True To Me Too: Were you into costumes as a kid? When did you realize you wanted to work in costume design?
Patia Prouty: As a kid? No I wasn’t into costumes. My mother was very fashionable, I grew up in Connecticut and my mother had a big closet, I used to sit in her closet and watch her get dressed and look at her clothes. It was that fun part of the 70s. I used to design for a TV show, Cold Case, and we’d flashback to different periods and that was always my favourite period because it would spark that memory. I wanted to be a shoe designer and that’s why I originally moved to Los Angeles, to have the warmer weather and to design shoes.
Then when did you discover costume design?
I fell into it. I was staying with a friend of mine from high school and he got a call to do a music video, to work on it as a production assistant, but he was busy going to school at UCLA. He said “I think my friend might want to do it” so I answered the phones for the production of Michael Jackson’s Black or White video.
What? That’s a classic!
(laughs) My first job as a costumer was for another Michael Jackson video called Remember the Time.
Also a classic. So those were your first jobs in the industry?
I kind of fell into the business. The business was very good to me. If you just work hard and you try, for the most part I think you can succeed.
As a costume designer how important is your portfolio when it comes to getting jobs?
It’s pretty important. I do have one. I have a bigger one that I keep, I don’t know if I keep any sketches in it but I keep photographs in it. It was more important when I got started because I wasn’t that well known so people wanted to look at it, it was also before websites and digital portfolios and things like that so I actually have a big hardcopy portfolio. Now I have a website, which I haven’t really updated, but my agent insisted that every client have a website… so I have a website.
What do you think makes a good portfolio for people starting out?
I think you want to have a point of view. A definite point of view and a definite representation of how you look at things and how you see things. It’s important to show that so that you can see if you make a good match with the person that’s hiring you. Mine is kind of what you see is what you get. I tend to like dark things so I do a lot of dark movies and dark TV shows and things like that. So although I would probably be interested in certain comedies it’s generally not what interest me visually.
You’re in the costume designers guild, how do you get into that?
It’s kind of a catch-22. Different guilds have different requirements. The New York guild is different than the Los Angeles guild, they have different requirements, I think the Los Angeles guild is generally the hardest one to get into, Local 892, because everybody wants in that one so they can work in Los Angeles. When I got in you had to have, I think three letters of recommendation, one from a producer, one from a director, and one from another guild member. You had to have had designed either a movie that was produced and released, it wasn’t enough to design one, it had to actually be released and shown somewhere or on video. The other requirement was to either have designed something or if you were already designing a non-union project and it turned into a union project while it was in production.
Would you recommend people try to get into these guilds?
Yah cause you are protected by certain things that are part of negotiated bargaining contracts. They can’t pay you less than a certain amount, they have to pay into your pension, your health care, all of that. It’s a way to protect yourself and make sure you’re actually going to get paid and you’re actually have a way to make people honour a certain bargained contract.
You mentioned your agent before. How should a costume designer go about getting representation? Do you approach them or do they approach you?
Generally they come looking for you because they want to have somebody that also has something to offer them. I had an agent and then I didn’t have an agent and I had a friend who was a producer negotiate for me. Then my current agent contacted me and I met with them and said “I don’t have a problem finding work on my I don’t have a problem working but there are certain meetings that I cannot get in the door for and if you can get me those meetings I’m happy to give you 10% of my pre-tax income” which is kind of steep. But I really really like my agent she’s a very very nice person and she’s a bit of a shark when it comes to business and for me and I love that about her. She got me Justified.
Your first couple credits on IMDB are set costumer, costumer, and assistant costume design. Is that a normal career path for someone working there way up?
I think theres two ways to do it. Some people come in as an assistant designer and move up to a designer or they they assistant style commercials and then kind of move into Local 892 the costumer designers guild. Others move up through the ranks of Local 705 which is the costumers union and that covers costumers, key costumers, costume supervisors, everything up to assistant designing and illustrating, which are covered by a different union. I worked my way up because I always thought it’s a great way to meet people and also a great way to know every single persons job so that I can look at a person and know if they’re good at their job, if they’re not good at their job, what they could do in different positions, how to do that job if it gets so busy that you have to do that job. It really helps to know. The costume supervisor, one of their main jobs is to do budgets, budget mandates and budget money and I end up being the person who spends the money so it’s a good way to know how someone is budgeting that money and be able to communicate with that person. I might be spending a huge amount on this jacket but I’m going to use the same pair of jeans for the entire show. It’s always good to know everyones job.
