Wednesday, October 20, 2010

From students to Pros

On Oct 7th I had the great fortune of speaking to a class of Theatrical Costuming students from Plano West High School.  And I really do mean great fortune because my speaking was the result of meeting a family member who volunteers with the class and we may never have connected if another, closer, family member hadn't mentioned she should talk to me about costuming.  Funny world isn't it?

The ladies in the Theatrical Costuming class are true beginners.  They've been set on a path of sewing napkins and aprons.  Honestly, I can't think of a better first project than those.  I think I started on a gathered doll apron myself in my Theatrical Costuming class in college.  Learning to handle those straight lines is one of those things I still mess up on occasion, but when I really need to focus, I transport myself right back into that workroom in Commerce, TX and keep an eye on the marker on the sewing plate.  It's like I'm in 1999 again.

The main purpose for my talk with the class was to discuss costuming in general as well as to discuss costuming outside of High School.  These students are just starting, but some of them are already eager to know if they could still enjoy the trade once they graduated.  I was happy to inform them that there are many opportunities to keep using the craft if you want to.  And some of those opportunities will even put some money in their pockets.

Many costumers will work to produce costumes on commission.  DFWCG founder Traci Baker does just that. You can see her creations on her website as well as on the bodies of many folks all over the country.  Other costumers choose to teach.  I lecture at local conventions.  Jennifer Thompson, our  guild president, blogs and has written articles for well known online costuming publications.  And some costumers in the DFW area enjoy the extra outlet of working their craft in the theatre and film arenas.

To get started with taking commissions, you should get examples of your work out in the world and seen by any means possible.  Build a website and join networks.  Make friends at conventions and events where people wear costumes.  Pass your business card out to Haunted Houses and Renaissance Faires.

To get involved in teaching and writing articles, start a blog and make friends with people who run conventions or host publications.  Submit an article.  See what happens.  Many costume groups will be delighted to have a new voice offer to teach something.  Conventions are great places to begin teaching and so are local recreation organizations.

In both theatre and film, the best way to start out is to volunteer your services for free to llow or no-budget productions.  I am not personally familiar with the process in theatre, but in film, the idea is to get on set doing Anything.  Even just as a PA hauling equipment.  By just doing your job and having a great attitude, you will be asked to join future productions.  Eventually, you will have the chance to shine as a costumer.  And just as in any profession, you will have the opportunity to advance in the ranks and maybe even get paid for your work.  Once you start getting offered paid gigs, then you can really get serious about applying for big jobs.

In preparing for this talk with the Theatrical Costuming class, I spoke to a fellow costumer who has made that next step from hobbyist to film professional.  I met Jennifer Dryden through mutual friends and conventions.  She has a long list of theatre and film work attached to her name that she worked on for little to no pay.  A few years ago she decided to make the jump and try to go pro.  She is slowly making her way to bigger productions with each job.  Here was her advice on getting your foot in the door:

  • Find out about the state film office if there is one and look at their ‘hotline’ for jobs every day and send a letter and resume to every production that shows up on said hotline
  • Join the local ‘production partnership’ if there is one.
  • Contact the local chapter of IATSE and ask what has to happen for you to join.
  • Find out if there is a local film production resource guide, get your hands on a copy and cold email the folks in the department you want to work in.
  • If offered a job, don’t say NO. If it is at all possible, take it.
  • Network, Network, Network. Join Facebook (and keep it professional), LinkedIn, and any other local message board or website that promotes film production in your region. 

You'll find links to all the resources you need on the following pages:

I have to say it was pretty wonderful meeting these new faces just as they are getting started.  I hope that I get to see the progress of these new costumers and that they bring great things to DFW area costuming.