Some might call Sloane True, ’11, lucky for landing her first job out of college working for the costume designer on Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln. But it was more than luck that helped True create and build a successful career in the film and television industry. Her energetic persistence, along with help from friends in the industry that helped her land her first job on the set of Spielberg’s film, launched her into the world of costuming for major film and television projects in the Richmond area.
“I moved to New York right after I graduated, but just kept coming back to Richmond to work, so I eventually moved back here,” she says. “People think you have to work and live in New York or L.A. to be involved in the film and television industry, but that’s just not true,” she says. “I’ve had more experience and opportunities in the costuming field in Richmond than I would have in a larger city. Because Richmond’s a smaller city, we have this great sense of community in the industry—everyone knows everyone—and my colleagues and I really want to help each other succeed.”
Richmond’s rich history, coupled with its artistic community offers a special kind of realism for historical fiction. Recent projects True has been involved with include AMC’s Turn: Washington's Spies, a historical fiction drama about the Revolutionary War, PBS’s Mercy Street, a historical fiction drama about life in a Civil War hospital, and Imperium, an FBI thriller starring Daniel Radcliffe. “A lot of the filming for the historical projects takes place around the James River Plantations, because they were built in the 17–1800s,” True says.
From a costuming standpoint, working in Richmond provides great opportunities. The historical films and television shows filmed in the area often involve elaborate, old-fashioned costumes that require coordinating multiple layered pieces, dressing the actors in complicated corsets, and maintaining continuity from scene to scene. “I prefer working in the historical fiction genre Richmond does so well,” True says. “Even though it’s harder, you learn so much more about the past and how the social politics of something as important as the Civil War potentially influenced individuals and the narratives that we hear today.”
As for how she began working in the field, True says costuming chose her. “I love costuming because there’s an artistic element to coordinating clothing to create the best scene, but there’s also an analytic side to it as well, in making sure the actors don’t look like actors on a set,” she says. “It’s a special type of coordinated chaos.” She says the rest of her success comes from reaching out to friends in the industry and being willing to put in the time and effort. During her senior year, theatre professor Johann Stegmeir invited True to travel with him to New York and intern on the set of a film project he was working on at the time. It was while working with Stegmeir, that True met Amy Andrews Harrell, costume designer for Mercy Street. “Amy is the one who has helped me get most of the jobs that I do, so I’m eternally grateful to her,” she says.
True and a small team help the creative vision behind each production come to life on camera. “We, [the set costuming team], make the actors look the way you see them when you watch TV," she says. "We are the last step in costuming production. The design team creates the costumes through an extensive process and they turn them over to us. Then we take those costumes and dress the actors each day, helping them create their character partly in what and how they wear their costume."
But all the opportunity found in Richmond means increased responsibility and longer hours for True, a part of the film and television industry that she is more than willing to embrace. A typical day for True can begin as early as 4 or 5 a.m., and she’ll find herself on set anywhere between 14 and 16 hours a day or more.
“I’m not going to lie—it takes a lot of hard work to be successful in this industry,” she says. “You work so many hours a day that if you’re not moving all the time, you’re almost falling asleep.” But UR’s theatre department prepared her well. “You never just went to class from 10 to 2 and then relaxed the rest of the day. There was always something going on in the theatre department, and I was always involved, if not for class, on my own time,” she says.
True encourages all students thinking about going into the film and television industry to think about their skills. “The job you want may not always look how you imagine, but get out there and give everything a try—you never know what you might fall in love with.”