Hello, fellow Moviemakers! I come to you with great news: I just wrapped production on my latest short film, “The Crime of the Century.” This short will be my biggest project yet; it was a lot of firsts for me as a director, and I’ll get into plenty of those reasons over the next few months, but one of the biggest differences was our use of costumes. With my past films all costumes required was finding some clothes without logos in our closet, but with “Crime,” not only were we working with two detectives that needed realistic attire, but also one of our characters has 10 costume changes in fewer than 5 pages!
My production designer and I went through several different routes to finding and buying our props and costumes for this film, so lets look at some of the options we explored:
1. Make them yourselves
a. Pros – Hiring a costume department and production designer on this short not only made my life easier, but it also gave me some fresh, objective insight into bringing my characters’ appearances to life. You’re collaborating with another artist who’s on your team to make your movie interesting. If this person it worth her salt, she’ll bring her A-Game to the table and work with you to bring both your vision and hers from the page to the screen.
b. Cons – Sometimes it’s harder to get exactly what you want. If someone puts 6 hours into sewing together a costume for your project and you “just don’t think it looks right,” you may have a big problem. Make sure to keep a consistent and open dialogue with your departments on the look you’re going for, and be open to their collaboration and input. They may be working for cheap or free, but they’re doing it to get their work on screen, and they want something to be proud of as much as you do. If this is where their expertise lies, they deserve their say in the project.
2. Ask around
a. Pros – You’d be surprised how much you can find for free from a simple Facebook or Craigslist post.
b. Cons – There could be a catch, depending on who your friends are. If you ever borrow equipment/a location/a prop/a costume from someone, it’s generally common courtesy to offer up some sort of payment be it money, or your time on another project/chore of theirs, and it’s generally up to the person to choose it. Also if the worst happens and you break whatever you borrow, be prepared to pay the price.
3. Schools & theaters
a. Pros – If you live near a high school or university or local theater, consider looking into their policy on renting out/loaning props and costumes. Depending on your project, a lot of places will offer up services just to get their name or logo in the credits! No shame in a little product placement.
b. Cons – Similar to #2, you’re borrowing someone else’s property that they probably paid money for and want to get back for future use, so be very careful with their stuff. You certainly don’t want to burn any bridges for yourself or other filmmakers that might go to them for help.
4. Online shopping
a. Pros – VERY specific. I challenge anyone to not be able to find exactly what they’re looking for on the internet with a little digging.
b. Cons – the biggest catch here is shipping, and making sure it gets to set on time. On a short I produced last summer called Crosshairs, we ordered a rifle replica and it got to us literally the day we started shooting, when it was scheduled to be there a few days before. Also, you’re buying something you’re just seeing a JPEG of. How do you know it’s REALLY exactly what you’re looking for? Make sure to check into the specs and authenticity before purchase.
5. Goodwill/Dollar Stores/Pawn Shops
a. Pros – Cheap! Cheap cheap cheap. Goodwill stores are a fantastic way to get affordable clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty or, say, drenching in a gallon of special effects and blood.
b. Cons – Well, you get what you pay for. And it’s not exactly the widest selection so if you’re looking for something specific or that’s outside the perception of reality, so for that you may want to try…
6. Specialty Party Stores
a. Pros – This option will probably get you the best of the best quality-wise. It has the selection of online shopping with the Goodwill ability to browse in person and try different options. My production designer and I frequented a store in Austin called Lucy in Disguise where we were able to find costumes we were having trouble on like a Baseball jersey without logos.
b. Cons – Expensive, though most of these stores have a lenient policy on student/filmmaker discounts, returns, or giving you the option to rent instead of buy. But be warned: if you bring a prop back late, or have to do reshoots and check it out again, or god forbid break something, it may be cheaper just to buy it. It’ll be more expensive on the books for this one film, but just consider it an investment for future projects! A convincing prop gun and a professional clown costume can be worth their weight in creative gold for your future endeavors.
So where do you usually find your costumes and props? Feel free to leave some of your favorite sources in the comment section below.