By Jerome Cleary
Over the past 15 years in Hollywood, costumer designer, Olivia Miles has been on an exciting journey working on commercials, music videos, TV series and feature films. Miles designed the costumes on 15 episodes of CBS’s “The Crazy Ones” starring Robin Williams and Sarah Michele Gellar. Presently she began her prep work this week at Warner Brothers studios for the feature film: “Son Of Shaft” which begins filming in Atlanta in December. She was also featured in Variety’s 2011 below the line “Impact List” new generation of talented artisans rising in the ranks in the entertainment industry.
Other recent work in TV was a season of: “Jane By Design” for ABC Family where the show provided many creative outlets as the concept focused on a high school teenager who moonlights as a fashion designer in New York City. Prior to JANE, Miles designed seasons 7 and 8 of HBO’s hit series: “Entourage” where she was able to sink her teeth into all the latest fashion trends for the core stars, but also dress the countless cameos from Mark Wahlberg to Matt Damon to LeBron James.
In the feature film world, Miles recently wrapped: “Gotti” with John Travolta which premieres in December, Middle School for CBS films, “When The Bough Breaks” for Screen Gems, and “Ride Along 2” with Universal. Dour Ellin’s “Entourage: The Movie.” She just finished work on the new TV series on Showtime: “White Famous.”
To get a better insight of her process we did a Q and A with her:
When you are first up for a job as the costume designer on a TV or film what’s the first thing you do before you meet with the director for the production company?
The first thing I do is read the script. Combing through it as much as time permits enables me to make informed choices on what I envision for the characters’ costumes…as well as what I estimate the budget needs to be. I do as much research as I can about the world the script is set in. That can be online, in the library, archives at a fashion house or costume house, existing photos.
How did your job differ today from working on a TV show like Entourage to working on the recent Show Time show White Famous?
Entourage was about the one percent, the most privileged people in Hollywood. On White Famous, Floyd, our lead played by Jay Pharaoh, is just on his way to potential fame and fortune. So I would say that the costumes on Entourage had an element of fantasy and I wanted most of the characters to look as if money was no object. White Famous is more real; Floyd has a cultivated, urban style. Also, Entourage had huge crowd and background scenes and was almost completely shot on location. White Famous was a bit more contained. We actually had a few sets on a stage.
Do usually work on your own or do you have an assistant or a team of people you work with?
Sometimes during early prep I am alone, but depending on the size of the project, I can have quite a large team sometimes. On White Famous, our crew was 8 people including me. We hire additional day players when we have lots of actors on set or background scenes. I have an incredible group of costume professionals I work with-they are the people on my speed dial when I book a job and need to put a team together. Over the years you become a family. And I have been very lucky to have talented, loyal, and funny assistants over the years.
How did you approach coming up with the costumes for the feature film Gotti with John Travolta?
It was very important to both John Travolta, our director, Kevin Connelly, and the Gotti family that the film looked completely authentic. The Gotti family provided family photos and kept themselves available for consultation with any questions we had. The family even allowed me to use John Gotti Sr’s ties, pocket squares, and jewelry. I had very little prep time on this movie. I collaborated with Mr. Travolta’s personal tailor, Matteo Perin, and designed suits to replicate some of John Gotti Sr’s iconic ones. We referred to court and media footage as well as the family’s collection of photographs. Having resources like this and eyewitness accounts were invaluable.
Tell us about your prep time now at Warner Bros. getting ready for the feature film Son of Shaft what is your lead time before the filming begins in December in Atlanta?
I will be breaking down the script with Kate, the costume supervisor, starting on sketches and putting together presentations for my lead actors, meeting with bespoke tailors and milliners, swatching fabrics, and starting shopping for any fittings we may schedule.
How is the industry changed for costume designers working on film and TV from your experience 20 years ago from today’s work?
There are so many more ways to watch content. They all have different budgets and perimeters. You have to be prepared for anything these days, you have to be flexible and try new ways of doing things.
For more info: OliviaMilesCostumes.com