What a Scene and a “Costume” Mean to a Character’s Place on a Set

IMG_4788

Contributing Stylist, Roxanne Pfaus, has put together six different outfit combinations that have proven to be ideal for the specific locations Film Syrup photographer, Colleen Rowe, has chosen to display them. These carefully crafted clothing-location combinations have generated scenes that could be imaginable within different films, or perhaps Film Syrup and its collaborators will inspire you to make them imaginable within the crevices of your own minds.

Accompanying Rowe and Pfaus on this creative venture is filmmaker & singer-songwriter, Paige Skelly, who has been chosen to model Pfaus’ clothing choices, transforming these “costumes” into outfits. Among other components, costume choice is extremely important to film production so it’s very key that filmmakers choose the right stylist to make sure that the outfits chosen parallel the scenes presented to audiences. Fashion meets film with a firm handshake in this particular photo shoot, or perhaps it is always dwelling in the shadows, waiting for an opportunity to pull viewers deeper into the scenes that contain it.

1. Zombieland

Colleen Rowe: Running from a Zombie is pretty difficult, or so I’ve seen in various TV shows and films. Zombies are “in” right now—it’s just a fact, especially in the television world, crediting the popular TV series, The Walking Dead with this newly found love for the undead. The 2004 zombie film, Shaun of the Dead also drew audiences to appreciate “Zombism” with its lighter comedic taste. From these moving pictures depicting very fast moving zombies, zombie apocalypse survivors usually become really good at running and if they’re not, well, they’ll become better at it once they have turned into, the commonly used phrase from TWD, “walkers.” Generally, survivors’ clothing becomes tattered from running through deep woods, the branches catching on the edges of the fabric. Since there are rarely comfortable places to stay during a zombie apocalypse, clothing becomes dirty from the lack of cleaning resources. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that, you’re probably going to look like shit most of the time, but don’t quote me on my eloquence.

Roxanne Pfaus:  In this caseThe tattered look of the jersey knit fabric conveys a disheveled look.

IMG_4673Colleen Rowe: What a lot of people don’t know or really attempt to contemplate, probably because they’re so worried about their favorite characters getting eaten by their approaching undead foes, is that every zombie apocalypse survivor needs some flexibility in their survival-wear. Now I’m not talking about spandex with screwdrivers stitched in, but I am talking about a short dress that allows extensive leg movement—specifically for kicking, running, and driving away from dead people who aren’t capable of thinking enough to change their clothing to strategic running-wear.

IMG_4685Colleen Rowe: Here is where remaining human survivors have a special advantage—knowing your opponent’s weaknesses. In this particular case—Paige is wearing a short dress that allows her to use her legs to attempt to defeat her opponent, while the zombie unsuccessfully attempts to kick her—this is actually pretty resourceful for a “walker,” since usually they are only really good at grunting and binging on human flesh. Movement is key during a zombie apocalypse, where fashion is judged by necessity, rather than excess.

Roxanne Pfaus: This costume portrays a startled woman, acting on the set of a film. In fearing for her life, Paige’s outfit is minimal, but practical. The subdued color of her empire waist mini-dress provides her camouflage, while the textile allows her movement and comfort. This mushroom taupe fabric is able to cast a chromatic appearance, not only with the brick backdrop, but imaginably among a variety of earthy tones as well. IMG_4675Colleen Rowe: Don’t be surprised if you happen to see Beth Greene wearing this outfit on the show that has made her the only known vocalist left in the world. If she’s not already a man magnet on The Waking Dead, she’ll definitely be one now with this outfit! Hopefully, she will have better luck than Paige.

IMG_4689Special thanks to Vanessa Garcia (the zombie featured).

2. Those Romantic Walks on the Beach with that Girl Wearing the Beetle Juice Hat

IMG_4700

Colleen Rowe: Spending time by the water is a perfect opportunity to shed some clothing and anticipate a refreshing cool-off while on-lookers check out your body, possibly with flaming green flecks in their eyes. Although bikinis are ideal, something nice to slip over a two piece is always flattering. Perhaps the mysterious female standing in the shadow of herself on the sand is a character with a burning desire to impress every fisherman throughout the local boatyard with her all-black attire and bare feet screaming for a, as Austin Powers calls it, “sensual massage” (remember to use the British accent when you say that in your head). Whatever her motives are, she is obviously turning heads so the suggestion is here: if you’re going to create a seductive female character within a film, make sure that something about her is quite signature and her own.

IMG_4708

Colleen Rowe: For example by contrast, don’t bore viewers with a Jessica Simpson look-alike. Also, if you decide to put her in a Velour jumpsuit please expect her credibility to be tainted. For now those are two rules to film by.

Roxanne Pfaus: The stark contrast between the actor’s dark wardrobe and soft scenery creates a dramatic delivery. Her woven, straw, piece- dyed hat keeps the sun out of her eyes and offers a theatrical focal point.

