Frocktalkers, I am very excited to share this interview with you. I sat down for breakfast with costume designer Dayna Pink, and we ended up talking about everything from Tenacious D to the tenuous work-life balance in our industry. Grab a cup of coffee and join us for breakfast!
What we do is about a shoe, or a sock, or an earring, and it becomes the most important thing in the world. That’s our life, right? It’s about balancing what we do with who we try to be as people. I think we have a hard job.
We have a very hard job. We have to be diplomats, and we have to be mediators. That is a very difficult place to be sometimes.
And trying to be creative in it, and trying to tell a story in it. I do, I think we have a really hard job.
I’m really glad that you could come today, because I’ve been wanting to talk with you for a really long time, on the record, about your work. I meant to do it during Crazy, Stupid, Love, and then I got super busy, and then, you know. How did you get started in this – I’m looking at your credits and it doesn’t go back that far, and you’ve done some huge movies. So how did that work?
I’ve been doing styling for twenty years. I was a stylist – I did musicians. I started in Detroit.
Is that where you’re from?
Yes, I’m from there, and then I lived here in LA, and then when I got pregnant with my daughter, we moved back to Michigan so she could be near my parents and my husband’s parents. While I was there, and had her, I started styling bands. And then I did a little TV show in Michigan, it was like a magazine-type show. Everyone came through there for interviews; that’s how I started with bands. Everybody would come through, and they’d want something or need something, so I would style them, and style the host, and then I got a segment on that show about fashion.
Oh wow! So you were on camera?
Yep. I did the news – I was a fashion reporter for ABC and CBS.
I didn’t know that!! WOW! That’s cool!
It was super fun. Our local CBS affiliate was turned into a Fox affiliate, and I was a fashion reporter for both of them. But you know, you hit a ceiling. I worked out there for a long time and there are a lot of car commercials, commercials in general, and there’s a little bit of TV, but at some point if you want to do this, you have to be here in LA. I loved it here anyway. So we decided to move back.
How old was your daughter at that point?
Eight. So I came back here and within three weeks was working. I never stopped working. I started doing commercials, and I did a lot of them, and I still did some bands. I was doing music videos, in the days when music videos had budgets and were totally fun… I did a U2 video, and I was doing Tenacious D when they were going to do a movie.
Pick of Destiny, right?
That’s it! They asked me to come have a meeting for the movie. And I was like, “I don’t know…” because it takes you off the market for like five months. When you’re a freelancer doing commercials and music videos, you’re juggling and working and saying, “Yes, yes, yes,” you’re taking everything. You’re doing a movie. You’re not going to just run and do a music video Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; you just can’t do that. I was like, “I don’t know whether I’m going to do a movie or not…” I read the script, and went in and had the meeting with Georgia Kacandes, who is the producer, and Liam Lynch was the director. We sat down and started talking about the story, and in the movie – Jack gets on a bus and he goes across the country, and he ends up in Hollywood. He gets off the bus and we started talking about what he might wear. And then it was like a whole new thing: what would he wear? And where did he get it? And where has he been? And where’s he been travelling? And what’s he been doing? It isn’t just what is he wearing?! It’s WHY is he wearing what he’s wearing. And that changed my life. That was like, “Oh my God!”
That was the light bulb moment, yeah.
That was it. It was like, “Ohhh! Where has he been?” How does that influence what you wear? And it does. And how can I help to tell the story? I walked out of that meeting going, “Oh, I’m going to do this! I have to do that movie!” And I did. That was my first movie. Then, everything changed. I still have clients for styling. I still do some styling in between movies, but that’s about what looks good. Our job isn’t necessarily about what looks good.
I didn’t realize that you retained clients; that’s good! Good diversification, really.
Yeah. I do a lot of men’s fashion. I’ve always been into men’s clothes; I’ve always been to the Paris shows for men, and I’ve always studied men’s fashion. That’s sort of my passion. I kept some clients who are men. I did Marilyn Manson for a lot of years. It was really fun, because you could be creative. You could do anything – I would bring a horse head to him and go, “What do you think?!” and he would say, “Let’s try it! Why not?!”
So then from there, did you get an agent?
Yeah. I’ve been with UTA probably since right after Tenacious D.
So that’s the project that really started the whole ball rolling?
Yeah. I did a Sarah Silverman movie first, but that was different. That was little vignettes, kind of. It was a different kind of script. She was awesome. It was really fun. Have you ever seen that movie?
I haven’t, but I love her.
