Dressing the part
Period films are always exquisite gems, crafted with fine detail. A big favourite of cinema goers, from the earliest days of the film industry, with classics such as ‘Gone with the Wind’ (1939), Robin Hood (1953) and numerous others, the popularity of period films will never diminish, over the past 20 years, some of the highest grossing films at the box office have been historical dramas, ‘The King’s Speech’ (2010), ‘The Young Victoria’ (2009), and ‘Shakespeare in Love’ (1998), to name a few.
Making a period film is often the reserve of big production houses with vast budgets, as the biggest hurdle is always costs, with far more factors to consider, in contrast to when you’re wanting to create something contemporary. The costs for wardrobe, sets, locations all sky rocket, and for a team with a limited budget, it’s very difficult to envision making something that will be historically accurate in terms of aesthetics.
However, there are many tricks you can employ in order to cut costs and make a successful period film. Let’s focus on costumes. In the UK, there are dozens and dozens of companies who supply filmmakers with historically accurate costumes from every era, yet their hiring fees can run into the thousands, especially if you have a large cast.
One of the ways to get around this is to get your wardrobe sponsored, as Noam Kroll explains in his article - ‘5 Tips for Shooting a Period Piece on a Shoestring Budget’ this will prove an immense help, “Vintage wardrobe items can be really rare and hard to find, and naturally the price can be prohibitive for many filmmakers. That said, if you’re willing to knock on some doors, you might just get it for free. If you team up with the right stylist, they may just be able to work some miracles for you. Typically stylists have relationships with brands and can pull some really amazing options for you, usually at no cost (since the items are loaned). Rather than spending your wardrobe budget on actual items, invest in a good stylist and it can pay off big time.”
This is by far one of the best ways to ensure you get the right costumes, as doing it on the cheap, from your local fancy dress shop, is likely to leave you with a very poor imitation. Many small theatres will be a great go to for securing costumes, in most cases they would be happy to lend you some costumes for a limited amount of time, especially if the theatre would get a mention in any credits.
Where to look
Depending on what era you’re going for, there are other ways to limit the costs. If you’re creating a film based during the 1960’s onward, then you can easily source costumes cheaply from charity shops and online marketplaces such as eBay. If you’re really savvy and know someone who’s good at dressmaking, you can even find contemporary designs and refashion them into older styles.
Although as an independent filmmaker it’s tougher to put together a period film, if you can learn the tricks of cost cutting, you will be able to create something magical.