Hannah Greene and Kim Ngo caught up with costume designer Mona May at FIDM’s 19th Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design opening gala. Among other things, they talk about the costume designer’s role in the greater collaboration of filmmaking. Enjoy!
Mona May (Costume Designer of Enchanted, The Wedding Singer, Clueless)
FT: How are you enjoying the evening?
MM: It’s great to be here and see your peers and say hello to everybody. It’s so wonderful and I’m so proud of the designers. I don’t have anything shown; I have it the past, but it’s so wonderful to be here and see what everyone has done this year.
FT: How involved can you be with the digital effects in films you’ve worked on?
MM: I’m so involved. I’m probably more involved that anybody because from the beginning I’m brought on very early working with the production designer and the animators that are developing characters and other things. You need to be passionate and care about every detail. You sleep, you train, you create with the CGI guys. These 25 year-old guys who are designing your stuff and you have to feed them information because they are not designers.
There’s a great example of a movie I did, a CGI movie where I designed the little mouse clothes. And it was the most intense job I ever did because everything had to be given to the people who were building it with CGI. So how is the sweatshirt laying? What is the size of the zipper? So it’s very, very involving and I think once you do all of that and you [have to] give away your baby.
FT: Are there costume effects that you cannot control?
MM: What happens in post-production is out of your control. There are moments in my career where I’ve cried. There’s a moment in Haunted Mansion where there’s this huge ball. It’s an 1880s ball, a mardi gras, where there a hundred people dancing. There’s this huge, huge creative effort to make this ball look amazing and what happened is it got cut out of the movie. When I saw the screening I was like, “AAAGGHH!” So in the end you don’t have control.
Film making is a very collaborative process. The other thing is we’re not fashion designers. We’re not at home doing our own thing being creative. You really are part of a big group full of inspirational artists. The director has the vision, the production designer, the director of photography, the set decorator you have to work with because what if the couch is green and then the dress is green? All those details. So it’s very interesting because it’s as involved as you can get. I’m like a mother lion fighting for the right pink. It’s a very hard thing. It’s an interesting process. It’s a very humbling process because you give everything. My career is my life. I don’t have kids and stuff, my art is my life and I give it my all.
FT: Is there any advice you can give young designers who are just starting out?
MM: To be part of this creative community and I think as you guys are just starting out, at the beginning of a journey you have to give it your all. You have to love it. You almost have to eat the fabric. Even when you go on vacation, you’re not really on vacation because you always have to be observing; always looking how is everyone dressed. Things that inspire you, like colors, what is the lighting like, how is the lighting in the city. I just went to Miami for a job and I was like, how is the lighting in Miami and what does it do to the clothes? And what is the architecture? There’s all this stuff that you have to think of. It’s endless in a way but it’s so fulfilling creatively. It’s the juice of life.
If anything, I would tell young students and young people starting out in life that you have to be completely immersed into your craft. Family is important, but it’s a very demanding job. And [you have to figure out] how do you balance everything. There’s a lot of sacrifice but I think when you come to exhibits like this, or when you see a movie onscreen, you’re so impacted by something. It moves you and inspires you and there’s nothing better. You’re always a part of it and there’s nothing better.
Thank you to Hannah and Kim for asking some wonderful questions of the delightful Mona May. Thanks Mona, for your insight and advice!