The Costume – Why Do It That Way?

One of the main things I needed to get right for this film was the costume that Amy Carter was going to wear. Without her being ‘gothic’, this became an ‘indie’-looking film about two depressed people in a forest. Although I was edged towards the abstract in terms of visuals, it had to be clear to the audience she was an angel, and not a crazy woman walking around in a forest. This meant she needed black wings, a black dress, and some equally dark make up.

The Target – You’ll have seen it a hundred times before at this point. I needed Amy Carter to look as close to this as I could get / afford.

The first thing that was discussed was: ‘how do you make the wings?’ Most people STAMPEDED straight for the ‘CGI card’, but given rendering times, and the lack of a green screen in our forest locale, this made the notion of creating the wings in CGI virtually impossible. They would have looked terrible, and the time it took to make them in the computer suites would only just get this film handed in in time for the deadline. The wings had to be tangible.

This prompted me to buy some wings from a local Coventry shop – originally pink, so then spray painted black (two coats was enough). Then the question became: ‘how do you attach the wings to the dress?’. The wings came with straps, so after these were sprayed black, they merged with the dress.

My DoP asked me why I didn’t simply borrow a dress from a local theatre company, and though this did cross my mind, there are two main reasons:

  1. The Timetable – Borrowing a gothic dress from a theatre company is on the presumption that they don’t need it. This may be alright upon the initial timetables, but what happens when a theatre show gets postponed, or if my own filming dates get pushes back a week due to bad weather? The last thing I needed was to lose such a crucial part of the mise-en-scene so close to the shooting date.
  2. Creative Reign – Theatre kit is more like a hand-me-down. I was looking for something more specific – not only did it need to fit in with the black wings, but it also needed to meet some specific requirements, which would have likely had me looking and waiting for a while in the wardrobe department.

And when I mention specifics, I’m not just talking about the size of the actress. Colours were important – not just black, as if I was starting black and white, and then grading the footage throughout, I was going to need signifiers within the design of the dress.

Many colours were in consideration here – black and green (green seemed too ‘Xbox’, plus the forest is already green), then black and red (red makes her look evil – she’s an angel, not a demon), then black and blue (blue connoted a cold character, which was not desirable considering her rich exposition). Then we arrived at a nice hybrid – purple and black. It took the best parts of the last two colours. Amy is a cold character, but she is also lustful. I was able to merge to two colours to signify two different character traits, whilst purple was naturally dark, and fitted in with the costume without looking to glaring to the audience.

Ironically, when it came to making the actual purchase, although purple was what I had in mind, the dress I had decided upon was only available in complete black – this suited the purpose of fitting with black feathers and the whole ‘gothic’ image, and so I allowed it on the premise that Amy’s lustful appetite is evident more in the script and the acting than in the costume anyway. The costume was primarily for theatrics – for gothic visuals, and to show she was ethereal. A black costume accomplished this just as well as a black and purple costume would have done. The other factor was the grading – I made the purchase on the presumption that the forest is colourful, so the grading would still be evident. This choice however meant my two characters were now predominantly dressed in a grey hooded top and a black dress respectively.

Camden Town – Look at this photo again. I found this dress in the Stables Markets in the London district of Camden Town. I was spoilt for choice, but this one stood out in price and design as something that could make Amy the right amount of ‘bad ass’ as well as ‘gothic angel’. It was also adjustable to my actresses’ size, with a lace back and a belted front. (Note the belt buckles on the front of the corset, and the black feathers at the neck and shoulders, where the straps to hold the wings would be located.)

Make up was an area I overlooked during the initial pre-production process, and I did initially recruit a make up person to handle this side of the production. However, I soon realised I could cut a corner by asking the actress to simply ‘goth-up’ before the shoot – dye her hair, blacken her nails and put her own eyeliner on. This meant I had one less person to worry about on the day of the shoot, and presumably made the shoot less complicated and thus quicker for it.

Coupled with Amy’s costume was the use of a single prop – a white feather, that completely contradicted the black ones on Amy’s wings. I found one near my home in Nottingham – a swan feather. This is shown in the closing shot of the film, set a few weeks after the main event. The use of the white feather was designed to show that Amy’s wings are now white, and that her status as a fully-fledged heavenly angel has been re-instated now she had helped Peter get his life on back track, and had also made peace with her own inner demons. It is a subtle prop, but one that can deliver the intended message (providing the audience have paid attention to the dialogue!)

In contrast to the complexity of Amy’s dress, Peter’s grey hooded top and generalised casual wear was simply to show his bland personality. This hooded top would be changed into something slightly more colourful at the end (after the events of the film), when his change in character can be symbolised by his clothes, and the way he addresses his new girlfriend.

Amy’s finished costume (fishnets and tights were purchased separately.)
Peter’s finished costume.

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