As time passes, the natural evolution of things can bring previously separated entities into close proximity and result in direct interaction. For example, in the past television was often looked upon as the less able and qualified sibling of feature films. Modern technology (streaming services, downloads, etc.) has brought about a modern golden age of TV. The shows available from the deluge of networks has given birth to productions that rival and sometimes exceed those of the silver screen. The ever increasing visibility of Hollywood A-listers on TV proves that these individuals recognize the quality of work being presented on the small screen these days. While not as obvious to the viewers, the talented men and women behind the screens are also found vacillating between feature film and television productions. Producers, directors, cinematographers, and others have embraced both mediums with respect to their quality work. Costume designer Jane Johnston is one such respected professional. With a long list of film credits that includes: The Ghost and The Whale, Mission Impossible II, Last Cab To Darwin, and Macbeth (for which she won and AFI Award for Best Costume Design), Johnston has been vetted many times over. Like the marquee names she has worked with on feature films, Jane has lent her talents to a number of TV films as well. Whether adding to the authenticity and emotion of the story or assisting the actors to play against type and find the essence of their character, Johnston’s thumbprint is always there in every production.
Jane signed on as costume designer for 2015’s “A Deadly Adoption” without any information about the cast; she simply wanted to work with Emmy award-winning director and producer Rachel Lee Goldenberg. Having worked with Rachel before, she was certain only the most talented would be involved. “A Deadly Adoption” would afford Johnston the opportunity to work with two of Hollywood’s biggest names, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig. In contrast to what one would presume, the film is a drama. With the two leads playing against type and public expectation, Jane would need to create a look for both of them that trepidatiously went down the path of seriousness. Always approaching the character first rather than the actor, Jane notes, “I just needed to get my head into the character and not think about the actors comedic past. I dressed them as if it were any two actors playing these roles. Both of them were so great to work with. They took their roles and their jobs seriously so it was the same approach I’ve had on other films. In this case the characters that were being played by Will Ferrell and Kristin Wiig were reasonably conservative and as they were playing it ‘straight’, there wasn’t meant to be anything that alluded to the humor they are known for. This also helped to contrast to the latter part of the film where things start to go awry and the craziness begins.”
Johnston’s process is to read the script (often multiple times) to discover who the character truly is…in much the same manner as the actors approach it. Preparing looks for the characters based on her own interpretation and conversations with the director, producer, and cinematographer, Jane finds that the fitting process with the actors often aids them in connecting to and discovering the characters. Many subtleties are taken into consideration. Jane explains, “Robert Benson (played by Ferrell) is a conservative man and it seemed to me that he came from the Midwest. He had been through some challenging times in his life and was ‘back on track’. I dressed him in classic clothing such as chinos and long sleeve button through shirts. His look didn’t change much until the later part of the film but it always remained true to his character. I think it was important to have the character look ‘straight’ particularly as it was being played by Will Ferrell and his fans will automatically have projected humor onto him. Kristen Wiig’s [role as] Sarah Benson was a little more ‘quirky’. She ran a stall at the markets and sold fresh breads and produce so I wanted her look to have that quality about it. She was also a busy mother and wife. I dressed Kristen in a few pairs of overalls and t-shirts and sneakers. She still looked cute but in a practical way. Again her look didn’t change much so it was a matter of giving the character depth and having them look believable.” Much like a game of ‘spot the difference’ anything that did not perfectly match the lifestyle and feel of these characters would take viewers immediately out of the scene and remind them that they were watching two of comedy’s biggest stars. This all meant that Johnston’s choices were highly important and ever so slight in their leanings. The film’s director, Goldenberg, proclaims, “Since both Mr. Ferrell and Ms. Wiig are arguably two of the biggest actors to star in a Marvista film, it was absolutely necessary that we have only the most talented and skilled costumer such as Jane on set. Needless to say, Jane was absolutely crucial to Marvista Entertainment as evidenced by the way that she perfectly captured the company’s brand of their films’ multi-dimensional but relatable characters. Through her impeccable costume design prowess, she became one of Marvista’s go-to department heads.”
Johnston was also brought aboard by Goldenberg for Marvista’s “Escape from Polygamy.” While this production may not have had all the instantly recognizable names of “A Deadly Adoption” the performances and the look of it resulted in overwhelming ratings. “Escape From Polygamy” was rated first in its premiere, which brought Marvista to global renown. As a result, Marvista garnered outstanding profit and saw an increase in revenue. This is the story of two young people in love who persevere in a romance in the midst of their Mormon community. The challenge for Jane was to create a look for the characters that was set in a modern polygamous compound. Sharon Bordas, EVP (Production & Development) of Marvista remarks, “I was so impressed with Jane’s professional and creative presence on set. She is resourceful and inventive. She possesses and exhibits the qualities that Marvista looks for in a costume designer: an artistic eye and the ability to find intelligent solutions, especially when working with a limited budget.”
Utilizing high collared conservative blouses and overalls and then offsetting them with slim fitting/modern clothes and even Chuck Taylor shoes, Jane blended the traditional and contemporary to inject the struggle of the characters and their actions. When asked about the incredible ratings response to “Escape from Polygamy” and her work on this production, she reveals, “It’s definitely has a self-esteem boost to it for sure! I was very proud of my work and I received some fantastic feedback and acknowledgement from many of the actors, the producer Sharon Bordas and Rachel the director. It was my privilege to take care of the actors and their characters and to fulfill my role as costume designer.”