“The Lying Game”
By Gina Silverstein, October 4, 2011
Deep in the heart of Texas there is an endless appreciation for football, mesquite-smoked barbecue and Shiner Bock beer but not much of an emphasis on the entertainment industry. Occasionally, movies are shot locally, and there are intermittent visits by celebrities who keep ranches in the area, but the excitement of Hollywood has long worn off. So, when “The Lying Game,” an ABC Family television series, rolled into town and made its base camp at Austin Studios, a 20-acre facility managed by the Austin Film Society, locals barely batted an eye, aside from those directly benefiting from it like crews and catering companies. By filming in Austin, the production received a tax break and a measure of authenticity, but there are downsides to shooting outside of Hollywood, especially for a series that may continue for years. This became apparent early on as scorching triple-digit temperatures wilted the talent and crew, and a massive wildfire 25 miles to the east destroyed nearly a thousand homes, casting an apocalyptic haze over the city.
Originally set to film in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Clarita, the producers had moved the production to Austin at the last minute. Costume Designer Mimi Kaupe, who designed for the pilot, knew it would be a challenge but agreed to stay with the show. Austin, dubbed the “live music capital” of the world, is in the middle of the Lone Star State and punctuated by 200 music venues, rolling hills, lakes, fantastic food and residents who celebrate being “weird” — according to its own Visitor’s Bureau. After weathering an influx of “outsiders” in the 1990s that sent its population soaring, Austin still manages to maintain a certain small town charisma, home to university students, state politicians, outdoor enthusiasts, techies and the original Austinites, folks who look and talk like Willie Nelson. One thing it doesn’t have is a heightened sense of fashion — unless you count Justin boots, plaid cowboy shirts, cut-offs and flip-flops as must-haves. Despite that – or perhaps because of it – it’s an interesting canvas from which to draw costume ideas from, especially for a show with young characters.
In many ways Austin has a laissez-faire atmosphere similar to Boulder, Colorado, which is where Kaupe went to college before becoming a fashion designer in the 1980s. She describes the period as her Dynasty era — “semi-couture with layers and layers of shoulder pads.” Later, after a successful run as a children’s clothing designer, she happened upon Costume Designing when a friend, Donna Dewey, who is an Oscar-winning director, asked her to design a genie costume for a Lottery commercial. Clueless that a film and television industry even existed in Colorado, Kaupe was pleasantly surprised at the amount of money she was offered, and the rest is history, eventually moving to Los Angeles and seguing from commercials into film and television. Although she has created contemporary costumes for a string of television pilots, she would like to design in the mid-century era at some point and especially relates to films and television shows set on the east coast where she grew up. One of her favorite 1950s era films for its costumes is “Far From Heaven,” designed by Sandy Powell, which depicts the disintegration of a perfect Connecticut marriage. The television show “Mad Men,” designed by Janie Bryant, is also high on her list as she remembers her father in the early 1960s taking the train into New York City every morning, impeccably dressed in Don Draper-like business suits. And Kaupe, who was one of the 500,000 hippies at the Woodstock music festival in 1969, would also like to tackle the evolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s – a period of political and societal upheaval – because she finds it “very upsetting” when that period is designed inaccurately.
When she arrived in Austin for “The Lying Game,” Kaupe realized just what a “lifestyle change” it was, adding that “getting going was pretty exhausting.” She attributes making it through the first few episodes and into the groove she is now in – to Kelly King, her Buyer for the last 25 years, and the rest of her “fantastic” crew comprised of Costume Supervisor Kathy Kiatta, Key Costumer Jenn Schossow, Key Set Costumer Stephanie Steele, Set Costumer Nyima Johnson and Costume PA D.J. Castillo. In designing for the show, which includes more than a half dozen teen characters, she has drawn partially on the University of Texas student population for inspiration. With the number of co-eds topping 50,000, the nearby school is a veritable town-within-a-town and a rich source of people watching, with kids coming in from all over the world, suitcases full of clothing in tow.
As part of her research for the adults in the show, she asked the series writers who the wealthy Scottsdale-based parents, played by Andy Buckley and Helen Slater, voted for in the last election. The answer – which she won’t divulge – helped in her decision of how to design for them. She also found the guilt they harbor affects how she approaches their costumes. The mother feels slightly guilty about her wealth, so Kaupe downplays her look by often having her in yoga clothes. The father, on the other hand, has some guilty secrets from his past to cover up, so he’s dressed in straight-laced, conservative costumes.
