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Interview with Jamie Reed, Costume Supervisor for The Vast of Night

The Vast of Night recently premiered at Slamdance and won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative feature. Set in 1950s New Mexico, the filmfollows two teens as they uncover a secret frequency that reveals an otherworldly presence in their small town. You can read my review of it here.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jamie Reed, the costume supervisor for The Vast of Night. I love how she curated a wardrobe that was authentic to the era and visually appealing to modern audiences. I hope you enjoy learning about her work and how she styled the actors in the film!


Raquel Stecher: Tell me a bit about your background in fashion. 

Jamie Reed: I’ve always had an interest in fashion but didn’t really consider a career until I was almost out of college. I went ahead and finished my Government and Legal Studies degree and put law school on hold (what I had originally planned) while I pursued some fashion interests. I initially considered a design program but decided to start a personal shopping and styling business to see how I liked it. I mostly worked with individual clients but started doing a little media work as well. Both of my brothers work in television and is occasionally help them on projects. Over the past 15 years I’ve worked as a stylist both full-time and part-time while working other jobs. I now consider it mostly part-time as I also run a women’s lifestyle magazine, Splendry

Stecher: Congrats on The Vast of Night which recently premiered at Slamdance. How did you come to be involved with the film?

Reed: I’ve known Andrew [Patterson], the director, since college and have worked with him on several other projects over the years. When he approached me about this film he assured me it would be a small project, but by the time shooting began it had definitely grown! It ended up being a really great project and one of the most creatively fulfilling experiences I’ve had in my career.

Stecher: With the 1950s setting, what did kind of research did you do before curating/designing the wardrobe?

Reed: I spent a couple of months just researching 1950s fashion before purchasing anything. My goal was to be as accurate as possible and I had definite guidelines for what I did and didn’t want. I pulled yearbooks and browsed old photos online. I wanted this to be a realistic depiction of small town dress at this time. Andrew had a few ideas for some characters and I would show him photos to get a feel for what he had in mind. We’ve worked together enough now that I typically know what he likes and when I do need to push him in a direction he trusts my instincts and usually gives me my way.

Stecher: Were the clothes used in the film vintage, new or a mix of both?

Reed: It was a mix. The lead characters played by Sierra [McCormick] and Jake [Horowitz] wore all new clothing. We needed multiples of their clothing so vintage wasn’t really an option. Piecing together 1950s looks with new clothing was a fun challenge. For other featured characters and extras it was a mix of vintage and new. I did a LOT of thrift store shopping, buying vintage pieces on Etsy, and my assistant on the movie, Michelle [Harvey], actually had a collection of vintage clothes that she shared with us. Many of the featured extras are in great pieces she owned.

Stecher: Did you find inspiration from any films from the era?

Reed: I can’t remember if what watched any films or not, I mostly stuck to finding yearbook photos and newspapers. I was wanting to approach the look of the movie from a small-town “regular people” perspective. I’m from a small town and I know that the fashion trends tend to make their way to town a little slower.

Stecher: The basketball game scene at the high school is really where we get to see the wide array of 1950s fashion in the film. How did you approach dressing the cast and extras for that scene?

Reed: Pulling off this scene was quite an organizational feat and I had several helpers who kept things running smoothly!

I started shopping for this scene months before shooting. I probably visited every Goodwill store in the Dallas/Fort Worth area at least once. Knowing we could have hundreds of extras to dress I needed to be prepared with lots of basics. For women I knew pencil skirts and cardigans were a safe bet so I grabbed as many as I could get my hands on. I also collected dozens and dozens of men’s dress pants and suit jackets.

Luckily the boys basketball uniforms were manufactured by an outside company so I really only needed to worry about cheerleading and band uniforms when it came to the specialty clothing.

While we alerted extras of dress suggestions, we still had hundreds who showed up needing clothing. With the time constraints to dress people we had eventually we had to stop pulling clothing and then I worked to place people in the stands so we could make sure to get the best overall image. We did the best we could with the time we had and I think it was executed well.

Stecher: Tell me about dressing the two leads. Sierra McCormick has a great ensemble and I love Jake Horowitz’s look especially with the cardigan.

Reed: I got lucky in the fact that the movie all takes place over one night, so just one outfit for each! Andrew [Patterson] had some ideas in mind and I worked to find a variety of items to try. Once Jake and Sierra arrived we had some try-on sessions before settling on the chosen outfits.

Once they were set I purchased multiples of all items, in case of wear and tear over the entire shoot.

Sierra’s look consisted of a full skirt with ribbon hem, a blouse (ordered from a school uniform company), and tied ribbon. The outfit was completed with ankle socks and classic oxford shoes.

