Key Costumer

  • Key Costumer

The key costumer is responsible for supervising the on-set activities of the wardrobe department, including managing personnel and maintaining the costume designer’s artistic vision.


Duties

Before principal photography, the key costumer works closely with the costume designer to assign garments to each character and complete the script breakdown. He or she should be intimately familiar with the wardrobe needs of each scene and the necessary evolution of the costumes. When a character wears an outfit through a series of narrow escapes and brushes with fiery death, that outfit will incur wear and tear: bloodstains, dirt, holes. The wardrobe department is responsible for providing as many copies of the same clothes as needed for the various scenes (which will not be shot in chronological order) showing appropriate damage or wear.

Once shooting has commenced, the key costumer is charged with ensuring that all garments are worn and assigned to the cast as intended by the designer. He or she must maintain continuity between scenes and see that all wardrobe is camera ready before the take begins. This person supervises the staff of assistants that dress the actors and attend to emergency repairs between scenes. He or she is also tasked with ordering expendables and equipment necessary to the on-set crew, like sewing machines, repair materials, and distressing tools. In accordance with the preliminary budget set forth by the costume designer, the key costumer must monitor spending and submit weekly expense reports to the line producer (or unit production manager), along with the crew’s payroll. When necessary, this person has the authority to hire additional daily crew, and to dismiss staff under his or her supervision.

Skills & Education

A formal education is not required, but proven skill in the design and construction of clothing is expected. A college degree in fashion design, film and television production, or theatrical design is applicable to this career field. Most important is the demonstrated ability to manage a high volume of cast, crew, and wardrobe inventory, and accurately adhere to a costume designer’s instructions. The key costumer must have a meticulous attention to detail, as not a single earring or bracelet should be confused between the leading lady and supporting actress. Also necessary is the thorough understanding of the complete production wardrobe process—you must be just as proficient at sewing and dyeing fabric as you are at styling an entire horde of background players.

What to Expect

The better part of your day will be spent on set, styling extras, taking photos of scenes for continuity, and perhaps dressing the principal players. Celebrity actors are notoriously fussy about who sees them in their unmentionables, so it is common for these individuals to insist on a trusted personal costumer. Dealing with difficult personalities, actors who have lost or gained weight since fittings, and garments that mysteriously disappear is all part of the gig. It is your job to have a plan for every contingency and to keep the department running smoothly. In the inevitable case where an actor refuses to wear a particular design or the director suddenly hates the zipper on the dress he approved three months ago, you must be prepared to strike a compromise that still stands by the designer’s intended aesthetic.

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