What were some of your first jobs and how did you go about getting them? I noticed your third credit was for Pulp Fiction, which is huge. How did you get your first jobs when you were starting off?
It really came from the Michael Jackson video. I worked my way up and I worked really hard. I remember on Black or White I worked and I answered the phones and I walked peoples dogs and worked hard. When Remember the Time came around I got hired as a production assistant again and the costume department needed help fitting all of the bedouins and the harem dancers and I remember begging the production office to let me please please go over and help. I worked for the day and they asked me at the end of the day how much I made and I told them $80 a day and they said okay we’re going to keep you, which was great. So that costume designer happened to be the costume designer who did Pulp Fiction and who did Reservoir Dogs and Get Shorty and I stayed with her for a number of years through her career building and then eventually went off on my own.
What do you think are really important things you can learn in those earlier assistant positions that can help you later on?
The best thing I think is to watch what works for other people and watch what doesn’t work for other people. When you’re in a room and you’re assisting a fitting it’s great to observe and see what’s working and what’s not working. Of course to be helpful and to do your job but to really try and learn how a person made the mistake and why and how you could have avoided making that mistake, or how a person became very successful at doing something and how you can translate that into your own career.
When does your process start? Does it start with the script?
I get a script and first time I read it it’s like I’m reading a story and in my head. I start to visuals things as you would if you were reading a book and you create these characters in your head. I try to translate that into something visual to show the director and the producers to say this is how I see it, this is what’s in my head and translate it as best as possible.
How much research goes into working on shows set in certain time periods or geographic locations? Do you go to the locations? What kind of resources do you use?
All of the above. It depends on what it is. For Banshee, which I’m working on right now, I do a lot of creative boards, mood boards. I started the boards last year when we first started the show and Greg Yaitanes, who is the executive producer and show runner, when I met with him for the interview I had done a lot of the principle boards with photographers and research photographs and I kind of put them in a way that sets a mood and sets a tone and sets a colour and a feeling and I said this is how I see it. It kind of comes from everywhere. I do go to the locations or I try to at least look at the photographs of the locations to see what the mood is and what everyone is thinking, to try to incorporate that.
Film and television are both very collaborative industries. Who do you collaborate with on these projects?
TV is a little bit different, well it is and it isn’t, TV has more producers involved and the directors come in, there isn’t one director like there is on a film. So it’s more collaborative with the producer or the show runner than whoever that person is that’s directing one or two episodes on the show as opposed to a singular director on a feature.
What is a typical pre-shoot planning day is like? And what is a typical day like while you’re on set during the shooting?
For a typical prep day I shop to try to find new things for the character the same way I would shop for a person or shop for myself. It’s almost as if you were to go to a wedding, you’d know that you need a suit and you’d go out and look for that suit. I just look harder and I hunt harder for the perfect thing that’s going to tell a story. Sometimes I will fit it that day, sometimes I won’t, sometimes I will look for all of the costume changes for that script and then I’ll have a big fitting and try things on and talk to the actor about it. Then it goes out to the tailor and it comes back and the costumer will put it on the costume truck and it will go off and be worn during shooting. Generally I am there for the first time it gets shot.
How much time do you spend shopping?
(laughs) it depends. I shop for probably two weeks straight prior to the start of a project because I’m doing all of the characters at once. For Banshee I shopped two or three weeks straight and sometimes I would fit during those days but mostly shop. I think Justified last season I shopped a week or two straight but we had existing closets. Kind of how I’ll do it is I’ll build a closet for a person the way you would have your closet and then every season I’ll come in and clean it out and say this is worn or this doesn’t look good or this doesn’t fit right anymore and I’ll retire some clothes and add new clothes in.
I like that about Justified because they have a regular wardrobe and you’ll see characters repeat certain items in multiple episodes.
It’s more real that way. I think it’s nicer than seeing a new outfit every time because they kind of tend to look like your friends a little bit.
Do you draw costumes out from scratch and have them made?
On Cold Case I did a lot because half of it was set in a different time period so by nature of it being a cold case somebody would die and the person that died would need multiples, meaning they would need many many items, many many shirts or many many dresses of the exact same thing in order to be shot clean and then killed and be bloody. Then maybe a week or two later you’d need to see them clean again cause we don’t shoot in sequence.
