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Costume Trainee

Helping to create a character through wardrobe, the Costume Department helmed by the costume designer help bring a films visual style to life.

My First Job in Film: How to become a costume trainee
Stage
1

Work experience in the theatre, tv and short films. Learn how to use a sewing machine, design and cut garments.

Stage
2

Apply for internships or trainee positions within the industry, such as Creative Skillset. Gain a reference. You can work as a trainee for two years minimum before you can see progression.

Stage
3

Work on varied projects, period drama to contemporary films or TV dramas. Apply for positions as an assistant, further your development working on short film and other projects

What is the costume department and what do they do?

Costume designers are unconcerned with fashion or trends (unless the script demands it), what they look for when approaching a new project is how to help establish the characters. Expressing who you are through your clothing is not a new concept, after all, it’s what many of us do daily; it’s how we recognise who people are, giving us hints about their personality and the life they live.

During pre-production, the designer will break down the script, get to know the characters and talk to the director and production designer about their vision for the film. Designers research the period the film is set, consider fabrics and textures, manufactured or shop bought. Working closely with the production designer the costume designer will sketch out their ideas, paying close attention to the colour and imagery already conceptualised by the Art Department. Costume work very closely with the Makeup Department and the actors to fully establish the look of each character. The finalised designs go into the costume Bible that lives in the department, a reference guide for the makers, fitters and dressers who come on board at different stages of production.

Costume Departments can be creating clothing from scratch, as well as hiring, borrowing or buying from stores. This means a workroom full of sewing machines and overlockers, steam irons and rolls of fabric. You will also find facilities for distressing clothes, rooms/wardrobes full of costumes; the ‘hero’ items of clothing (things the character wears throughout the film) being replicated ten times or more to last the duration of the production.

WHAT ARE THE ENTRY LEVEL POSITIONS IN THE COSTUME DEPARTMENT?

On larger productions, the Costume Department will design, manufacture, tailor and fit costumes for principle cast and featured actors. Here you can find the role of the costume trainee. Trainees are brought into the department and set to work quickly. Not only will they be setting up the workshop each morning, juniors will be assigned tasks should their skills be of a suitable standard.

To be a trainee you will need some experience under your belt of making and styling wardrobes, which can be from the worlds of fashion, theatre, costume hire companies, short films or a degree/MA course. You need to be able to demonstrate you can work in a professional environment and work with a sewing machine should the need arise.

On lower budget films costume designers may decide to purchase or hire costumes to style, rather than run a workshop to manufacture. One smaller productions, short films, music videos and commercials the wardrobe assistant will be there to help the stylist go about their job which is managing the wardrobe and dressing extra talent. When working on productions of a lesser budget, the assistant is the entry level role; the assistant role can mean taking the trainee responsibilities as well as dressing talent and performing workroom/wardrobe duties.  

WHAT ARE THE OTHER ROLES IN THE COSTUME DEPARTMENT?

  • Costume designer: Head of Department responsible for researching and creating the designs and compiling the wardrobes of the characters. Designers will discuss what is to be made, what is to be bought/rented, lead the work room in constructing garments, collaborate with the supervisor to finalise a budget, oversee fitting and approve the work. As the HoD they are the primary point of contact for the department, liaising with the director, production designer and makeup designer throughout the project.

  • Wardrobe/Costume supervisor: Responsible for the running of the department, budget, scheduling and overseeing the work room. They can also take on other responsibilities depending on the size of the production such as liaising with other departments, research, sourcing fabrics and protecting the integrity of the designer's vision. 

  • Assistant costume designer(s): Working with the designer to achieve their vision. They will be on the front line, measuring and fitting an actor for costume in pre-production. Depending on the production they can share many of the supervisor's responsibilities also.  Once filming begins they can oversee the extra talent, creating looks and pulling together combinations of costumes under the designer's supervision.

  • 2D illustrator: works with the costume designer to sketch out computer generated designs to be shown to the director. Most designers will still draw, but due to time constraints illustrators have become a valuable addition to the team. They can be the preferred choice of directors also, due to the ability to change the colour of an item is achieved instantaneously. 

