Many an aspiring costume designer has wondered how to get started in this business. Many a costumer has wondered how to transition into costume design. Shoshana Rubin is one of those people who has made the transition. She’s a lovely gal, and I thought you all might like to hear her story – might give you some ideas and inspiration! Read on~
How did you get started and tell us a little bit about your background:
I went to the University of Michigan, and I was a student in the school of art there. I was actually doing a lot of photography and some three-dimensional stuff and I was not quite sure when I started what direction I was going to take, how I was going to make a living out of being an art student. One of the great things about the University of Michigan is that you can take classes all over the school, and I was very interested in film and theater. I had grown up with a grandma who was very theatrical and we would go see productions, we would go to museums – she was very artistic and very creative. So I decided to take some theater classes and I took one that opened my eyes to costume design, working in the costume shop. It’s something I always had liked, sewing and making things and knitting, dressing up my dolls and dressing up myself; that was something that was always interesting to me. When I realized it was something I could actually do for a living and felt like a more reliable job – I felt too nervous to just be a fine artist – that wasn’t secure enough for me but somehow I felt that this was more secure (laughs)
I was just going to say – wow, you deluded yourself pretty well, girl!
Exactly! Well, at the end of the day, it has been, for me. It has been more secure, and it has been the right place. I finished out my college career taking a lot of theater classes and designing some theater stuff, getting very involved in that.
When I graduated, I had the fortunate opportunity to work on a film in Chicago called My Best Friend’s Wedding. Jeffrey Kurland was the designer, and he happened to be making the transition from New York to California, as well as I was. I had family out in California and figured that going out to California to work in the film industry was going to be a better bet for me than going to New York and working in theater. I felt like I knew more people; I had spent a lot more time in California, and liked California. So, I went to work on My Best Friend’s Wedding with Jeffrey, and learned a lot from him and that experience, and then moved out to California. The assistant designer on that show helped me to get a job at a costume shop, a union costume house that is no longer in business, John David Ridge. By working at the costume house, you can get union days. I worked for John for eight months, and working for John was one of the greatest jobs out here –
What were you doing for him?
John was only a custom house. He only made custom stuff, so he didn’t have rentals. He had a shopper position, so what I would do is run out, I would swatch fabrics, I would find buttons, I would find zippers, I would find anything he would need to complete a garment. It was a great thing for me, especially having just moved here. I learned the town – and I got to meet great designers who came in while I was there: Julie Weiss, Joanna Johnston, a lot of people would come through there and do things, Judianna Makovsky was working on something while I was there. I got to see the process of him building pieces from sketches though the swatches.
So when Jeffrey started working, when he got his first job in California, he hired me on that. I went on to that show as basically a shopper. I ended up working for years for Jeffrey, and that was really great experience for me because I ended up doing a lot of things for him. Not only did I shop, but I ended up doing set, so I ended up learning a lot of the different aspects of costuming. I would always start with him right at the beginning, so I always know from the concept, all the way through the whole entire movie, how things would end up on a character, on an actor, in front of the camera. That ended up being a great experience for me.
Also through working with Jeffrey, I did branch out and work with other designers, and I supervised and I did other stuff, so I had run the gamut of many of the costuming positions.
So, after all of that experience, how did you transition to designing?
Well, as a back-story, I had worked on Ocean’s Eleven, which is a film that Steven Soderbergh directed, and I had worked on quite a few other of his films. He is very loyal, as a director. He likes to hire a lot of the same people because then he becomes familiar with his crew, and everyone just kind of works in flow. After we shot Ocean’s Eleven, he was doing a very very low-budget film (Full Frontal) where he decided that he wasn’t going to hire a costume designer. I asked him, when we were finishing up Ocean’s Eleven, I said, ‘If you decide to hire some type of costume representative, I’d be very interested in doing that position.’ So he decided to hire a costume representative, and I came on and I did that position, which was a lot of collaborative effort with actors to see what they would bring. I would go to their houses and look in their closets, we would go to a store – for Catherine Keener we went into a store, we would pick something out from there. Julia Roberts was in that movie; she came with a suitcase, and wore whatever clothes she wanted.
By having had that conversation with Steven, he knew my intentions, wanting to design. Which did, after a while, get lost for a little time. I actually had done a short film as well, in between this time, but then for a while, my intentions did get a little bit lost as I had just started to continue to costume. Three years ago, Steven was putting together him film The Informant, and he and his producing partner Greg Jacobs had this creative idea that it was a little bit lower of a budget than Steven normally does, but not as low budget as Full Frontal. He had decided, again out of his loyalty, what he likes to do is bring people up among the ranks. They hired a production designer who had worked with him as an art director, and they were hiring other people who had never really keyed their departments. So they called me up and said, ‘Are you designing right now; are you interested in designing?’ So, it’s a little bit of a Cinderella story, because how could you NOT be interested – that was the direction I had intended all along, and so I accepted that job, of course, obviously. That was my transition into 892 (The Costume Designers Guild). It ended up being a really amazing experience. And from there, it launched my career into designing.
