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How She Got There: Cynthia Summers, Costume Designer for 'Unreal'&'The L Word'


Name: Cynthia Summers
Job: Costume Designer - Film & TV
College Name: Helen LeFeaux School of Fashion
Twitter Handle: @cynthiaasummers
Instagram Handle:@cynthiasummers

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Cynthia Summers: No typical day in filmmaking! I am currently working on a TV Series, which means 7 days to prepare the entire wardrobe and 7 days to shoot it then repeat for 12 episodes. This involves breaking down the script, meetings with Producers/Directors and other departments to make sure we are collaborating and on the same page. Then, shopping or building costumes, then fittings with the actors. After all of the cast costumes/looks have been approved by Producers/Director/Cast, then we plot each look with the corresponding script days, scenes and directional notes. When that is all done we load up the Costume Truck and start on the next episode!

What is the best part of your job?

CS: Helping an actor embody their character through their wardrobe. Collaborating and helping "paint" the Directors vision.

What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?

CS: I entered at the top. (I never seem to do anything the easy way lol) After I finished Fashion Design school, I basically stalked a Production Designer for about a year. When he had an indie film, he offered it to me to design. It was frightening, exhilarating and one of the most creative collaborations of my life so far. That was 1994 and I have held the same position, on many productions, ever since.

What words of wisdom (well-known quotes, an anecdote from your boss) do you find most valuable?

CS: Surprise me. Think outside the box, and make it work. Those are words from my boss. From me, say yes to everything you feel passionate about. Even if you haven't done it before, as long as you think there is even the smallest possibility you can pull it off, just say yes. And then work your ass off to prove yourself right!

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

CS: In this business: taking time off, and thinking I could just swing back into it. Like most businesses these days, the film industry changes daily. I know now that as this industry evolves, so must I. You've just gotta keep up!

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

CS: About 10 years ago, I met Diane Keaton at a film event. She was sitting a few tables over from me. Someone at my table knew her and dragged me over to meet her. I was mortified. She was gracious and amazing. I went back to my table, excused myself, went to the washroom, and burst into tears and had a little cry. I was totally unprepared to be so star struck. Hasn't happened before or since. And although I've been a long time fan, I was absolutely not prepared for the emotional response. Kinda crazy!

What do you look for when considering hiring someone?

CS: Confidence! And obviously talent. But I always have been more inspired by someone new who can bring in a fresh perspective, than someone with miles and miles of experience, and maybe a little too stuck in their ways. Then, equally as important, someone who is good at taking constructive criticism, and working within a team. I may be the head of my department, but I am only as good as the team supporting me! Filmmaking is without a doubt, a team effort!

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

CS: Be tenacious, believe in yourself, be humble, never settle, and keep learning! Learn all that you can, jump in, and keep learning. Just believe in yourself and that will inspire those around you. And be prepared to work harder than you ever thought you would. Nothing about this industry is ordinary, and that's why most of us are in it. 12 - 14 hour days are no joke. If you are a Designer, be prepared to be on call 24/7. People skills are so, so important. People in this industry always talk about the ones that "have it". Meaning they have what it takes to work and thrive in the film industry. It’s a hard arena, but so gratifying!

What's the one thing that's stood out to you the most in a resume?

CS: Format. Nothing worse than a resume that is too wordy and/or too long. And job experience. And if you don't have the job experience, I need to see all the courses you are taking to make me believe you want this job badly and that you are doing everything you can to make sure you have more credentials than anyone else. And that can include volunteering or interning, even if it is not in the Costume Department.

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