You have to see it. It’s still relevant. She is funny and it doesn’t matter if it is made two days ago or five years ago; it’s f*cking hysterical. You have to watch it; it’s hilarious. She did the standup portion of it a couple times, and we laughed just as hard the second time that we heard it. She’s just that funny. She adds a twist to everything she does, every time she says it.
Tell me about your collaborations with people as a stylist – it sounds like you have had a gradual transition into styling and then came here and picked up work. How do you build those relationships and how do you keep going?
I think that work gets work. You just say YES to everything. I still try to do that, within reason. I think my best advice is to just say yes. It’s the power of yes. If it’s what you want to do, it doesn’t matter if you’re making money or not when you start out because work gets work. On every job, you’re going to meet somebody valuable, you’re going to learn something you didn’t know – whether it’s about how to cheat the hem of a pant, or whatever – it doesn’t matter what it is. You’ll learn resources about who will rent you clothes, or a place to source amazing vintage. Whatever it is, you’re going to find something in every job. That’s why I am where I am. Because I said YES.
I agree, in the beginning, you have to just take the jobs – whether it’s paid or not. It will put you in touch with people who can then hook you up later. That’s how it happened for me, too!
It’s interesting. I feel like I’ve never been sorry for saying yes to a job, no matter what it is. Have you?
Yes I have. There have been times when I’m like, “Somebody please fire me! Please! Just fire me!” And it hasn’t happened. It’s very sad.
(laughing) Oh my God, that’s funny. I think that hopefully as we grow in our careers, we draw ourselves to people that we’re supposed to be working with, like-minded people. The movie I just finished, Last Vegas, was so much fun. This director was unbelievable. I had the best time with him, and he was such a pleasure to work with. The actors were amazing and it was just one of those movies that – every day I would go to work and feel so lucky. I would wake up before my alarm would go off; I couldn’t wait to go in to work. No matter how tired you are, you feel like you’re part of the whole and contributing to what it’s going to be.
Let’s talk for a second about Burt Wonderstone. I saw the film and I wanted to talk with you about how it all happened – it looked beautiful. First, how it happened. And that’s a collaboration with Steve (Carell), right? Can you talk a little bit about how you started working with Steve?
That goes back to my styling. I met him while I was styling a PSA. It was for the NBA. I had never met him. I had sizes, but I didn’t know if they were good. I went and did a pull, and we were set up in a locker room. We had no racks – they didn’t have anything. All we had were lockers. I had about 100 options, all covering the lockers. He walked in and it was like a showroom/locker room. All of these outfits hanging, and we just had a really fun time. He was awesome. We had a great time and that was probably five years ago now.
Nice! I think one of the things that’s important to us as costume designers is to kind of build a family with your crew and the people you work with, so it’s nice to have that connection with an actor.
It is. I feel really lucky. He and his wife are the most amazing people.
When Burt Wonderstone came around, how did that all happen?
We had been talking about it for a long time, probably since Crazy, Stupid Love. The idea of doing magicians… I mean, please, are you kidding?! It’s pretty awesome. Especially the dated stuff – they had worn the same costumes since the 1990s, or late 1980s. It was like doing costumes in a time warp.
There were several phases of their costumes – which I thought was really interesting. Was that scripted, or was that something that you worked out with the director?
It was scripted. Some of them did not make it.
Really?! There were others?
I wish I could show them to you. There was a pink jumpsuit that he was wearing and Steve Buscemi was in a teal jumpsuit, and they were both lycra, ruched, yeah. With cowboy boots. Ruched all the way down, with bat-wings. Those costumes didn’t make it. There were some others that didn’t make it. You know when you see a movie, and you designed it, and you have all these memories of all the pieces and now I can’t remember if things actually made it into the movie or not.
So the ones that made it, that I can remember – the performance costumes – were the red/burgundy jumpsuit on Carell, and the three-piece red/burgundy suit on Buscemi; there was a black and blue sort of striped sequined one that made it…
And then there was the Johnny Carson tuxedos, that might be it?!
Then at the end, there were the nice suits.
Yes, and there was the sporty letterman’s coat…
Lest we forget – the jock and the nerd, right!
(laughing) That’s so funny.
When you were doing these looks, because they were all quite specific, did you collaborate with hair and makeup, with regard to the mullet, and transitions between the different stages?
We knew there was going to be a mullet. I don’t remember if it was scripted or not. But as you know, hair and makeup start so much later than we do. So it was sort of like – here’s what we’re doing and come on board.
