Three Summers ago, I had an opportunity to work on an independent film, based here in Vancouver.  My first dip into the realm of film.  And specifically, the costume department. 

One of the many career assessments I took told me that costumes was something my skill set and personality was suited towards.  And, being more than a little curious, I sent out a revised resume to many people that I did not know, in the hope that an opportunity would come my way.

And, just as a slight tangent, it really does work. 

You may have to send out 20 or 30 resumes and you may get 19 or 29 rejection letters, but then you get that one email or phone call, that says, ‘We’re looking for someone to assist within the wardrobe department in a film we’re creating.  Are you free to meet?’

And I was lucky enough to receive a response to one of the many emails I sent out. After meeting up with Carolyn Combs, the director and co-writer of Bella Ciao!, things just flowed from there. 

This experience was completely different to other jobs that I had.  To start with, we had a lot of costume  prep to complete before filming even began.  And we were on a deadline.  Thinking back, we had about three weeks to source, fit / alter and breakdown costumes.

As I was one of two assistant costume designers, and the head costume designer, Marilyn Morley was based in Montreal, this meant that the majority of our communication was done with the help of technology. 

Initially we came together as a department (via Skype) to discuss the overall feel of the script and then an in-depth look into each of the characters.

And as we started shopping for costumes, it occurred to me just how much of a collaboration this was within our department and then also between props / the art department, the director, the sound guy, and even the camera operators.  We had to be intentional not only with our purchases (different patterns can do weird things on camera, and for some actors we had to be able to hide microphones within the garments), but where we purchased it from in case we had to return or exchange it.

Behind the scenes on set, just off Commercial Drive.

I had no expectations as to what to expect, and this worked to my advantage as my mind was open to any and all possibilities.

Luckily, this was a contemporary film, so costumes were a lot easier to find than period costumes!

Getting to know the actors through this process and talking through how they saw their character, was also eye opening.  It made sense to me, as the actors were this character and in order for them to get into their part, their costumes helped them to achieve this.

And as I watched the film for the first time, it took me back to each and every shop that we purchased a garment from. If breakdown was required, especially for CanMan and Niki, it reminded me of the smell of shoe polish and bleach that was used to recreate these garments.  And it made me smile. 

The trousers that were broken down and distressed as part of CanMan’s costume.
The jacket that was broken down and distressed with sandpaper and shoe polish as part of CanMan’s costume.

All the broken finger nails from breakdown, all the hours of fitting and refitting, and the early morning starts and the late night finishes, it was worth it.

When everything all comes together and you remember the behind-the-scenes jokes and friendships that were formed, it was an incredible and heart warming experience. 

When we were on set, we had the bigger picture.  The crowd control, the timing of when and where we were shooting in order to capture a specific look and feel.  Seeing it through the lens of the camera was an experience in itself.

I took on this project because it was something new, and I continued with it because I loved being a part of a team that created something bigger, but yet I could visually see my part in this.

There are no words to accurately describe how I felt when I watched that film, when I see the posters around the city, or when I attended the opening at VIFF during Canadian Film Week.

There is this sense of pride, of accomplishment and of excitement.

Bella Ciao is screening at the Rio Theatre on Monday June 17th,

For future screenings, check on the film website

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