IMG_4713

Colleen Rowe: Since walking on the beach is usually considered a typical activity for a first date, Paige is playing the part, so imagine an over-dramatized scene where two lovers meet to confess their attraction for one another beside beach rocks. The unknown lover is unbelievably attracted to this dreamy woman, her black skirt long enough to show audiences that she’s classy with her cowgirl-Esq, politely revealing vest giving this impression that she’s experienced and confident. The Beetle Juice patterned hat really pulls this “look” together to exhibit her unconventional uniqueness.

Roxanne Pfaus: The light-weight, cotton-spandex blend that composes her skirt keeps her cool and a gust of wind will surely provide a cinematic fluttering effect. This edgy suede vest embellished with metallic beading and tassels is able to flatteringly reflect sunlight.

IMG_4719

IMG_4727Colleen Rowe: Remember to the pick the correct female for her chosen role in your film, but also take into consideration what she will be wearing because a shirt’s V-neck and the length of her skirt says everything you need to know about her character, or the façade her character wishes to present.

3. Accessories & Contrast Count, Even in Sportswear

Colleen Rowe: Quoted in films like Dead Poet Society, Henry David Thoreau spent years in the woods attempting to detach himself from conventional society. Although revealing tank tops and tight pants were not available during the 19th century when he was alive, you can bet he would have worn them as a substitute to his pretentious suits while he was finding himself in the fish pools at Walden Pond. Walt Whitman would absolutely approve.

IMG_4737

Colleen Rowe: Not only are these outfit options comfortable for summer hiking weather, they also provide contrast for the scenic greenery surrounding Paige. The bright backdrop behind her powerfully makes her the center of the photo, or scene as she stands in a black-grey combination outfit. The blue pullover vest adds to her color, absorbing the light and giving her a sporty appearance.

Roxanne Pfaus: This look resembles a more utilitarian woman. Her mesh tank top is sporty in appearance and, additionally, is able to whisk away moisture and sweat. Durable pants allow the subject to participate in wear and tear that other fabrics wouldn’t be able to compete with. They are also multi-pocketed which is seldom offered in women’s wear. This is important because this allows Paige to carry additional hiking gear that could be necessary to her endeavor.

IMG_4751

Colleen Rowe: Remember shoe tying is a key activity while hiking, because constant activity invites laces to be tied often.

IMG_4745Colleen Rowe: Realistic actions make intentionally realistic film scenes more probable, but props as simple as sneakers with laces and sport watches make that necessary.

IMG_4754

IMG_4755

Like many other situations, it’s the little things that count.

4. A Female Character by Herself

IMG_4772

Colleen Rowe: We have already established that colors really exaggerate a mood within a scene. For some reason whenever I see someone wearing a yellow shirt I always associate them with Ronald McDonald, which is pretty misleading especially if this particular person is a vegetarian. Basically, if you dress someone up a certain way, they can be perceived completely differently from what they actually are—which is subjective anyway. Colors and styles really play on emotions. One thing that this outfit really exhibits is a word comprised with one vowel: Bliss.

Roxanne Pfaus: Paige’s down to earth ensemble works congruently with her sandy scenery. This sun dress not only provides a nautical style, but also allows her to bask on the beach with ease.  The dress’ engineered printed stripe design plays up the actor’s looks with an optical illusion that is favorable to any woman’s figure.

IMG_4767Colleen Rowe: A sundress is perfect for casual encounters and to show off legs, but sometimes characters, and people really, need to be alone to really feel themselves and who they represent themselves to be. Isn’t it important to be alone sometimes? In this scene we see Paige’s character as someone fully content with who she is, completely alone and dressed up for the company of herself.

IMG_4781Colleen Rowe: It’s important to catch a female character with at least one scene on her own, “dressed well.” A scene like that is a compilation of all those moments she spent sitting in front of her vanity making eyes at the person she wants to be. When girls dress up just to impress their mirrors before they have anywhere to go.

Roxanne Pfaus: Her knit Raschel shrug creates a lace like effect that utilizes Lurex yarns to enhance the costume with a metallic detail.

IMG_4782

Colleen Rowe: That time alone is essential to character building, in both forms—the fabricated character and the character within us that shapes our souls.

IMG_4780Colleen Rowe: Since films are, a lot of the time, based on reality or real human emotions, and vice versa, it’s so important to capture this alone time, in a scenic setting, with your chosen subject dressed for themselves, rather than the audience who watches them. In life and film, feigned confidence is very apparent.

