DREAM JOB: COSTUME DESIGNER
Keep showing up - one day, your dreams could make the big screen
Kimberly Leitz has spent her life dreaming, creating, drawing, designing, and working, yes working, really hard to end up on this path. Leitz is a leading costume designer. Her work is everywhere – film, television, photos, music videos…pretty much everywhere.
Her road to success wasn’t linear. (Though nothing worth doing is ever really a straight path from college to a career, now is it?) She thought she’d be a fabulously dressed veterinarian or radio disc jockey.
“Demoted was the first film I worked on,” Leitz recollected. “I was one step above an intern, working as a Wardrobe Production Assistant.
“In all honesty, it was the break I was waiting for. The comedy starred David Cross, Ron White, Michael Vartan and Sean Astin.”
The ironic part is her role immediately prior to this opportunity was an assistant director with a leading alternative radio group in Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
“I held every position in the department prior to management level and understood every role and why each position was designed for the forward movement of the company,” she shared. “Looking back, fashion and production was intertwined throughout every position I held there.
“I would produce fashion shows for our station-sponsored events, from record release parties for bands including the Sneaker Pimps to the opening of ‘The Whitney Summer Garden Party’ series.
“All of my hobbies, skills and experiences were setting me up to be a fabulous candidate in the wonderful world of wardrobe. I just didn’t know it yet.”
JUST CALL HER THE QUEEN OF INDIE FILM
It Follows, an indie, horror film that gained cult status is what Leitz says is her favorite and most significant project to date.
“It’s been five years and I’m still receiving fan mail about the costumes I created,” Leitz said. “People still dress up for Halloween as the characters. How cool is that? I mean, what an honor. There is no award that can touch that kind of impact, not in my book anyway.”
Leitz said her collaboration with director David Robert Mitchell and his wife Annie was key in creating the signature look of the film.
It Follows starred Keir Gilchrist (United States of Tara and Atypical) and Olivia Luccardi (Orange is the new Black and The Deuce).
ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER
Through It Follows, Leitz developed relationships with some of the most important people in her life. Producers Rebecca Green and Laura Smith-Ireland hired her. Since that film, they’ve continued to work together.
In fact, the trio worked another magical movie, as Leitz described it, called And Then I Go. The film addresses bullying and gun violence in school. It features Justin Long, Tony Hale, Melanie Lynskey, and other fine young actors.
Dial a Prayer starring William H. Macy, Brittany Snow, Kate Flanner, and Glenne Headly, is another memorable moment along Leitz’s journey.
“American Horror Story and Riverdale director, Maggie Kiley, was a daily inspiration on this project,” Leitz recollected.
Leitz has worked on blockbuster hits including A Very Harold and Kumar 3-D Christmas, Sparkle, Cedar Rapid and, TV series Low Winter Sun.
Leitz’s latest release is an indie sci-fi thriller titled Life Like. It’s on Amazon and stars James D’Arcy (Cloud Atlas, Dunkirk), Drew Van Acker (Pretty Little Liars), and Addison Timlin (Californication).
“I’m currently working on a feature film with a major studio,” Leitz shared. “We begin preproduction in early 2020 and I can’t wait!”
Unfortunately, Leitz can’t share the details of this project, but she kindly said, “When I can, you’ll be the first to know.”
To give me a clue, she said she’s been listening to a lot of 70’s music lately.
QUIET ON THE SET
If you’re like me, you wonder how it all works. What does Leitz do all day?
“Whew, there are so many segments to my role,” Leitz said. “I’ll do my best to give the Cliff Notes.”
BEFORE THE MOVIE STARTS FILMING
First, Leitz gets a script.
“If I feel that I’m a good fit, I compile sketches, paintings, look books and mood boards. They’re based on the script, research, and my personal thoughts about the characters,” Leitz shared. “Then I interview for the job of Costume Designer.”
Once Leitz is awarded the position, she starts collaborating with the director, production designer, producers and show runner (if it’s for television).
