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From The Past To The Present In “Sleepy Hollow”: Costume Designer Kristin M. Burke

BY: Marjorie Galas, Editor

The construction of period costumes generally involves vintage fabrics and specific materials Costume designer Kristin Burke has found other creative means to create believable, detailed Revolutionary War military outfits, men’s suits and women’s gowns seen in “Sleepy Hollow.”

“We shoot in Wilmington, North Carolina. There’s no fabric stores filled with silk or costume rental houses here,” said Burke. “There’s just a Jo-Ann’s craft store. We are very limited in obtaining supplies.”

Fortunately, Burke is not a novice to the world of costume design and has a few creative tricks up her sleeve. Upon graduating from college where she created costumes for the theater department, Burke began her professional career working under producer Roger Corman and creating nine films a year. Enjoying the process of film production she soon had nearly fifty feature credits under her belt, including “Crossing Over”, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” and “The Conjuring”. Burke had done a few television movies in the past but hadn’t attached herself to a series.

Departing for another commitment, fellow costume designer Sanja Hays suggested Burke take over her position on “Sleepy Hollow” after the pilot’s costumes were completed. In learning the storyline followed literary figure Ichabod Crane who’s been resurrected into the current day, searching down the “Headless Horseman” and battling evil elements initiated during the birth of the United States, she was eager to get involved.

“For a story to combine contemporary and period is a costume designers dream. It’s hard to find this combination, especially in TV,” said Burke. “And this show is unlike anything else being done in TV. During the first season we were shooting two to three units at the same time. I definitely picked the hardest to start with.”

Discovering the limitations of local resources, Burke quickly found smart approaches that enable her to create believable costumes that are true to the story line and provide enjoyment and believability for the viewers. Due to the lack of costume rental houses near Wilimington, all period pieces have to be constructed. Working under a tight schedule with limitations to obtaining authentic fabrics, Burke’s crew has amassed roughly thirty bolts of linens, silks and wools. These neutral materials can be conformed to look like specialty fabrics, such as damask, through dyeing and alterations. She also has a point person in Los Angeles who wrangles fabrics, provide swatches, and overnight designs that are often used hours after receipt.

While Burke receives the scripts in advance, some secondary characters are not cast in time for a fitting. Along with her nine person crew, Burke will design costumes with an assessment of performer’s dimensions. Men’s clothing will be sewn with a two inch hem that allows the team to easily take in or loosen the fabric. A lace up back, similar to a corset, will be employed in gowns and dresses; the laces will be pulled taught to obtain a perfect fit in the bodice. A number of other tricks, such as employing lace to hide hems or adding an accessory to cover a split seam have helped build the costumes during the fast turn-around. Burke also works within a strict color confines, minimizing primary colors to enhance the tension and the mood.

“Len Wiseman, the creator of ‘Sleepy Hollow’, has such a creative, visual mind. He directed the pilot and asked Sanja not to use blue,” said Burke. “Blue is a hopeful color. We can do some shades, primarily grayish-blue, but the detectives are dressed in more browns and greens. Color is purposefully bleached out.”

In addition to collaborating closely with the art and camera crews to ensure the costume’s design and tone will work best in the scenes, Burke also works closely with the makeup department to achieve desired effects. In a season one episode that required a golem, Wiseman wanted the creature’s appearance to be evocative of a boy’s doll wearing a gladiator’s skirt. Working closely with makeup department head Corey Castellano who crafted a visage that interwove rags and earthy elements, Burke and her team created a design that evoked the golem’s doll-like origins while adding height. Goth books with six inch heels were covered with leather straps were a final detail in making the creature taller.

Although Burke often clocked very long hours – 100 hour work weeks were not uncommon during “Sleepy Hollow’s” first season – she remains committed to the film world. While she done contemporary and comic films throughout the last few years, most of her films fall into the “scary movie” genre. “Not every scary movie has horror. The semantics are important.” She’s welcomed define characters through a costume’s color, shape and silhouette under the direction of James Wan, who she began collaborating with on the 2006 Kevin Bacon feature “Death Sentence.”

“James is just a deeply wonderful human being and a joy to be with. He told me he had a great project he wanted me to do that didn’t pay. For me, working with him is the reward,” said Burke, referring to the 2010 hit “Insidious.” “When we did ‘The Conjuring’, we had a bigger budget. Both movies just blew up in a way we never expected.”

With her dog in tow, Burke is currently focusing on the beauty of period pieces and the scary element s that will appear in the second season of “Sleepy Hollow.”

“Where back for eight months. There were milestones I wanted to hit with the show,” said Burke. “If I didn’t come back and I discovered I missed the opportunity, I would be really upset.”

Burke will join costume designers Ann Foley (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Lizz Wolf (The Expendables 3), Arianne Phillips (Kingsman: The Secret Service) and Mary Vogt (Men in BlackiI,II & III) on a Costume  Design panel at Comic Con.  The panel will take place Saturday, 7/26 from 11:00am – 12:00pm in room 23ABC.

Costumes from “Sleepy Hollow” are currently on display in “The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design” at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising from July 22 through September 20th, 2014.