Red Stewart chats with costume designer Amela Baksic…
Amela Baksic is a costume designer who has been working in the film and television industry since the early-2000s. She is best known for her contributions to projects like Conviction, A Kid like Jake, and Higher Ground. Her latest costume design was for the horror film The First Purge, which came out July 4th, 2018.
Flickering Myth had the privilege to interview her, and I in turn had the honor to conduct it:
Ms. Baksic, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to speak with me. What made you want to pursue costume designing as a career?
From my earliest childhood in Dubrovnik, I loved to go the theater to see stories acted out on stage. I also loved to read, and I majored in English literature at university. Designing costumes for the actor is a wonderful way to incorporate my love of literature and have a part in creating a visual narrative on film. Many people think costume design centers on fashion, and while fashion is certainly a feature of costume design, my approach is much more centered on designing clothes that enhance the actors performance and enrich the story. For myself, that was the principle attraction of costume design.
I noticed that on your earlier projects you were credited as the assistant costume designer. What exactly is the difference in roles between the main costume designer and the assistant? I remember talking to a composer and he said assistant composers didn’t have to deal with the bureaucracy of the industry. Is that the case with the costume designer vs the assistant costume designer?
As an assistant costume designer, one has a dual role to play. The designer is looking for an assistant who can offer creative support and advice, but the costume assistant has to also remain in the background during fittings with the actors and in any interaction with the director and the producers. A delicate balance has to be maintained between those two demands.
In addition to movies, you’ve done work for television shows like Fringe and Unforgettable. What’s the biggest difference between costume designing for the two mediums? Is the production schedule more rushed on television for example?
Designing for episodic television is definitely more rushed; it is like designing a mini feature film every week. And since the story is evolving on a weekly basis many times, the designer gets each new script for the upcoming episode on very short notice so there is much less time to create a design solution to each new problem as it arises. Otherwise, the day-to-day design work for TV is very similar to film.
You’ve been the costume designer for a variety of projects, ranging from comedy to horror to drama to mystery. Does being a part of those worlds ever have an effect on you as a person? I know it tends to happen to actors.
Not really. There are several degrees of separation between the designers and the actors. The designers are deeply committed to creating the story of the film but we do not have to vicariously experience the story the way the actors do. And let me add, contrary to what many people may suppose about the design approach being different for the various different genres of film, I go through the same creative process for each film I do, whether it be “horror/action” for a large budget studio movie like The First Purge, or smaller independent films that have appeared at the Sundance Film Festival like Higher Ground or A Kid Like Jake.
On that note, let’s talk about The First Purge. Though this is the fourth entry in The Purge series, it is a prequel depicting the initial events that led to the popularization of the titular event. As such, how much freedom did you have when it came to designing the wardrobe for this film? Did you feel you had an obligation to keep a similar street aesthetic to its predecessors?
I approached The First Purge like I would approach any new project: facing the challenge of putting the actors in clothes that enhance the characters they are portraying. Of course, when one is working on a franchise such as the Purge movies, there is a certain style that has gone before that one has to always be conscious of. However, with The First Purge, I think the audiences have found that what they are witnessing is more of an action movie as opposed to the more traditional horror movie style of the first three. And because it is a prequel, there was a certain freedom for me in establishing a fresh look and a different “street aesthetic” than to my predecessors.
Because the film has a lot of violence, how flexible do you have to be when crafting the clothing articles worn in the film since there is a strong chance they will get damaged or bloodstained? Is that something you discuss extensively beforehand with the director (Gerard McMurray) before you set off on your work?
In costume design for film there is a name for it: Multiples. When you are doing a scene where an actor gets shot and his shirt is bloodied, there will be many takes of that scene by the camera crew and the director before they move on to the next sequence. Obviously one can’t wash the clothes on set for the each repetition, so we have to have many exact copies of the same costume for each take. Depending on how difficult the scene is and whether it involves a “stunt double” this can be very challenging, not to mention costly. A costume budget can very easily get out of control because of the violent scenes required in movies like The First Purge. The demands of the multiples is what is expected in film production from the costume department.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from joining a franchise with an established following? Does that add more pressure to you as a costume designer?
The production designer, Sharon Lomofsky, is a very good friend of mine and we have worked on many films together. While there is a lot of pressure doing any movie, much less a big budget action movie like The First Purge, having an established relationship with a designer like Sharon was an enormous advantage. She had designed The Purge: Election Year, so she helped me stick to any established themes from any of the previous films. But, as I said before, in many ways we felt like we were creating a new product and, having seen the result when The First Purge was released on the Fourth of July, I think we were very successful.
Flickering Myth would like to thank Ms Baksick for taking the time to chat with us. The First Purge is out in theaters now.