What is the process of getting multiples? Obviously with action sequences and for stunt doubles things get dirty as you mentioned? How difficult is it to get bulk items or do you just make them?
With period pieces it’s very difficult because it’s hard to find something that is singularly but to find something that’s in great shape and there’s 5 or 6 of them it’s very rare. We will recreate them or I’ll design something for the tailor shop. I use Warner Brothers a lot, Cold Case was a Warner Brothers show, so we had an office there and in the bottom half of the costume building they had a costume rental warehouse, so you could go in and there would be a contemporary section and a period section, a native American section, a sci-fi section, so you’d go down and roam the isles. That was always great and that’s how we did our big crowd scenes. Even on Justified some of Ava’s jackets, her leather jacket, is a rental from Warner Brothers from the 1972 isle.
How important is it for technical designers today to have the technical skills to be able to create costumes from scratch and to draw them out by hand and fit them?
However you can translate what it is that you see and if it works for everyone in the room, you and the director, you and the producer, you and the actor or everyone involved, I think whatever works. A lot of times people don’t understand sketches anymore. Some people really appreciate them and love them it just depends on who you’re meeting with and how they see things and imagine things. Also if you’re getting a pair of jeans and a t-shirt it’s not that important to sketch it out because everyone knows what that looks like, it’s a common language.
Your job requires you to work within a budget how important is it to be able to stick to that and get everything you need while not going over budget?
Hugely important, hugely. It’s part of what depends on you getting hired again or not. In the same way that the costume department has a budget, the production has a budget, so we turn in a budget along with special effects, and props, and production designers, and art department, hair and makeup, everybody’s turning in their budgets and if you don’t keep to your budget the production will eventually go over budget and the network doesn’t really like that.
Period pieces usually get the most attention when people talk about costume designs and at award shows but you’ve mostly worked in contemporary projects, asides from Cold Case, what are some of the differences between working period versus contemporary.
Period pieces already have a template of this is and what the time was. So you want to be true to that but you also want to be able to express the character in a very confined vocabulary. Contemporary is almost like anything goes. However you will find the character or however you want to express it. There are characters that are inspired by thrift shops and some that are inspired by couture and some are mixed so I think period is a more confined language.
In 2011 you started working on Justified and later that year Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) was named GQ’s most stylish man on television. How’d that feel? (GQ recently published a second edition with Boyd Crowder in the #1 spot Patia and Justified are now 2 for 2)
It felt great. I didn’t even really know about it until I ran into Tim, they were doing a little Justified talk, and I dropped in on it and sat in the audience and watched Tim and Walton (Goggins) and Margo (Martindale) and I jumped up to say hello to them before they left and Tim said “hey did you see the GQ thing?” and I hadn’t seen it so somebody sent it to me and it was really nice, it was surprising, but very very nice. He is one of the coolest men on television.
Easily one of the coolest. I thought it was very well deserved.
(laughs) well thanks.
Have you ever been asked to do any styling or dressing people off camera?
Usually every season I get a lot of that. I dressed Jeremy Davies, who played Dickie, I dressed him for the Emmys, both years, I think he was nominated both years and he won the second year. I do generally get asked by people from the show and sometimes not by people on the show. It’s fun I like to do a little bit of styling.
Justified is set in rural Kentucky and Banshee is set in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, what are some of the challenges of designing for such specific regions?
You kind of look at the people, you look at the town, you look at the culture. Kentucky is rich with characters and clans, it’s very particular and it’s is a very very poor community where we do Harlan, at least in the show, not necessarily in real life, there are obviously some creative liberties. The east coast is so close to New York so there is more style coming in from the city, Job in particular has a lot of style, a lot of flare and a lot of creativity to him, more so this season than last season. I think we are just kind of finding him this season. Most of the characters on Banshee I think are transformative, in that they have duel personalities so you have to be able to show both sides of their personalities. Lucas Hood is both a cop and a criminal, Job is both male and female, Carrie is a suburban housewife and also a thief, Gordon Hopewell, you’ll see more of him this season, he’s the district attorney but there’s also a dark side.
You’re working on Banshee right now in North and South Carolina?
Occasionally South Carolina but mostly North Carolina, we shoot in Charlotte. We have gone on location a few times to South Carolina, last year we shot the prison episode and this year we went to South Carolina to shoot a very very intensive stunt on a closed freeway. We also shoot because the show takes place a little bit in New York so we shoot in New York. Last year we shot in New York and this year we’ve already shot there and are getting ready at the end of the season to go back and finish our shooting.
