Feral Interview with Costume Designer Jane Petrie.
What area/field are you in? Costume Design Describe in as many ways as you like what you do. Tell me all your job titles. Over the years I’ve been - Costume Assistant, Assistant Designer, Maker, Dyer, Buyer, Standby, Supervisor, Researcher, anything really that involves costume or textiles for characters in film or tv, with occasional forays into theatre and opera. What is the biggest eye roll you’ve given a question or comment about being a freelancer? Or what would you like waged people to understand about working as a freelancer? It’s not specifically to do with freelancing, but in relation to Costume Buying for contemporary jobs, when the men on set say “My wife would love you job, she’s always shopping”. That’s a dinosaur classic. What’s your favourite part of being a freelancer? Knowing that when it’s tough it will end. The variety. The project based nature of throwing my energy into something, grabbing all the ideas, working fast and energetically, knowing it is for a limited period of time. Learning a new period, researching like crazy, stretching my brain. Then having a break.
What is the hardest part? Managing home life when the work is intense. Committing to things like holidays in advance - but I am much better at that these days.
"...my instincts were not to do it in the first place, I was pushed into it by other people thinking it was going to be amazing so I was swayed and it was a mistake."
How long have you been feral? Always. Specifically in Costume, I graduated from Wimbledon School of Art in 1992.
What have your highlights been? (Take a moment to have a brag about your accomplishments) Assisting some of the best costume designers working in film - Phoebe DeGaye, Odile Dicks-Mireaux, Alexandra Byrne, Marit Allen, loads of them, learning so much each time.
As a designer in my own right, highlights happen all the time, most of the jobs I’ve done I’ve loved. I’ve only done one job I haven’t enjoyed - and my instincts were not to do it in the first place, I was pushed into it by other people thinking it was going to be amazing so I was swayed and it was a mistake. Why did you decide to become self employed? I never decided to be freelance.
I decided at the age of 11 that I wasn’t going to chase a conventional life and this is how if unfolded.
It was the late 70’s, early 80’s when I was growing up and I watched the adults around me mostly making an arse of marriage, and I decided I wasn’t going to do it that way. The music I listened to was a huge influence on me politically and Paul Weller singing ’The man that you once loved is bald and fat and seldom in’ or The Specials’ Too Much Too Young cemented my idea that growing up and getting married and settling down with a couple of kids, early, wasn’t for me.
The creative life I found happened to function in a freelance set-up and the project based nature of film schedules suited my personality, it all just fitted. How do you protect your work time from distractions? I think it’s more like how do I protect my home life from my work distractions! It’s hard to stop thinking about a project once I am in it.
I try not to take work home with me in the evenings and to switch off at the weekends but it filters in, especially early prep when I am rummaging around for research or references that would help me find my tone, these things can come from any place so my feelers are out 24/7. Where do you work? home?studio?/favourite cafe/all of the above? I do a lot of script work at home but usually we set up our work space near to the producution offices and this could be a film studio or an empty space we rent for a few months, just long enough to make the film. Do you think you’ll ever retire? There’s a drawing MA I’ve got my eye on, I feel I never finished my drawing journey and I would love to stop for a bit to do this course. If I did, it might mean a new direction, not making films perhaps, but also not stopping living a creative life.. that won’t end, surely? But … when a good script comes in I can’t imagine not wanting to design it. If money wasn’t factored into your work choices, what would be your most glorious dream for your future as a freelancer? Be as outrageous as you dare. It’s not money it’s time.
If time wasn’t a factor, I would do that drawing MA, I would also bung in an English degree and a History degree, then I might do Sculpture, then I would go back and do a massive costume job and see how it benefited from me being a master of all the components!
"Unemployment isn’t freelancing, it’s trying to find a job - you have a job."
Anything else you’d like to highlight about the life of a freelancer? My advice to students who are nervous about freelancing is to remember the wage is feast or famine and the point is to make the amount of money you need over the course of a year.
If you do a well paid job, don’t kid yourself that’s your weekly wage, if you think like that, you’re committing yourself to earning a high wage for 52 weeks of the year and that isn’t sustainable - Now you’re trapped in a creative rat race which is probably just as hellish as the Rat Race Bob Geldof railed against on the single I bought, of the same title, in 1979. Hold your nerve. Work towards an average weekly wage that you need and make good, creative use of the gaps when the money isn’t coming in - this is when you can do something to enrich your life. Galleries, drawing, reading, preparing for the future by studying your craft, whatever, just don’t let it feel like unemployment, it’s just part of the shape of the year.
Unemployment isn’t freelancing, it’s trying to find a job - you have a job. Use your time off to the best effect and employment will sort itself out into a pattern that works.
Thanks Jane for taking the time to answer my questions! Jane may well sack me for saying this but all you Dundee/Fife freelancers need to google Jane and see where you can end up with an abundant spirit, passion for you job and hard work. Jill x
Are you too feral to ever think about line managers, annual leave, sick days or retirement? Would you want to be interviewed for my blog post? If the answer is yes, comment or contact me through my website. I would particularly encourage LGBT+, disabled, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic freelancers to get in touch, as these groups are currently not present in my contents.