So you still have your 705 (Motion Picture Costumers) card as well as your 892 card? Tell me about that and how that works –
Yes, I have both. I think it’s great to have both, especially if you’re starting out in 892. There is only one costume designer per job. There is maybe an assistant designer on a job; a lot of times there’s not any more. There are a lot more costuming jobs, so if it’s something you feel passionate about, and you want to do, it’s a great way to keep yourself relevant and to keep working in the costuming world. It’s a great way to work with other great designers and learn a lot from them. I think my experience of being in 705 up until I joined 892 was a great learning experience for me. I got to work with great designers; I got to see them make amazing costumes; I got to work on very large budget films, and I got to work on low budget films as well. I got to kind of run the gamut.
So when I went in and did The Informant, part of my skills of being in 705 helped me to facilitate and to create the look and to do that movie. For me, I wouldn’t have been able to do it without that, because I have those skills. I had those organizational skills; I did have a small crew on that, and I knew what to look for. I knew how to monitor my money. I knew how to wrap a show. I know how it should be. That was a harder part for me, figuring out how to let other people do their jobs, because I also know how to do their jobs. But again, that also helps me to delegate what people should do. I think it’s a really great benefit.
After I did The Informant, I still did some 705 work – I did some day playing for other designers that I’ve worked for, did some more shopping. When there’s no work out there, and you want to keep working, I don’t think there’s any ego, there’s no reason to not take other jobs, to be able to do both.
So at what point in all of this did you get an agent, and how did that happen?
That happened after I finished The Informant, and it was a lot of prodding by Greg Jacobs, the producer from The Informant. He said, ‘You know, you should get an agent, you did a great job on this movie, it’ll really help you get more jobs,’ and my husband agreed – he’s like, ‘Yeah, you probably should.’
For the record, your husband’s an agent – just putting that out there!
For the record, my husband IS an agent; he does not represent below the line. But he does have that background. So I was wondering how I might go about doing this, how could I get an agent. What he recommended, and what I did, was I went onto the Costume Designers Guild’s website, where you can see all of the costume designers and you can see who their agents are. I looked up designers whom I felt were about the level that I was at, or the level I felt I should be at, so I didn’t go look at Julie Weiss, Deb Scott, Jeffrey Kurland. I didn’t feel that that’s where I wanted to be represented; I’m not that designer. I was looking for people who’d done lower-budget films and where they were represented and I picked out a handful of agencies and found out their email addresses. I sent out an email letter saying I had just finished Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant, I’m very interested in getting an agent, here’s my contact information, are you interested in representing me?
I got a few phone calls back, and the ones that were the most responsive, Innovative Artists, they seemed very enthusiastic about me, and they wanted me to come in, to meet me. They set up a meeting, and I went in and met with them. I got a great feeling, and I really liked them and they made really great suggestions. So, I went with them. There was another agency where the assistant kept trying to set up a meeting and not set up a meeting, and that didn’t feel like the right fit for me; they were kind of like, ‘Well, how can you be a benefit to our agency?’ That was kind of their question, whereas Innovative was like ‘How are we going to help YOU to succeed with your career and get ahead?’ That was the attitude I liked more. It’s ended up being a really great fit, and they’ve been really great.
Good! So tell me about your favorite part of the job as a costume designer –
My favorite part of the job is that every project is fresh and new. It’s exciting that you get a new script, new characters, new ideas. Our job never gets boring; it’s never old because it’s always changing, and that’s the best part that I love about this job.
What’s your least favorite part of the job?
My least favorite part of the job is probably two things: some of the politics, and sometimes the hours. What we do is it’s collaborative. Being collaborative is amazing – that you get other people’s input, but sometimes that input comes from a different place than just a creative place. That’s where it gets difficult, when there are politics involved. Sometimes, I don’t love the hours. I’m not a night person, so sometimes night shoots are not my favorite thing! I don’t mind the long days –
You’ll take that 4:42AM call, but…
Yeah! The 4:42 – I don’t mind the early calls, I don’t mind the long days, but if you’re going to keep me up all night? No way; I’m asleep on the trailer floor. I can’t do it. But you do what you gotta do. (laughs) That’s my least favorite part.
What’s your dream job?
My dream job would probably be to do something of a fantasy. Like, fantasy genre – Narnia, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings-type thing. Something where there are fairies or princesses or witches or a crazy kind of world like that. That would be my fantasy job.
Would you consider doing that if it was a TV series?
TV show? It depends. Depends on where I am in my life – if it was in town? And at a certain point in my life? Maybe? TV though, you know, because it moves so quickly, the thing with film and being able to do a fantasy job on a film would be that you would hope that you would have enough prep time, and that you could really create, and you could have each costume and each character be really well thought out. I think a lot of times in TV and series, things are moving too quickly. You might not be able to fully conceptualize everything.
Tell me about some of your projects that are coming out soon –
I have two things coming out next year! I believe January, a film called Haywire, which Steven Soderbergh directed. It stars Gina Carano, who is a mixed martial arts fighter, and she’s playing a hired agent on a mission that’s gone awry. Ewan McGregor is in the movie, Michael Douglas has a cameo, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum. I got to travel the world with that one – that was fun! That comes out, I believe, around January. And then in April, a movie called Prom, a Disney movie, which is… about a prom. It stars Amy Teegarden, and that’s coming out in April.
Well we won’t miss those films! In fact, I’d like to talk with you at some point about your costumes in those films when those movies come out!
Thank you, Shoshana, for taking the time to tell your story to Frocktalk and the world! Good luck with all of your new projects, and we will definitely see you later to talk Haywire!!