Running Scared_Vera Farmiga_gun_CU.bmp © 2010 Lord Christopher Laverty. All rights reserved.

Running Scared: Costume Designer Kristin Burke

Costume designer for Running Scared (2006), Kristin M. Burke, has kindly chatted to us about her contribution to the movie. Being a long time friend of Clothes on Film, she opened up her big book of anecdotes specially. For anyone even remotely interested in costume design this is essential reading.

Running Scared (directed by Wayne Kramer) is a restless action thriller; an enjoyable, if visually exhausting and violent fairytale. Paul Walker stars as Joey Gazelle, a low-level mob hood frantically searching for a ‘hot’ weapon he was supposed to stash, while pursed by crooked cops and an impatient mafia family. Vera Farmiga features as Joey’s loyal yet independent wife Teresa, who frankly has a bad enough time of it herself.

The film has garnered something of a cult following since its release and holds up well on sheer momentum alone. With a packed CV including The Cooler (2003) and recently Crossing Over (2009), Kristin Burke is highly experienced in her field. Yet the shoot for Running Scared was about as testing as they come. As calmly as possible, she tells us why:

Chris, Clothes on Film: I had a quick look over the film again today. I think I may be a little in love with Vera Farmiga.

Kristin Burke: He-heh. There’s a lot to love.

Chris: So then, you mentioned to me earlier that Running Scared was a difficult shoot. Can you elaborate why?

KB: Well, the film is set in New Jersey; we shot in Prague. That’s one thing. Prague is such a beautiful city, and we ended up having to disguise it! Money was the issue. The cost to shoot six weeks in Prague was the same as the cost to shoot two weeks in Jersey. The wages in the CZ (Czech Republic) are about 1/3 what they are in NJ, and we shot a lot of the film on ‘soundstages’. I use that term loosely because it was actually an old MIG (airplane) factory. Asbestos fell from the ceiling and it was freezing cold. It was way on the outskirts of town, and quite an experience. I was fortunate enough to bring my costume supervisor with me. When we landed in Prague we had a pre-selected crew waiting for us. Of those six people, only one spoke English. It was very difficult, and not ideal.

That aside, we also had late, VERY LATE, casting. And when you try to make a movie about New Jersey, you need to have those resources at your fingertips. There is NO store in Prague at which you can buy gangster wear, pimp clothes, hooker clothes – so it was a true challenge. Also at the time you were not allowed to make returns on anything you purchased from a store in the CZ. So if we bought a suit and it didn’t fit? TFB. We were stuck with it. We did a lot of international shipping from JC Penney and other vendors, because we were not finding the ‘Guido’ stuff we needed, especially in the right size range.

Czech people are, in general, pretty trim and there were a lot of actors in this film who were beefy, big dudes. We could not get the multiples we needed in the CZ. It was a joke. We looked in Germany and other places where we thought they might have ‘bigger people’ clothing, but to no avail. When you need six copies of a Guido Mafia suit, tie, shoes, etc., your best bet is the USA. Sad, but true.

So our resources were severely limited over there. It was eye-opening in that respect. If we were doing a period piece it would have been no problem; they have a lot of fabric, skilled sewing labour and a kind of opera/theatre house from which to pick stock. But Guidos, gangsters, thugs, mafia types, pimps, hos…not so much.

Chris: I assumed that costumes were sourced in the US and shipped out. Am I naively over-estimating how long you had to prep for the film before you got on a plane?

KB: The problem is casting. It is very common these days to NOT have actors right up to two or three days before shooting. This is terrible for us, and terrible for the actors. Everyone needs time to prepare and if you only have two or three days, you run the risk of being sloppy. It’s a travesty. I attribute this delay in casting to the deal-making process, for one. An actor (or their agent) might try to hold out for a bigger, better deal from someone else, or try to leverage another project against the one that you’re doing. It’s all about money. The foot-dragging is usually about getting more money or being available for other work. An agent must create a perceived ‘urgent need’ for the actor, in some regards, in order to get what they want, and usually that is more money.

This foot-dragging really kills the costume department on a smaller-budget movie. I think that Running Scared was budgeted at about $15 million, which is hardly “small”, but being in the position we were, we couldn’t just ship over 250 E-containers worth of costumes for a “just in case” scenario. It would have been cost-prohibitive. As it was, everything we shipped, E-containers and all, went via FedEx international. Many of our containers were held for a few weeks in customs. It was a crazy scene. I think we may have had three or four weeks of prep here in the US and we ransacked ‘The Alley’ in downtown LA, bought a bunch of cheesy fake gold jewellery, bad accessories, big baggy jeans, etc. But we couldn’t over-buy; it just wasn’t feasible for us. We ended up buying a lot of costumes in Prague and just scraping the barrel to find multiples. It was really a challenge.