How much travel is involved with your job? What are some of your favourite places you’ve got to go with it?
I actually like Charlotte, I like the east coast. Being from Connecticut I like working on the east coast. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 20 some odd years. I’m married and my husband is in Los Angeles so the last two years it’s been a little difficult because I do 6 months in Charlotte on Banshee and 6 months in Los Angeles on Justified. I’ve been gone exactly half the time that I’ve been home. It’s fun it’s almost like being in a circus.
What are the most challenging parts of your job? What challenges should a costume designer expect to encounter?
A lot of opinions (laughs). Everybody by the nature of the fact that they get dressed in the morning feels like they know clothes. To a certain extent everybody does because I think clothes are about style but mostly about personal style. The challenge is finding the character and not putting your own personal style onto it. I’ve had a lot of phone calls from friends saying “that’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen” and I say yes but that wasn’t for you, that’s the character and it really said something about the character. So I think you need to understand that as opposed to looking at something and just saying that’s hideous (laughs). Margo Martindale wore mens clothes in Justified.
She had a very unique look.
Originally that was written, I think Elmore Leonard wrote it, but that character was a man. So when she was introduced into the show, she was a woman obviously, and when I thought of that I thought her husband is dead, her husband has been killed, she obviously is the matriarch but in that part of the country there’s not a lot of money and the mentality is do what needs to be done. There’s a certain kind of brutality to it. So I thought she ascended to the head of the family and these clothes fit her, they might be her husbands clothes and she may have gained weight and you’re just going to do what you have to do. It kind of suited her so although she was the matriarch she was really the patriarch. She ran those boys.
How much backstory do you create for your characters when you’re dressing them?
All the time! It’s kind of what keeps me going, I love backstory. I think actors appreciate backstory, I think it helps make character choices easier, if you look at something with a bit of a template of saying so this is my checklist for this character and this item of clothing meets all those requirements. I try to do it with everybody. I had that talk with Tim Olyphant the first time I met him and said as a character Raylan kind of presents himself as a simple kind of guy, you look in your closet and you’ve got 3 suits and 6 shirts and 2 pairs of pants and a coat. A person would think that you’re just a simple guy, internally there is so much complexity to it, but externally it looks very simple. He actually made it part of the dialogue, I think it was second season, Winona says something about his clothes when she’s standing in his hotel room. I think backstory is hugely hugely important. It makes things so much easier later on down the road.
We talked about a few of the people but what are some of the important or interesting positions that you work with that might not get a lot of attention?
The writers have incredible jobs. Prop masters get to make all kinds of stuff and handle the guns. Special effects makeup is really cool because you get to create all these prosthetics and these wounds and tattoos and blown up legs, that’s very very cool.
You collaborate with I guess hair and make up, then prop people and then you do the clothing? How many people go into making one character look the way they do?
A lot. Our crew on Banshee I think is a little over 300. It takes a village (laughs). It’s a big collaborative effort. With Job in particular, I kind of set the look for each change that he has, meaning if there’s a change for a script day or sometimes like you would change your clothes twice a day like if you were going out for dinner you might change out of your jeans and put something else on, that would be considered a costume change. So for each change for Job I’ll put a look together and then give some suggestions to hair and make up to get a complete cohesive look to make it look like one person did it to themselves not like a team of people did it to a person.
What are the challenges of that? Of making it not look like a costume?
You want to make it look natural. I try to have, especially on Justified, we would age the clothes, we had an ager/dyer and he would age the clothes and make them look worn in and old and lived in. I think that that helps provide another visual layer and texture to things. Hair and makeup and I generally talk about things and talk about how we’re going to accomplish the specific look and not make it look to done and also you step back from it and look at it and see how real it looks. I’m a big believer in making it look real. Sometimes I do a stylized version of real but I do like it to be real.
Do you have any final advice for someone looking to become a costume designer?
This is what I think the big key is, if you love it then you should do it and you should try and work as hard as you possibly can and try and learn as much as you possibly can and just outlast everybody (laughs). It’s a tough business and a lot of people quit and so if you have enough talent and enough drive and enough luck you’ll get there. The only thing you can control is how much drive you have, the other stuff will just work itself out.