Fashion in Film: Electrick Children

Interview with Costume Designer Stacey Berman

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“Electrick Children” features some costume’s definitely worth talking about! Luckily enough for me I had the pleasure of speaking with visionary behind these Mormon-chic creations- please allow me to introduce to you costume designer; Stacey Berman, as she shares her inspirations behind her stunning creations, not to mention a  behind-the-scenes glance at “Electrick Children”

 

SV: You studied at Bernard College, Columbia University along with a handful of course’s in Paris- explain to me more about your creative background?

SB: I studied Art History, which taught me to think critically about visuals.  It introduced me to a myriad of works of art, artists, and movements, and it gave me a vocabulary for discussing imagery. I think about those same works when I research, just as I use the same vocabulary when I meet with collaborators and we discuss the images we are creating.

Though my academic experiences helped shape my creative background, my interest in costume design started when I was young. There were lots of outfits for Barbie, subscriptions to Vogue and W, and an influential babysitter who showed me Style with Elsa Klensch. I was constantly drawing and making up worlds and stories, so every Barbie outfit included a whole history of who that Barbie was. Eventually, after taking various sewing and drawing courses at summer camp, I found myself designing the costumes for the theatre productions in my middle school. I continued working on shows through high school and then in college, when I was lucky enough to be in New York. I started designing projects downtown for various experimental theatre groups, where I met many of the people I still collaborate with now, four or five years later.

SV: How did you land the job as Costume Designer for Electrick Children?

SB: Becca and I had mutual friends in her MFA program at Columbia. We became friendly while working on other students’ projects, and one day she asked if I would be interested in working on her film. At that point (I think it was in May), Becca and her producer Jess were still raising money on Kickstarter! I agreed to work on the original, smaller scale version of the film, and happily went along as they found an investor and the project grew.

 

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Photo Credit (First image): Amber Henrie, behind -the-scenes filming ” Electrick Children”

 Photo Credit: Stills from ” Electrick Children” by Cinematographer Mattias Troelstrup

 

SV: In terms of research how much preparation was involved in the process of creating the costumes for the film?

SB: I first read a draft in May or early June, and we filmed in September. During this prep period, Becca and I spent a fair amount of time trading reference images, and I compiled a big book of research.

For the Utah compound, we felt it was important to research what real Polygamist and Fundamentalist Mormons wear, but to steer clear of copying it exactly. We were creating our own community. So, I actually started by looking at works by artists, and not the specifics of the Warren Jeffs / FLDS compounds. I looked at a ton of work by Andrew Wyeth. Christina’s World (1948) is a very clear reference point, down to Rachel’s pink dress! Wind From The Sea (1947) is another one I love – even though there are no people in it, it informed the way I thought the environment would feel. When I imagined characters, I imagined them looking through this window. Dorothea Lange and Sally Mann were great sources of inspiration for or Rachel’s brothers and sisters. Their family is large, and we decided her siblings would share clothing and wear hand-me-downs: there is a scene where Rachel borrows her sister’s nightgown when can’t find her own. Lange’s Depression Era portraits are a wealth of pattern and texture, with subjects who also share clothing, and wear hand-me-downs. Nothing fits quite right. Mann’s portraits are appealing for many of the same reasons, and also pointedly look at sexuality, which was useful when thinking about Rachel on her journey to Vegas. Mann is a contemporary artist who frequently dresses her subjects in outfits that don’t read as new. I liked this. We peppered the conservative dress in Rachel’s family with thrift store items on the little kids – as long as they were covered, it would be ok. A lot of Mann’s work has that feel, even if it goes awry.

Finally, I found an editorial called Living Green by Steven Meisel that ran in Italian Vogue in February 2008. The spread plays with conservative fashions, mixing tons of patterns on patterns, and heavily layering each look. Ultimately, these looks were too stylized for our Utah community, but I would pull it out and look at it for guidance whenever I wanted to push things a bit more towards the fantastical. The outfit Rachel wears in the scene where she throws up and then looks at her baby brother is probably the closest we come to anything like the editorial – a green patterned dress with an intentionally clashing sweater, another calico patterned apron, and two separate rags in bright colors hanging from her waist. I was concerned that maybe it was too stylized, but we decided to go for it since it is such a small moment. I think in context, it works.

Vegas! William Eggleston, Nan Goldin, Corrine Day – I looked at work by all of these photographers. Becca had lots of photos she had collected, and I spent a fair amount of time jumping around Facebook, pulling photos of friends of mine who somehow felt like the characters we were creating. There is one image Becca found of a woman underwater with her arms above her head – I think it’s the album cover for Qoso Expo (?) that I thought about a lot. I looked on skate blogs. Primarily, I used lots of photos from Facebook, and Becca’s personal photos. I even pulled clothing directly from the wardrobes of some of the band members because the actors playing those parts grew up in and around the same types of music and skate communities that we were portraying.

 

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 Photo Credit: Amber Henrie, behind -the-scenes filming ” Electrick Children”

SV:  What was it like collaborating with the hair and make-up team?

SB: Heather Ford was the department head, and she is wonderful. We met in LA, shared research, and then on a day-to-day basis as we put together looks, we would touch in about ideas. For the most part the principals only had one hair and makeup look in Utah – but it was fun when we got to Vegas and got to create characters like Snow and Lola. Also, miscellaneous featured extras were fun to design together. For example, it was a blast to create the young woman who is shopping in the grocery store when Rachel and her mom buy the pregnancy test. She’s a minor character, but we talked about her extensively for the visual contrast she would provide opposite Rachel. Disney-era Miley Cyrus came up a lot as a reference point.