I think all of Tommy’s (Johnny Messner) costumes were from Prague. Chazz Palminteri’s stuff was all from Prague. I mean, we did what we could, but at one point I hired an LA costumer to shop The Alley for us while we were in Prague. He FedExed us more Guido/thug wear. There was just no sourcing that in the CZ.

Chris: That’s a crazy situation. It must be very stressful, you trying to do the best work you can when, under the circumstances, that is practically impossible?

KB: Well by now I am used to the stress. The logistical aspect of the job is something I think I do pretty well. You know where to find things; you get creative about how to make something look like you want it to look – that is just skill acquired over time. The stressful thing is having to do all of this in a foreign place with different rules.

Now, I have lived in Europe and I speak a few languages, but I have never dealt with anything as immovable or stalwart as the Czech return policy. It was nuts. Further, I did the shopping by myself, while we were shooting, so I had no-one to help me translate. I spoke about three words of Czech when I arrived: “Yasem Americhanka” and “Djetkwui” – “I am American” and “Thank You”. This did not get me very far when I needed five copies of Tommy’s cream leather jacket. How do you say, “Can you call your other stores and put this on hold?” when they don’t even understand or have the concept of why I need five of the same jacket? It was intense.

I drew a lot of pictures, called the production office to have them translate over the phone, etc. At the end of the show, I was able to speak more Czech: “Please bring a black suit to work with you on Sunday”, “Can you take in the waist of these pants”, “These need to be hemmed” – that was about the extent of my Czech. Oh, and I also learned the word for “Bitch”. Very important.

Chris: Ha, Ha. I mean it’s not funny, but the situation sounds like a heart attack waiting to happen. Oh, and what’s the Czech word for bitch?

KB: It sounds like the word “peachy”.

Chris: How do you know how many multiples of a costume to buy? Obviously if there is a gunfight and blood is whooshing everywhere you need more, but I just wondered, in general, how you determined this?

We buy multiples of the costume depending on the requirements of the scene, set-up, or script in general. If we work with children, we automatically buy doubles (at minimum). Why? Because we will shoot a photo-double whenever we don’t see the child’s face. We can’t use ‘hot’ wardrobe on another actor – it’s a SAG violation – so we can’t put clothing that has been on one body, onto someone else. And let’s not forget that the hours we can shoot with kids are very limited. Here is the SAG table for you HERE. You can see exactly how it’s parceled out.

Children must also bank ‘school’ hours while working, so their time is at a premium for us on set. We might have more than doubles if we know the kid is messy, or if he has any stunts in the film (falling down, getting hit in the face with a pie, etc).

For Oleg I believe we had twelve copies of his costume. He had so much action, so many stunts, we had to cover ourselves. His stunt double was a Czech little person – a great guy – who was just about Cameron’s size and did all of the dangerous work (he had the plastic bag over his head in Dez & Edele’s closet, etc). For Alex Neuberger, I think we had four or five copies of his costume. We knew that we weren’t going to be able to go back to the store where we got the garments if we ran into trouble, so we were playing it safe. Plus there was that explosion in the end, so we had a stunt actor for him there, too.

For Joey Gazelle’s costume, we had eighteen copies. The film really takes place in one day (mostly) and you know, the things that happen to Joey Gazelle… well… there are a lot of costume considerations. We needed to have as many copies as we could. The problem is that he wears a plaid shirt. Matching plaids is very difficult. We wanted to make sure that of all eighteen shirts, the plaid patterns (especially in the front) were more or less the same. I think we originally purchased that shirt at Mervyn’s (a now-defunct department store) in Burbank.

As we needed eighteen of them, and we needed them to match pattern as closely as possible, I personally drove to every Mervyn’s store in Southern California to pick up each copy. I went to Fullerton. I went to Torrance. I went to West Hills. I went to Arcadia. Look at that on a map. Mervyn’s was not the kind of store with the infrastructure to transfer merchandise easily between store locations, so we had to do it ourselves. I did all of this on the Saturday before I left for Prague. It was actually a fun adventure – I had never been to Fullerton before! But we needed all of those multiples in order to get through the film. As it was, Paul had a stunt guy and a photo double that came with him, so it made shooting 2nd (and sometimes 3rd) unit go really quickly.

Read Part 2 of this interview next week. Get your comfy slippers on too, because Kristin has a lot more gems to share.

© 2010 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.