I am an aspiring designer fresh out of grad school and getting started in the business. I’ve slowly had some work rolling in. I took a design job on a short film down in San Diego, and I booked a shopper job that pays a daily rate. I still have a bit of assistant work for the opera left, but that’s almost come to a close. I’m still looking for something to put me on set in LA though – even PA work for now would be okay. I’ve heard summer can be dry, but I can’t sit around that long; too much free time is never good right?! It’s just not my style to wait for work. Any advice?
– Sonia L
I’m going to channel a well-known costume designer whom I met when I first arrived in LA: Nobody likes to wait around for work, but this is ultimately our reality, so welcome to the business, kid. Too much free time forces a person to deal with uncomfortable feelings of inadequacy and financial panic, right? We all have to deal with it.
It’s a stressful thing to be under- or unemployed. Everyone here in the creative departments works freelance. We go from show to show, without a steady paycheck, without the guarantee of more work. We are like frogs leaping from log to log in the stream, hoping to cross the wide river without falling into the water or getting eaten by an alligator.
The thing is – we can’t realistically generate work for ourselves as costume designers. If I wanted to pitch a costumey pilot to HBO and they loved it, I’d be producing, not designing the costumes. As a costume designer or costume team member, we sometimes have to wait for work. Need we feel helpless about it? NO. We have many other options.
The number one thing I will tell you is that you must HUSTLE. There is no other way to make it in this business but to hustle. You need to pound the pavement, knock on doors, make phone calls, take lunches, talk to whomever you can, send out resumes, and work your ass off. Hustle, girl – hustle. That’s all there is.
I always tell costume design newcomers to this business to diversify themselves. By all means, take jobs as a PA – it’s the way we all started. If you get the opportunity to join 705 (IATSE Motion Picture Costumers) JOIN. It’s exceedingly difficult to get in to that union, and you can work as a costumer, day-playing on projects when you are not designing. This is one of the smartest things you could ever, ever do. It is relatively easy to join 892 (IASTE Costume Designers Guild), but it is like pulling the brass ring to get into 705, so seize your opportunities. But more about that HERE.
In the meantime, you need to pay your bills and eat, right? You might need to take some side jobs to this end – catering, temping, or babysitting – hustle and make it happen. Meanwhile, keep putting yourself out there for work in costuming. Every day, dedicate two hours to reading the trades, sending out your resume, and making phone calls. This is a marathon, and you must build your hustle muscles if you want to succeed. It never lets up.
You can and should design anything and everything you can get your hands on, whether it pays or not. Check Craigslist. Check Backstage (in the Film/TV crew category). Check Production Weekly. Check Below the Line Production Listings. When you are starting out, no project is ever too small. Go get the job, meet people, do great work with a friendly, helpful attitude, and stay in touch. This is how you build a career.
Summer isn’t traditionally slow – the last couple of weeks in December are usually slow, Labor day week is slow, occasionally Fourth of July week is slow (like it was this year), but summertime is when a lot of projects (especially those involving children) are really hopping. TV shows used to take their hiatii (? plural of hiatus?) in January/February, but now all bets are off. With several hundred TV channels producing shows at all times of the year, the traditional “hiatus season” is also being blurred into oblivion. There is always work to be done; you just have to turn over every rock to find it.
I hope that this is helpful to you. Keep yourself busy – either with your own projects, temping, or doing small, short films for free. Good work begets more work. Keep your chin up and know that you are on your way!!! Good luck to you, Sonia.