Friday, January 27, 2006
Sunny and cold
Yesterday was fine. The phone rang just before midnight the night before – they’d just wrapped on location, and my call time was pushed back an hour. What an enormous psychological difference it makes, setting the alarm for 6 AM rather than 5!
The sun was even on its way up as I left for the train.
The train was late (of course) and then we had to stop and pick up the passengers from a train that broke down. Imagine stuffing two rush hours trains’ worth of passengers into one. Typical. But at least we didn’t leave them stranded, which is what the MTA usually does.
The subway was fine, and I got to the studio early, which allowed me to relax with a cup of coffee and the paper before diving in to work. I was support yesterday, rather than being on set – offloading the truck, resorting the clothes, putting the laundry through, harvesting the tie bars and precinct numbers from the clothing and putting it back so it’s in place for the next time it’s needed; making sure the tags are written up as to what each character wore in that day’s episode for the continuity book, restocking the character closets.
Each principal has a rack called a “closet”. This is true in episodic television, and, especially, in soaps. The designer creates a look for the character, and a color palette. And then the designer and assistants shop for the look. For each episode, the designer designs the look for each day contained within the episode – some is pulled from the closet. Some is shopped. And the closet grows over the course of the season or seasons. Everything is tracked to the last detail – jewelry, lingerie, shoes, accessories – not only for continuity, but so the character doesn’t wear the same piece too often (unless it’s a character marker, such as Columbo’s raincoat in that series). For instance, one of the female characters tends to wear above-the knee skirts and cashmere sweaters, in a particular range of colors that flatter her skin and her hair. Another female character’s palette is darker, with more leather, longer line on the jackets and skirts, and more accessories such as grommeted belts, etc. The male characters each have their own range of shirt colors and styles, and, especially, ties. Ties are used as character markers, both in color and in pattern. It’s interesting, because it’s part of creating the world of the character and the world of the show. It helps the audience’s perception of the character, along with the dialogue and the action. It’s a visual.
I compare my closet to a “character closet” and I see how much wider my personal range of clothes are, as far as color and style. At first, I assumed it was simply a case of real life vs. fiction, but one of the other costumers said, “But you live many lives in one. Each of these characters has the life at work and the life at home. You have the life here when we see you, or at the theatre; the life when you’re writing; the life when you’re traveling; the life when you’re making public appearances or teaching; the life when you’re doing things to support your SO.” She wondered if I had different wardrobes for the different noms de plum!
That’s an interesting idea, actually. Since the voice of each is different, I would think the wardrobe choices would be slightly different, too. Although, overall, I tend to go for a simple, tailored look with details in the accessories or in something like buttons or topstitching or whatever. I like color and I like texture. I don’t wear white. I have one little fluffy white cardigan with rhinestone buttons in a loose crochet that I wear sometimes in the spring or summer over something, but that’s the only white piece of clothing I own (other than tee shirts with designs from shows or places of interest). White doesn’t look good on me, I’m uncomfortable in it, and I don’t wear it. I am not someone who can wear ruffles – I look and feel ridiculous in them. But I can wear pleats, although the front pleated pant look of a few years ago was awful for me. I went with it for a season or two, but, when I cleaned out my closet a few months ago, I got rid of all except a single pair that I bought on my last trip to LA that actually look decent on me. Body skimming rather than boxy. True waist rather than dropped waist or low rise. I prefer straight leg pants, but, since I love and wear boots, I also need an array of pants that can fit over the boot. I sometimes think I was permanently damaged by the seventies bell-bottom look and that’s why I stay away from flared pants. I love capris (which used to be called “pedal pushers” when I was a kid).
It wasn’t until I seriously began working in wardrobe that I learned how to be self-aware of what looks good and what doesn’t on me without being overly critical, and learning the tricks to highlight my good features and hide the not-so-great ones. Sometimes, I still fall in love with something that’s totally inappropriate. And I might even wear it once or twice. But it becomes a choice rather than something done out of oblivion.
