Clothes from 1970s,  Girls in Films,  Guys in Films,  Interviews

The Conjuring 2: Costume Q&A with Kristin Burke

It was late November, 2016 when I visited the set of The Conjuring 2 (directed by James Wan). The reason I never wrote about it for Clothes on Film or anywhere else was because of my official role on the day: I was playing an extra (or background artist if you like) during the film’s Maida Vale pub scene. Specifically this is the moment when real life husband and wife paranormal investigator team, Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) meet with noted experts in their field to discuss the validity of their current case, aka the Enfield poltergeist. I made the finished cut, by the skin of my teeth I imagine. If you are so inclined, look out for a lightly moustachioed fella with curly hair sitting at the bar. Yes, that’s me.

The Conjuring 2 is set in 1977, London. This is a very specific look both in terms of period and geography. It’s trendy and current without being catwalk. No character in the film is particularly wealthy or working at Vogue. Costume designer for The Conjuring 2 is the masterful Kristin M. Burke. Kristin is fast becoming the costume mistress of horror thanks to her work with James Wan. You can thank her for Insidious 1 and 2, for example, and the first Conjuring movie, and season 1 AND 2 of Sleepy Hollow. Yes, she put Ichabod Crane in skinny jeans, and damn if she didn’t make it work.

Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) in her Lanvin inspired dress. Eight multiples were made to accommodate weather, stunts and shooting conditions.
Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) in her Lanvin inspired dress. Eight multiples were made to accommodate weather, stunts and shooting conditions.

I caught up with Ms. Burke recently to chat about The Conjuring 2. Having seen her work on set first hand I should just add that nothing slips by this lady. She is extremely on the ball and involved in everything first hand. There are no accidents with KB’s costuming:

How did you research the period and setting of The Conjuring 2?

We had a lot of research material coming into this project because the Enfield case was so well-documented. It was extraordinary how many photos there were of the Hodgson family. However, we also had the DeFeo family (the Amityville case) to consider. We had those crime scene photos, which were very helpful. When we took the fitting photos for the DeFeo family, we arranged their bodies like the crime scene photos, in the exact same positions on the floor. The photos gave James Wan quite a scare, which was a victory for us. Any time you can scare James Wan, master of horror – an angel gets its wings. But about the research, we had some fabulous books, including one called New England: The culture and people of an English New Town during the 1970s and 1980s, photography by Chris Porsz. That book was so helpful to us.

Once again you are costuming real life characters, Lorraine and Ed Warren being the most prominent. Did they have a specific ‘look’ or details you wanted to ensure were represented on film?

We needed to show that some time had passed since the first film, and that particularly Lorraine’s style had evolved a bit. It’s always going to be in the same vein – ultra feminine, lots of tartan, neck bows and the like, but her style evolves in this film to be a little more late-seventies than the first film. Lorraine/Vera had so many stunts in this film; we really needed to make the costumes user-friendly, so I chose knits, which are very forgiving if you have to bend, stretch, kick, get thrown into a wall, kill demons… With Ed/Patrick, his style changed very little over the years. It was always a similar iteration of the same concept. I am very thankful to the Wrangler company for continuing to manufacture Wrangler ‘Wranchers’ dress jeans, without which we would be totally lost.

Vintage children’s clothing is always tricky to find in multiples; did you make or remake the costumes worn by Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe) and her siblings?

We made everything the kids wore, with very little exception. Vintage children’s clothing in multiples is almost impossible to find. Our job is much easier when we can manufacture the clothing – we can allow slightly bigger sizes for stunts, build in little trick pockets for sound, etc – we have a lot more control over how the garments can be used. It is a real life-saver on a movie with a lot of action. And in any case, we always need multiples on children’s costumes due to the limited shooting hours we have with kids, and the need for a photo double once those hours have expired. We had an awesome manufacturing team headed by David Matwijkow, and they cranked out those kids’ anoraks, uniforms, everything. Also we had some great knitters on the show who did sweaters, caps, mittens and scarves for us. They were terrific.

In addition to the difficulties of finding vintage children's clothing in multiples, the benefits of building from scratch allowed Kristin Burke to build in extra features such as small pockets to hold microphone wires and battery packs.
The benefits of making children’s clothing from scratch allowed Kristin Burke to build in extra features such as small pockets to hold microphone wires and battery packs.

My day on set allowed me to step into a real late-seventies world. Being as some of the clothing from this era can look a bit ‘out there’, did you ever dress any of the cast and think, ‘Nope, that’s too much, too distracting’?

We were really following the ethos of the first film, which was to tell the story of the period without hitting you over the head with it. It’s a fine line to walk, because for those of the audience who remember the period it needs to feel familiar, but for those who weren’t around for the period, they need to buy it as “real” – and that can be difficult with some of the far-out, wacky 1970s clothing that is available. We made a big effort to reign it in, and not go “Three’s Company” – it doesn’t suit the story and would have definitely been distracting. However, we also made a big effort to get the details of the period right – everything we used was from the period – we just cherry picked the most appropriate pieces from that era.

My costume as ‘Man struggling to drink pint at bar’ is arguably the best in the film. How do you go about dressing extras? Do you follow a colour / texture scheme for different locations? Presumably you want continuity and a certain level of uniformity without it looking staged?

