Interview With Costume Designer Joanna Syrokomla, “Flower Shop Mystery”

By Ruth on June 26, 2016 in Interview, movie, television
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Not too long ago, a most intriguing tweet came across my feed from someone whom I will admit to never having noticed previously. I genuinely try to notice all cast members, and when I think about it, I attempt to acknowledge the crew.  In my mind, I am well aware of the fact that without the phenomenal crews that Hallmark hires, no quality programming would come from that network. Joanna Syrokomla, the costume designer for the Flower Shop Mystery series (and much more) thanked me for my review of the most current film in the series, and she hoped that I would mention the costuming in the my next review. In preparation for that, I was able to ask her some questions about her work in this business. 
9909119.jpgWhat inspired you to become a costume designer?  How did you get involved with the film industry? What kind of training have you received?

I was always interested in the storytelling aspect of costume when I look back on my childhood. I would spend days pouring over the historical fashion books in my school library and get involved in school plays where I was more intrigued with being off stage than on. A lucky relocation took me to Paris, France as a teenager where I met an incredible theatre teacher that supported my interests and between the museums, galleries and flea markets, I was soaked in the artistry of it all for a few years.
Back in Toronto I attended Ryerson University Theatre School and through a creative writing class, I met up with the film students and started doing their films after hours. But my real break was at a second-hand bookstore where I used to hang out with an astrologer, and one of his clients was art directing a film and got me involved. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing my first day on a real film set, but I knew that I loved it.

How do you get your inspiration for your designs to fit each unique character? How much input does the actor/director/etc. have in the costume design?

As I’m the millionth costume designer to say this, it always starts with the script. Often it’s obvious by the writer’s descriptions if the character will be warm-hearted, shallow, quirky or multi-layered. I then pull images from the internet or my magazine clipping library of how I feel a flower shop owner or a socialite or the murderer might look and share those with the director and show creators, and we discuss them from there. Once approved, they’re used as inspiration for shopping their look.

On average, how long does it take to design the wardrobe for a film/tv show?

As much time as they give me! Costume design is a constant puzzle of having the information required which ranges from the most important part of an actor’s sizes to how a stunt sequence is going to be shot to what the expected weather is. A contemporary television film isn’t designed all at the same time. You start with the leads and work your way around the cast depending on which actors, resources, and time you have. Basically designing until the last day. The Hallmark films are shot over fifteen days and traditionally, I have that much time to prepare for them before camera.

Photo: Brooke Shields, Brennan Elliott Credit: Copyright 2016 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Shane Mahood

Photo: Brooke Shields, Brennan Elliott Credit: Copyright 2016 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Shane Mahood

Are costumes rented or donated for marketing purposes?  Do costumes get used more than once?

What surprises many people is that most costumes for modern films are shopped for at the mall! It’s often a very fast process between getting the actor’s measurements and them making it to camera. You want to have options and choices to try before the final costumes are decided upon so you buy more than you will ultimately need. We do rent specialty pieces like the Dearly Depotted tuxedos (not Marco’s though) and uniforms. Sometimes the costumes get re-purposed. I often keep unique or very useful pieces from shows and bring them back out if I have a character for it such as vintage leather jackets or waiter vests. I can’t help but have acquired bins of handbags, shoes, belts, racks of ties of all periods, jewelry…a whole attic full! Which is like my own personal costume house where I can pull items I know I already love and re-use them on new characters. Also, it’s great to think of the environmental impact of re-using–not burning gas to drive somewhere to find an item, not taking plastic shopping bags or wrappings, and not having to get rid of it at the end of a show.

What’s your favorite style for designing?

I enjoy all types of projects. Every one of them has new challenges I hadn’t anticipated. Though fantastical or period pieces always excite costume crews for the creative challenges. Usually they’re more textured, and we have to find unique resources to do something new. I’ve been honoured to design a seventeenth century film about a witch hanging called Roped, a 1978 web series about sassy secretaries called Whatever Linda, and another web series farce entitled Space Janitors based on Star Wars.

What do you appreciate about working for Hallmark?

All the Hallmark shows I’ve done have been in Northern Ontario, which is absolutely gorgeous country. Seeing the seasons change outside a big city is always a joy. The Flower Shop Mysteries were shot in North Bay. The community really embraced all the film-making team by participating whether be it a background actor or making leather bracelets for Brennan’s {Elliott} character. Going into the local coffee shop and always knowing someone after a few weeks of shooting up there was a pleasure. But the very best part is how close the team becomes when we make these pictures as we’re all staying in the same hotels. You don’t often get that camaraderie when we all go home at the end of the night on a show you shoot in your own city.

Photo: Brooke Shields, Brennan Elliott Credit: Copyright 2016 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Shane Mahood

Photo: Brooke Shields, Brennan Elliott Credit: Copyright 2016 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Shane Mahood

With Flower Shop Mystery, are there any behind-the-scenes stories you can share?

