'Work very hard' Krypton costume designer Bojana Nikitovic shares her fascinating career journey
Bojana Nikitovic is the costume designer for hit Superman SyFy show Krypton as well as a string of movies including forthcoming romantic war drama The Aftermath starring Alexander Skarsgård and Keira Knightley. Here she tells Mandy News how she started out in Serbia and forged a career that has seen her work on internationally-acclaimed shows.
Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about how you got involved in the TV and film industry.
I am a costume designer and I come from Belgrade, Serbia and I must say, I never thought I would get involved in the movie business. I started in theatre, love theatre and always try to work in theatre whenever I’m not doing TV projects or movies. I worked in theatre a lot – 120 plays, operas and ballets in all – and gained a lot of experience from working there. It prepared me very well for what was waiting for me afterwards. By chance, I then started doing co-productions for these Italian movies that were shot in Belgrade.
Then I met Milena Canonero who is a very well-known costume designer and a four-time Oscar winner. I was so lucky to meet her in Belgrade and get a chance to work with her. She liked my work, called me up and asked if I wanted to work with her abroad. I spent almost eight years with Milena doing some very big projects starting with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou directed by Wes Anderson, Marie Antoinette with Sofia Coppola, Tosca in the Metropolitan Opera directed by Luc Bondy and many, many more. It was a great, great period where I learned a lot and everything I learned about costumes in the film industry, I learned from Milena Canonero.
What was it that got you interested in the costume aspect of the film industry in the first place? What was the transition like from being an assistant to becoming a costume designer in your own right?
I knew that I wanted to deal with costumes from very early on. From the age of 13, I wanted that and nothing else. I have two aunts and one of them was a costume designer and the other one was a textile designer so perhaps it is something that runs in the family. At that point, I never thought I’d be a costume designer though. When you’re young, you think you’re going to be a famous fashion designer doing fashion shows, etc.
I graduated from the faculty of applied art in Belgrade and started working in the theatre very quickly after that. I was lucky enough to get to work with the best directors in what was still Yugoslavia at the time. The theatre was at a very high level and it still is in Serbia and ex-Yugoslavia. While I was working in the theatre, I immediately started doing things of my own accord as a costume designer. I was only an assistant twice while in the theatre. I believe that all those times I worked alone in the theatre made good preparation for working with Milena Canonero. When worked with Milena, I had a lot of experience as a costume designer so was still behaving as if the role was totally mine, in terms of responsibilities.
From that experience, I know when things have to be delivered, when things have to be ready, working until the early hours of the morning, etc. That work with Milena prepared me for my own projects in film and TV.
How did you hear about Krypton and how did you get involved in the project?
It was through my agent. I assume the producers saw some of my previous work, such as Underworld, which I did a couple of years ago, and that interested them enough for them to call me. I had a Skype interview with the showrunners and they asked me what I thought of the show’s concepts and how I would approach it. They showed me some things from the pilot of which I wasn’t involved. Weirdly enough, the pilot was actually filmed in Belgrade. When the project come to Belfast, Northern Ireland, they called me, I got the job and I was extremely happy to get it as it was a challenging project.
What can you tell us about the process of working on the show? What inspired the concepts for some of the costumes? How long do you have to design an episode before it is aired?
During prep time, it is very important to create a good base for each of the different groups within the show. So you have the poor rank-less group, the gilded area and several different artisans, etc. In order to do that, we did a lot of research and we made plans of a mood board to present to the showrunners and the studio on how we would like to do it. We also created a very good workshop there and I was very lucky to have such a first-class crew at hand.
For each episode, as it usually is, you don’t have much time. You get the script in almost the very last moment but when you have a base for each of the groups then it’s just a case of making a few adjustments for new characters or leading characters.
Are you still working on the later episodes as the show is beginning to air?
Yes, absolutely. I like to be involved in everything, checking every single extra. That’s how I was taught and how I learned. I was there until the end. The nice thing about working on a TV series is you can really work on a character. Your work progresses as you make changes and you have enough time to think about it.
The series seems to be getting bigger and bigger with every episode, what are some of the challenges you face?
Multiples are always a problem. In Belfast, the biggest problem was getting the right fabrics and the right quantity to make doubles, triples, etc. We had to get almost everything from London, Italy or Germany so fabric was a big challenge. Furthermore, making all the costumes in good time was a challenge. In episode six, we had a whole new group of people, the Cythonnites, and they were really interesting to work on but it was such a big task.
With a show like Krypton, it’s not as if you can go into a shop and buy something - you literally have to make everything. It’s quite challenging but also very rewarding because it’s so creative. We had a wonderful workshop with wonderful people working in it and it was constantly growing as we need to make more and more things. We all got along very well and knew exactly what we wanted style-wise. It made it easier, in that sense, as we were all on the same page. Even though we had a new director for each episode, the director and the producers trusted me a lot and it made it that little bit easier and a pleasure to work on.
The show has been renewed for a second season, are you working on it?
I really hope so! In the first series, we made such an effort to create such a good base to work from. I have another project that I’m working on at the moment so I hope we can find a way for me to work on both simultaneously. It’s never the right time! It’s not good when you have no work at all and it’s bad when you have two projects at once - but I really hope to come back and work on the second series.
You have worked on so many massive films such as the Die Hard series, Papillon and so many TV series as well, what are biggest differences you find between a feature-length film and an episodic TV series?
It’s different in that a TV series tends to be over much longer period, and as I told you, that can be good because if you didn’t get a chance to something as the beginning then you can do it elsewhere. On the other hand, with a big screen, I always think of the details and how it is going to look on a 10m screen. That being said, the TVs nowadays are getting so large that you also have to focus on every detail as well.
The difference between the two is usually to do with the prep time you’ve been given. With a movie, you generally have more time for prep but shooting is more concentrated. Whereas, on a TV series it can appear that the prep time isn’t long enough but, during shooting, you can continue to explore and work on it. It doesn’t always have to be done during prep time.
You’ve recently finished on Krypton and a film called The Aftermath, what can you tell us about that? Also, what else are you working on?
I’m really looking forward to seeing The Aftermath as much as I was looking forward to seeing Papillon, which I did a couple of years ago. With The Aftermath, James Kent was the director. It has a big, wonderful cast with Keira Knightley and Alexander Skarsgård and it has such a fantastic story set in Germany in 1945. I haven’t seen the any of the final product but I can’t wait to see it. After Krypton, I did a pilot for Whiskey Cavalier which is a contemporary detective TV series that I did in Prague, Czech Republic. It was a pilot episode but it has just been greenlit to become an episodic series and I shall continue to work on that.
Lastly, what advice do you have for young professionals wanting to get into the costume department and become a costume designer such as yourself?
First of all, be ready to work very hard. Anyone who works in the film industry knows how hard it is to work in the costume department. We are the first ones to start in the morning and the last ones to finish at night. You have to have a passion for this job in order to succeed. I see so many young people enter the film industry and you can immediately see who is going to make it and who isn’t, based on their passion.
At this age, I still have that passion for this work and I’m ready and willing to work 16-17 hours a day. That’s the most important thing. If you really love what you’re doing then nothing is too hard or too tiring. The best part about this job is you’re constantly playing, being creative and making something that makes you happy - that’s the way I feel about it anyway.
In short, be prepared because it’s going to be tough but if you have a passion and a love for it, then you will certainly succeed.
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