And it’s important that I look decent in the various aspects of my work. On set and backstage I have to be neat, not sloppy, and I have to be able to move in what I wear. It’s inappropriate for me to wear a mini-skirt and a low-cut shirt to set. Especially if I’m standing outside all day in the freezing cold or offloading a truck. Doing behind-the-scenes work, part of my job is NOT to pull focus. On many shows, when you’re working backstage, you have to be in full black – I have quite an array of black jeans, long sleeved t shirt and long sleeved sweaters to get through the seasons. I also need pockets, because, in spite of wearing the kit strapped around my waist or an apron, I also usually need a place to either stash notes or call sheets or the notebook, and a back pocket serves nicely. I’m representing not only myself, but the show, my direct bosses and the union. What would it say about my professional abilities (especially in wardrobe) if I showed up looking sloppy? Thank goodness for five pocket jeans, that’s all I have to say. And, of course, I have to look completely different when I speak at a Town Council meeting, or do an interview or teach a class.
When I did the hockey interviews, I wore jeans, a sweater, and boots. Simple, no-nonsense, low-key. Very tailored. Straight forward look for straight forward interviews. One time, I was invited to a dressy event, so I wore a cocktail dress and heels. One player actually dropped his drink when he saw me! It was very funny.
As a writer, when I make appearances, I dress as carefully as I would for a character. I want to be comfortable, feel good in the clothes, and wear clothes that are “me”. However, because the focus in the industry has shifted so much away from the word and into the marketing, creating a look for one’s writing self is very important. Now, to dedicated readers, the word is what’s captured them in the first place; however, since the focus of the industry is now on marketing and “branding” (something I loathe, by the way), the look one presents at readings, interviews, workshops, etc. has become important.
Let’s face it, if it’s your first suspense novel and you show up in pink stretch pants and an appliquéd sweat shirt, unkempt hair and badly applied make-up, unless it’s part of a character/persona you’ve created to market your work and your entire approach is larger-than-life, playing-against-type, it’s going to be hard to be taken seriously
Anyway, enough about clothes. I had a break-through, walking around the streets of Astoria, Queens on my lunch break, about The Widow’s Chamber. As soon as I’ve finished the last few bits of Angel Hunt, I want to go back and finish The Widow’s Chamber, and then start adapting it into a novel.
One of the things I struggled with during the two years I wrote the serial was the POV/voice. To me, it seemed more natural to have it be first person, from Nora’s perspective. However, because it was a serial without end, and I knew that, eventually, I wanted to wind up Nora’s (very long) arc and focus on other characters – especially her brothers, possibly the female innkeeper with the coach-driver husband in the magical valley, etc. Within the context of that serial, the only way I could see doing that without ending the serial and starting a new one was to stay in third person. But it often felt unnatural.
For the adaptation, I’m going to switch to first person, and tell the story through Nora’s eyes. Part of what I want to explore, in general in this piece, is how Nora’s independent thinking and often unconventional behavior takes an emotional toll on her, and now I can do it from the inside. It breaks open the story in a way – the serial had me feeling trapped for the last few months, because the POV wasn’t serving what I needed to do for the story. I couldn’t show her inner conflict well enough. The story was limited omniscient, in that we perceived most of it through Nora, but because it was not the correct POV for the story and I struggled, I was not able to do so skillfully enough to truly make the story work.
Just making that simple decision got me excited about the piece again.
I finally resolved a character name in Clear the Slot. Originally, the character was named “Dora”. I liked the old fashioned sound of it. However, there’s also a “Dina” and a “Daphne”, and three D-women names, especially with the amount of time they interact, became distracting to my Trusted Readers. There was no way Daphne was going to change her name – she put her foot down. I tried changing “Dina” to “Tina” – however, the main female character, the owner of the hockey team, is TJ – Tania Josephine – and best friends with Dina. So that didn’t work. So Dora’s name was the one that would have to change. I tried “Cora”. However, the marketing manager is named “Cory”. Even making jokes about “Cora and Cory” didn’t work. So I tried “Nora”. But Nora, to me, is the Nora Cavanaugh of The Widow’s Chamber, not the Nora Jennings of Clear the Slot. I tried “Maura” and “Moira”, but, in addition to having too many characters whose names began with “M” at that point, the character herself disagreed with the name. So I decided on “Thora.” Even though it’s a T name, “TJ” and “Thora” sound different enough and read differently enough on the page not to be confusing. And the character is happy with it. And names I tried like “Vera”, “Wendy”, “Grace” – didn’t fit the character. Six drafts’ worth of this until it’s resolved. Talk about something to induce a headache!
So, off to writing now. I need to do an article this weekend for a travel site, work on some stories, and get back to the project roster.
So I better get moving.