Kaupe says that Austin has some “pretty good shopping … but sometimes you have to seek it out a little more.” She has relied on the best resources the city can offer – Neiman’s, Nordstrom’s, Anthropologie and Zara – as well as a few jewelry designers, high-end consignment shops and film-friendly boutiques which have allowed her to pull for fittings. “I was very fortunate to have Kelly with me because he is my eyes and ears when I can’t be someplace,” she emphasizes. Even so, Team Kaupe shops out the local spots. So, she and King have hit the road on four-hour drives to Dallas which have netted bigger and better costume windfall. She also spent a weekend back in Los Angeles picking up a few high-end pieces, mixed with low-end items from H&M.
One of Kaupe’s challenges – aside from the shopping itself – is designing for twin characters, each played by actress Alexandra Chando. “There has to be a distinction for the audience,” she says, and especially so with Chando, who has striking features. Along with the show’s hair and make-up team, Kaupe had to decide on discernible differences for the twins, who were separated at birth: Emma is a truant brought up in foster care and Sutton is the popular girl who grew up in a wealthy family. Costume choices for the characters would seem to be fairly obvious, but twists in the storyline demanded more complexity. Emma actually switches places with Sutton and lives with her unsuspecting family in Scottsdale, while Sutton takes off to Los Angeles to look for their birth mother with just the clothes on her back. Kaupe’s challenge, then, is in creating costumes for girls in unfamiliar circumstances who must keep up the charade – one who is “wealthy” but secretly came from nothing, and a girl who is “on the run” but from an affluent environment.
Thus far, Kaupe has put Emma in costumes that a rags-to-riches teenage girl would believably wear given the opportunity she has – a precipitous binge of gorgeous clothes, jewelry and high heels, while making a few fashion mistakes along the way. Meanwhile, Sutton, with little money to spend, is a former fashionista forced to put together stylish looks on a beer budget. She is buying flower tops and flip-flops from Venice Beach vendors these days. The series writers also work closely with Kaupe by scripting Sutton’s transformation into scenes such as the one in which she re-imagines a 1970s “granny” dress she finds in a closet into something wearable for school.
The costumes are causing an unexpected explosion of online activity. ABC Family launched an official blog for “The Lying Game,” but other bloggers have taken it up as well, lighting up cyberspace with information about the show and generating requests from Kaupe’s department on a weekly basis. But, the chatter is not just about the twins. Kaupe is creating costumes for a bevy of other young actors who are commented on, as well. Mads, played by Alice Greczyn, is a fan favorite and one who Kaupe believes has more distinctive costumes than some of the others. “Her look is a little more urban, a little edgier,” she explains. “As soon as she finishes high school there’s no way she’s staying in Scottsdale. She’s going to New York or LA or Paris.” Sutton’s little sister Laurel, played by Allie Gonino, has been in young, playful floral prints, but when she got a boyfriend Kaupe wanted her to be “a little sexier…more mature,” dressing her in a peek-a-boo lace shirt and silk satin cargo pants which followers noticed. And recently, a pink ruffle blouse worn by Sutton’s friend Char, played by Kirsten Prout, generated a flood of requests from fans wanting to know where to find it. Usually the comments are positive – sometimes not – as everyone has a forum for an opinion these days. Kaupe finds it amusing, if not flattering. “It’s fun to see what the kids write and I’m always saying kids, because I think that’s most of our audience.” Laughing, she adds, “These could be older women but I doubt it.”
At the end of the day, though, it’s the actors themselves who provide the best feedback. “These girls love their wardrobe,” Kaupe says. “They can’t wait to see what they’re going to wear next, so that’s pretty inspirational.” Recently, she went on set and saw Prout and Greczyn holding their purses to their chests, conspiring on how to keep them from the prop department. For Kaupe that was the ultimate pat on the back for a job well done and an affirmation of her loyalty to the show. “I want to do a good job,” Kaupe says, even if it means taking up residence in Austin for a while. ” I hope it plays forever,” she added with a laugh.
Epilogue: After this interview, ABC Family announced it was picking up the “The Lying Game” for a second season.