Nice cameo by Roxanne (a hair stylist friend), by the way!
I was in there, too! Did you see me?
No I didn’t! Shoot! I just saw Roxanne!
I’m in that scene, too – I was dressing Steve. My whole crew was in there. You know, they said, “During this take, they’re changing clothes – we’re doing a quick change. “ So it just made sense that we would do it – if they hired extras to facilitate that change, there’s no way they could do it. So I asked my crew, and nobody wanted to do it. Everyone was camera shy. I said, “Come on. We’re doing it together; we’ll always remember this, we’re totally doing it together.” And it ended up in the movie, and you see everybody – you see the whole crew. It was awesome, really fun. Steve (Carell) hits me in the head with a water bottle!
It was so sweet – he stopped. I said, “I was in character!!!” It was fun.
I thought all of those stage costumes looked so good. Did you have conversations with the director about what he wanted to convey with those costumes, in terms of color, form and shape? How did that decision-making happen?
I came up with a bunch of options. We sketched a bunch of stuff, had a bunch of fabrics, so we had all of these choices. Then we narrowed them down for what was going to work, where. You saw the three main ones, the red one, the stripey blue one, and the jock/nerd one, but we probably had double that as options.
Did you make them all as options?
No, we didn’t make them all. We just made the ones that ended up on screen.
Who made these costumes?
So many people. It was such a collaboration. Serj Tailoring put together the velvet and the blue sequin costumes and Gene Doucette designed the placement of the crystals.
That was for the red/burgundy costume, and then the other costumes?
The other costumes were more simple – where to put the stripes, which way should they go, etc. The one with the jock was – ridiculous, right? (laughing) – I just had a letterman’s jacket made and then we covered it in crystals, and then we did a vest and we covered it in crystals.
That’s hilarious. And then when Jane transitions from tech girl backstage to being an assistant, tell me about that –
It had to not fit her. It wasn’t her costume! She’s so beautiful, and she looks great in everything. It just had to be uncomfortable. She was yanking on it, pulling on it. My favorite costume of hers – you only saw a picture of it –
I know! The end – the one that’s on the billboard, kind of looked like Rocky Horror Picture Show! With the corset and the top hat –
We made that and it was my favorite costume. They didn’t use the live part of it; they only used the picture. You know how that happens. Nothing we can do about it!
You had a LOT of building to do on this movie. To build those lycra suits from the ground up, that’s a LOT of money.
And we needed three or four of them because there were stunt doubles and you’d ruin one because you’d pick it… (Pick points are holes you put in costumes to make room for harnesses)
Hmmm. OK, that quick change costume. That wasn’t real, was it? It was an edit, right?
That trick is real. I can’t reveal any more about it. The magic thing is so amazing. You have to sign so many non-disclosure agreements.
How about that big hangman trick! That actually looked like it was done in real time, in real space –
It was. David Copperfield and his people designed that trick. Everything is so super top-secret; it’s crazy.
I need to ask about the Jim Carrey stuff! That costuming was hilarious. Tell me about the jewelry that he wore – the rings, the bracelets…
I shopped and shopped and found all of these different vintage pieces. I went everywhere. I spent a week shopping for just his jewelry. Did you see the baby’s arm? He’s a very unique character, as Jim always is, and I wanted to find something really fun. I was in a store and I saw dismembered doll parts, and I was like, “Oh, that’s it. We need to put a baby’s arm on him.” He had painted nails and all of this jewelry and stuff, so I took the baby’s arm, aged it, sanded it, covered it with stuff, painted the little nails black, built little bracelets for it, and attached it to the side of his keychain.
We loved it, and we laughed about it the whole time. It was such a joke, and so funny, but the MPAA removed the baby’s arm from all of the photographs, because they can’t have any dismemberment. They considered that dismemberment. It’s in the movie, but it’s not in any of the press pictures. Isn’t that crazy? It’s a doll’s arm.
Did Jim have ideas that he wanted to bring to the table?
He did have ideas! But then, I had ideas, and we married them. It was really fun.
The legwarmers were so spectacular for that final sequence. I was like, “Are those really what I think they are?”
Oh, they were. And we aged the sh*t out of them and stretched them and covered them in stuff, and everything was so aged – we splashed bleach on it, we just f*cked with every single piece so that it was really good and aged.
It was the jewelry that really caught my eye. I just wondered where it came from. Did you get them from specific stores? Or rental? Or what?