  • Members of the workroom: which includes cutters, textile artists, ager/dyers and speciality costumiers who are brought in for specific pieces (armour, milliners, etc.)   

  • Costume buyer: who will shop for items of clothing working from an extensive brief. Buyers can have favourite second-hand stores, high street shops and rental houses they use.

  • Standby costume - also known as costume dresser or standby costumier: Laying out clothes in the morning for the actors and responsible for that character's continuity and wardrobe for the entirety of the shoot. Some actors will make specific requests for their dressers, which the costume designer and supervisor need to factor into their team.

  • Extra or crowd staff: For productions that need to dress hundreds of extras, an additional team is brought into the department to manage the workload of heavy crowd scenes.

WHAT ARE THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE WARDROBE ASSISTANT/COSTUME TRAINEE?

During your time as a trainee, you will be able to build upon your existing skills under the tutelage of senior members of staff. If you're competent with a sewing machine, or display a flair for cutting you may find yourself put to work quite quickly. If you are previously from a styling background, be prepared to get involved with the nuts and bolts of costume making. Trainees work closely with the assistant costume designer(s) and supervisor, some of their tasks are:

Setting up the work room.

This will include keeping track of consumables with the assistants and keeping the workspace clean and tidy. Make sure role of fabric have been returned to the rack.

Helping standby costume.

Layout out the principle cast wardrobe, or if there are large crowd scenes, you may be drafted in to help.

Making sure machinery is in good working order.

Know who to call if a sewing machine or overlocker goes down. If there's a workroom contact list, make sure these details are added.

Pressing items of clothing.

If you have never ironed delicate fabrics before, make sure to ask senior members of the team for advice on what is best.

Being sent on errands.

This could be anything, for picking up specialists items, last minutes fabrics, swatches or coffee if you have run out.

Logging in and out items of costume.

At the end of the day, double check that all principal cast have their costumes stored away correctly and nothing has gone missing for the next day.

Washing.

If costumes are made from delicate fabrics, you may need to hand wash them after the cast and crew have wrapped.

Research

If the production is a period drama you may be called upon to research fabrics and materials, helping to source them locally or sometimes globally. 

Altering and adapting costume.

When working with background artists, it’s not uncommon to have to alter the clothes to fit each person. This can often be very last minute, so you need to be fast and accurate.

Continuity.

Working with other members of the team to maintain continuity for all the costumes. This can include printing out images at the end of the day to put into the actor's files and logging them digitally. Charging batteries of the digital cameras standby costume use on set to document any changes.

Calling casting agents.

Actors are hired at various stages of production; you may need to call up agents for measurements.

'Keep warm' coats.

If on set helping the dressers you can spend a significant amount of your time handing out coats to actors (principle cast and background) as they step off the set, they are known as ‘keep warm’ coats. It is entirely possible that the script dictates a warm spring day and you can be filming at the end of October, so you need to be quick with the coats!


WHAT QUALITIES WILL I NEED TO WORK IN THE COSTUME DEPARTMENT?

  • Enjoy your job. The number one quality for working in the Costume Department is a passion for the work. This job is not glamorous; you’re going to be on your feet working some long days, doing some intricate work that requires total concentration and patience. The passion for your job will be the key driver to progress your career; you’re also going to need a lot of passion for seeing you through the 5am pre calls for days with big crowd scenes.  

  • Be proactive. Working as a trainee/assistant will require you to use your initiative and proactively assess what needs doing. Costume designers love nothing more than a trainee who is always looking for things to do. If it’s well within your remit, then go ahead and do it. Take ownership of the responsibilities you have been given and continue to carry them out to the best of your ability.

  • Researching skills. Research isn’t just a case of looking it up on Google, well sometimes it is, but good researching skills mean hitting the books, knowing where to look, periodicals, archives or calling up museums that have collections of period clothing to get the answers you need.

  • Calm under pressure. It's highly likely that as a junior member of the team you will be called upon to complete many jobs at the same time, it can be easy to get flustered when everyone is waiting on you. Try to stay calm and focused on the tasks that you have been assigned. If more jobs require your attention either add it to the list or deal with the one you believe to be most pressing.  If in doubt ask a senior member of the team. 

