As costume designers, supervisors and costumers, we often interact daily with background artists. How many of us have ever stopped to think about who these people are, what their lives are like, and how they view US? I talk here with background artist Kimberly Ables Jindra – we’ve worked together on a few films, and I am very fond of her. I thought it might be illuminating for you Frocktalkers to consider the other side of the coin when it comes to background players. We get so busy, so crazed, and we operate under such pressure that I think it’s worthwhile to remind ourselves that background artists are not just bodies; they are people, too.
How did you get started in this kind of work?
My first experience was working crew. I did craft service on a small movie that shot in my hometown of Denton, Texas.
How did you become a background artist?
I’ve been a dancer for years, and someone asked me to dance on film; that’s how it started.
What is the typical experience, when you get a call for work?
It can vary. Sometimes you audition for jobs, sometimes you don’t; sometimes you interview. Most people just get a call from a casting company – somebody has seen their picture and they ask if you’re available.
How many casting companies do you typically register with?
Twenty-five or thirty? I’m also online with sites like actors access and LA Casting, and they have much broader availability for things. I work at my career all the time. When I’m not on set, especially when I’m home, I work eight to ten hours a day looking for work. I’m constantly looking online, submitting for stuff, calling the lines, trying to find out if there’s work available. I’m really serious about it.
What advice would you have for costume people in terms of the way that we interact with you as a background artist?
The majority of costume people are really good. You have some people who are kind of on a power trip, but I think that’s true in any job. The majority of costume people are really good. I would just say – remember, we are people, too. Most of us, at least those of us who have been in the business a while, we’re pretty professional. We will come to work in clean lingerie, and we will try to make your job as easy as possible. If we’re bringing our own wardrobe, most of us are going to bring lots of stuff. Sometimes I get to set and I shudder when I see a background artist show up with stuff just shoved into a bag. They are supposed to bring it on hangers. A sweater, sure, you can carry it in a bag, but not your dresses and pants and suits.
What was the best experience you’ve ever had as a background artist?
I think probably my favorite experience was working on The Master with Paul Thomas Anderson because I went to my fitting and I just clicked with (costume designer) Mark Bridges – he was just a doll. He actually wasn’t even fitting me, another woman was, and she was having a little bit of trouble finding me something to wear that he liked. So he just took me back through all the costumes, and he pulled out six outfits and every one of them fit me. Then, I worked on the film in San Francisco – I drove up there – and when I arrived we just hugged like we were best friends. I mean, he’s just such a doll. I ended up getting upgraded on that job, and I left early. Mark was so sad to see me go, and it made me feel like he really did like me – it was that kind of thing!
Then I didn’t see him for a while. Later, I saw him at the cast and crew screening, and he remembered me. It was really sweet. I felt like I really made a friend. The other thing that he did – I’ll never forget, and will always be grateful for – he told me that I was playing this professor-type, which I didn’t really know, but that was his vision for me. I guess it was Paul’s vision, too, because the first day that I went to hair and makeup, he said, ‘Don’t let them do anything to your face – we want you plain!’ The hair and makeup people tried to start doing things to me, and he walked in and said, “Unh-uh – no.” And I just loved him for that! (laughs)
That’s so nice!! That’s a great story!
He’s lovely. He’s such a sweet man. I hope I get to work with him again some time!
Big thanks to Kimberly for her thoughts and stories. I hope that the next time you have a line of forty people snaking around the costume truck, you can take a moment to recognize the beauty in each person. You might be surprised at what a perspective-shifter it is. Have a great weekend, everyone!!