Fairytale Chic - Design & Once Upon A Time

   So, with Songbird officially moving from development into pre-production soon, myself and my team have been looking at other films and TV shows that deal with real world/fairytale crossovers. While some of this research has meant re-watching respected classics (including Labyrinth, Pan's Labyrinth and Wizard of/Return to Oz), some of the things we've looked at are more in the realms of mainstream popularity than critical acclaim.

  One of the latter is a TV show that's a bit of a guilty pleasure (bordering on guilty addiction) for myself and producer Laura C. Cann: Once Upon A Time

The evil queen's monochrome office. Check out that forest-print wallpaper!
- Once Upon A Time (ABC)
   Once Upon A Time - or OUAT for short - is full of epic happenings, obvious CGI and cheesy dialogue (which kind of makes sense in a world where people frequently rip out their own hearts to show to people), but it's perfect Netflix binge-watching material. It's an ABC offering, and it has a lot in common with some of the studio's previous offerings; it has the same dual-storyline narrative through flashbacks as the equally addictive Lost (it also shares a few cast members), and it has Desperate Housewives' penchant for power dressing, melodramatic affairs and red apples. So, somewhat to my shame, I am hooked.

   There's an obvious comparable to Songbird as well; it features a modern-day heroine, who doesn't believe in magic but is thrown into a fantasy world (just as with Jennifer in our film). For OUAT, this heroine is Emma Swan, a leather-jacket-and-vest-top clad New Yorker who sprouts such overtly streetwise one-liners as, "You don't need a hope speech. You need a drinking buddy. Shots?" and "Of course I can't speak Elvish - I haven't even seen Lord of the Rings!" She grounds the show in relatability and is part of its universal family appeal.

  So yes, it's an obvious comparable for Songbird, and it might share our target audience as well as a real-world heroine. But I've wanted an excuse to write about OUAT for a while, and the main thing I want to talk about is the show's design. And I'm not talking about the greenscreen castles and big, sparkly frocks of the fairytale scenes (which can't seem to decide on a period or style. Yes, I know it's fantasy, but I like a sense of uniformity across costume design to help establish the world it's set in). 
Robin Hood in a waxed jacket:
Once Upon A Time (ABC)

   I want to talk about the way series costume designer Eduardo Castro and long-time production designer Michael Joy help to bring the fairytale characters into our world without losing their personality, and without making them boring by comparison to the fantasy-filled flashbacks.

  The first stroke of brilliance here is the character design. Sometimes the characters appear exactly as they do in Disney's main outputs (partially due to their current popularity. For this reason, the Frozen characters were shoehorned in without realistic clothing or grit), but often Castro is able to bring elements of the characters' personalities and established colour pallets into modern day clothing and accessories. So the Evil Queen is a shoulder-pad wearing business woman, Snow White is squeaky clean in collared dresses and pastel-coloured cardigans, and Robin Hood (in one of my favourite costume designs of the series) looks like he's just raided Millets or Mountain Warehouse.

  The next way they make this work is through the set design of the character's main spaces. (It's rediculous how lovely and detailed these sets are compared to the falseness of the CGI scenes, but I won't keep harping on about that...). Again, the fairytale shapes, colours and features are all there; the pawn broker's (secretly run by Rumplestiltskin) is rich with dark wood, antiques and brocade wallpaper; the Evil Queen's office has grand pillars and forest-print wallpaper in monochrome tones (often with a fruit bowl of apples on the table); and Snow White's uber-fashionable loft apartment looks as though it was filled with shabby-chic, country-style knickknacks found for her by obedient woodland creatures.

Snow White's 'chabby chic' loft apartment: Once Upon A Time (ABC)


  The final reason I want to celebrate these designers is because of the fine details you don't spot on a first viewing (the key to all the best film design, I believe). Here's just two examples of this; Emma Swan wears a man's bootlaces on her wrist from the end of series one onwards. Attention is never drawn to these - they're just a part of her outfit. But, if you look carefully, they actually belonged to a main character who was killed off in the first series, and wearing his boot laces on her wrist is clearly Emma's way of remembering him, or keeping him with her. 

Belle faces her 'darker self'. But what's that print on her scarf...? - Once Upon A Time (ABC)
   Second example, in a scene where Belle looks into a mirror that reveals the 'darker side' of one's nature (bear with me on this one), she is wearing a scarf with a subtle print. I peered in close, out of curiosity, to see what was on the print (yes, I am that nerdy with costume design); it was daggers. Later in that scene, the mirror was going to reveal to Belle that the dagger her husband gave her was a fake, meaning he hadn't given up his power or his evil ways. So the costume foreshadowed a greatly important discovery for its wearer! Genius.


   If you want to get hooked on this corny but enjoyable 'fantasy soap opera' too, you can catch it on Netflix. Or, if you just want to find out more about the costumes, there's a good tour of the costume department on YouTube you can watch.

   So, how can myself and my team achieve a similarly successful fantasy/real-world crossover in Songbird? Well, we're going to keep thinking of different ways throughout pre-production, but one important element - as with OUAT - will definitely be the costume design. And here's the first character designs to give you a taste of the direction we'll be going in:

  That's all for now. Don't forget to follow the Triskelle Pictures Facebook page for updates about Songbird as they happen!



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