“My work starts the minute I receive the script,” Leitz said. “If I’m not working on another project, I tend to immerse myself in the project, whether I’m on the clock or not.
“I’m so passionate about the projects I accept. It’s not about the money, it’s about the psychology of the characters and the art.”
GETTING THE CHARACTER RIGHT
“I want the audience to look at a character and see the whole person, NOT just their clothes. If the clothes overwhelm the personality of the character, I failed,” Leitz said.
“There has to be a balance. Of course, unless it’s scripted and the intention IS to notice the clothes, then that’s a completely different story.”
According to Leitz, pre-production is vital to the film’s success.
“This phase can last from two weeks to two months or more,” she shared. “This is when the costume department crew is hired, costumes are built (through sketches, patterns and sewing I provide). Shopping starts, rental costumes are chosen, fitting with actors commence, meetings are had, and collaborations continue.
“This is a very busy time for every department. As always, time is of the essence when you’re working with a film studio’s budget.”
For perspective, a typical costume department hires close to 15 people. If you’re working on a blockbuster movie or popular network TV show, the crew will triple and add more positions. Also keep in mind, bigger celebrities have their own personal costumer.
“At the end of the day, the film industry employs a lot of people,” Leitz said.
As shooting begins, the rest of the crew working on the film, including production and the actors, ramp up. However, it’s a time that Leitz’s role calms down.
“I like to stay hands-on and participate as much as possible though,” Leitz said. “I enjoy all aspects of my department and am always willing to lend a hand.”
During this phase, Leitz is focused on “establishing” new costumes.
“When a new costume works, I go to set to make sure everyone is happy with the look,” she said. “Once everyone is satisfied with a new costume, the set costumer takes over. Other roles I’m tasked with include shopping for new characters, typically actors with smaller roles or extras.
“It’s intense, but magical. I love the pressure,” Leitz said.
“Wrapping out is a very disciplined process,” Leitz said. “We record every costume with photos, descriptions, copious notes, all of which is added to a continuity book. This book enables us to wrap out smoothly.
“Clothes that weren’t used during filming and rentals are returned, which believe it or not, is a HUGE task. There are a lot of less exciting tasks we have to complete too.
“It’s bittersweet, really. We all fly back home, missing the people we just spent months working with 12 to 20 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week.”
FASHION AND STYLE ON THE BIG SCREEN
“It doesn’t always dictate the path,” Leitz said. “I feel that costume designers are inspired and influenced by real life, real people and research. We’re telling a story with characters, typically fictitious ones that need their own look.
“It’s actually the other way around, film and tv dictate fashion trends.”
A great example is the last series she worked on called Youth and Consequences.
“I had to forecast and create trends for characters,” Leitz said. “This lighter show that touched on some serious issues, showed girls dressing provocatively, but stylish.
“Although it was shot in 2017 and released in 2018, you may see some trends you see in magazines that originated in this show. I’d be curious to see what readers think after they see it.”
PART TIME RESIDENT OF HOLLYWOOD?
“Hardly! I’m rarely in California,” she said while laughing.
“I work in states with film incentives. I’ve been everywhere from Utah to New York. Although it’s been fun traveling, I really miss working in my home state of Michigan.
“When Michigan was offering film incentives, I was being offered more work than I could take. It’s sad they don’t have these incentives anymore because everyone was benefiting from the film industry, not just the seasoned vets that had worked in film.
“I hope Michigan revisits film incentive, the entire state would benefit. And did I mention, Michigan has the hardest working creatives in the business?”
WHEN NOT DESIGNING, SHE SAVES ANIMALS
“My love for animals is immeasurable,” Leitz shared proudly. “I currently have an array of foster cats – seriously please let me know if you’re looking to adopt.”
She is also a doting mother.
“I love to spend as much time with my son and my family as possible.”
DESIGN IS ABOUT CHARACTERS
“The biggest misconception about costume design is that it’s about what’s fashionable. It’s not,” Leitz said adamantly. “It’s about character development. That’s why I love it so much.
Follow Kimberly Leitz’s star-studded journey on Instagram @Kimberly_Leica.