In Conjuring 2, most of our exteriors, and work with background artists, were shot in England. We had a ton of research from the period, and we were all on board to make it look natural. We shot the bulk of the film in Burbank, and I sent Assistant Costume Designer Janet Ingram to England three weeks in advance of our arrival there. I needed to have eyes and ears on the ground there to continue the overall vision we had for the film. I don’t know how we got so lucky to get the English crew we ended up with, but WOW. Everyone busted their buns – we had over 650 background to dress for our two weeks’ worth of shooting, and they hit it out of the park. We had a very clear palette to follow, and we had a lot of kids and school uniforms, an entire TV stage full of people, and a packed Marylebone Station to dress. It was a lot to do, but the costume houses in London were great to us, and we found everything we needed to make it look real. Since the film took place in England, it was important to me to get English eyes looking at (and dressing) the background artists. There is a built-in sense of “this looks right” or “this does not look right” that comes with people from inside the culture, so it moves a lot quicker. We had a ton of research, but there is something to be said about personal experience in gauging authenticity. I’m so glad we had such a wonderful team in England!

Where were most of the costumes sourced from? Angels? Cosprop?

Most of the costumes we used on the background came from Angels and Carlo Manzi. We had our office set up at Angels, so it was easiest to pull from there. In the US, our costumes came from all over: Warner Brothers, Palace Costumes, Western Costumes, United American Costumes, Eastern Costumes – we hit just about every place we could!

Speaking of colours, I was watching The Conjuring 2 with an eagle-eyed sartorial spotter who suggested that Frances O’Connor’s character Peggy Hodgson sported a purple colour scheme toward the end of the film. Was this intentional? Foreshadowing..?

Please thank your friend for me. Peggy’s palette became a bit more bruised, yes it did. This poor woman – she really had the stuffing beaten out of her, emotionally. She wears a peach/pumpkin vibe in the beginning – a bit more hopeful… and she reprises the peach/pumpkin later in the film when it seems like things might get better… but then BAM. She gets knocked down and bruised again. Poor Peggy.

Peggy (Frances O'Connor, second left) in her 'bruised' colour palette.
Peggy (Frances O’Connor, second left) in her ‘bruised’ colour palette.

Tell me about Vera’s gorgeous cream costume that justifiably gets a lot of screen-time. Presumably you needed several multiples of this crystal clean stain attractor?

Vera is so lovely to work with – she knows her character inside and out. I’ve worked with her now on several films, and I know that once she’s dressed, she needs to NOT think about the costume anymore. We do our work, and then we get out of the way so that she can shine! I knew that with all the action – water work, getting hurled against a wall, etc – it had to be durable, fitted enough to look good, but blousy enough to hide pads (elbow pads, back pads, knee pads). I collect vintage sewing patterns, and I found this gorgeous Lanvin pattern from around the same time period. I used it as a jumping off point, and we made our own dress; I think we made eight of them. The hardest part was finding eight matching belt buckles that looked vintage enough to be plausible. We also made the periwinkle rain coat she wears throughout the film. The colour is great on her and the fitted back – pin tucks and shaping – really made the costume interesting from all angles. Her shoes – the hero shoes – shrunk in the rain the first night we did water work. We were panicking. Luckily, we figured out a rig with a blowdryer and a garment bag, and we were able to stretch them out overnight between rain scenes. Our Burbank crew was astoundingly creative in problem-solving on this show. We had so much action, and a few curveballs – they handled everything beautifully.

You were also costume designer for the first Conjuring film in 2013 with the same director James Wan. Was this sequel a much ‘bigger’ shoot – more budget, wider scope, I’m guessing more pressure?

That’s what comes with the territory when the film is ambitious! It seemed like on the original Conjuring we had lots of spare time. I hosted parties for the crew, we could go to the gym, it was great. On Conjuring 2, we were working much longer hours, so that we could get it all done – we didn’t have spare time. The stunts were intricate, the action was choreographed with the camera, and everything was basically shot on one set – so we couldn’t really run two units at once. The water work in the basement – we shot that in a tank, and it was INTENSE – water work always is… and then we came back and shot all the rain work at the house! Lots and lots of water. Complicated, beautifully designed setups with lots of actors, and children, dogs and monsters! It just took a bit longer, and I think that the movie benefits from the time and care we all put into it. The love shows, I think. I have to say, even with those long hours, it really was a pleasure – we are a family, the mespuchah, the ohana of James Wan. We genuinely like each other, so long hours are not so bad when you’re with your family.

So what’s next on the agenda for you?

Lights Out comes out on July 22 here in the USA. It’s a scary movie, directed by first-time-feature director David Sandberg. He is fantastically talented – Swedish guy who made short scary films in his apartment and won a bunch of awards. The film has had great reviews, and we are all very excited about it. James Wan produced Lights Out, so it’s an extension of that family, in a way of thinking. As for upcoming films, I’m reading some interesting scripts, that’s for sure! We will see what comes of it. Might be nice to do a comedy, or a musical… or a Western!!! Can you imagine that?? I sure can.

Sure can! Thank you KB 🙂

The Conjuring 2 is currently on general release.

© 2016, Lord Christopher Laverty.