Designing Halloween Episodes
By Alexandra Lippin, October, 31 2012
Tune in to your favorite TV shows this time of the year and you are bound to see more than a few Halloween-themed episodes. So how does a Costume Designer go about selecting the right Halloween costume for each character? We interviewed some of our Guild members to find out what goes into designing the Halloween-themed episode.
“Pretty Little Liars”- Mandi Line
Although the new season of “Pretty Little Liars” doesn’t start until January, ABC Family decided to air a special one-off Halloween-themed episode, set on Rosewood’s Halloween Ghost Train.
It is clear that Costume Designer Mandi Line created costumes tailored to each character’s unique personality. She decided to custom design the costumes worn by Aria (Lucy Hale), who dresses as Daisy Buchanan from “The Great Gatsby,” Hanna (Ashley Benson), who dresses as Marilyn Monroe, and Emily (played by Shay Mitchell), who wears a modern-day Barbarella costume that was inspired by the 1968 film.
For Aria’s Daisy Buchanan costume, Line found a gorgeous, all hand-beaded flapper-style dress by Sue Wong. She then added the accessories, integrating feathers and rhinestones onto a ribbon headpiece and pulling costume jewelry to add just the right touch.
The most challenging of the three costumes turned out to be the Barbarella suit, which was built from scratch with notably modern fabrics and pieced together by hand. The boots, which were connected to the bodysuit, had to be measured and sewn perfectly in order for actress Shay Mitchell to be able to bend and straighten her legs.
Line, who is well aware that the show’s devoted fans “expect a certain level of creativity,” is always up for the challenge said she had a great time working on the this edition. “Give me this genre which is conceptual and creative, and this is where I thrive,” she says.
“Raising Hope”- Robin Kennedy
Costume Designer Robin Kennedy and show-runner Greg Garcia have collaborated on 13 seasons worth of sitcom programming, creating annual Halloween-themed episodes for “My Name is Earl” and “Yes, Dear” before teaming on Fox’s “Raising Hope,” which is currently in its third season.
For the Halloween episode of “Raising Hope,” entitled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Me What To Do,” which follows Jimmy (Lucas Neff) and Burt (Garret Dillahunt) on their visit to a local gay bar, Kennedy and her team dressed 40 additional background actors in themed outfits, a big addition to her standard 40 to 120 principal costume changes per episode. To accommodate the large number, Kennedy purchased most of her Halloween costumes online and tweaked and embellished to meet each character’s respective needs.
As Kennedy explains, there are always obstacles when planning a Halloween episode. For example “when the writers want you to put an actor in a very recognizable costume and the studio is telling you, ‘you can’t,’” Kennedy says, “we usually have to change three distinct characteristics. [Jimmy’s] Hulk costume had to be airbrushed a very neon green, the clothes had to be different, and if you look [closely] his eyebrows look a little like a Smurf.”
Additionally, she says, Burt’s revealing “sexy mailman” costume, which included a rental shirt with an ND patch, needed to be altered. “We had to sew his buttonholes closed because [actor Garret Dillahunt] kept trying to button his shirt during rehearsal!”
Kennedy also points out the importance of keeping “the characters real” in light of the holiday theme. Throughout the design process, she asks herself, “Where would [he/she] shop? How would they put something together with the resources they have?”
“The Mindy Project” – Salvador Perez Jr.
Salvador Perez Jr., who notes that “as a Costume Designer, every day of my life is Halloween,” began shopping for Halloween costumes for episode six of “The Mindy Project” back in August.
Despite four weeks of prep time (and 10 weeks theorizing costumes called for in the script), the designs are always subject to changes and it is critical to find just the right pieces to make the costumes work.
This particular episode was very story-driven as Mindy Kaling (who plays Mindy Lahiri, a young OB/GYN doctor) stresses out while trying to find the perfect costume for a Halloween date with her new love-interest, Josh (played by Tommy Dewey). Because Mindy and her fellow cast members’ costumes are so specific, Perez decided to make the majority of them.