For Jake, Andrew had an old photo of a 1950s DJ he was inspired by. Many months after shooting I realized the final outfit we chose was spot on to the photograph, down to the stripes on the cardigan! I’m pretty sure I found that cardigan at a Gap outlet store near where we were shooting in Texas.

Stecher: My favorite element of the costume design is those vintage eyeglasses McCormick, Horowitz and other members of the cast wear. How did you decide on that look?

Reed: The eyewear was actually part of the art department’s doing! We initially tried to order frames for some cast members but the vintage pairs the art department secured ending up looking the best. This was great for me because I didn’t need to keep up with any glasses during the shoot! All someone else’s responsibility!

Stecher: How do you think the wardrobe contributed to the overall film?
Reed: The wardrobe, along with the art department and hair and makeup definitely set the foundation for the film. My goal going into the project was to do my best to not distract from the film with inappropriate clothing. I wanted the viewer to be caught up in the acting and dialogue and not noticing a new pair of Nikes on some extra walking by or something like that. I wanted everything you saw on screen to be spot-on to that time. 
There are definitely some period films where fashion is front and center. You’ve got gorgeous gowns or specialty apparel, but for this particular film, the scenes needed to look so, normal, that you wouldn’t even notice most of the outfits. 
I knew this was going to be an ambitious project and I’m very fortunate to have had the backing of Andrew and others in the film to trust my research and shopping skills and let me go in and do what I do. I was also fortunate to have a great on-set assistant in Michelle Harvey, we made a great team. 
Stecher: Do you plans to work on more films in the future?
Reed: I hope I have some more opportunities. I love the work I do with Splendry, but my styling work and costume design is something I never want to give up. If the right projects come along I’m sure I’ll be ready. 

You can find Jamie Reed on her website JKStyle and on Twitter @JKStyle1. A big thanks to Jamie for taking the time for this interview!

Slamdance: We Are Thankful

Joshua Magor’s We Are Thankful is a meta docufiction movie about a young man from the KwaZulu Natal region of South Africa, who aspires to become a professional actor. Siyabonga “Siya” Majola dreams of a career and life outside of his small township of Mphopomeni. When he hears that a director, Joshua Magor, is shooting a film in a nearby town he sets out to meet him. We follow Siya as he navigates thrown his township, borrowing Wi-Fi, getting help writing an e-mail in English, asking locals for funds to help pay for his trip, etc. He finally meets the director who is interested in Siya and his story. Majola and Magor play themselves as they reenact the circumstances that led up to their meeting. Magor was going to film another story but was inspired by Majola’s journey that he decided to make the film about the making of the film instead.

We Are Thankful is an interesting experiment in blending documentary and narrative feature in a self-referential way. It’s only confusing if you think too much about this aspect of the film. Accept it as is and enjoy the journey. Dwelling too much on its existence will take you out of the story.

The cinematography in We Are Thankful is stunning. There are lots of great shots of the township and in one scene the camera lingers on a waterfall allowing the viewer to take in the beauty of the setting. This gave the film a strong sense of place. It’s very much a slice of life kind of movie and a way for the viewer to experience Siya’s world. It’s a quiet film and some might find that off-putting. Not much happens and the pace of the story is rather slow. Settle in, be patient and you just might be rewarded.

We Are Thankful/Siyabonga was part of Slamdance 25 as a Narrative Feature Official Selection.

Slamdance: The Beksinkis: A Sound and Picture Album

When it comes to cursed families, a few names come to mind: the Kennedys, the Grimaldis, the Hemingways, Bruce and Brandon Lee. Now add to that list the Beksinski family. Famous in their home country of Poland, the Beksinski family included: Zdzislaw Beksinski, a celebrated Polish artist known for his macabre paintings and sculptures, his son Tomasz, a well-known radio presenter, movie translator and journalist, and his wife Zofia, the devoted matriarch who created a balance in a household with two very eccentric figures. Tragedy first struck the family in 1988, when Tomasz survived a plane crash which left one person dead and many injured, including himself. The experience left Tomasz, who was already prone to depression, shattered. A decade later, another blow to the family came with the sudden death of Zofia. A year later, on the eve of Y2K, Tomasz committed suicide. His father found his body. The final and most brutal tragedy of the Beksinski’s family story came in 2005 when Zdzislaw was stabbed to death over a dispute with a teenager about a small loan.

“I’ve started to use my camera as a diary, because I’m too lazy to write it.” 