5. When Everything Around You is Big, You’ll Make Yourself Bigger to Compete

IMG_4789Colleen Rowe: Have you ever wondered why everyone in New York City is so cranky and rude? It’s because of the big buildings that surround them. The people feel small because they are given this scale of size and are secluded to the bottom of it. Is that why everyone is dressing so nice? Since when did everyone who can afford it become a “fashionista”? Everyone’s making themselves look beautiful because it makes them feel bigger and the truth is, you do feel more badass with a fedora on.

IMG_4826Colleen Rowe: While surrounded by concrete and metal giants, I think people feel that they need to grow thicker skin—so they literally pile on layers and drop two shades darker to make “attitude” become more than a look.

IMG_4828Colleen Rowe: Of course you can add the classic “sneer,” because that’s just so urban. It’s definitely important to increase your character’s “tude’” if they are wearing a specific outfit. Women in spandex are always so much angrier than women in sundresses because the tighter material usually cuts off the circulation to…

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that when you’re surrounded by a scene that really exhibits a dangerous setting, make your character more valuable by coinciding with the backdrop.

Roxanne Pfaus: An amplified attire is necessary in order to stand out in an urban environment. The featured knit dress conforms to the contours of the actor’s body, while the synthetic piping offers a subtle linear detail that is reminiscent of the surrounding architecture. The actor’s digitally printed and embossed cosmic leggings are modern and avant garde, while offering elasticity in the core spun spandex.

IMG_4831

Roxanne Pfaus: Her felt fedora compliments this esoteric, street- smart look, in a place where attitude and perspective are key elements.

IMG_4856Colleen Rowe: A cage-like fence will automatically make a character feel confined, so dress her in an outfit that will allow her to break through the metal.

6. Use Your Character as a Prop

Colleen Rowe: When you create a scene that’s very specific and you have this perfect opportunity to use your character as a prop, do it!

IMG_4865

Colleen Rowe: Placed specifically next to an antique shop, Paige is dressed as a doll—a typical antique collection item. Numerous films and TV shows have portrayed dummies as coming alive. The infamous Child’s Play scared children away from ever owning a ginger doll. Can’t cute dolls break out of the antique shop for the sole purpose of impressing people? Perhaps she has other motives, but the important thing here is not to conform to doll stereotypes—they’re very hurtful and no one likes a racist.

IMG_4882Roxanne Pfaus: This last look is less functional and more decorative. Paige’s blotch printed floral knit dress is nostalgic of a typical feminine demeanor.

IMG_4868Colleen Rowe: For this particular photo shoot, tights and lace socks are used to really stick to this dollish theme, while excessive blush exemplifies her rosy cheeks.

Roxanne Pfaus: Her jacquard knit argyle tights are a classic and conventional design, while her lace socks replicate what you would find on a toy doll’s feet.

IMG_4884Colleen Rowe: It’s remarkable when you remove the model-turned-prop from the specific scene she was made a prop for, she becomes more human and alive. Out of the context of the antique shop, we’re seeing this outfit transcend the boundaries of artificial to real.

Roxanne Pfaus: The inspiration for this style is heavily reliant on the location, where you could imagine seeing a porcelain doll for sale.

IMG_4898Colleen Rowe: Location really is everything, but outfit selection is excessively important. Remember not to leave the scene before your work is done, but also keep in mind that there’s always a back door to get back to where you need to be.

Photographer/Writer, Colleen Rowe

Stylist/Co-Writer, Roxanne Pfaus

Model, Paige Skelly

“The Heart Machine”: If Your Heart is Mechanical, Will it Still Beat for Human Interaction?

By Colleen Rowe

the heart machine bam photo

“The Heart Machine” was shown at The Brooklyn Academy of Music in June 2014. Photo Credit: Myself (Colleen Rowe)

We have all done it before and occasionally we think about it in a jaded haze of harsh perplexity. The stranger you see on the sidewalk, in the bar, on the subway—it’s really just a stranger, isn’t it? With curious inclination, you might halfway approach your stranger, because this unknown has become yours in the misty sentiments your mind creates above wheels upon rattling tracks. As your hand almost reaches its destination, within the space of skin folds between your stranger’s palm and fingers, you turn away, realizing, suddenly, that the city of New York is a very large place and within the swallowing crowds there isn’t a possibility that you’ve just run into the woman who you believe might be your emotional savior, only to be spit up with a violent cough back onto the pavement. It’s just a stranger, you tell yourself again, and she isn’t yours. In a fleeting moment, someone asks, with a twinge of undocumented mystery: What if she isn’t a stranger? What if she is yours?

Writer and director, Zachary Wigon, has mindfully crafted the independent film, The Heart Machine, portraying the casual conversations between two individuals who have formed a long distance relationship with each other and a mysterious truth about their physical proximities. Between their scheduled skype sessions, the male protagonist turned antagonist, Cody, played by John Gallagher Jr., appears suspicious quickly after the web camera lens shuts off, plotting points on a map of New York City and evaluating the typically American electric outlets beside a picture of his transient beloved. After a run in with his internet girlfriend’s doppelganger on the subway in New York, after knowing that she has been in the process of completing a fellowship in Germany, Cody mentions this sighting to his girlfriend, Virginia, played by Kate Lyn Sheil, only to hear her feigned disinterest as an obvious warning of deception. Perhaps this mystery subway rider was his.

