Cheryl and Ingrid continue their conversation and take questions from FIT students…
Cheryl speaks to FIT class: Interesting Projects
Ingrid: So following Mississippi Burning, which was like the high point of low points, Cheryl you continued to supervise and it was often a partnership with another supervisor.
Cheryl: Yes, they don’t do that so much anymore, but we used to pair up, which was great because one person did the front end, meaning on set in the wardrobe truck and one did the back end in the department space. Sometimes one did men, one did women.
Like on Age of Innocence; I was the women’s set costumer, Michael Adkins was the men’s set costumer and the Costume Supervisor, Deirdre Williams was on the truck and the back end supervisor, Hartsell Taylor, did the extras. I was offered the back end supervisor position, but I wanted to be around those beautiful clothes and dress Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder. That wasn’t the easiest job, because dressing an American actress in a corset everyday is tricky. Winona was very uncomfortable and always wanted us to take a bone or two out, but that would ruin the look of the dress.
The English ladies had done a lot of that kind of work, so what they would do is keep the corset on for lunch, because they said the corset would tell them how much they could eat. If you take it off and put it back on, you’re probably going to have an upset stomach. You eat lunch like a bird in a corset. That was a hard job even though it was beautiful clothes, made in Italy, handmade shoes. Unpacking those clothes when they came over from Italy was like Christmas. I loved working on that film, but it was hard. Not as hard as Fried Green Tomatoes, which was really hard because it was so hot. The heat can be really oppressive.
Ingrid: And it can actually be something you have to deal with on set. An actor can soak through their clothing and gets so wet it appears on camera. We had issues where you’re there with a blow dryer between takes trying to dry them off. OR… you just soak their clothes and leave them that way.
Cheryl: Yes! I’ve actually done that more than the other… soak them totally and then they just look limp as opposed to wet. It sounds weird but it works. Like a light blue shirt really pops wet, so you have to wet the whole thing. So it would be limp but all one color. That’s the other thing. Everyone has a different way of making it look like someone has been sweating. Have you ever seen a film where the sweat looks bizarre and it’s just, like, who sweats that way?? That’s some wardrobe person trying to figure it out, or a director saying, “More sweat!” And then sometimes you need to match the sweat.
Ingrid: I’ll never forget in “Silence of the Lambs” there’s an opening sequence where Jodie Foster is jogging and she has this perfect triangle of sweat. And you just know that the director said, “She needs sweat!” And they made this triangle and then had to keep it that way for continuity.
Cheryl: There’s also blood continuity. I worked on this film “Brenda Starr,” and we had this one guy in a union suit who had to be bloody because he’d been beaten. And that was before the days of better blood. And if it got wet with sweat, it would start to run and turn pink. It was so hot in Florida when we shot this. We had made him perfectly bloody, and I said to the actor, I’m gonna follow you back to your camper so we can take this off and hang it up. And he said, ”Oh no, I’m way too hot,” and he jumped overboard, we were on a boat, and he went straight overboard and I said to the makeup artist, “Guess who’s not gonna get lunch? You and me.” So now we had to try to match from a polaroid where all the blood was.
Ingrid: I think everyone in this room just simultaneously decided they don’t want this job!
Cheryl: Oh, but despite all that I’ve loved my career. I wouldn’t choose another career. I have horror stories, but I’ve loved it and I’m so glad I stuck with it. As a supervisor I got to work hand in hand with a designer to make her vision come to life. The creative part for a costume supervisor is how to get the job done when you only have five cents…
Ingrid: Or five seconds.
Cheryl: Yes, or five seconds! And I’m telling you all the things that can go wrong, there are many, but there are also times when they really go right and you’re so proud of the work that you do. And when you sit at that first screening with your comrades from your department, it’s really nice to feel so proud of the work. One thing about film is that it’s out there forever; you can always go back and watch what you did and say, “I remember that day.”
Cheryl Speaks to FIT class: MWS’s humble beginings
Ingrid: So a moment ago you were talking about the blood and it wasn’t the best… so part of the job is making sure you have all the stuff you need. And it used to be that you had to go to all these different places. You had to get hangers from a company here, and garment bags from a company there, and dye somewhere else. And it became a nightmare trying to find your resources. So Cheryl saw this gap, this essential need that we had for a place where you could go to get everything you need. So this is the beginning of Manhattan Wardrobe Supply…
Cheryl: Yes, my partner Tommy Boyer and I, who came from Broadway and then moved to film, met on a film. We were on the back of the wardrobe truck on a film called “You’ve Got Mail.” We were both having a bad day and he said, “What’s our end game here? What do we do when we’re too old to do this anymore.” So we came up with this idea to have this wardrobe supply place because there was nowhere to get the all things you need. We were working with this very famous costume designer named Albert Wolsky, and he thought it was such a great idea and urged us to do it. So we wrote our business plan in the back of a wardrobe truck.
We originally thought we would do this just for movie and television productions and stay small, but now we’ve expanded to 8,000 square feet and we’re like a Home Depot! We also added professional hair, makeup supplies to our wardrobe care supplies. We sell everything from shoe supplies, sewing supplies, hangers, garment bags, detergents… everything a wardrobe supervisor needs for a film. But then we realized that we forgot about Broadway, so we added Broadway, we forgot about fashion and models and runway shows and photographers, cruise lines and Cirque Du Soleil, theater schools, Cosplayers and shoe artists. Basically from Texas to Dubai if “Mickey and Judy” are puttin’ on a show we’re probably selling to them. We sell all over the country and all over the world now. Two years ago we took a leap of faith and added hair and makeup. Neither of us knew anything about that, so we hired people who did. We listened to our customers and then we got it. We kept doing movies while we grew, up until about 4 years ago. Growing our business and working as a wardrobe supervisor was way over the top!
