Hi Film Folk!
We’ve got another lovely In Conversation for you luscious lot – so ready your minds!
With the international release of Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller‘s ‘Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For,’ the Film Doctor team enjoyed the immense pleasure of talking with Costume Designer Nina Proctor about her life, work and career.
Where did you grow up? Did you come from a film or creative arts family or were you an outsider?
I grew up in small town America, in Ethel, Miss. Population 500. My parents’ home was located off the Natchez Trace National Parkway. It runs from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennesse. It is an incredible source of inspiration.
My mom is also a source of inspiration. I was an outsider to the film industry but not to creativity. My mother instilled creativity into me and my five siblings.
When did you know you wanted to work in film and in costume? Was it encouraged?
My background was in theatre. Often in theatre you are in the role of struggling artist. I had moved to Austin because there is a strong theatre presence here and, although I loved what I was doing, I was a struggling artist.
In the early 90’s there was a burst of filming going on here. I found myself drifting towards film. My knowledge in costume construction was key. I was fortunate in finding projects that were period pieces and required costume construction. I realized I could make a career in film. I was encouraged even though I was changing my plan slightly.
Your first credit, according to IMDB is ‘Stars Fell on Henrietta’. How did that job come about and how did you make your start in the film industry?
‘Stars Fell on Henrietta’ was not my first project. My first project was ‘The True Life Of Ned Blessing’, written and produced by Mr. Bill Witliff, also known for ‘Lonesome Dove’ . He also resides in Austin, Tx. He was familiar with my work in theatre and was insistent about my being on the project. I had no film experience but knowledge of period costumes and costume construction.
I was invited on to his next project. At this point I had not worked my way up to costume design but a path was forming. On this project I worked with a wonderful designer Van Broughton Ramsey. We went on to do many projects together. He was a great inspiration and a mentor.
How were you getting work around that time? Luck? Pro-activity? Desperate Searching?
I’d like to think I was getting work due to my incredible talent! But seriously I think there is always a bit of luck involved, maybe a little fate, hard work and determination and last but not least passion.
I kept my resume up to date, checked with various film commissions, and local union rosters. I network and built relationships. IMDB came into play and is a great tool. Never desperately searching. As an artist I could always find an outlet.
Van and I had done a previous project with Anjelica ‘Buffalo Girls’. I think we gained her trust on that project. It’s about building relationships. It was her directorial debut and emotional subject matter. It was smart of her to surround herself with creative people she trusted and that supported her. She was awesome!
Presumably “Spy Kids” was a bit of a leap up for you? How did things change for you working on a project that size?
Robert Rodriguez was different though. He was fresh and moving towards modern technology. There was also talk of him building a studio in Austin. At this point I had been on location, all over the country, for months at a time. The thought of being able to work in Austin was appealing and I really liked the direction he was moving in.
Robert did go on to create Troublemaker Studios. I worked with the architect to design a costume shop with workroom, dye room, fitting room for actors, offices and a huge costume storage area. We have completed nine projects there. I have done 13 projects with Robert.
Talk us through your average work process from interview, sketches, to post production. Do you have a favourite method?
All projects start with the script. Before an interview I like to be familiar with the script. I do research and put together some concepts.
On initial interview I like to present research and concept ideas. My job is to help facilitate a directors’ vision of the script. It is important to know their vision. If I am invited to join the project it is at this point I start breaking the script down, determining at what point an actor needs changes, which then tells me how big their closet will be.
Once I have a breakdown I can start sketches. At this point I have become so familiar with the script because I have gone through it several times. I am developing a feel for characters, location etc…Colour schemes are decided. Sketches are developed. Sketches are one of several ways you share your ideas. Many decision are made in this process. You visually see your colour scheme, fabric choices, accessories, footwear and so forth.
These are then shared with my costume construction team and we begin building costumes. All through this process I am speaking with actors sharing my ideas with them and inviting them to share ideas, and then of course fitting costumes. As we start filming I try to stay ahead of the schedule, which is accomplished through very careful planning.
It is important to me that my team all feel a part of any project. We work as a team. Over the years I have developed a very organic way of design. If something isn’t working, determine the problem or go back to the drawing board.
You are currently based in Austin, Texas. Have you been there throughout your career? Did you ever move/ venture to LA or NYC?