It was deep, deep winter in Northern Ontario when we shot Snipped in the Bud and Dearly Depotted. We were shooting the wedding scenes during one of the hardest weeks for weather with white-out conditions and slippery roads, and my team and I had to travel wedding attire through snow drifts to the senior’s residence which was transformed into the wedding reception. It had been the best hotel to stay in during the last century with incredible old ceilings and chandeliers. A lot of the crew thought seriously that week about whether this was the place they wanted to retire. The residents adored seeing Brooke and all the actors in their finery, and a few of them, we dressed in sequin jackets and long satin skirts to be background actors at the reception.

Putting together the costumes for the wedding took many weeks, as we had to gather gowns, jewelry, bow ties, suspenders, tuxedos… Being the small town that North Bay is, we were able to track down the people who’d be playing the guests and pre-fit them to make sure their gown suited them or the tux fit quite right. We felt like detectives and rubix cube masters, battling the harsh weather, puzzling all the costume elements together to support the storyline of Dearly Depotted.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a costume designer?

Some costume designers might say money, but I’d say time and technology. Decisions on casting happen pretty late with very little time to shop, fit, alter, break down costumes and ultimately make sure it suits the character. When I first started almost twenty years ago, much more time was allotted to decision-making because we didn’t have the internet, and everyone had to make phone calls, courier Polaroids or scripts. Now with the internet, there are less live meetings and more time is taken on the back and forth of answering questions in emails. We used to all be in the same room or at least the same city. Additionally, everyone communicates through different mediums- text, facebook messages, emails and uses different dropboxes, upload programs, photo sharing files–so I often feel as though I’m chasing information around trying to find answers when I’d just rather be shopping.

As you are preparing to get busy with the second season of Backstage, what are the unique challenges on a show like that? What are the benefits?

Returning to characters is incredible as you get to see them evolve and decide how they might change their wardrobe to reflect their new states. Also, being very aware of what works on actors as you’ve had much experience dressing them only makes the costume design stronger. I really adore the creative team on this one, and every conversation brings out new concepts as we rift on each others’ thoughts. This week’s challenge on Backstage has been the culling of distinctive pieces that were so featured I cannot re-use them for the second season, and the gloating of how much I loved these pieces, and the mourning that we cannot reuse them all.

Luis Sequeira, Costume Designer and former CAFTCAD President and I at CAFTCAD's Otherwordly: The Art of Canadian Costume Design Exhibit at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in 2011 during the Toronto International Film Festival.

Luis Sequeira, Costume Designer and former CAFTCAD President and Joanna at CAFTCAD’s Otherwordly: The Art of Canadian Costume Design Exhibit at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in 2011 during the Toronto International Film Festival.

What do you like to do in your free time?

My favourite thing after costume design is swimming. I’ll swim anywhere, anytime and almost any temperature of water. I was constantly in the exterior heated pool we had at our hotel on the Flower Shop Mysteries during the winter months with snow on my nerdy swimming cap.

Any other upcoming works you can mention?

My most recent Hallmark picture with many of the same team from the Flower Shop Mysteries is called For Love and Honor with James Denton (from the Good Witch series).  It was full of student military cadets, and I had never been “M’amm’d” so much in my life. I have great respect now for cadets, and I wish I had dated one when I was a teenager. The story of a teenage theatre girl and a military boy, another version of Romeo and Juliet? Well, perhaps that’s another Hallmark movie.

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As I reviewed Joanna’s answers to the wide variety of questions that were asked, I could not get over how exceptional she is at her craft. I know it shouldn’t amaze me because Hallmark only hires the best, but to read of her zeal for costume design just thrills me to no end. Being in essence a “dunce” when it comes to anything having to do with costume design, I found myself hanging on her every word and marveling at her mastery. There is no doubt that she is passionate about doing an exceptional job, and for her, the job is never dull nor boring. She has kept her competitive edge, and there is no doubt she is a team player. While I have never met Joanna, I have no doubt that she is a diligent worker who is not afraid of putting in the time necessary to achieve the desired results. Moreover, she does not seek the limelight nor complain about her lot in life. Quite the contrary, her excitement carries her through any of the difficulties that may arise, and she tackles everything with a positive spirit and a committed work ethic. Be sure to tune into Hallmark Movies & Mysteries network on Sunday, June 26, to see the latest installment of the series: Flower Shop Mystery: Dearly Depotted. And don’t forget to check out the links below for more even more information about this woman who is responsible for the lovely costuming we will be seeing in that film and more!

FOLLOW JOANNA

Official Website

IMDB

Twitter

Facebook

 

Joanna is incredibly proud to support the Canadian costume community with her involvement as a founding member of CAFTCAD where she has many opportunities to play dress up with her friends.
www.caftcad.com

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

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