Hire a costume designer.Hire a costume designer. You will need to meet and talk with the designer and really get to know his or her background.


You should ask a lot of questions. Is the designer knowledgeable about the era in which your film is set? Will the designer provide you the kind of costume detail you want? Is the designer too detail-oriented? I heard of a film in which the director was waiting because the costume designer had to find just the right bowtie, which in this case was insane because all that would be seen was a profile of the actor for a very short time. You’ll also need to know what film the designer most recently did. Can you call up the director and find out what his or her thoughts were about this designer? Of course, this goes for everyone you hire, but it’s very important for the people you’ll have to work closely with for many days as the shooting gets closer. There are many directors who don’t pay too much attention to the costumes and let the designer do whatever he or she wants, and then only approve the final outfits. That’s one way to do it, but my thoughts are that a director should participate as much as possible because it can be fun, and, more importantly, because I feel more comfortable not having any big surprises when characters show up on the set, as they are wearing outfits I’ve approved.

Now, what should you look for when it comes to the actual costumes on the set?

Say you have a scene where you’ve said you’re not going to see the feet of a specific actor, so it doesn’t matter  what shoes he is wearing. If that’s the case, you need to make sure that when the scene is actually shot his feet aren’t in the view of the camera. If his feet are in the scene, you’d better watch out because you’ll have a very angry costume designer.  You need to pay attention to those details that make the difference in the kind of character that you’re trying to portray. It’s the details in the cap or the jacket that he’s wearing that tell a story. Do his checkered pants make him a golfer, or does his sweater give him a punk look? You need to know what gives you and the future viewer the right feelings about this character. It also helps to be knowledgeable about lighting, because than you’ll know that a white shirt could distract the viewers from an actor’s face.

I believe most costume designers know this, too, but it’s all too possible that they’ll forget it when they’re out looking for the perfect outfit. They won’t know your thoughts, so you’ll have to make sure you let them know what you think is too bright or would be too distracting. If you see anything that you think will be a problem, you should speak up before it’s too late and the character’s outfit is set in stone on the recorded film. A good costume designer will listen and will have an alternative outfit on standby. You need to watch out for those clothes that don’t fit right, like a bulky outfit during a love scene, or that will look out of place in the scene the art director sets. You have to remember that you, and only you, know all of the details of the production plans, and you must watch out for things other people may do that won’t work within the context of the entire scene or movie. Are they wearing wings? What will their makeup be like? What colors do you want them wearing?

You need to get the director of photography, the art director, the makeup person and the costume designer together ahead of shooting to discuss these things. For small budget films, it isn’t done that often, but it will make things a lot easier.

If your film is going to have many extras on the set, you’ll need to help out the costume designer by telling him or her when each extra will be used on the set. This will probably take more time for you, but you’ll be rewarded by saving time and money down the road. For example, an extra who is only seen in a silhouette doesn’t need full outfits. You will also avoid embarrassment, such as when a female extra is used in multiple scenes but only has one outfit.

You don’t have to go to costume fittings, nor should you go to them all of the time, but you should attend them if you have the time. Just make sure not to get in the way of the costume designer, and let the costume designer do his or her work. You should ask to see the most important clothing articles ahead of time so that you can approve them while there’s still time to make changes. Don’t worry about the stores or rental houses; they’ll understand if changes have to be made. These are standard practices in most movies. Remember that, like the sets and the actors, the clothing is a crucial part of a scene. If it looks wrong to you, it’ll stick out to the viewer, too. If it fits, you’ll have a very subtle, but very important, addition to your final production.

Hair and makeup

All too often hair and makeup are left to the producer or production manager, when they shouldn’t be left to them. As the director, you understand the characters and the atmosphere around them better than anyone else. These two details that seem minor can add to the totality of the scene; a scene does not consist only of words and scenery.