Everywhere. He had rings with eyeballs in them, and some of them were rentals, but most of it was purchased. When I tell you that I scoured the city, I really did. One of the necklaces, I drove to Palm Springs to get. It was a centipede necklace that I found on Etsy. I called the vendor up, and we were shooting it the next day – I actually had my sweet husband drive to Palm Springs to get it. It was a whole thing.
How about Alan Arkin? His stuff was nice – bland, and perfect.
He was so memorable in that movie. Don’t you just fall in love with him? He’s awesome.
What did he have to say about his costumes?
He had an idea in his head about what he thought it should be, and we were totally on the same page. It worked out perfectly. He loved the tails (from the flashbacks).
And Olivia Wilde – her stuff as Jane – her sweaters and t-shirts were very nice. Where did you find those?
All over. There was a tomboy element to her but she is so beautiful and girly. It was just about finding that right mix of comfort, because she wasn’t fancy, and she wasn’t designery, but she still had good taste and knew what looked good. It was all pieced together.
Okay, how about the people, the audience members, who get drugged and hauled off at the end of the movie. Stunt people?
Yeah. All of the ones you see getting dragged – they were really being dragged. We had multiples for them – we didn’t use them, but we had them. It was really good stunt acting. Wasn’t that hilarious?
Indeed! Can we talk about the schedule and how it affects you, and exhaustion and all of that stuff?
Well, you know – it’s not a race, it’s a marathon. It’s your life – you go to sleep when you get home, and you devote yourself to it. I think you just really have to take care of yourself. I try to eat well and get enough sleep. That’s it. That’s all I ask of myself.
How do you do it with a family, though? This is a life balance question and I think a lot of people are looking for answers.
I’m so lucky that my daughter is grown up, I have an amazing husband, he’s super helpful. I don’t have a young kid. I don’t know how people do it with young kids. I didn’t really start doing movies until my daughter was a little bit older. It would be really hard. I don’t know that I could have done it.
These days, I imagine you’re working mostly on union movies and bigger jobs. But when you’re looking for a PA or somebody to help you, what do you look for?
Someone who knows the city. Someone smart, ambitious, someone who wants to do this, and learn about it.
How do you meet them?
Someone will say to me, “Oh, I have a cousin or a friend whose daughter – or whatever – wants to do this,” and I go, “Are you SURE?” (laughter) Right? Okaayyy! But even if I don’t use them on a movie, I’ll use them on a shoot or a commercial or something. I don’t mind trying new people out. That’s how you find people.
Looking down the long road, what is your dream job?
Oh, God. I just feel so lucky that we get to learn everything and do everything – we’re always learning about some little piece, whether it’s something about a period, or the way that people from a certain country dress… every job is my dream job in a way. Burt Wonderstone was my dream job. And Crazy, Stupid, Love was my dream job. And Hot Tub Time Machine was totally my dream job. I think it’s about making the most of, and learning what you can, and absorbing all of the gifts of each job.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
Fittings. To me, the fitting is the birth of the character. In that room, you go from the actor to the character, and some time in that couple of hours, you look in the mirror, and you see Cal instead of Steve Carell. That’s the best part. The bonus is having them walk on to the set with the hair and the makeup, seeing it in the environment. To me, the magic happens in the fitting room.
Do you have anything in your pocket now – anything coming up?
I can’t talk about it. Not even my husband knows about it. I don’t like to talk about jobs until I am certain.
Is that superstition? Like, if you say something about it that it will go away?
I don’t know –
I think superstition is a very interesting concept. When you really break it down, and think about it critically, you start to understand more about yourself. If you think that talking about it makes it NOT happen, then what’s the mechanism that makes it not happen?
I don’t know – I’ve always, always been that way.
Did you have a bad experience where you talked about something and it didn’t happen?
Maybe? Yeah, I’m a believer that things sort of happen the way they’re supposed to, so I just let it unfold.
That’s a very difficult thing to do, working in this business.
But that’s life – I remember when I wanted to buy a house, it was like, OK, that’s the number. I’m going to offer you this number, and if I’m supposed to get the house, I will get the house. If I’m not supposed to get the house, I won’t get the house.
Working in this business, you know that not everybody thinks that way, and that it’s very stressful for a lot of people. So the way that you’re approaching work and all of that stuff, in that sense, is really healthy –
It is, and I do get disappointed. I’ve wanted to have jobs that I didn’t get before.