  • Motivated. It sounds obvious, but you should act as though you want to be there. Don’t be on Instagram all day sending out pictures of you in front of the costume you’ve been working on, take to your tasks with vigour, everyone likes a trainee with positive energy.

  • It’s a team effort. When working with other departments and actors, members of costume need to be adaptable in the collaborative process. If the boom op is having trouble putting a mic on an actor due to the costume, watch how your colleagues try their hardest to help resolve the problem. 

  • Communication. Designers will be looking for trainees who can work with actors and other members of the team, know when to chat and when to keep quiet. Knowing what is going on in the department is also key, as is relaying any information you have been given. Never assume people know about an issue that has arisen, always check, it doesn't hurt.

WHAT IS THE CAREER PATH IF I WORK IN THE COSTUME DEPARTMENT?

While working as a trainee take the time to assess whether you want to pursue the route of costume design, a workroom position or the role of a dresser/standby costume. Working as a trainee will allow you access to professionals who love the work they do, whether that be designing and fitting or working with the fabric to get a certain look or texture. Let your interests guide you as much as the desire to climb the career ladder.

If you would like to work as a costume designer then this is the formal career path you could take:

  • Costume assistant

  • 2nd assistant costume designer

  • Assistant costume designer

  • Costume supervisor

  • Costume designer

HOW DO I FIND a job as a COSTUME TRAINEE/ASSISTANT?

Members of the Costume Department enter from different backgrounds, such as a fashion course, textiles, personal styling, theatre or dressmaking. As the Costume Department need people with a variety of skills, many of the practices learnt from working in these areas translate well to film. Previous experience will always give you a significant advantage when applying for trainee positions; you're going to need a strong portfolio and CV, which not only reveals your skill but demonstrates your potential. Be prepared for a few years of self-investment as a trainee. Investing in yourself not only means taking the time to build up your contacts and body of work, but it also means learning how to conduct yourself in the professional environment. Gaining initial experience to put on the CV is not going to be well paid, and in many cases not paid at all, especially if you have yet to build up a network of contacts. 

In stage 1 of your career plan, which is where you will struggle to fill one side of A4 paper, you can consider collaborations and if you are studying work experience opportunities. If you've opted for a degree make sure they offer work placements in the industry, failing that you're going to have to do some legwork and find some work experience yourself. Having worked on short films, student productions and micro-budget features you can look for trainee positions run by Creative Skillset, who place trainees on good size professional productions. If you don’t know how to use a sewing machine or work from a pattern then make a significant investment of time and money to learn, these are vital skills in the workroom. You can also enquire at costume rental firms such as Angels, FBFX or CosProp to see if they are accepting applications or running work placements. Just as camera and sound trainees can make their way into the industry through the rental houses, so too can costumiers. As you start out, take the time to explore the other mediums where costume/wardrobe are employed, at this stage of the game you are looking to build relevant experience wherever you can.

Collaborations

Working on short films, ideally while you are studying, can help your CV and portfolio. The film industry is fiercely competitive, so you need to use all resources available to you.  Alongside the collaborations board and job opportunities we list here on MFJF you can look to our industry essentials section to search for other service providers for collaborations. University websites have noticeboards or areas of their site dedicated to working together or swaps. If you're living in a town with a university that has an MA film course, check to see if they are crewing up or needed any extra help.  

Although we do recommend collaborations, do your research first to find out who is going to be working on the production. The university will back student films so you know a budget is in place and insurance will be taken care of. If you're working on a short film with people you don’t know, make sure the check out the producer's track record and back catalogue of work, you want to know they are following best industry practice and will be running the production properly. This means the production will be insured, catering (or at least some form of feeding the crew) has been devised, there is a schedule that is realistic and location, transport and travel plans are all considered. If it’s a friend you’re helping out then obviously you will be less rigorous in assessing these things, everyone likes helping out their friends if they can, even if it means long hours and a sandwich for supper.  

The likelihood is you will be working for expenses, make sure that is the case always talk money before you agree. So, although you will not be remunerated for your efforts, you need to make sure you are rewarded in others ways. Such as experience of working on a properly run shoot, experience of working as part of the costume team, making some contacts who are working in the industry and adding a credit to your CV. If your gut feeling is you're not going to get these things, (you will know within the first five minutes) you could decide to say thanks but no thanks and look for the next opportunity.