SV: How long was the design process?

SB: There were roughly 3 months between me reading the script and filming. Because many of the actors signed on at the last minute, we were locating and fitting garments until the very, very end. But, as far as research goes, the bulk of it happened before we started filming, because we had to gather all of the clothing before we left for Utah – there aren’t many resources in the ghost town we filmed in!

 

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  Photo Credit: Stills from ” Electrick Children” by Cinematographer Mattias Troelstrup

SV: Julia Garner’s character Rachel looks like she comes from a totally different other era- how many costumes did you design for her in total?

SB: Rachel has 10 or 11 looks depending on how you want to count them all. She has a bunch over the first act in Utah, one look that we called her “Journey Look” where she travels to Vegas (the pink dress, and the hoodie she inherits along the way), her wedding look, and her beach look. We built the “Journey Look” pink dress because we needed multiples of it. So much happens to the dress over the course of the time Rachel is in Vegas, we had to build it and then distress the different versions to different levels, so that we could film scenes out of order. I think we built between 4 and 6 copies of the dress, to cover Rachel and a stunt/driving double.

 

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 Photo credit: Sketches by Costume designer Stacey Berman

SV: One of favourite scene’s in Electrick Children is when Rachel  is riding on the back of Clyde’s bike wearing a pair of heart shaped glasses. I found this gave her a Lolita-esque vibe- was this intentional?

SB: This is all Becca! Those specific glasses are in the script. I had a pair at my house, and I threw them in my bag when I was packing to go work on the project. On the off chance we would keep that moment in the script, it was one less thing to buy. Turns out, now they are on the poster! I don’t even know where I originally got that pair. I think someone left them in my apartment a few years ago.

SV: I was a big fan of Rory’s oversized blue Hawaiian shirt- did the actors/actresses have any input into the designer at all?

SB: Thanks! Yes. The most successful design moments always seem to happen when collaborating. I brought my research to our fitting, and Rory and I talked about what the film was going to look like. We focused not just on his character, but also Utah, and how Clyde would fit into the bigger picture. I was really obsessed with the idea of Clyde realizing that he was never going to be the dreamy lead man that Johnny is, and therefore instead of trying to dress via those guidelines of cool (plaid shirts, faded t-shirts, beat up jeans), he would aggressively dress “weird” to get attention. That was the birth of the Hawaiian shirt. Rory was adamant about mixing the brighter pieces – the Hawaiian shirt, the blue jacket he wears in the sunglasses scene – with darker, more subdued basics, like his army green cargo pants and navy t-shirt. I think he was spot-on with this inclination, and helped me from taking the character too far into caricature.

 

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 Photo Credit: Stills from ” Electrick Children” by Cinematographer Mattias Troelstrup

SV: There is strong contrast in style between the two main character’s Rachel and Clyde- which costumes did you most enjoy designing?

SB: I really enjoyed finding Rachel’s character. She lives in a community with pretty strict rules, but she questions them. Figuring out how to show that in her clothing was exciting. We knew Rachel had some sort of talisman. She needed something like a necklace she inherited, or earrings she was given at birth. It had to be something to make her special amongst her siblings. It wasn’t necessarily going to be loud from a design point of view, but as a character – what did Rachel like? What did she hold on to? One day while I was shopping in supermarket, I found a little toy vending machine near the door that sold plastic bracelets in those silly Easter egg containers. It felt like the perfect thing for the character. Maybe Rachel snuck away one day while on a rare trip to the grocery store, and bought herself a bracelet as a reminder of her trip and a hint of the world outside. I spent all of my change trying to get the machine to give me two matching bracelets, so that I could have one for back up if it broke. Of course I ran out of change before finding two that matched, but we decided to play two different ones together on her wrist, and risked it! One did break at one point, but we were able to fix it. She never takes them off.

The other element to her costume that felt specific to her is her shoes. We wanted something conservative, and I knew it was probably a Victorian type bootie, but I didn’t really focus on them during the design process. Then we found vintage ice skates that had been resoled. They were perfect. They look like the shoes her mom and sisters wear, but with a fleece lining, narrow cut, and top-stitching. They are a little bit out of place. They are shoes that started as one thing, transformed into another, but never lost sight of their original value. Not to make this a movie about the skate shoes or anything…

 

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 Photo Credit: Amber Henrie, behind -the-scenes filming ” Electrick Children”

SV: Prior to getting involved with costume design for film you have worked a lot within theatre- how do they compare to one another?

SB: The tenets of costume design for film and theatre are really very similar – building characters in fictional worlds. It is about helping to define the characters and the worlds though clothing. It is about helping to tell the story. The structure and schedule for bringing to life these ideas can be very different, as can the content with which one is working. Even the way looks manifest themselves are different, with altered color palettes, and patterns in various scales. But overall, costume design is about using clothing to help tell the story or paint the scene, whatever that scene may be.

SV: Tell me about the next project you’re working on and what can we expect to see?

SB: I have a theatre show opening in a few weeks that should be fun – there’s a scene in the 1970s, and a character that is a former mermaid. I’ve been juggling some possible music videos, but I’m not sure what will fall into place next. I also just read a feature script I like. We will see!

 

Check out Stacey’s costume’s in action- “Electrick Children”

For more on the Costume Designer please view her website 

By Sascha Vine @ dropsofelixir.com

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