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February 26, 2016

Interview with Costume Designer Linda Muir (The Witch, Bitten)

February 21, 2016 -

A costume designer is a person who designs costumes for a film. The role of the costume designer is to create the characters and balance the scenes with texture and colour, etc.

What a terrific honour it was sit down with the talented costume designer Linda Muir, who is based in Toronto, Canada. She has worked in the industry for the last 30 years, on many successful films and TV shows, which she talks about in the interview. A must read for anyone working or wanting to work in the industry today:

Matthew Toffolo: The horror film “The Witch”, will be hitting theaters this weekend, and it’s getting great reviews! How was your experience working on the film?

The Witch was the most rewarding costume design experience I’ve had to date because the writer/director, Robert Eggers, is an extraordinary collaborator and because the film plays out at extremely close quarters so much of the detail put into the costumes actually reads.

I loved the script (it was certainly the first time I’d read a feminist take on Puritan hysteria) and I found Robert to be serious and intelligent with a wickedly sharp sense of humour. I felt camaraderie: we both tend to say what we think and we both learned to create tableaus while working in the theatre.

During my first interview (of three), Robert handed me a spiral bound book; it contained a presentation of images from his research for the film, everything from inspirational Goya paintings to photographic examples of corn rot.

Research is my thing, too: obviously most of the time I am not the same as the characters for which I design costumes (such a Puritan man or girl living in 1630), so I do thorough research to inform my designs. In preparing to design costumes for The Witch I read approx. 1,800 pages of material in books produced by British historian Stuart Peachey, covering every aspect of 17thC clothing, such as weaving and dyeing wool, garment construction and pattern making, and notions like buttons and braided ties.

Throughout the film the audience sees the characters in every state of dress therefore I needed to know what garments were worn (and how they were worn) from the skin out.

While researching headwear, I found a website created for 17th C re-enacters which shed light on the way in which hair was dressed at the period, using woven linen (ribbon-like) tape braided into the hair. I then found a company stateside that sold the reproduction linen tape we needed to create the style (along with reproduction brass straight pins to secure Katherine’s neckerchief). That information turned out to be vital to the look of the film: not only was it accurate, it beautifully reflected the tightly bound up and covered beliefs that eventually unravel. As we see Thomasin and Katherine become more and more out of control their coifs (linen caps) come off, revealing the hairstyles and in the end all the hair comes down with yards of tape left dangling — Katherine crazed and defeated, Thomasin sensual and alive.

So, though The Witch was a real challenge, it was also a true joy.

Matthew: You have been the costume designer on over 40 productions in the last 25 years. Is there is film/TV show or two that you’re most proud of (besides The Witch)?

Long Days Journey Into Night, directed by David Wellington is a favorite, as are September Songs, and Mulroney: The Opera, both directed by Larry Weinstein, as well as Exotica, and Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould.

The young editor who cut my reel in 2007 was thrilled to have had the opportunity to see so many fantastic Canadian projects. He wasn’t aware of the Rhombus catalogue, for instance, because programs such as CBC’s Opening Night, that at one time commissioned and aired challenging, imaginative work, no longer exist.

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