In the four years since joining the costumers union, I've met a lot of amazing ladies and gents. Sewists who have built costumes for the likes of Harrison Ford to Jennifer Lawrence. Set costumers who can tie a bowtie blindfolded. This week I’m sharing a chat I had with one such amazing set costumer, Valerie Campbell. I met Valerie while I was on set sewing alterations for re-shoots of the last Hunger Games movie and have worked with her several times since. When I saw that she was returning to Gilmore Girls for the Netflix miniseries I called her up for this interview. Dear readers I wish you could have been there! Not only did I get fun set stories, but some of Valerie's famous homemade iced cream and candies! Be sure to check out her Facebook page where she shares her recipes.
Valerie Campbell- local 705 Key Costumer
How did you become a union costumer?
I was in the drama program in high school and my teacher's husband was in the business. Their advice was to skip college and just start networking. So, I took a year off after high school and was in a youth theatre program at LATC (Los Angeles Theatre Center) I got this huge traffic ticket I couldn't afford to pay and got a job selling ticket subscriptions at that same theater. That job lead to connecting with a girl whose cousin was a costume designer. A lady named Donna O’Neil. Donna needed help with a non-union show, so I ended up interning on Shades of LA.
It was most people's first or second show. Donna said I know you've never been on set but we need someone to fill in for a week. So I got paid one hundred bucks a day to work as a costumer then after the week ended I interned for the show and worked for free. When that show finished I realized I knew nothing. I was given advice to write a letter to a costume designer named Shay Cunliffe - this was pre email! It just so happened to reach Shay right when she was in desperate need of a production assistant, also known as a PA. So I worked on Bound by Honor and learned a lot! One show lead to another and eventually I got on a show that flipped called Fallen Angels, got my thirty days and joined the union.
Shay had written me a beautiful letter of recommendation and snuck me a copy of the Costume Designers Guild directory. I started calling every number in the book and submitting my resume and letter of recommendation to anyone that would take my call. Every designer that saw my letter gave me a chance, or would at least talk to me. I would also run around sets and costume houses and do “cookies and resumes,” that always got me a job.
Tell me about Gilmore Girls!
Gilmore Girls started in 1999, I started on episode ten and worked all the way to the very end. I upgraded to a Key Costumer in the middle of the run. My responsibilities were to keep track of all the clothes, maintain the continuity, help the actors in regards to their costume, make notes, take photos of the outfits when they are worn, break down the script and create pages and tags for each outfit. We also anticipate any needs that the script may call for in regards to the clothes. Is it raining? Do they need a coat to stay warm, do I need to bring a towel to dry them off between takes? Are they dirty? Do we need to bring dirt and aging supplies to make the clothes look the correct way?
What is “breaking down” a script?
You read the script and look at what characters are in the scene, then see if it indicates what type of clothing they are wearing, or if there is a change from day to night. Any time they would change clothing you would indicate that in your breakdown.
So for example in Gilmore Girls we had inferred days in the dialogue, like “Friday night dinners”. If it was Friday night, it meant earlier in the day Rory was in her school uniform. If she's walking around town during the day she would be in her uniform, then later in the day you would expect to see her in something fancier for the Friday night dinner. Now if it was Saturday she could be hanging out in regular street clothing since she wasn't at school. So everything that's in the script affects the way the clothes are going to be. Is it cold outside? Is it raining? Is it snowing? What season is it? Day, night, are they going somewhere, is there a special occasion? The break down tells you what characters are there, what outfit they will wear in every scene. That's why I do it as a spread sheet. I like it visually because I can see every change for the episode at the same time- all in one place. You can grind it out and see what's coming.
What is your favorite moment from the original series?
In ten years working on the show? Kirk (Sean Gunn) had so many fun moments on the show- like when he was wrapped up like a mummy, or in any of his gag costumes. He had a lot of funny moments on the show.
“You Jump I Jump Jack” was my favorite episode to work on. We had ball gowns and this whole Out of Africa look. We shot it at the top of Griffith Park on the hills right above the amphitheater. There was a Santana concert going on that night and we had to wait for it to stop every time we wanted to shoot. It was crazy! There were stunts in the episode so there were just a lot more pieces to the shoot. I'm a very hands-on costumer, so I love problem solving. I know how to setup costumes around the harness the actors wear under the clothing for stunts. You have to make tears and cuts in the costume so that wires can be clipped into the harness for flying and jumping scenes. For example, when Rory jumps off the platform she's wearing a blue scarf. The only reason she's got the scarf is to hide the stunt harness she's wearing under the costume!
What was it like coming back 9 years later?
It was crazy, fun and interesting, we kinda picked up where we left off. The show was crazy before, but now we had to redo everything from scratch. I had to find important costume pieces we used in the original series. Some of the costumes had been archived by the studio, so we were able to go get those. One thing we were worried about were the ice cream shop and the maid uniforms. We had made those custom and they were hiding away in a costume rental house. It took me a while to find them, but I did!
In this business there are times when you run, walk extremely fast, or take your time. You have to know what's appropriate. It's a fast paced crazy job. As a set costumer you also have to know when you can change something and who to ask for permission. You always want to check with the costume designer, costume supervisor and script supervisor. Get lots of rest, we work long hours and you have such an important job. When we are not alone on set, you take turns walking away to take a nap, or get some coffee and just relax for a moment. I’ve worked anywhere from 12 hours to 22 hours in a day. No one is going to tell you its ok to go home—the job has to get done, it's the business that we work in.
Thank you so much Valerie! You can catch episodes of Gilmore Girls on Netflix. For a sweet treat, click here to see Valerie's recipe page for her famous ice cream.