On The Rise With…Lauren Silvestri
Hey readers! This week I thought I’d shake things up a bit and focus on a profession within the industry that never quite gets its due: costume design.
Meet Lauren Silvestri, a talented up-and-coming costume designer who works day and night making sure the actors you love watching look great on screen. A lot of people may think working in the costume department is just about picking out something that looks nice for an actor to wear, but it’s much more involved than that. Read on to see what these unseen and unsung heroes behind the scenes do to make all of our visual dreams come true…
Michael Marcelin: Tell us what it is you do for a living, Lauren.
Lauren Silvestri: I am a costume designer for primarily feature films, commercials, music videos, etc. When I work in television, I’m usually an assistant costume designer or shopper.
MM: And what drew you to this side of the industry?
LS: Since I was a little kid, I’ve always been into designing. I remember having one of those Crayola costume design and sketch kits that I would spend hours every day using. Also, my mom is a great seamstress and used to make a lot of my clothes when I was young, so an interest definitely grew from watching her. Over the years I’d see different movies and would notice the incredible costumes and started to think- I could maybe do this as a career. As it happens, after graduating from undergrad, I moved to New York and went to Parsons, studying fashion design instead of costume design. I worked in that industry for a few years (which is an entirely different beast than the entertainment business), until I decided I wanted to make the transition into costumes.
MM: In your area of the industry, how does one find work? Unlike actors, directors, etc., you don’t have representation to help, correct?
LS: Actually, there are agencies that have people who represent Costume Designers, so that is definitely a route to go. Most of the time work just seems to come around from referrals.
MM: Have you tried an agency, or have you mainly gotten work from referrals?
LS: Recently I have started to give a lot of thought about finding an agent. They fight for you to get the bigger jobs, or at the very least an interview for them. I definitely want to get a little more work under my belt…build my portfolio…but I’m looking forward to making that next step.
MM: What was the first job you booked?
LS: I moved out to Los Angeles only knowing one person, who was in an entirely different field than me. Since I didn’t have any connections, I got IMDb Pro and cold called every single production company I could, asking if they were taking non-college interns or hiring PAs. One of the only companies that was, was Broken Lizard (the guys behind “Super Troopers” and “Beerfest”). For the first few months I was out here, I interned with them and eventually worked on a movie they produced called “Freeloaders”. I wasn’t in the costume department on that movie, but got to know Tricia Gray, who Costume Designs all of their projects. My first official project in the costume world was with her on her next film, called “Open House”, which is a thriller with Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer and Brian Geraghty. It was a great experience, because even though I was still interning/PA-ing, Tricia and the two other girls in our department took the time to explain to me what they were doing and taught me the ways. I didn’t just have to get coffee and lunch. I’ve been really lucky in that regard. All the people I’ve worked with when I was first starting out were such great teachers.
MM: You got to work on “The Voice”. How was that, being in a reality-based world versus scripted?
LS: I was a Costume PA on “The Voice” for the first two seasons. That show is a well-oiled machine. The costume department works so hard and is responsible for dressing all of the contestants from try-outs to the finale. There is also a costumer who handles Blake Shelton; I believe all the other judges have their own people. It’s a seven day a week job, with constant fittings…two shows a week…and I think after season 3, they started shooting one season while prepping the next. Each contestant has to have their stage looks as well as their outfits when they’re with their coaches and at home. The amount of clothes, jewelry and accessories in the costume department makes it look like a warehouse. On show nights, there is always a run through where we would iron out any kinks and see what needed adjustments. Then when the show was live, it was always pretty much smooth sailing. I love doing live TV or plays. Sure, there is always the chance of a wardrobe malfunction, but it is really nice sometimes to not have to sit around to watch take after take of something. Styling for the stage compared to say, a single camera show is really different. On a show like “The Voice” or “So You Think You Can Dance”, you can really push the boundaries on how ‘big’ you can go. Definitely a “more is more” situation. The more rhinestones, beads and sparkle, the better!