Ingrid: I like to go over there sometimes and stare at all these cool things that I didn’t even know I needed.
Cheryl: We do love our gadgets!
Ingrid: And I’d like to point out that you’re now selling hosiery again!
Cheryl: Haha, we sell the kind of hosiery that you put on a dancer, that makes your legs look good on stage! Not the kind you would walk down the street in. And really now nobody even wears hosiery anymore.
Cheryl speaks to FIT class: Time for Q & A
Ingrid: You got out of that in the nick of time! We have time for a few questions if anyone wants to ask Cheryl about the business.
Student: How many markets do you attend a year to buy all the product for your store… or do you not even attend a market?
Cheryl: We’ve never attended a single market! So how do we know what to buy? We just read a lot, look at magazines, even Facebook, we’ll see something and say “we have to have that!” Or people contact us… for example, you know how we use gaffer’s tape or pvc pipes over racks to keep the hangers in place? This woman put all of that on steroids and she invented this product to clamp down on the rack to keep hangers in place. It’s a really cool product. Inventors contact us all the time. Probably a sewing market would be a cool thing to go to. But we just observe. I had to do that as a costumer, I’d take pictures of uniforms and workers uniforms. You have to recreate these for a movie… ConEd people, construction guys, sanitation. So… I got used to observing!
Student: When movies air do you get royalties?
Cheryl: Oh no… no, you just get to reminisce! You get the credit. And sometimes when you’re first starting and you’re 12th PA you don’t even get that. But once you’re in the union they have to give you credit.
Ingrid: But these days with IMDB, you can make sure that you get credit there by submitting yourself.
Cheryl: You might have to prove it with a call sheet. Always keep your call sheet in case you need to prove you worked on a film. At least one call sheet.
Ingrid: That’s good advice.
Cheryl: Some movies don’t put everyone who worked on the film. Like on Age of Innocence and on Fried Green Tomatoes, there were so many people who worked on the film so they didn’t include everyone, which was heartbreaking. Some of those people worked so hard!
Student: You said you got yelled at a lot in the beginning, how do you act after something like that happens? Does it blow over?
Cheryl: Oh yes, they forget about it in 5 minutes. But the story I told, I got yelled at because I was a young person put in a position where I didn’t know what I was doing. That rarely happens in NY. But if a director yells at you on a film , they’ll probably forget about it in 5 minutes. It all moves so fast nobody even remembers the next day. And you get a thick skin and you don’t even remember it. I remember on Mississippi Burning, Alan Parker yelled at both Ingrid and I, he actually made me cry! There was a scene with the Klu Klux Klan, Alan made a call that the Klan would wear flour sacks on their heads instead of the cone shaped headresses and the actors couldn’t see. I was running around trying to tape the nose pieces, so they could see at least a little and they wouldn’t accidentally hit somebody with the clubs that they were carrying. So right before shooting Alan asked me to check all the hoods, and Alan was shouting, “Faster, faster, you’re ruining my shot!” And luckily the actors were all really nice and just said, “Ignore him!” Gene Hackman even said, “Don’t pay any attention!”
Student: If you don’t want to live in NY, can you make a living doing this?
Cheryl: Oh yeah! Georgia is the number one film capital in the world! I went down there recently to scope out possibilities for MWS. Tyler Perry is on his second studio there. There’s Pinewood… that has 12 stages and hopes to increase to 18 stages! And that’s just two. There’s about 20 of them! You can make a living n Atlanta, Florida, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Texas, Louisiana and of course Los Angeles!. You don’t have to be in NY. However I am very partial to the camaraderie of the crews here. We all help each other.
Student: How do I find someone to work with?
Cheryl: Right… so how do you get your first job? You want to get a PA job. So you go to the film office, and they have a website with internship programs. They’ve cracked down on interns because they have to pay you something unless you’re getting school credit. Now in Georgia, it’s a right to work state. So you don’t have to be in a union to get hired on a job. So it’s a little easier to get started. Again, you’d probably reach out to the film office. Or you go to Georgia Film Academy and learn what you need to learn. I got my start in Atlanta. I elevated myself to be a big fish in a little pond. But I I wanted to be a medium fish in a big pond so I could keep learning! That is how I ended up in New York.
Ingrid: I would also suggest to people who are looking for PA work here in NY, there’s a Google group called Last Looks. I’ve been emailing you guys occasionally about people looking for PA’s. This Google group is geared towards wardrobe and they often are looking for PA’s. They list these positions on this Google group and you can request to join and they’ll send your listing to your email.
Cheryl: I know lots of people who started as PA’s and worked their way up. Robert DeNiro’s star dresser, JLo’s star dresser, they both started as PA’s.
Student: Is there an organizational chart?
Cheryl: It starts with the Costume Designer, and then his or her assistant(s). Then there’s Local 829 (the Costume design union) shoppers and a coordinator. The Wardrobe Supervisor has his or her set people, and star dressers who are often requested by the Actors that have that position in their contract. On a large film or television show there is a head tailor who has a staff. On a small budget their might only be one tailor. There are also ager dyers and milliners. PA’s are a grey area. PA’s are usually hired by the design team to do returns, they are not supposed to perform a Local 764 (wardrobe union) wardrobe function. PA’s are at the bottom of the totem pole so to speak and usually do that for a year, and then they usually go into design, become a coordinator, or a Local 764 costumer. Or sometimes they say, shoot, I want to do props! But if they like the business they usually become something!
Thanks to Ingrid and all her students at FIT! Cheryl had a great time sharing stories and talking about the business!