And what do you do with that? I mean, look. If I had a dollar for every job that I didn’t get…
Yeah. That’s so not true because you probably would have ten dollars. You’d probably not even be able to buy breakfast. (laughter)
That’s not true. But you know what I mean, we have to deal with rejection on a level that – well, objectively, I’m sure there’s a reason that somebody else was hired, and I look at it and I say, “That person was hired because of what they do, and what they do is different from what I do. “ So how do you, when you don’t get a job, how do you talk about that with yourself? I think it kills a lot of people and I think that your perspective would be valuable.
I just don’t think that we’re supposed to be where we’re not supposed to be. I think that we’re supposed to be doing something else if we don’t get the job. The jobs that I have wanted and haven’t gotten, which haven’t been that many, I’ve really been fine – really fine – with it.
Do you think that comes from inside of you? Is that something that you learned?
Yes. I do a lot of yoga. And that helps me to know that we are where we’re supposed to be. Don Scardino, who directed Burt Wonderstone, has this great saying: You’ve got to ride the horse in the direction that it’s pointed. And that’s how I try to live my life. So, I just think it’s okay if you don’t get a job, you’re not supposed to have that job, and you’re supposed to be doing something else, so you try and find what that something else is. You make good use of your time in between jobs, because that’s when you have growth, and that’s when you have time to devote to yourself, like a camel storing up your well-being and health and all of your good things for when you’re going to need it, on the next job.
So, to that point – about spirituality – doing yoga, it’s a very spiritual practice. How important do you think it is to carve out time for that while we’re doing this kind of crazy work?
Well, you can’t always carve out time because it’s not always your choice. If I can do ten sun salutations, that’s ten more than I would have done otherwise. It takes five minutes. You take the moments that you can, and then you remember, and your body remembers that practice. The in between time is the time I really try to practice yoga, when I really try to learn something new about yoga, or something new about something that makes me feel good. Then you hope it carries over, and you try and stay in your best self.
It’s hard; it’s a challenge, but the older that you get, and the longer you’re in this business, the more you understand that it matters and that we’re committed to it looking good. But there is some non-attachment to some of it in some way. You really pick and choose what pieces are really important and what you can and can’t compromise on. There are compromises in every movie. I look at any movie I make and there’s something in there that, every time I see it…
Yes, there is. Every single movie, there are moments in there where I’m like: I compromised. I see it, and it’s on the screen, and it will never change.
So how do you feel about that? That makes me feel horrible; I don’t know about you, but…
It doesn’t make me feel horrible because it is a piece of what ended up in this whole picture. It is a piece of it, and it’s just – it is okay. It’s just okay.
It has to be, right? Because there’s no other way to look at it.
If you can’t get out of it, get into it! (laughing)
That just might be the pull-quote from this interview!
If you don’t find balance in this job, you’re in trouble. You have to have balance. You have to be kind, and you have to know what’s important to you. It’s not that I don’t pick battles, I do. There are times when I say, “This is the right thing to do. I’m telling you right now, this is the right thing to do. And I wouldn’t be saying it if I didn’t feel it so intensely. “ There are moments! And then there are moments when I go, “I don’t really think this is right, but I’ll live with it if it’s what you think you need.”
It’s hard. I think, on some level, it’s your name that’s attached to it.
Right. If there’s something I can’t live with…
Has that ever happened?
That is ended up on the screen? Not in anything that’s so big I would mention it, you know what I mean? (laughter) But sure… sure.
If you were to have a sit-down conversation with somebody who wanted to start in this business, not even necessarily in costumes, what would your advice be to someone like that?
Anything that you’re passionate about, that’s what you should be doing. Then you never feel like you’re going to work. You have to really love it. It’s obvious, the people who love being in this business, who love coming to work. It’s hard work, and I’d say YES to every job. You start at the bottom, and you work your way up. You learn every aspect of whatever position that is.
What are you looking for in costumers?
I want them to pay a lot of attention to everything that’s happening. I want them to be really meticulous about how many buttons are buttoned, and where a collar goes, and if something’s looking wrinkly… they need to be really meticulous, they need to pay a lot of attention, and be good with people. They need to like their job and not mind working hard.
Thanks so much for your insight. And, good luck with the project you can’t talk about! (giggles)
Who knows. You have to have trust in the Universe! That’s it. That’s all you got.
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Big thanks to Dayna Pink for sitting down with me and shooting the breeze. It was a lovely time, and I can’t wait to hear about the new project!! Good luck, Dayna!!