The daily lives and separate interactions within their individual worlds become noticeably depressing as Cody begins to stalk people who might have had an interaction with Virginia, while Virginia partakes in promiscuous, blind sex dates. Together, within their tunnel vision bubbles, initially so large with inventive ideas and a magnetic chemistry, their separateness pops their internet world back to a reality so unremarkable that you start to hate them for their completely irrelevant lives. Here, as the line between real “lives” and internet personas becomes large enough to park a Titanic-sized water tricycle within its domain, viewers realize how simply expectations are built up by portraying oneself incorrectly on a website platform. It is remarkable how thoroughly obsessed people become with everyday internet interactions, to the point where they lose part of who they are. The Heart Machine touches upon this idea, directing it like a ventriloquist’s dummy, to present the realization that we are not really who we are portrayed to be through technology.

Cody, an initially seemingly adorable and caring boyfriend transforms into an undesirable stalker, exhibiting Zachary Wigon’s intentional idea: a normal guy can be depicted as a “creepy” individual once obsessive desires are introduced. His single minded actions to attempt to find his internet girlfriend in her tangle of lies, including following a barista she may or may not have known, manipulating a girl—who Cody had seen Virginia in a picture with on Facebook—to bring him back to her apartment so that he can search through her phone for any clues on Virginia’s whereabouts, and researching the address of Virginia’s apartment, where he proceeds to search through her garbage and finds the wrappers of the “German” chocolates she is often seen eating during their skype sessions, present the idea that everyone on the internet has the potential to be a stalker.

In a sense, we are all stalkers to a certain extent. Zachary Wigon makes this clear as the glass filled with water Virginia first drinks at the dive bar where she meets one of her sexual exploits. This scene, particularly, was captivating—her lips, nervous and trembling as she gulped down the water she uses to hydrate her insecure frame. Virginia’s location, very close to Cody’s New York world—a world in which Virginia is his—and the company she keeps, individuals exiled to  distant, emotional plateaus, shows a different type of need that exists within her character. The need is expressed by Virginia herself during her first real-life, impromptu meeting with Cody as they stand on a roof and she explains her initial desire to find someone, via electronic dating applications, to care about at that moment, rather than someone to have sexual relations with. Her parallel need to disconnect physically with the people she actually cares for shows inability to mix sex with love, a commonality among scorned lovers.

This film is powerful, to the extent where it makes its audiences question whether the people we see every day through social media posts are the professionals and philanthropists they present themselves to be, or if they are simply con-artists with specific motives to clear the richness from their “internet model” competitors. In a world where boxes of chocolates have been compared to life—American imports disguised with a foreign, in The Heart Machine, German, façade, these lifeless things become representations for what is expected: deceit, manipulation, and a little bit of genuine adoration. If lies are told through a webcam, are they more credible because the evidence is difficult to receive? If we say we’re from a certain place, when we’re really from a completely different region, does it mean that we can reinvent ourselves without anyone finding out, so long as the original witnesses are stuffed into photo albums in our attics? Just because a person throws away the chocolate’s wrappers doesn’t mean that they won’t be recycled with advertised imprints of their original makers. It doesn’t mean they won’t be dug out of the trash by a jealous lover gone mad with anger. We’re digging through the internet to find a joint conclusion of what the truth once was, but this mimesis has shaded society with lenses so thick that the original contents of our souls are dabbed with printer’s ink and figurative “likes.”

In the end, Cody implies that his relationship with Virginia is over after his suspicions are confirmed that Virginia has been in New York the whole time they have been dating through Skype. Virginia, thinking about Cody first seeing her on the subway, assuming it was her doppelganger, she writes him a work of prose, shifting the initial outward, physical perception of that scene to an introspective voice—the person has now become the speaker and their whole existence is a memory jotted down in a diary. Here, the instance experienced by one person, is translated by another into something more beautiful than it was meant to be—a filter on a photograph, a manipulation of what once was into what is.

Did Virginia originally deny being a writer because she was more comfortable with being someone’s visual candy on a random train in New York City? The sound of a beating heart isn’t secluded to madmen—it’s that background noise when it’s really quiet and you’re pressed close against the reality of human contact. In the end, the liar becomes the heroine, because the art she depicts is so abstract that it becomes a concrete part of who she is and what the film that contains her has crafted her to be. The art of reality is a difficult concept to present—if you’re not careful, you’ll be depicted to be exactly as you are. You might become yours.