Trying to be an innovative independent filmmaker is a tough gig, you have no cash and you have to constantly explain to your extended family what you do for a “living.”
“…No, Aunt Rosemary, I don’t know Spielberg … yes I’m sure it would be nice to work for him.”
One of the toughest things about doing a film on your own is you have to accept that your imagination does, in fact, have limits and you have to be okay with a bit of compromise. Unfortunately, we compromise on the wrong things and usually, one of the first things to be cut from the budget is the wardrobe (if it was ever in the budget to begin with).
And look, I’m guilty of this too, it’s only recently I’ve realized how important it is to dress your characters the right way, and it’s something that won’t cost you a thing!
Usually, when I make a film I tell my actors to just come as is, I wasn’t writing a Zooey Deschanel character or anything, so why did I need to worry about what they were wearing?
Because it’s pretty darn important.
For the next part of the show, I’d like to introduce you to a little obscure show called Seinfeld and one of my personal heroes: George Costanza.
Now the wardrobe in Seinfeld might seem pretty muted and subtle (and it is), but it’s subtlety that adds so much story and depth to these characters.
Have you ever noticed George kinda dresses like an old man? He’s the same age as Jerry and Elaine (and is 6 years younger than Jerry in real life), but he doesn’t look like he’s young, but he also never looks too old either. Somewhere in the mix of sweaters and trench coats the show’s wardrobe team crafted a character who’s clearly oblivious to trends and how he looks to others.
George’s character was created to be one part Larry David (the show’s co-creator) and one part Biff from Death of a Salesman and was interpreted by actor Jason Alexander to be a bit Woody Allen-esque.
George, like Biff, is someone who’s unchanging, he thinks he’s the only sane one in the room and rest of the world, and the team needed to sell this architect-wannabe to an audience who needed a reason to not change the channel.
Likewise, you need a way for your characters to stand out when you’re competing against a million other short films in the digital age.
And that’s all it takes.
Have a character who lives in his own world? Dress him in lighter colours and darken the pallet as the film goes on (500 Days of Summer did this).
You don’t need to be an innovative fashion expert to have a smart wardrobe for your film, you just need to think of their closet like another character.