BWW Interview: Giovanni Lipari Talks Designing for AMC's INTO THE BADLANDS
Costume designer Giovanni Lipari took the time to speak with us about how he got his start as a designer, his work on AMC's INTO THE BADLANDS, and his advise for aspiring designers.
How did you decide to become a costume designer? What drew you to this profession?
Long before I ever considered a profession, I had a passion for drawing and the arts throughout my childhood. At some point, someone had commented on this talent and suggested art school, so I listened and followed this path. Over time, my interest became figure drawing which then developed into fashion drawings and so once again, it was suggested to me that I might consider the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence specializing in Costume and Set Design. After this, the first part of my career was in theatre, opera and ballet, working from Teatro della Pergola in Florence. I always loved the magic of the theatre; the idea that it's a dark box, then a light goes on and you see one element, then another, and another. Within no time it has all come to life and you can't believe that it was ever one single bare room. Although I was so passionate about theatre, it eventually became clear I might be more limited making a career in theatre, so I moved to Rome and began making contacts in the movie business, working my way through the ranks over the years, until the opportunities to design came my way. So really it all started as a love of drawing, which evolved to a love of bringing sets and characters to life, and this same fundamental passion has lasted until today.
What is your process like when coming up with concepts and creating costumes for TV/film? How do you decide what the clothes in the world of the TV show or film will look like?
The scripts are always the starting point which are an invaluable source to provide me with the first seeds of an idea. At this point I start to research, using any resource of imagery whether it's books, online or anything I have gathered and stored in my memory over the years. Then there are many conversations with the director and/or the creative producers which give the first hint of how they imagine this world and where their own ideas overlap or contrast with your own. To help translate all the various imaginings, ideas and concepts of the team, I compile mood boards with images, colours and textures, to visualise what the conversation was about so a direction can be agreed upon. Once this happens, I can get the visual process going and create sketches of the specific costumes and bring that concept to life. Really the director/producers are casting the net of the world you are creating and it's my job to stay within that net and create within those boundaries. The creating process then is all about selecting and refining the choices of materials and fabrics, leathers, metals and trimmings and finding the right balance within all those materials to achieve a character's look. Creating the prototypes then tell you the truth about the shape you had visualised which is an important step before finalising the design and making the finished product, custom fit and adapted to the actors for what works for their shape, character and idiosyncrasies.
You're currently working on AMC's INTO THE BADLANDS, how did you get involved with this show?
I have worked for many years with my longtime professional friend and colleague, exec. producer Karen Richards on THE BORGIAS and PENNY DREADFUL. When INTO THE BADLANDS came about and the costume designer I worked for on those shows, Gabriella Pescucci, was not available, Karen put me forward for the role to Miles Millar and Al Gough and we sat down to discuss what I could bring to the project. So it was really a trust and belief in me that gave me the opportunity to design with such a great collaborative team.
How much creative freedom do you get with your concepts?
Beyond the confines of script and story, there is always a varying degree of input from the designer. In the past, when working as an assistant costume designer, I have witnessed the frustration of designers as their ideas get whittled at until there is only a skeleton of the idea remaining. With INTO THE BADLANDS however, I had an entirely opposite experience; the challenge to create such a vast collection of designs and looks meant I was not working out how to dilute my designs, but rather how to grow and expand every idea. So this really meant calling upon every possible resource, every listening ear and asking for guidance not just from the showrunners or cast members, but really from every member of the team. In particular, I had a lot of help from my tailors, my assistant Tamsin and supervisor Gabor. I felt it was so important to use everything I could to enrich the final image of each character for it to have a stunning visual impact. So this was a really great experience, from a collaborative perspective but also from never having felt the frustration of not having my concept taken to the end.
Is there a particular costume that has been your favorite to design on INTO THE BADLANDS?
I always feel proud of each costume that comes from a very strong idea, and look exactly as I had visualised at the time of conceiving the idea. They are the creations that come quickly out of my head, with no doubts surrounding them. For me, the amount of time it takes between thinking, sketching and the fabric arriving on someone's table to be cut and stitched is so important for the design to retain an excitement and freshness. The Blind Assassins were one of my favourite costumes to design for this reason, the idea arrived quick and bold in my imagination and from conception to design, they almost created themselves. The slower designs can often be successful too, but when an idea is slower to arrive, doubts seem to flood in faster, ideas are disturbed and changed and it's easy to get lost.
The show involves a lot of fight scenes, was it challenging to design around that in terms of the costumes being moveable?