“Mindy’s character has six costumes in this episode and we knew that we were not going for the sexy, hot girl costumes,” he says. In following the story line of Mindy’s frenzied search for a costume, Perez designed and created a number of hilarious and clever costumes by marrying unexpected characters and themes. For example, Mindy tries “Little House on the Prairie” meets Lil’ Wayne, “Tinkerbell-Tailor-Soldier-Spy” (fusing the Disney fairy with the Cold War spy thriller) and “Dirty Harry Potter” (meshing the teen wizard with the Clint Eastwood classic).
Between the principal characters and the additional 150 extras staged as trick or-treaters, Perez had a lot of costumes to prepare, and all of which had to be unique. From Hollywood Toys and Costumes to Spirit Halloween stores, he was able to piece together costumes ranging from the incredibly smart and witty to the blatantly, over-the-top silly, as is evidenced by the giant urinal costume worn by Morgan Tookers (played by Ike Barinholtz).
Among the dozens of other costumes squeezed into the 30-minute episode are an extra large buttocks, for which Perez had to create giant underwear, a pair of enormous breasts, and his take on Inigo Montoya from “The Princess Bride” for Josh, which maintained the same silhouette but was re-created in a different color.
“Guys with Kids” – Melina Root
According to Melina Root, Costume Designer on the new sitcom “Guys With Kids,” you can tell a lot about each of the characters just by what they wear. When it came time to design the Halloween episode, Root decided to stick close to the script and went through a lot of negotiations in order to get the costumes approved.
Root did most of her shopping at pop-up Halloween shops, Party City and pulling form costume houses. When designing the zombie costumes worn by Nick (Zach Cregger) and Emily (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), she collaborated closely with the hair and makeup teams to complete the look, which she created by ripping up old clothes and staining them with red dye to look like blood. She was very cautious when it came to dressing the kids in the show, as she was not able to apply makeup to the younger babies in order to help define their costumes.
For Sheila’s (Erinn Hayes) Mary Shelley costume, Root found the perfect dress at Western Costume and custom made little Ernie’s tiny Frankenstein suit. Always mindful of studio clearances, Root made a point of selecting more generic costumes to which she could add her own touches to make them look more authentic.
“Hart of Dixie” – Meredith Markworth-Pollack
For Meredith Markworth-Pollack, Costume Designer for “Hart of Dixie,” the trick to creating interesting Halloween costumes is to be open to your resources. By mixing vintage pieces with store-bought “costumes from a bag” she is able to achieve the right look: not too dated-looking, but at the same time, not “right off the rack.”
For example, when looking for a “Sexy Genie” costume, she went to the costume house at Warner Bros. and came across an incredible vintage set which she tweaked in order to make it look slightly more contemporary and more interesting on camera.
In regards to her general design process, Markworth-Pollack begins with the script and what has been written for each character. She then discusses with “Hart of Dixie” creator Leila Gerstein before she and her team come up with “pitches” for characters, including images and references. Once the costume choices are approved, she gets to work designing. There are, of course, some costumes that cannot be cleared, however it is Markworth-Pollack’s job to find the right alternatives. Thankfully, the writers are usually conscious from the beginning about what they think they can clear.
For a Halloween-themed episode, the designer says she brainstorms fresh, relevant costumes and determines what the character would realistically dress up as. She asks herself if the character seems like the type of person who would wear something store-bought or if he would put something together with things that he already owns. She says an equally important question is “will this get a good laugh?” For example, Tom and Wanda are a quirky, hip, young couple that would most likely come up with something clever and silly, and so Markworth-Pollack dressed them in bacon and egg costumes for the Halloween episode.
Starting with several rentals from Warner Bros. and continuing at the Halloween Town store on Magnolia Blvd in North Hollywood, she found that the more she shopped, the more the pieces inspired new costume ideas. After opening up the bagged purchased costumes, she began swapping out pieces with some of the more interesting rentals and found that the web was an excellent third resource for random items such as werewolf hands that would still enable the wearer do simple functions like pick up a piece of fruit, (Wilson Bethel’s character wears these in the episode).
After her fittings with the actors, Markworth-Pollack provided the hair and makeup teams with photos and notes so that they could come up with their own concepts to achieve “the look” in full.
Overall her favorite costumes are the ones worn by Crickett and the Belles, who kept with a “winged” theme. The communal look included a bumble bee, butterfly, lady bug and fairy.