CV

When working on your CV check it through (or ask someone else to) to see it reads well and is correctly formatted. You can use the CV advice and CV builder to help create a CV and covering letter. You can check your CV against our example CVs to see if includes all the relevant information. You are going to want to keep your CV short and to the point, as many supervisors will be ‘scanning’ rather than reading, cut out the chaff and try and keep it down to one page.

Finding paid work and applying for positions can be a full-time job in itself. Some people will get lucky, finding work almost instantaneously. Some may have put in the hours on short films while they are studying to create a network, some people might just be in the right place at the right time. In whatever situation you find yourself, the resounding advice from professionals working in the film industry is be persistent; persistent and relentless in the pursuit of your chosen career. Keep applying for positions, sending emails, and keep an eye on the British Film Council, Facebook’s UK Production News and The Knowledge noticeboards to see what is going into production.

List your CV with Creative England. If a production is coming to your area, some designers prefer to hire local trainees, not just for the opportunity but also local knowledge. Costume designers will have scouted out the local area, but knowing the best places to source fabrics and services is extremely useful. If you're studying and wish to enter the Costume Department, make yourself available for productions shooting in your area right away. 

Website and Portfolio

When applying for jobs make a website so you can upload your best work, and create a feature of the link in your CV. Make sure your website can load pictures quickly, potential employers often have little time to spare. If it's looking a little light on images, you can add other work such as sketching or life drawing into the mix, anything that can demonstrate your eye for colour, texture and composition. You can also work with photographers, models and makeup artists on ‘testings’. These are collaborations where the key roles on a photo shoot (photographer, model, stylist, makeup artist) come together for free to create work for their portfolios.

Use an artist's case to compile a hard copy of your work to take to interview, or on work experience, if you secure a place. If you have a chance to sit down with a member of the Costume Department, it can be an excellent guide in the conversation. Here you can add more detail on how you came to produce garments or designs, try and sell your technical skills in conjunction with your creativity.

Research

If asked in for an interview, supervisors and designers are going to want to know you are proactively furthering your development and technique; it shows you are proactive in obtaining skills. Although supportive, there is little time for hand holding in the Costume Department; they will expect you to arrive with a particular set of competencies and work as part of the team. There should always be time to take you through more complex tasks, but you should be au fait with a steam iron and a needle and thread. There is a host of blogs, books and internet resources available to gain further insight into the work of the Costume Department, and although nothing is going to beat practical application, they will give you a feel for life on set.   

Alongside researching at local museums, the V&A, improving your sketching, looking at fashion through the ages and knowing back to front the role of the department, you may also wish to continue your reading so hit the library. Here are some useful sites and books that can further your knowledge of costume:

Websites:

Books:

Network

The network you build while working on shorts and other productions will enable you to branch out to look for work elsewhere in the industry, increasing your chance of actually making a living. If you have worked with other assistants or trainees ask them to keep you in mind for when they are unavailable to work, referrals to designers or supervisors can be an excellent way to get your foot in the door. Keep in contact with everyone you meet, send the odd email, social media is a great way to stay in touch. Use your time to create opportunities, don’t wait for them to come to you.

Personality and Attitude

While in those initial stages of creating a fuller portfolio and CV, you're going to need to support yourself financially. If you find yourself waiting tables, working behind a bar or pouring coffee it’s relatively the same starting wage as a trainee, except you get tips! To pursue this area of the film business find opportunities that will allow you the flexibility to work on short films for a few days, or accept a week of work experience. It's a bit of a juggling act for the first few years so look at other areas of the creative industries where costume and dressers are employed such as theatre or fashion. In those initial stages, you are looking to build relevant experience wherever you can.  There are not many people who walk straight into a job, which is why you should check your degree to see if they offer work experience or have links to the industry that you can utilise. 

At points it can feel frustrating when you’re not getting the roles you want, keep in mind the advice on being relentless and go back to your CV, think about what you can do to make it better, what experience could you gain in another capacity to start ticking boxes for potential employers. Reflect on the reasons your CV is not being chosen for roles; it could be a lack of experience, the way your CV is presented or if you’re sending in generic CVs and covering letters - you should give yourself the best possible chance by tailoring each one to each job role or production.

