CDG - The Costume Designer

Winter 2019

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don't have to deal with actors the way Costume Designers do. I don't want to take anything away from production designers and what they contribute, but the media doesn't talk about the set, or about set decorating. The media talks about Costume Design." Perez feels the buzz generated by Costume Design offers instant PR for shows. Additionally, there are ancillary markets like toys and fashion line spin- offs which have proven hugely lucrative. For Perez, the solution is a multi-step process which is not simply about the contract negotiating table. "It's about added value much the same way an actor with a social media presence has more cache," he explains. Perez believes in strong personal branding because with public acclaim comes a higher perceived value. "Some of us are not accustomed to marketing and social media, but we have to adapt. It is now part of our job. We need to learn to make ourselves the asset," he asserts. Betty Pecha Madden Local 892 Labor Delegate and CDG Organizer Betty Pecha Madden reminds us that voting equality was hard won and fairly recent in the scope of history. She says, "In the beginning of the United States, women were not even a consideration. We, the suffragettes, earned our right to vote 100 years ago and it has taken the next 100 years for us to reach today where we now have over 100 women representing us in our national government." Madden grew up on a farm where women and men worked side by side, so she has always had an expectation of equality. When she pursued Costume Design, the field was dominated by men. Tragically, Madden lost 19 colleagues in the space of a year when the AIDS epidemic forever changed the dynamic. She says, "Those beautiful souls were lost to us and we had a huge void, which was filled with female designers. But, one of the things I had in my favor is early on, I was mostly exposed to male designers. When they negotiated a con- tract, they didn't start with the floor (union scale), they didn't even look at the floor, and their producers didn't expect them to look at the floor." Madden feels we need to have a real conversation about self-worth. She wants to educate members. "We can't change this for them," she explains. "We as individu- als have our own choices in how we go forward with the skill set that we have, how we promote ourselves, and how we determine our economic rewards for the job we do. A guild cannot take up the mantle of pay inequity. It has to start with each individual within the organization." She wants to empower members to work together as a com- munity, and always know their value. "Never ever accept union scale, union scale is the floor. Why would you stand on the floor if you can reach for the ceiling?" Rachael Stanley CDG Executive Director Executive Director Rachael Stanley contextualizes the problem historically explaining that when the CDG negotiated their first contract, they were not paid significantly below an art director, but since the differ- ence was based on a percentage, over time the gap has grown. She also thinks the problem is compounded by the familiarity many people have with clothing. She says, "They feel because they can dress themselves, anyone can be a Costume Designer. Anybody can put together some clothes and make it look good, but not just any- body can create a character. It's a very different process." This misconception diminishes the perceived value of a Costume Designer's work and has further complicated the equation of pay equity. Stanley also discourages the notion that nothing can be done about this issue. She remarks, "When I sit in negotiations with the producers, I bring up this prob- lem. I say, 'We're paid so much less than our friends, the art directors. But when you look at billboards, what do they feature? The actors dressed in the costume. I am not diminishing the role of art direction. It's a vital part of production, but they sell so much of the movie off of the Costume Designer's work.'" Stanley thinks our mem- bership should band together to demand higher wages because individually, we can succeed with the produc- ers in a way that is difficult at the negotiating table. She wants to encourage our members to become more empowered by supporting each other and sharing wage information because that is an important part of their bargaining ability. "We have to be willing to shed our fear of talking about money and to put aside our belief that our value is tied to how much we make, because it's not. It has very little to do with our talents. It has to do with how able we are to work and negotiate deals. I believe that is a vital part of really bringing up our rates." Stanley is encouraged that she has recently seen prog- ress. "People are making better deals than I saw in the past, and I really hope that our members will continue to push that envelope and recognize their own self-worth, and recognize their own value on production."

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