Austin has always been my home base. I never moved to LA or NYC. Of course, I have had to venture into LA and NYC. I have wonderful sources and connections to both cities. I travel to both cities. I have done projects from the east coast to the west coast and many points in between. I have done projects in Hawaii, Hong Kong, and Japan. It has just never been an issue.
Personally and creatively Austin is home for me.
Great Question! I would have to say their immense passion for film making. It’s a quality all three shared. They have such different styles of directing but the passion is and was always present.
You’ve worked on a lot of sci-fi ‘ heightened reality’ or B-movie style projects – was this a deliberate choice or just how things panned out?
There were choices made. I love working with Robert and the group at Troublemaker Studios. Each project I do with Robert brings its own set of challenges. One of the joys of film making is the stories are always different. I have worked on many different genres of film throughout my career.
For costumes the actual filming part does not change much. You have a script, you have a group of people you costume, whether that is period, futuristic, sexy or a football uniform, if you see it in a film those pieces came from a costume dept.
Next summer I am designing a period piece set in the 1920’s based on a true story. This fall I am doing Dusk Till Dawn, the TV series. Each project brings forth a different type of research. I love that part of the process. I’m an avid reader so I never turn the research off. I like to study so for me there isn’t a vast difference.
Of course, there are differences in the set phase. Projects like Sin City everything is done on green screen, on digital files, whereas something like Varsity Blues everything is filmed on practical locations. Hopefully I will continue to have great opportunities. I think film making, just like anything else, goes through phases. I try to stay ahead of the curve.
When you work with Robert on his ‘adult’ projects or family productions do you notice a difference in approach from him?
Of course there is a different approach. It’s very different material. The thing that does not change is Roberts’ relationship with actors. He is right there, often working the camera and very gently directing the actors.
Can you explain, for those of us who don’t know, the differences between a Costume Designer, set Costumer and a Costume Supervisor?
To make it simple, the Costume Designer is responsible for the look of the show, the Costume Supervisor’s job is help facilitate the Costume Designer. The Set Costumer is the last line of defense for the costume dept.
What challenges do you feel Costume Designers most often face, (whether time, budget or just design based?)
I would have to say most often, time is a challenge. Often I have to deal with late casting of actors. When this happens its can affect all three aspects, timing, budget and design.
How has/does digital, VFX, and 3D change/d your process on shoots?
With VFX and 3D we deal with a lot of green screen so it affects colour choices, textures etc…there is also the challenge of hiding rigs under costume if you are flying an actor. Or sometimes you are trying to hide safety pads.
We just try to be prepared for any situations. With 3D you have to be very aware of what the director’s vision is. Do you want the costume to be part of the strong 3D effect or do want it to more subtle? With digital you are dealing with high definitions. Every detail shows. You’ll be looking at a monitor going ‘what is that bit of white on the jacket?’ It will be a tiny speck of lent.Nina’s team complete details on a full length leather duster
What changed between the first and second Sin City movies, work process wise? What stayed the same for the project and what changed (whether in Robert or Frank’s desires for the look or technology)?
For me they were very similar processes. We used Frank’s books for the story boards so both projects I was trying to create the silhouettes from the books.
We, however, did not have story boards for the beginning and ending of the second Sin City. Those were written for this movie and not a part of the books.
Robert really wanted to shoot the second Sin City in 3D. Frank was very protective of the material on the first Sin City. The second one there was quite a bit more trust. They co directed. Frank came from a creative place and Robert Came from a technical place.
Is there a genre/movie that you’re particularly interested in getting to do at some point soon? Why?
I am scheduled to do a project set in the 1920’s next spring/summer. It’s based on a true story. I love history so I ‘m truly excited about this upcoming project. And vintage clothing from the 20s. It’s exciting!
What’s one piece of advice you could give to an aspiring Costume Designer wanting to one day achieve big credits like you?
I think any good Costume Designer is only as good as her/his team. You can’t do these big projects alone.
What’s one piece of advice you could give to an upcoming writer, producer or director wanting to get noticed today?? Either in relation to storytelling or just within the business side of things?
On the business side of things, again choose your team carefully. You can have the greatest of stories but if they aren’t executed properly everyone loses.
Thank you, Nina!
Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For is in cinemas now.Join us on FACEBOOK or TWITTER and sign up to our emails on the right hand side for articles straight to your inbox. Any questions/thoughts/experiences of your own??? Leave a comment below! Have a great week! The Film Doctor Team