Although the industry is incredibly flexible when it comes to changing career, if you’re applying for positions in another area of the industry you will need to be clear why you want to make the change, and give examples of what you have been doing to facilitate the move.

 

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WHAT OTHER AREAS OF THE INDUSTRY DO COSTUME TRAINEES AND WARDROBE/COSTUME ASSISTANTS WORK IN?

The role of a trainee is most likely found on productions that have the budget to include members of junior level staff.  Trainee positions can be found in:

  • Feature films of most budgets. Trainees can be taken on at the discretion of the designer. 

  • TV drama

  • Commercials

  • Music videos

  • Theatre

Wardrobe assistants can be found in the world of television as well as film, so look at our sister site MFJTV. Assistants can be found on the above as well as:

  • Short films

  • Student productions (MA course/film school)

  • Some digital content if working with actors, the role may be that of stylist. 

WHAT IS IT LIKE TO WORK IN THE COSTUME DEPARTMENT?

All departments on a film set work hard, and the Costume Department is no exception, expect to be clocking up some 15 hour days and six day weeks. Members of the team need to be adaptable, practical and creative when it comes to working on set; they also need to be methodical when looking after an actors costume continuity and possess tact and diplomacy when working with the other departments. Similar to the work of the makeup artists, members of costume collaborate closely with the actors, and many strong professional working relationships are formed that can last over a career.

If working at a studio, the workroom is set up close to set, and this is where you can find the designer during pre-production. Creating a wardrobe can mean some items are outsourced (corsets or specialist items that need making), bought, rented or bespoke. The Costume Department work very closely with sound (for hiding mics), and if the SFX team use complicated stunts, the designer will conceive ways of hiding padding and create enough room for movement for the actors. While working on location, the wardrobe truck will house a mini workroom with space for the costumes themselves.

Most designers are aware of the grind of production, and endeavour to lead by example to make their work environment a fun place to be, and most often it is. The Costume Department is always busy, the sound of the sewing machines buzzing away, actors being fitted for costumes and a general buzz of activity means the workroom is never dull. When the department is under pressure it can be a stressful place to be, so make sure to keep professional and try and be unflappable. Designers and senior members of the team will be watching how you handle yourself.

SHOULD I HAVE ANY QUALIFICATIONS TO WORK AS A TRAINEE/ASSISTANT?

Working as a costume trainee will not require any formal academic qualifications, although a degree in fashion or textiles can offer you a solid educational grounding, knowledge of how garments are manufactured and some life experience. If choosing a costume or fashion degree look closely at the modules the course is offering, does it offer:

  • Practical modules with a specific focus on manufacture as well as design.

  • Lecturers (full time or guest) who are working in the industry.

  • Work placements.

  • Affiliations with industry recognised institutions.

  • A chance to meet alumni or industry members.

Working on short films or student projects can give you experience in styling characters, which can come into play on many features with a limited budget. Working with limited resources can often bring out the best in people, so if you have to make something out of nothing make detailed reference to this during interviews or in your covering letter. On entering the Costume Department, you should be able to demonstrate an eye for detail, colour, texture and some thought for the characters. If you don't have a degree and have worked on short films or theatre, build your portfolio of work and demonstrate technical competence via short courses or practical work experience with a dressmaker. Courses that focus on particular element of costume can be very useful on the CV such as:

  • Dressmaking

  • Embellishment

  • Pattern cutting

  • Dyeing/age dyeing

  • Millinery

  • Corset making

  • Textiles

  • Alterations

  • Working/altering vintage garments.

SHOULD I BE FAMILIAR WITH ANY EQUIPMENT?

Sewing machines and overlockers are a significant component of the work room. If you can create and cut a pattern, you're going to be a very useful trainee to have on board. Ideally, you will also know the best practices for hand stitching, including different kinds of stitches to use on various fabrics. If you've had experience with niche forms of needlework such as beading or embellishing then make features out of these on your CV. 