MM: One of your first, and biggest, jobs was for the ABC series “Happy Endings”. How did you get involved with the show?
LS: “Happy Endings” was definitely the most high profile project I had worked on at that point. I was brought on by the designer and supervisor who I had worked with on a movie the previous year. My job was Costume PA, and I did that for three seasons. I think if you are lucky enough to start working in your desired position right away, that’s great, but I would never trade my experience as a PA for anything. Again, I was lucky to work with people who taught me so much. “Happy Endings” was a fun show, but it wasn’t easy. There were six main cast members per episode…sometimes having upwards to 6, 7 costume changes. When you throw in the guest cast and the fact that the writers liked to have crazy gag costumes all the time, it was a lot of hard work by the whole department to prep an episode in five days. It was definitely a bummer when the series ended, because the cast and crew were really lovely and we had a blast. But for me personally, it also was a blessing. It marked the time when I kind of put out into the universe that I wouldn’t be taking any more PA jobs and just solely concentrate on designing and assistant designing.
MM: And how did that work out for you?
LS: So far it has worked out pretty well. This year I’ve designed three features, a handful of commercials and music videos, and assisted on a few TV shows.
MM: How fulfilling has that been for you?
LS: I’ve been really fortunate with the kinds of projects I’ve gotten to design. I’ve done horror, thrillers, dramas, and recently I did a musical! It’s been really fulfilling to work within so many of the genres and be able to work with both veteran, respected actors and new, upcoming talent. The whole process of designing a project goes way beyond just shopping for clothes. It starts with reading and breaking down the script, making mood boards for characters and meeting with usually the director, writer and producers. That’s always challenging because it’s rare that everyone is on the exact same page with what they want to see. So not only do you have to make sure you give them something they all can agree on, you want to make sure you are able to put in your own vision…leave your own mark. It’s not always an easy line to walk. Fittings happen and you add the actor’s opinions into the mix. It’s a very collaborative process, costume designing, and you have to learn to pick your battles and try not to take things personally when someone doesn’t like something that you do. I love the first day of shooting after all the hard work that is done in prep gets actualized on the screen.
MM: Tell me about your experience on the musical, “Pearly Gates”, with “Orange Is The New Black” standout Uzo Aduba.
LS: The movie “Pearly Gates” was so much fun! Uzo was one of the stars, and I’m excited for people to see her in a role that is the opposite of ‘Crazy Eyes’. She is a phenomenal singer as well as being one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. The movie is about a family man who finds out he has Cancer, and only a few months to live. Serious subject matter, but it’s actually light hearted and fun. And everybody sings! The writer/director was a first timer and I think he made a really unique film. Scott Grimes, Illeana Douglas, Lainie Kazan and Peter Bogdonavich also starred in it.
MM: Another film you worked on recently was “Killing Winston Jones”, with acting vets Richard Dreyfuss and Danny Glover. How was that experience?
LS: Designing “Killing Winston Jones” was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on a project. It was mostly a great, fun time, but there were definitely bouts of crazy. I got the job about a week before Thanksgiving, and we were to film in Savannah, Ga. two weeks from then. I essentially had five days to shop, pull from costume houses, have as many fittings with actors as I could, and get it all sent out before the holiday. The cast was amazing: as you mentioned- Richard Dreyfuss and Danny Glover, but also Jon Heder, Danny Masterson, Lesley Ann Brandt, Lin Shaye, and Joely Fisher. Joel David Moore directed the movie. Once we got situated in Savannah, it became a bit of a challenge finishing the remainder of the prep work, because Savannah doesn’t have the same resources Los Angeles, or even Atlanta, does. The very first day of production, there was a strike, so before we even started shooting, that situation had to be handled…and we ended up flipping into the union. Also in the first week, there were a few drive by shootings in the neighborhood we were filming in (no one was hurt!). I also had to fire someone in my department. That was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do professionally.
