Short Film Costume: Ashes, Inside the Captive Mind

It should go without saying that costume design for short film is an entirely different beast to features. Apart from the practical implications – generally fewer costumes, less money – any ensemble will surely register more emphatically with an audience. When there is less to look at and less opportunity to do so, we take more in. Everything collects meaning, from style to colour to fabric; carelessness in a 5-10 minute film can detract from, and worse still alter the message of a story.

Ashes is a thought provoking and sometimes uncomfortable short written and directed by Sophie Black. Set entirely in one room dressed and re-dressed accordingly with just two cast members, it clocks in at barely 7 minutes. Abstract but stopping short of pretentious, Ashes is the manifestation of physical, sexual and emotional abuse between a young couple who on the surface are living a Hollywood fantasy of sex by candlelight and gentle caresses in the dark. Told from the point of view of the abused, Sarah (Sarah Lamesch), we are taken on a trip through her mind coming to terms with the realities of this relationship, principally the pain of suffering in silence, all day, every day, over and over again.


Costumes are credited to costume and production designer Gina Hames, though in reality only one ensemble is seen clearly. This underlines just how important costume can be during such a brief space of time; this ensemble, nicked-named the ‘toybox dress’ by Black, has a lot of work to do.

Black has blogged extensively about designing and making this dress HERE, and we cannot stress enough that anyone with even the slightest interest in costume read her account. If you think a frock is just a frock then you are in for a surprise. The amount of thought and care taken in the production of the toybox dress is an eye-opener for all those who look down their noses at short film as some kind of ‘easy option’.

Ashes_process_toybox dress-001

Construction of the ‘toybox dress’:

Ashes_Sarah Lamesch toybox dress mid-001

The finished dress worn by Sarah Lamesch.

The way Ashes is shot (capably by DOP Neil Oseman), designed and directed evokes the art movement of neo-surrealism. What we see is not necessarily happening in the literal sense but instead is the unconscious mind poured out on-screen. There is an Eiko Ishioka vibe to the set, make-up and costume, particularly during the agonising ‘mask scene’. The toybox dress itself is constructed of lace, satin and chiffon. It is structured in the body but allowed to drape as an A-line in the skirt. Intentionally the silhouette is flimsy and fragile, the essence of a ragdoll; toyed with and eventually discarded. We fear for Sarah because we know time is not on her side. Everything that’s abused breaks in the end.

This is a well-acted (both Lamesch and Adam Lannon as her partner Mark are very convincing), shocking film that peels away at a painful truth. Once again, do not forget to visit Sophie Black’s blog after watching for detailed costume and production notes. If you are not overly familiar with shorts, Ashes is an excellent way to get acquainted.

Ashes is produced by Triskelle Pictures. Details available HERE.

Main photograph by Neil Oseman.

© 2013 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.