An example that I like to point towards occurred back when I was a young man, learning how to act in college. In a particular production by Christopher Fry called “The Lady’s Not for Burning,” I was asked to wear a beard for my part as the chaplain. In this role, the director wanted me to have a different look from the other characters. It just didn’t seem to feel or look right to me. I convinced the director that the character wasn’t the kind of person to be the only one with a beard. He was far too shy and quiet.  Of course, whether or not I should wear a beard was unimportant in the grand scheme of things; however, what is important is that both the director and I had ideas of the character, and we came to a mutual agreement long before the final dress rehearsal.

You, the makeup staff and the hair design people should discuss all aspects of the characters and make sure you plan out and test any special effects you want before it comes time to shoot. This isn’t just important for period films; this is just as important for scenes with a more contemporary setting. Along the way, don’t forget to talk to actors [SW2] if you want to make drastic changes to their looks. They may like the way look and the way it came across in the scene, so they may not want to change. Of course, your say is the final decision, but you should take this into consideration.

Finally, make sure you do research ahead of time, before all of these consultations start. Another example that I like is of the director who found out long hair was not in style at the turn of the century. He had to ask his main actor to cut his hair. For you, it might be asking your leading lady to wear a red wig. If you do your research ahead of time and do it carefully, you and your designers will have a much easier time convincing your actors to let you change their appearances.

Rehearsal time

Before you go too much further, now is the time to talk to your producer about when and how you’ll rehearse with your actors. It varies depending on the type of production.

In much of the world of television productions, actors are expected to come to the set prepared, which is a way of saying that they must be set in their roles ahead of time so that they won’t need additional time to rehearse. This will be great for the producer — it will save him or her money — but what exactly does it mean for you?

If you’re in the world of Hollywood, you might have to put up and shut up. Television episodes are filmed one right after another, so you won’t have much say in the matter. However, a movie of the week will most likely have rehearsals, as will anything for public television, DVD, documentary, reenactment or feature film. You can go on without rehearsals, but it can be very difficult to have an impact on the film without them. All that you’ve done with your team concerning the set, costumes, makeup and hair will matter little if the performances are just self-generated.

Here’s a few tips on how to manage rehearsals when you are allotted the time:

First, make sure to set the date of rehearsals as far in advance of shooting as the producer will possibly allow. This is especially important if there might be script changes and you’ll want as much time as possible. However, it can cost a lot to have the rehearsals two to three weeks ahead of time. The issue is that the unions for the actors, both the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, have regulations that protect their members, requiring producers to pay for every day between the time that they’re required to show up for rehearsals to the first shooting day.  In turn, that means that most producers are not often willing to let you have rehearsals too far ahead of when the shooting actually starts. However, in non-unionized situations, or if the producer gives the green light for special situations, you may be lucky enough to have your rehearsals when you want, as far ahead as you want. It’ll be worth the extra effort.

Now that it’s time for rehearsals, what exactly are you going to do with the actors?

Rehearsing is a way to facilitate, guide and lead to let things happen, so that you can let other things happen. Rehearsing is very different from teaching or directing actors for films or even directing actors for stage. Of course, directing actors and rehearsing the actors are two distinctly different aspects of your job.

You are not the only one who has ideas about the script and how to accomplish the goals that you see in the story. Your actors have similar ideas and goals. They also need to have their characters make sense, to be consistent, so that they can understand the characters they are portraying and those characters’ goals. They may also want to understand the relationships between their characters and other characters in the film. It may all sound very intellectual, and it is. However, they also think about their craft and how to share their ideas with their audience. Their training has taught them about these goals, but each script, play or film may require changing their approach in one way or another.

If you have time during the rehearsals, you need to see what the actors want to do, as well as help them change to make their actions flow with the script and the storm of the film.  Leave them alone to see their direction during rehearsals; you won’t have this kind of opportunity during the actual shooting of the film. This may seem weird because you are the director, but you’re just the director, and too many directors don’t know what it means to act. Of course, there is nothing that prevents you from learning, but that’s just a whole other story. You need to listen, then go back to the start, then go scene to scene, working with the actors every time you hear or see something that just doesn’t fit right.