Hi Shawna can you tell us a little about how you started out before you became the costume designer on set of Torchwood Miracle Day?
Shawna: 2013 - BIO
‘I was born in Artesia, California on October 18, 1966. My mom started her career as a Physical Education teacher at Columbus Jr. High that same year to support sending me to Pinecrest - a private school in the San Fernando Valley. There I would find great joy in ballet classes and dance recitals. In my late elementary years I transferred to public school where rock and roll replaced Swan Lake. But every weekend - as my mom volunteered for different physically handicapped friends, I was glued to channel 5 watching old Doris Day, Cary Grant, and Grace Kelly type movies. Audrey Hepburn holding me the most captivated.
I was charmed by their beauty and rich costumes, although I remained a complete tomboy. I had a horse by 13 and spent every day in jeans, T-shirt and boots - My only interaction with a sewing machine was when my g-ma would baby sit me and sew up clothes for my Barbie dolls. As an only child, I would entertain myself by doing reports on far away countries. I would draw maps, pictures of local plant life and costumes. In my mind I would combine the reality of my reports and the fantasy of the movies and create my own worlds.
Always up for adventures I dreamed of joining the army for three years to study being a truck driver and mechanic to one day have my own 18-wheeler and drive cross country for a living. In 11th grade a high school art teacher, Mr. Gene Gill, saw something in me beyond my Stevie Nicks/David Lee Roth/Cowgirl exterior. He entered me into the advanced placement art class saying I had a stick to it-ness that was needed to learn. He helped me learn the basics and I quickly found a great love for all kinds of art. I practised until I got the new technique he was teaching down pat. By my senior year he helped me to put together a portfolio that got me summer scholarships to Art Center in Pasadena and Otis in Los Angles. I took classes at both to check them out - choosing Otis because you could go bare foot on campus (always the intelligent one).
My high school art teacher then told me to go into fashion, because I loved drawing the figure. He knew I would make a good living while I practised my fine art. I had never seen a Vogue magazine and was far behind the class in every respect to fashion. I would stay after school and practice and by my senior year caught up to the best in class. I was chosen to be on Bob Mackie’s team for the senior design project and fell in love with creating fine art for the figure. I had worked at fashion design houses while in school and realized that it was too much a 9-5 job for me. I wanted to go into costume. Where Otis was located they would often shoot “Simon and Simon” and “Moonlighting”. I would sit on the set for hours watching and learning. When I would go to Universal Studios I would hop off the tram and wonder around the studio in child like awe. Everything about the movies fascinated me. I even had the opportunity to model for Theodora Van Runkle’s drawing “club” that she holds at her home on the weekends. Finding out from David Levy that I also drew, Theodora invited me to join the amazing group of artist and illustrators. Her drawings are so alive and inspirational I learned a great deal just from being a part of that group. May Routh would later recognize me on the Executive Board of the CDG (Costume Designers Guild) as the model she drew so long ago.
In my senior year I went to the American Film Institute and asked the student directors if I could design their student films. They hired me and after doing a first year project I did a second year project - always working for free. But when they graduated, I got real movies and worked steadily until I worked on the pilot and first 40 episodes of Power Rangers and decided that I had worked enough for non-union wages and hours.
I joined 892 around 1991. My first union film was Toys with Albert Wolsky as designer, which was nominated for an Academy Award - that thrilled me and let me know that I had made a wise decision to join the Guild. Working with Albert fulfilled every child hood dream of the glamour of the movies.
I went back to school in 1995 to get a two-year diploma in Theology, which included religious and language studies. I constantly update my artistic skills as well. I am a watercolor and acrylic painter as well as a potter and a ceramic tile muralist -the latest class I’ve taken was figure and portrait sculpture, which I enjoyed immensely. But my greatest joy is touching those in need, which constantly stretches and challenges me to reach to greater heights.