It will be hard trying to top getting to work with Richard. Firstly, I think he is one of the best actors of his generation. Secondly, his movies are some that have a lot of meaning to my family. “Close Encounters” is my dad’s all-time favorite, and we pretty much quote “What About Bob?” every day. And filming on location is so much fun. It’s like an adult sleepaway camp; I still keep in touch with most of them, and count some of them as my dearest friends. Savannah was so gorgeous. We were staying very close to the Historic District…there are great restaurants and a surprisingly fun night life. Everyone really took the opportunity to explore on the weekends.
KWJ had a huge principal cast, as well as day players and every type of uniformed character you can think of: firemen, cops, scientists, doctors, cheerleaders, school uniforms, etc. It is by far the biggest undertaking I’ve done and I’m really proud of my department and I for pulling it off!
MM: You recently got to work on the NBC event series, “Aquarius”. That must have been a dream, getting to work on a period costume set.
LS: Getting to work on “Aquarius” kind of came out of nowhere. I had just finished a project, and a friend asked me if I wanted to work for five days as a PA to replace someone who was going on vacation. I decided to break my rule about not PA-ing any longer, because sometimes a paycheck is a paycheck and it was an opportunity to meet and work with new people. My second day there, I was chatting with the designer, and it came up that I was in the Costume Designer’s Guild. Long story short, the assistant costume designer that was there was leaving the show, and the designer asked me that day to replace her. “Aquarius” is a not-yet-aired show that stars David Duchovny, who plays a cop that tries to track Charles Manson in 1967. That year is one of the best time periods. You’ve got hippies, Black Panthers, the Mad-Men type dressers, etc. We had an episode where we had to dress Burlesque dancers, which was fun. Another, we had a huge scene at a black-tie Republican convention…lots of beautiful evening gowns and tuxedos. Everything on that show was a great learning experience. Little details that you wouldn’t normally think about made all the difference. For instance, in that era, men’s lapels on suits were very slim. They wore their pant hems about an inch shorter than today’s modern hems and ties were shorter and even a little slimmer than today’s skinny ties. I can’t wait for the show to come out.
MM: What period of time would you be most excited to revisit, as far as getting to design the costumes for?
LS: I would really like to design something set in the 40’s. I don’t just love the way people dressed back then…I love the music, the architecture..everything about that time. Ultimately though, I’d like to design a fantasy film or something set in the future. Those kinds of projects are best because you don’t have to follow a precedent, and you truly have a chance to be creative. “The Fifth Element” is a great example of that.
MM: Living in California for a number of years now, we all get desensitized to seeing celebrities on a daily basis. But sometimes…we get a little flustered. Have you ever “geeked out” a little on anyone you’ve worked with?
LS: When I was on “Happy Endings”, Mark Paul Gosselaar was on a few episodes. I definitely geeked out a little with him, seeing as I’ve seen every episode of “Saved By The Bell” about three times each. Also, getting to work with Peter Bogdonavich and Richard Dreyfuss was really exciting.
MM: Are there any actors or actresses you’re dying to clothe?
LS: Will Ferrell, because he is clearly a good sport about wearing any kind of costume! And Tina Fey, because I love her. I think she’s a role model to any woman working in the male-dominated entertainment industry.
MM: What’s a show you would love to work on?
LS: I’d definitely like to work on “Saturday Night Live”, or a show that is similar to it. Live TV can be both really fun and super challenging.
MM: Is there one show or movie in the past that you wish you had gotten the chance to work on?
LS: “Boardwalk Empire” and “Gone With The Wind”. Or the original “Batman” movie.
MM: What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
LS: Something people would be surprised to know about me…”Star Wars”, “The Sound Of Music”, “Casablanca”…are movies that I cannot stand. I know I’m SUPPOSED to love them, but I just don’t. That being said, some of the movies I really enjoy are not great. Like “My Father, The Hero” and “Think Like A Man”. Clearly, I have no taste.
TV show– 30 Rock
Movie– Some Like It Hot
Book– The Most Beautiful Book In The World by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt
Author– Christopher Moore
Musician-Nina Simone, Bob Dylan
Actor– Sam Rockwell
Director-Billy Wilder and Martin Scorsese