When I first took this job on at the start of Season 2, the focus for allowing movement in costumes was all about cleverly using patches of elastic materials in hidden spots, essentially we were always concealing. However, by Season 3, the style of fighting had become a more complex, fluid and beautiful martial arts performance, like choreographed dance. So my design process had evolved and my ambition and experimentation expanded to not hide, but embrace the materials required for flexibility. In addition to that, patterns and texture had always been a part of the Badlands world and so it became clear that we could use these fabrics to embellish and form the costumes themselves. We attached moveable fabrics over the elastic, ultimately building brand new elastic material that never previously existed, that we could age, dye and break down to our exact needs.
With the fight scenes being filmed more than once and from different angles, did you have to create multiples of the same costume for each character involved?
This show was without a doubt the most challenging I have worked on when it comes to making multiples. There are so many fight scenes, and for each actor, a stunt person on top of that. So this means there was a minimum of 4 and maximum of 7 costumes per look. Sherman (Moon) is a good example of this. For his blue Regent outfit, we had two clean versions, one for the actor and one for the stunt person, then another two for mid-way broken down and anther two completely destroyed and dirty, then the last one totally slashed and destroyed. He had gone through the hell of so much fighting, falling off horses, mud and dirt and flying off walls, that even each iteration of the costume had to be cleaned and stitched up again. It was a real challenge. On top of that you have other considerations for all characters with stunt people, who, depending on their unique skills and what their choreography and performance demands, will require various protections and paddings. So usually we are looking at an average of 4 multiples for each look, for each character, for each episode.
Is there a certain genre you like creating costumes for best?
It's difficult to have a favourite after working on INTO THE BADLANDS because the variation of genre is so wide - we have soldiers, barons and wealthy people, Asian style, armour, peasant and nomadic people amongst others and so each are so different and provide such a huge creative outlet where it's hard to become bored. I definitely have more of a passion for the costumes that require aging and breakdown; layering the colours, bleaching them off, only to add more layers and more bleach.. it really adds the feeling of passing time to each costume. This is one of the things I enjoyed the most - manufacturing an authenticity; the ultimate theatre. So I think my love of the theatrics does lend itself better to period pieces and sci-fi, where a world needs to be created from nothing or recreated from history. I think this is why Badlands is my best experience so far as it covers so many genres and satisfies so many creative leanings. At some point in my life I would love to work on a project set in the 20's. It was a beautiful time, especially for women's outfits, when petticoats and corsets came to the end of their life and the freedom and flow of modern femininity came to life.
Is there someone you haven't worked with yet that you'd like to? Or a particular TV show or film you'd love to design for?
There is simply so much beautifully produced TV now, each network creating such amazing and challenging projects that it's hard to specify one project, there are so many shows I have seen that I would love to have worked on. I think staying within the period, fantastical or sci-fi world would produce my best work. But it would also be interesting for me at some point to design for a movie. Not by any stretch to see that as a step up, but as a desire to move laterally and experience something different. Working on TV shows with multiple scripts and everything moving at a constant pace can test your creativity. I would love to experience working with one script, with one director, to understand what I could achieve with the smaller scope a movie has, perhaps it's a desire to experience what my predecessors did when only movies existed and things weren't as fast paced. Mostly for the same reasons, I would also love a chance to work in theatre once again as I did many years ago. It's another art form, just like TV and movies, that really excites me.
Do you have any advice for aspiring costume designers, like anything you wish you knew when you were starting out?
In young people now I see so much determination and confidence that I think they are better equipped from the outset to take on challenging careers, more than I ever was. I think that determination can take you a long way. My advice would be to know the business, know that it takes up all your time and attention. It wants you to be available, it wants your attention and can be needy and jealous. And that time and space that this career takes up, that remains the same. And of course it's hugely rewarding but I do think some good advice is to have realistic expectations of it and to understand that it takes a serious commitment. Even when it feels like you are not in the door (And believe me, for many years I wasn't even sure I was a part of it!) and that you haven't met the right people or made the right connections, your perseverance will count. Be humble, be reliable and be patient. In this business we always need an extra hand, an extra help. Whatever position you are in, do that one right, give it all your energy and the time will come when the right person will ask for that help that only you can give. Be ready!
Do you have other upcoming projects you could tell us about?
There have been a couple of projects floated past me in the last few weeks but it's very early days so I'll see how they progress. It's been such a long season it's time for a little break now, but my ultimate hope is that Badlands will be back and I can spend another rich and fulfilling year bringing it to life!
The season 3 finale of INTO THE BADLANDS airs this Sunday (6/17/18) on AMC
IMAGES Courtsey of Giovanni Lipari