Our “So you want to be…” series aims to help you in the process of choosing a career by featuring a practising professional to tell us what to expect in their field of work. This week we speak to costume designer Diana Cilliers, who’s worked in the industry for 35 years on productions such as District 9, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Themba and, most recently, Chappie.
Live SA: In one line tell us what a wardrobe/costume designer does?
Diana: I design the look and feel of all the costumes for a film, TV drama or theatre production.
Live SA: What does your job entail: Can you give us a day in the life…
Diana: Reading a script, designing and presenting the look for each character and the extras. I use reference pictures, sketches, fabric samples, mood boards in creating costume looks. Then to execute, I’ll manufacture the looks or shop.
Live SA: How did you get where you are today?
Diana: I started working in theatre and TV commercials which I did briefly before switching to feature films and TV, where my passion lies. I prefer creating characters and telling stories with the help of costumes to selling a product as commercials do. I have won the Golden Horn SAFTA in 2007 for the Best Costume in a Feature Film for Goodbye Bafana and last year I won as well for Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom. I was nominated for an Emmy award in 2013 for Outstanding Costumes for a miniseries, movie or a special for my work in The Girl. I’ve also won a Danish Robert Statue for Best Costume Designer for my work in a movie called The Salvation. It is always a great honour to be recognised for your work in this way and has been a tremendous boost for my career.
Live SA: What courses should an aspiring costume designer take?
Diana: A costume design course at any of the film schools, like AFDA or City Varsity. It’s a great foundation for starting your career. I also recommend taking art history, clothing history, fashion and pattern-making. Getting a solid knowledge of fabrics and textiles will help as well. Choose the practical courses over the theoretical film courses.
Live SA: What are the biggest challenges of your job?
Diana: The really hectic deadlines are stressful. There are also long hours. Be prepared to travel and be away from home for long periods of time, but you overcome this by being well organised and making the actors feel their characters with the help of their costumes.
Live SA: What are some of the misconceptions young people have about the job?
Diana: That it is glamorous. It is in fact very hard work.
Live SA: What personality traits do you think are key to this profession?
Diana: A calm disposition and the ability to work closely with a great variety of people and as part of a team.