Designers don’t want to hire a designer; they want to have a competent trainee in their work room that is not afraid to tap a foot pedal or dress an actor should the need arise. Alongside the technical, there are also procedural processes that should be followed. Laying out a costume for an actor in their trailer takes some thought. Don’t just leave it hanging over a chair. When you come to layout the costume, think about the order that it needs to go on in, and lay it out accordingly. Make it obvious and presentable.

10 ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR WORKING IN THE COSTUME DEPARTMENT?


Be fastidious.

Always make sure costumes and accessories are stored in their correct place of an evening. This is a great practice to get into, and it's not uncommon for a designer to double check everything is where it should be at the end of the day.

If you have a skill, let them know.

If you have been working on your designs, and have found a skill that you're good at, let someone know about it. It’s a way to get yourself known within the department and can open up opportunities later on.

Gain experience working in other mediums.

You can work as a stylist or do a stint in the theatre; all these experiences will add to a deeper understanding of the work of the Costume Department.

Take on research in your spare time.

Become familiar with the trends and styles of the past. Being able to identify the cut of a suit or the length of a hemline can enrich your professional knowledge.

Watch films.

It sounds simple, but study the work of filmmakers and costume designers you admire; work out what it is that helps add depth to a character alongside the actor's performance. Think about why they have chosen the costumes, and what you would do differently.

Continue to develop your technical skills.

If you have time sign up to short courses to finesse on your technical skills, you may find courses dedicated to restoration or embellishment would be useful if working on a period drama. Use your spare time to equip yourself with as many desirable skills as possible; it could give you the edge on your competition.

Make sure to take wet weather gear out on location

Don't forget a good pair of shoes! Being comfortable and wearing clothes that allow you do move from the set to the workroom is essential. If you're going to be on your feet all day, you will need a good pair of shoes. It’s a well-known rookie mistake, don’t be the one everyone is looking at drenched in your woollen coat - now three times the weight due to the rain.

Be prepared for unemployment.

If you are working on independent films in the UK, there is some crossover between features films and TV dramas, expanding your chance for employment. If you decide to work on the big budget features, this becomes less so, once involved in this area of the industry people tend to keep available for the next big job. While you're training, work is going to be sporadic, even later in your career you may find this is still the case. One option for short term work is dressing in the theatre. These are casual gigs for dressers who can pick up a few weeks work here and there. Make sure to give your details to local theatres; it could come in handy.

Pay attention

Pay attention while you are on set. As a trainee, you may be sent to the set with one of the standby dressers. Make the most of this opportunity and learn from your colleagues about set etiquette. If someone appears distant, it isn't because they are anti-social, they are just listening to the conversations going on so they can be prepared for the next set up.

When your jobs are done, never, never, ever get your phone out and sit down.

It goes without saying one of the biggest mistakes made by runners and trainees with little experience is to think they can take a break - not so. As a rule of thumb, if everyone else is busy you should be too. You may be tired, but so is everyone else and they have more responsibility to deal with. So, if you have nothing to do, go and make them a cup of tea. 


PHRASES EVERY NEW ENTRANT TO THE COSTUME DEPARTMENT SHOULD KNOW:

  • Break away. A costume designed to tear or snag in a scene. Often there are more than one of these costumes.

  • Costume Bible. This is research from the costume designer including notes on makeup, hair, photographs, sketches and fabric swatches. The Costume Department share this with the director, production designer and makeup designer when collaborating on the key designs and tones of the production. New entrants should seek this out so they can get a feel of what the department is trying to achieve.

  • Hero item. An element of costume, jacket, dress, etc. that is worn throughout the film. The hero item is often replicated ten or more times to make it through three months of filming. 

  • Squib. A small explosive that is embedded into the fabric of the costume, designed to appear as a bullet hole on detonation. A designated copy of the hero costume will be fitted with these by the special effects team.

  • Sides. At the beginning of the day get a handful of sides for the onset team and the trailer/bus. The sides include a copy of the call sheet and the scenes from the script to be shot that day. Always check the sides against the schedule you have in the workroom or trailer, the ADs may have made an amendment or included a pickup shot.

  • Call Sheet. One of the most important pieces of paperwork you are handed at the end of the day, detailing your call time and if you are shooting on location address and directions. Check it thoroughly, there will also be a weather report so dress appropriately.  

