Ah, costuming; it’s just as important as the lighting and cinematography for establishing the “look” of a film, yet in many indie/low-budget films, it’s often overlooked. This is usually because most microfilms don’t call for clothing or props that can’t be easily cobbled together from stuff found at the local Goodwill or Salvation Army store. Microfilmmakers rarely do projects that need specialized or period-specific costuming because it’s almost always cost-prohibitive. For this reason, most microfilmmakers will not find the information in Costume Design 101 helpful. However, if you are someone who is interested in doing costume design for larger-budget ($50-100K and up) or specialized productions, this book will definitely come in handy.
The book starts out by outlining the job descriptions and responsibilities of those in the costume department. The author then goes through the process of how to get started and established in the world of costume design. Because most people in the film industry work as independent employees for hire, they have to essentially manage their own business, which is themselves. LaMotte explains the business side of working as a costumer, including interviewing for a desired position, the basics of a business deal, and putting together a presentation. Then we move on to organization: organizing the costume department, the script, and the overall costume “look” for the film. This is followed by the more artistic aspects of actual costume design, such as color and sketching. Next comes the production part, including how to collaborate effectively with the other members of the production staff, putting together costumes, working with the actors, and the actual production itself. The book concludes with the process of wrapping up a shoot (a notoriously tedious process, especially if the items have been rented) and a reference list of various costume houses.
While the overall structure and flow of the book is good, I would’ve liked to have seen some better organization in the content. For example, the first chapter deals with the different roles and duties of costume design and the different types of productions (film, television, commercials, etc.). However, there is no clear delineation between the three topics, because the headings for them are all the same. As a result, it is very confusing to read. This could be alleviated with a clear heading-subheading structure similar to an outline.
Additionally, there are very few visual breaks to separate the different parts of chapters or for examples. One of the most information-laden chapters is Chapter 7, which deals with breaking down the script, a very complicated process. However, most of the text is simply put forth on the page with nothing to separate the different sections that explain the process. Some paragraphs (which seem to be anecdotes or hints/tips) have a star next to them, indicating something important, but we’re not sure what, because they’re not “set off” from the rest of the text. Double-spaced separation of the different sections (along with clear headers for those sections) would be a huge help; also, setting off the starred paragraphs by putting them into text boxes or sidebars would not only aid organization, but would be visually appealing as well.
Costume Design 101 assumes that the reader is familiar with the basics of costuming, including textiles, sewing, colors, textures, etc. The book does not tell you how to come up with wardrobe ideas or make costumes or accessories; so if you’re wanting to find out how to turn a green satin prom dress from the 90’s into a formal Victorian gown for a production of The Importance of Being Earnest, you’re outta luck.
The book contains a tremendous amount of information about the structure of the process of putting together and organizing a Costume Department for television or film. Based on personal experience, a good deal of the information in this book could also apply to stage productions, as some of them (especially musicals) can be quite involved. Because costuming can “make or break” a production, it’s essential that those in the wardrobe department are organized, efficient, and knowledgeable, and LaMotte does a great job explaining how to achieve that.
However, one crucial element was noticeably absent in the book: examples and templates. There were numerous (excellently done) examples of costume sketches, but there are no examples of any organizational charts or templates for things like script breakdown, actor/costume measurements, budgets, materials, invoices, etc. I think that these are necessary, especially for something as complicated as the script breakdown, which needs very clear organization. Such examples would’ve been a huge aid in not only understanding the author’s explanations, but also in helping the reader organize the information themselves.
LaMotte’s extensive knowledge and his passion and enthusiasm for his work clearly shines throughout the book, and it’s almost impossible to not catch it. Even though I’m not much of a costumer (I personally believe sewing machines are possessed by the devil and I have NO ability to draw), I found myself quite enjoying the book. However, the lack of clear organization, visual breaks, and examples made it difficult to read, because the information seemed to all run together.
While the overall nature of costume design is generally the same, each production is unique, meaning that this will be a book you’ll be able to use again and again.
If you have a background in costuming and want to get into costume design in the entertainment industry, this book is definitely one to add to your collection. Drawing from LaMotte’s 40 years of experience in the film industry, this book is a valuable resource that you’ll be able to use in numerous productions. For the amount that you can learn from this book, it’s definitely worth the cost.
Costume Design 101 fills a void that goes largely unaddressed in the world of indie filmmaking. The book has a lot of good, essential, and detailed information of how to set about the often massive task of arranging costumes and accessories for an entire cast. However, improved organization in the book itself, along with examples of various charts and forms would help the reader understand and assimilate the information better. This book would not be a good purchase for microcinema filmmakers, simply due to the fact that this book is geared toward bigger-budget productions. However, if that’s what you’ve got your sights set on, and you want to get into costuming, then you’ll really enjoy this book.