Member Spotlight: Odessa Bennett
Get to know award-winning 891 Costume Designer Odessa Bennett, who specializes in period costuming, sci-fi world-building, and LGBTQ+ representation.
Odessa Bennett spends a lot of time checking out other people’s shoes.
The award-winning 891 Costume Designer likes to people-watch at coffee shops. It’s part of their creative process, and they’re fascinated by the subtle way clothes and shoes can communicate a person’s story.
“Often I'll be sitting having coffee and I'll just watch to see what everyone’s shoes are and what the new shoe trends are,” says Odessa.
“There's a language to sneakers and a language to clothes and I need to know how to speak that language...If I'm dressing young people, I need to know the language of sneakers and who's wearing what and in what condition.”
Starting in the world of theatre, with a background in acting and design, Odessa worked as a fashion stylist before transitioning into the world of film. Acting was their first love, but Odessa wanted to explore other forms of storytelling.
“I didn't like only playing the characters that stereotypically looked like me — because that's how casting works, you play people who look like you. What I love about costume design is I get to help create a real 3D thing with an actor that is not them.”
Odessa specializes in period costuming, sci-fi world-building, and LGBTQ+ representation. Their work costume designing a gay wedding set at Halloween for the film Under Wraps 2 recently dazzled its way into a nomination for a 2023 CAFTCAD Award.
“For me, as a queer parent, it just can't get any better than dressing a Halloween gay wedding. To do this gothic, queer, gay love story, it made me so happy to be making a film that I wish I would have had as a kid because there was just so little representation.”
Odessa is no stranger to CAFTCAD Awards, having won one in 2020. Their past work has also been nominated for Leo Awards. Their credits include feature films such as The Revenant and Under Wraps.
“I've had some really amazing opportunities recently through IATSE to portray queer relationships and queer parenting,” says Odessa. “It's such a privilege to dress these people and to help create these characters that then are known by the world.”
FROM SHADOWING TO LEADING
Odessa first entered the motion picture industry through a trainee internship program with IATSE 212 in Calgary before moving to Vancouver. They admit being a little intimidated by the union world at first, because of the paperwork involved in joining, but the trainee program allowed them to get a wide range of experience.
“I shadowed the designer. I shadowed the assistant designer. I went into the breakdown room. I was in the sewing room. I was on set. I was on the truck. I did everything, and it was such a beautiful opportunity,” says Odessa.
They advise people entering the industry, particularly those interested in costume design, to gain experience in as many roles in your department as possible.
“It helped me be a better boss because I understand how long things should take. I understand the process. I understand the intricacies.”
Now, leading teams of up to 20 people, Odessa’s work as a costume designer for film and television starts by studying a script and talking with the director to look for ways costuming can build a character’s personality.
“Accessories, like a bracelet, a ring, a necklace, all those things, they have all these signifiers for us and so much of it is unconscious,” says Odessa. “I love bringing that unconsciousness to the forefront. It's my jam.”
Another important aspect is building the character’s story arc.
“Where do their colours come out? Where do they get more layered? Which moments do they really sparkle? It's finding all those beats and then figuring out how costuming can help the audience understand the inner life of that character.”
Most of their work designing and crafting costumes happens off set, so they rely on having a strong Costume set supervisor and a team of people who are good at problem-solving on set. One memorable experience in Under Wraps 2 involved what Odessa refers to as “the chocolate fountain fiasco.”
A particular scene involves a chocolate fountain exploding onto the lead actress. However, during the shoot, something went awry. All the other cast and background actors, in Halloween costumes that Odessa’s team had spent so much time building, ended up drenched or splattered. Odessa learned later about how the team hand-washed items in sinks and spot-cleaned chocolate off everyone so quickly that they didn’t even hold up the shoot.
At the end of the day, motion picture production is intense collaborative work. Who you end up working with can make all the difference, and it’s something Odessa keeps in mind when choosing their team.
“I won't always go for the most experienced person, because I would rather go work with people who are excited to be there."
PROTECTING PEOPLE’S PASSION FOR FILMMAKING
Odessa is a big believer in the power of storytelling and values working with others who share that passion.
“I love collaborative filmmaking. I feel like stories have a unique ability to come into people’s comfort zone and to show them what it is to be another person. You can have a degree of empathy and understanding for people who are not of your race, or culture, or sexuality, or gender.”
It can sometimes be demanding work. Long hours and stress can take a hard toll, and Odessa says leaders in the industry need to do better. People’s passion for filmmaking is something Odessa wants to see better supported and protected.
“What I love is being able to choose my own teams and create a culture in my workplace that is as humane as possible, because I feel like filmmaking is not easy, and it is so hard on us and our families.”
Odessa wants to see a bigger push for motion picture production that supports workers in being parents and community members.
“People need to respect that film workers are also humans that have lives,” says Odessa, adding that it’s not okay to normalize workers’ weekends being eaten up with long Friday workdays that don’t end until Saturday morning – known in the industry as “fraturdays.” They are happy, however, to see the Union taking steps towards better protecting workers.
“I am grateful to IATSE for having things like the Anonymous Hotline, which I've never had to use, but there is recourse with our on-set Union Representatives,” says Odessa.
Advocating for safer work environments is another one of Odessa’s passions, and inclusion is an important piece of that. They’re pleased to see the Union taking steps towards gender-inclusive language, such as using the word “kin” and handing out buttons that allow people to identify their pronouns.
“More and more our Union is becoming a safer and safer place for people that are gender diverse,” says Odessa.
Inclusion is important both behind and in front of the camera, and Odessa is intentional about creating working environments and supporting projects that expand opportunities for people who have been marginalized.
“I want more diversity within our industry,” says Odessa.
“I personally want to tell more queer stories because I know these worlds. I know these people. I have a subtlety and understanding of queer bodies that other people don't have because of my lived experience. I want to see the same thing for people of colour in our industry and for other intersectional people.”
They’re hopeful about the future of filmmaking but want to see the industry increase efforts to make space for diverse people and their stories.
“Film has a unique ability to slip past people's defenses because it's just a story, but then it really teaches us something about what it is to be human in diverse ways, and what it is to experience different ways of being embodied. That’s really important to me.”
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