Filmmakers love to talk about tools. The blog-o-sphere is rampant with posts about cameras, lights, and cinematography accessories, but despite all the attention on achieving great looking films from an equipment/technology standpoint, there is far less discussion about low-fi ways to make your film look like a million bucks via attention to wardrobe, hair, and make-up.
I’ve recently jumped on the Mad Men bandwagon, catching up on the last four seasons. Whether you love or hate this show (a quick look at the Mad Men Wikipedia page will give a sense of the heated debates this show has provoked among critics), it’s hard not to be in awe of its production values, in general, and art direction, in particular. While probably no one reading this post has the budget that Mad Men does, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attend to art direction with the same care.
Both as a film festival programmer and as a university instructor, I have seen how, all too often, art direction (much like sound design!) is neglected in first films and student films. It’s easy to spot an amateur effort when gangsters are wearing Converse One-Stars (yep, I’ve actually seen this) or an MRI machine is made out of cardboard (After Last Season, anyone?).
A single post can’t address the complex and time-consuming process of art direction–how to do it, how to do it well, and how to do it on a budget–but assuming art direction is receiving at least some of the attention it needs in your production, here are fifteen of my favorite inexpensive tools–none of them should run you more than $25–to help get you through the inevitable wardrobe, hair, and make-up emergencies:
- Fanny Pack — While these might conjure memories of bad ’80s fashion or annoying tourists, a good art director has essential tools on her at all times (without needing to run to find her tool bag) and needs her hands free. And, unlike decades past, you can find cute and functional fanny packs these days. Try Natural Life for styles with flair or Mountain Smith lumbar packs for a more muted look. All of the supplies/tools below should fit into your pack.
- Downy Wrinkle Releaser — Wrinkles are a continuity nightmare, and on a DIY set, lugging and plugging in a clothing steamer or iron isn’t practical. This spray works best on cotton or cotton blends; avoid using it on delicate fabrics (e.g. silk, satin).
- Mini Lint Roller — Keep hair, link, and other fuzzies off of clothing to help preserve continuity.
- Mini Sewing Kit, with needle/safety pins and mini scissors. — Fix rips, tears, or buttons right on set. In a pinch, borrow some gaffer’s tape to repair a seam–I’ve created makeshift curtains on set with fabric and gaff tape alone.
- Seam Ripper — If you have never used one of these before, prepare to be amazed! Seam rippers are specialized tools–something between a razor blade and scissors–with a very pointed tip and sharp base. Unlike scissors, the tiny point can be easily threaded under a stitch for easily cutting out seams without hurting the surrounding fabric or causing holes. Remove an annoying clothing tag, lengthen a hem, or deconstruct a garment in seconds!
- Flexible Body Measuring Tape– You’d be surprised how often you can use this, either for wardrobe measurements or on loan to the camera department for focus pulling and actor marks when they’ve forgotten or misplaced their measuring tape.
- Instant Stain Remover (such as Tide To-Go mini) — This really works on stains caused by foundation, lipstick, and coffee — three common art emergencies. I prefer the stain remover pens to the wipes, as they don’t rub the stain into the fabric.
- Clear Medical Tape (and/or double-sided Fashion Tape) — Medical tape is sweat-proof and nearly invisible on skin–great for taping lavs to bare skin or securing clothing straps. Fashion tape comes in pre-cut double-sided strips and is great for invisibly holding clothing in place.
- Mini First Aid Kit with Blister Cushions and assortment of travel size packs of Acetaminophen/Ibuprofen/Aspirin/Pepto Bismol/Bug Repellant/Sunscreen — The producer should have a full-blown first aid kit on set at all times, but I like to have supplies of my own for the unexpected emergency situation or when that kit is out of reach. Blister blocker band-aids are amazing for stopping blisters but can also be used to protect skin from irritation from mic packs or other costume nuisances. Having pain killers and stomach ache cures on hand is essential for keeping talent and crew happy. I also like to keep Hot Hands available for cold mornings on set.
- Assorted Bobby Pins — Having a few sizes and colors (gold for blonds, black for brunettes) will help hold stray hair in place, pin back clothing, etc.
- Sharpies — I use black to cover scuff marks, silver for writing on black gaffer tape, and red for when I need what I’m writing to be seen! You might want to get the mini sharpies that can be tied to lanyards for instant access around your neck.
- Concealer, such as Max Factor Pan Stick , to cover blemishes. This pan stick will also cover tattoos fairly well (if airbrushing isn’t in your budget–ha!) and the price is right. A shine reducing, translucent powder is also make-up’s best friend.
- Hand Sanitizer — Alcohol based ones double as stain removers and can take out ink stains fairly well.
- Breath Mints or Gum — Again, the talent will love you for this.
- Super Glue – I recommend a few of the mini tubes for situations where tape won’t do.
If you’ve got other art tools you can’t live without, please let me know in the comments!
Attending to wardrobe, hair, and make-up comes with less glory (and, perhaps, on the positive side, ego) than that of Cinematographer or Director, but it’s no less responsible for making the difference between a successful film and an unsuccessful one. It can make the story world credible or incredible, real or surreal. What’s more essential than that?