I was married February 2001 to a man I met during a stint of no work. I took a job as an accounts payable assistant and ended up meeting my husband. As soon as we became a couple I got work as a Costume Design Assistant on “State of Grace” with Ann Majors. God had me there just long enough to meet Joe and fall in love. As well as my new family obligations I also volunteer at a Juvenile Hall encouraging young woman of their worth to our society. Being in the film business opens allot of windows of opportunities to witness to them and encourage them. I also teach art at a men’s maximum-security state prison in Northern California.
In 2003 I had my first child after completing 13 episodes of FIREFLY – my water broke on the set of ANGEL – in 2005 I had my second child just after finishing POINT PLEASANT. With my second child I took two years off to raise the kids. I started back to work on MADNESS OF JANE, a pilot for Lifetime, then onto K-VILLE which moved us to New Orleans for 5 ½ months, then back to California after the writers’ strike to start new Joss Whedon adventures – Dr. Horrible and DOLLHOUSE for Fox TV.
Those lead to CABIN IN THE WOODS and then I worked on another sci fi great TORCHWOOD – MIRACLE DAY. When Joss had a couple days off from AVENGERS he called me to design MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING – a thrilling two week, sleep deprived, joyous, very beautiful film.
My resume is on IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0495348/
You have quite a range of designs from across the board, for different characters, what has been the most challenging?
Shawna: Every character is challenging because I want the actor to be completely immersed in the character they are trying to develop.
What is a typical day like for you when you’re working? Do you work in silence or do you always have music play in the background? Is there a set plan each day, a schedule?
Shawna: Music always - I never have a typical day - there is always a curve ball thrown your way - like on Cabin in the Woods - they added 250 monsters - no go design them - zoom
How many costumes do you work on in an average day? Do you work with a team or are you on your own?
Shawna: I have a team - and it depends on the show, the script
How did you come to work on the set of Miracle Day, had you designed anything for Torchwood before, or had you pitched some designs to them? What was the process, if you can tell us?
Shawna: I was hired to design the series - I watched the previous shows and some Dr. Who to get to know the characters - I was flown to England to meet some of the main characters and worked with the writers to develop the look of the show
As we learnt from Captain Jack himself, John Barrowman, his original great coat (hero coat) was changed in order for him not to sweat profusely during filming, what had been done in order for the coat to be completely altered to take in the different climate?
Shawna: First I was under a lot of scrutiny because he is sooo loved I had to get it right - I used a lighter weight wool - lined it instead with rayon instead of silk, removed about 2 feet from the bulk to shape it into a modern fit - and the fans approved
How much control on the designs for the characters of Torchwood did you have, or was it discussed as to how each one would look, and how often did the team have to come for fittings to have the right size outfits?
Shawna: We fit them every week for each episode - and once the producers trusted my ability I had a lot of freedom to design at will - but I always sought the approval of the creators to make sure I was on the right track
Because Gwen wears her usual black jacket, were there any alterations to her outfits to take in the change of climate?
Shawna: It’s a new jacket we did not use anything from the original series
Frances Fishers outfit looked quite a tight snug fit, and very much a matriarchal outfit, was this because of the character she played, that this type out design was structured for her figure and her character?
Shawna: Yes I wanted her to stand apart from the others
The clothing for Kitzinger worked well with her red hair. Do you have an idea of what clothes would suit the character during the filming, or are you not involved in that side of production?
Shawna: I designed every look for every character for the show - from what undergarments they should wear to what shoes
Mickie Newton: What was the most challenging aspect of Miracle Day?
Shawna: When the show went to England for about 7 days
Doreen Freitag: Why is Captain Jack Harkness wearing the same light-blue shirt and braces during the complete season was that to make him more recognisable?
Shawna: It’s his uniform
Doreen Freitag: Which episode was her favourite regarding the costume design challenge? Maybe Immortal Sins because of the other time period?
Shawna: Loved that episode
Claudia Lindner: Was it a challenge to design "civil", every day clothes for Captain Jack Harkness, which he wore in Ep. 4 when spying on Nicolas Frumkin with Gwen? And was the delivery man outfit for Jack her design?
Because it's hot!
Shawna: Yes I designed and styled everything