
A. If you are a well established designer who
works on large scale productions you have an agent or a diary
service. In industry terms I'm still starting out so I'm not at
that stage yet.
Are you limited to traditional craft techniques in your role or
do new techniques constantly appear and evolve?
A. Areas like tailoring, embroidery and millinery
can be both modern and historic in their process and outcome.
New technologies such as 3D Printing are emerging all the time,
which is incredibly exciting for a designer because it means that
more and more of your ideas are possible.
advice would you give to someone starting out or interested in
becoming a costume designer?
A. First and foremost, do not give up! Nothing
happens overnight and you have to stick at it. Do your research
to find out if the director hard-selling you that great film idea
has to skill to actually make it before you get involved. Always
put the safety of yourself and your colleagues first; sometimes
in the collective enthusiasm to make something amazing this can
get left behind. And finally, always enjoy your work. For me that
means working with a
good crew on an inspiring project, because that's what keeps you
going when things get tough!
Thank you Sarah, we look forward to seeing many
more of your designs on stage and the big screen soon!
Sarah's Contact Details:
Contact: Sarah Dutton
John Wilson Photography
John Wilson Photography