Zdzislaw Beksinski

Needless to say that the story of the Beksinskis ended with great sorrow. When Zdzislaw died, he left behind hours and hours of home video footage. Everything from personal conversations, footage from art shows, family trips, important and mundane moments in the life of the Beksinkski tribe were all recorded. Fascinated by technology, Zdzislaw decided to forego the route of a traditional diary to create a video archive instead. Director Marcin Borchardt spent three years sifting through 300 hours of archival footage and the result was his documentary: The Beksinkis: A Sound and Picture Album. This living scrapbook is a portal into their world. In the era before social media, these recording were not fabricated for public consumption. According to Borchardt, this is what makes Zdzislaw’s footage so authentic. No one is putting on a show. The viewer is drawn into an intimate space where the Beksinskis have have deep conversations, especially about their son’s depression.

“I’m finished. I’m a wreck. I’m no good for anything any more.”

Tomasz Beksinski

Borchardt’s documentary offers a compelling portrait of a creative and tortured family. It reminded me of Sophie Fiennes’ documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami which is entirely comprised of home video. However, I found Borchardt’s approach a lot more engaging. It does require some patience of the viewer to sit through stitched footage to make sense of what we’re being shown. The upside to this documentary is that while there is no real context provided, Zdzislaw narrated a lot of his footage so we hear the story of the Beksinksis through his words.

The Beksinskis: A Sound and Picture Album had it’s US premiere at Slamdance 25.

Slamdance: Memphis ’69

“But the music prevailed…”

Directed by Joe LaMattina, Memphis ’69 is a new documentary that serves as a time capsule for the 1969 Memphis Birthday Blues Festival held on the 150th anniversary of the city’s founding. Made up almost entirely of archival footage from the three day festival, a few title cards at the beginning give the film some context. The festival ran from 1965 to 1969 during a time of much racial strife in the city. It was one year after the Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and the KKK held a rally in the city concurrent with the event.

The folk and blues revival of the 1960s helped launch new stars of the genre but also allowed for the rediscovery of older blues performers. A wide range of blues, folk, country and even gospel musicians performed on stage for a motley crew of attendees. The attendance fluctuated throughout the three days but it never put a damper on the spirits of the musicians who played their hearts out. 

Memphis ’69 takes viewers on a time travel trip to this one-of-a-kind blues festival. It lingers over many of the performances and also captures the spirit of the time. All of the performers featured in the documentary are long gone and this film now serves as a tribute to them.

Performers featured in Memphis ’69 include:

  • Rufus Thomas
  • Bukka White
  • Nathan Beauregard (106 year old, blind performer)
  • Sleepy John Estes
  • Yank Rachell
  • Jo Ann Kelly
  • “Backwards” Sam Firk
  • Son Thomas
  • Lum Guffin
  • Rev. Robert Wilkins & Family
  • John Fahey
  • Sid Selvidge
  • Molloch
  • John D. Loudermilk
  • Furry Lewis
  • Piano Red
  • Jefferson Street Jug Band
  • The Insect Trust
  • Johnny Winter
  • The Salem Harmonizers
  • Mississippi Fred McDowell

Memphis ’69 was screened at Slamdance 25 and is nominated for a Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature.

Slamdance: Boni Bonita

Boni Bonita, directed by Daniel Barosa, is a Brazilian-Argentine film, mostly in Portuguese, about a rebellious young woman and an aging musician. The story takes place over nine years, starting in 2007 and ending in 2016, and follows Beatriz (Ailin Salas) as she struggles with the loss of her mother, her complicated relationship with her father, self-harm and the musician who seems just out of her reach. Rogerio (Caco Ciocler), has his own struggles. He lives in the shadow of his grandfather’s musical success and has casual rendezvous with women as a way to avoid something more meaningful. Over the years Beatriz and Rogerio reunite at Rogerio’s summer home. The film explores what it means to come of age and also to go through a mid-life crisis.

The title is a reference to a song by classic Argentine singer Alberto Cortez. Rogerio plays the song for Beatriz and often calls her “Bonita”. Filmed over three years, Boni Bonita was shot in 16mm, super 16mm and digital. An inventive technique that gives the film a grainy, fuzzy appearance, as though we were watching filtered memories. According to the director Barosa, the story is based on his own experiences of the indie music scene of Sao Paolo Brazil.

I couldn’t engage with Boni Bonita no matter how hard I tried. I enjoyed the mixed media style and Ailin Salas’ performance in particular. The characters and the story didn’t draw me in and I couldn’t help but feel disconnected.

Boni Bonita is distributed by Nimboo’s Films and had its premiere at Slamdance 25 as part of the Narrative Feature Competition. It’s the only film from Latin America at the festival. Boni Bonita was a finalist for the Guioes, selected for the French Workshop Eave on Demand and a finalist for best original screenplay at the Havana Film Festival among other honors.

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