FAQ’S

How much should I earn as a costume trainee?

BECTU’s recommended rates for the Costume Department, including the role of the trainee, are laid out on their website. If you feel the pay scale you're offered is not in accordance with BECTU’s rates, you can get in touch with them for more advice.

Although work may be sporadic and the majority of the film industry is self-employed, the role of the trainee/runner/assistant is not currently recognised by HMRC as a ‘grade’ for self-employment. If you’re working on features films for weeks or months, the production will pay you weekly using the PAYE pay structure, meaning they will deduct your tax and national insurance at source, providing you with a P45 and P60 at the end of the engagement. However, if you’re just starting out and looking for work, potentially on dailies, this presents complications. 

Fortunately, HMRC is aware of the infrequency of work in the film and television industry especially in the entry level roles, so they use a seven day rule. If an engagement is less than seven days, PAYE does not need to be applied but the production company will still deduct your national insurance. This is to stop you being over taxed or emergency taxed, which could leave you with a very small pay packet indeed. Make sure you are meticulous with your record keeping, filing all documentation such as your P45 and P60’s, you may need them for reference at the end of the tax year. 

If you have been in the film industry for 12 months and worked for multiple companies on short term contracts, you can be eligible to apply to HMRC for the Lorimer or LP10 letter. The Lorimer Letter is a Letter of Authority that is valid for three years and can be applied to engagements of 10 days or less. To apply for this, you have to demonstrate that you are in business on your own account, so that individual short-term engagements which would otherwise be treated as employment are seen as part of an overall business set-up. So, even though you are not one the approved ‘grades’ listed by HMRC you will be invoicing the production for the full sum - but you will need to generate your own invoicing, file your own tax return as self-employed and be responsible for paying your Class 2 and Class 4 National Insurance

Please make sure to set up your invoicing structure in a way that will enable you to be consistent with your numbering. For example, if you're John Smith you may decide to structure your invoicing as JS01. Try not to go changing your formats too much, when it comes to the end of the tax year (April 5th), you’re going to want to keep things as simple as possible.

What is the set etiquette for junior members of the Costume Department?

Many, though not all, designers will give trainees on set experience while working in the department. The set environment is unlike anything you may have experienced to date, and there are certain codes of conduct that needs to be observed. If you are naturally spatially aware, proactive and attentive then set etiquette should present no mystery for you. As a costume trainee you should be following basic set etiquette for the junior roles, but if you want to make an impression here are a few rules to work by:

  • Listen - really listen to the conversations that are going on around you. Situations can change at a moment’s notice for costume, and as the trainee you can be the one dashing back to the trailer.

  • Get to know your edge of frame. For final checks (if you are asked to help out) have a look at the monitor to see what the frame size is; if it’s a close up you don’t need to waste time polishing an actor's shoes - unless the actor's shoes are the close up.

  • Don’t stare. If you are working on a big production with some A-listers, don’t stare at them while they are rehearsing or going for a take. Being costume you are going to be placed relatively close to the action, look at the monitor but don’t crowd it. The best thing you can do is keep an eye on the standby costume, watch how they present themselves.  

What should I take with me on my first day?

Much the same as the Makeup Department, designers will expect trainees to arrive with a basic kit, especially if the designer sends them onto set with standby costume. Your basic kit should consist of:

  • Clear bag

  • Scissors

  • Needles and threads

  • Pins - to include safety pins of assorted sizes and dress pins.

  • Heel grips

  • Measuring tape

  • Lint roller

  • Baby wipes

  • Toupe tape

  • Glue

  • Penguins (stain removal mini wipes)

  • Notebook and pen (although the sharpie is the industry's favoured permanent marker, it can be any)

  • Clothes brushes

What hours am I likely to work?

As with all crew who work in the practical departments, the days will be long. You will probably be looking at 12 hours on camera, which ultimately means around 13-15 hours a day, six days a week. The Costume Department isn’t for everyone. Far from glamorous, far from easy, members of the costume thrive on the pace and challenge this department presents.  

thank you's ...

My First Job in Film would like to thank Lance Milligan for sharing his expereince and giving up his time to offer advice for this career guide. 

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