The Blacklist Costume designer Christine Bean talks to Mandy.com about designing top TV and more
Christine Bean is the costume designer of Golden Globe and Primetime Emmy-nominated hit TV show The Blacklist and acted as costume consultant for spin-off The Blacklist: Redemption. Here she tells Mandy News about how she started her career, the realities of designing a hit TV show and what aspiring costume designers and assistants can do to get noticed.
Please introduce yourself and tell us how you got into the industry.
I was studying Fashion Design in Los Angeles, when I began looking for an internship to get hands-on experience. Rather than intern in fashion, I decided to reach out to the studios in the area to see if interning with a costume department would be a possibility. I interned an NBC soap opera and fell in love with the world of costumes. I used that experience to get paid costume jobs on indie and student films while finishing my education.
Once I graduated, I pursued a position at the famous Western Costume. While working at Western I became eligible to join the Motion Picture Costumers Union, and from there I was offered a union position as a costumer on a TV show. I later joined the Costume Designers Guild and began working as an assistant costume designer and later a designer.
After 7 years working in LA, I took an opportunity to move to NYC and join the United Scenic Artists as a costume designer.
How did you come to work on The Blacklist and its sister show Redemption?
I was the assistant costume designer on the pilot for The Blacklist. So many pilots are made each season and very few go to series, so I was thrilled when I heard The Blacklist would be picked up. The designer on the pilot was gracious enough to suggest to the producers that I should costume design the series. After three very successful seasons of The Blacklist, NBC ordered a spinoff. The character of Scottie Hargrave played by Famke Janssen had been recurring on The Blacklist, so when she was to be the star of Redemption, she asked if I could continue to design her costumes.
What is the process for working on the show? At what point do you become involved with each episode and what sort of turn around do you have to prepare wardrobe and costume for an episode?
Turn around? Ha! Episodic TV is like running a marathon while juggling.
At the beginning of each season I have a few weeks before we start filming to build the closets. By then I have the first script and some outlines for the next few episodes. All of James Spader's wardrobe is custom made. I start swatching suiting fabrics for the myriad of temperatures we will face through the season. Linen for the summer, mid-weight wools for fall, cashmere flannels for winter, mohair for early spring. I select the design details and have my tailor build the suits. Most of the other characters are shopped, so I check in with them about sizing, and begin shopping wardrobe to suit their characters. We have one big fitting before the season starts, and from then on I shop and fit them as needed per each episode.
Once we begin shooting an episode, I get the script for the next one. We have several meetings to discuss the script, the director and writers share notes, we determine if the actor needs to be stunt doubled or the wardrobe aged/distressed. My team and I shop and build what we need, have fittings with the actors, specialty background and stunt people. I determine the costumes that best suit the story, as well as look complementary all together with what the entire cast is wearing.
What are the biggest challenges you face, both on The Blacklist and as a department in general?
The biggest challenge on The Blacklist is needing multiples of almost everything. We are currently working on an episode about a cult living off the grid who believe it is the 1950s. So we need to dress 30 background actors, 23 children, 15 stunt people, and 11 principal actors in '50s winter clothing and most of that needs to be multipled for squibs and fireproofing. It is a challenge to find off-the-rack garments that work for every scenario.
What is coming up for you in 2018 and beyond?
Hopefully another season of The Blacklist!
The beauty of working on a successful episodic is having a hiatus. We do not know yet if we will be picked up for season six, but the odds seem good so I have planned to travel over the spring. Visiting friends and family on the West Coast, then over to Europe for a few weeks on the coast of Sardinia.
Later in the year I am considering taking on a pilot or film in a totally different genre to mix things up.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to become a part of the wardrobe and costume department?
One huge advantage that those starting out today have is the availability of information available on-line and on social media. I’d suggest they familiarise themselves with film and TV shows and the costume designers behind them. Look into their background and body of work. Follow their social media to get a peek into their day. A basic sewing ability is necessary, as is knowledge about clothing construction and period clothing.
I know many costume designers and wardrobe people who have gone to Ivy League schools, or got Masters Degrees in theatre, film or costume design. While absolutely useful, don’t let lack of a formal education be a road block to this industry. In many ways, the film and television world is a blue collar field. You will need to have the stamina to wake up many hours before the sun rises and work long hours in unusual conditions. Some days you’ll be in fittings all day, others on the streets of Manhattan schlepping around with heavy bags in the rain, or like today for instance, I am in the woods with two feet of snow, two hours outside of NYC without cell service or a Starbucks for miles.
The biggest misconception is that it is glamorous. You will spend more time with your co-workers than your loved ones, so the ability to navigate many types of personalities is crucial. The first thing I tell someone starting out in this business is think of every day as a job interview. How you represent yourself and your department determines your career. I’ve seen young set PAs go on to be producers, hairstylists go on to be directors, camera operators become show runners. Those are all people that can hire a costume designer.
If your reputation is one that is collaborative, hard working and capable, you’ll be in high demand.
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