Mr Gammon: Master Craftsman

November 21, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Insight into one of the many specialists it takes to make a good ad.

Photograph by Jonathan Daniel Pryce  ©JDPryce

 

One of the most striking things about filmmaking in advertising is the vast armies assembled of specialists in many different skills that each shoot musters. There are a hundred different crafts in the industry. One of the great things about the British Arrows CRAFT awards is that these craftspeople are celebrated where other awards might pass them by.

Mr Gammon is one such craftsman. One of the industry’s best costume designers, he won the award for Best Costume / Wardrobe in 2014 for his incredible work on the Guinness Sappeurs ad. With this year’s CRAFT winners being announced this Wednesday night, we chatted to Mr Gammon to work out what sort of person it takes to win such an accolade.

 

 

The Beak Street Bugle: How would you describe your craft to a member of the public?
Mr Gammon: 
There are many heads to the beast of being a costume designer in commercials. One of them is the political liaison between agency, client and director. You’re an extension of the director as well as being his or her ambassador, as well as setting a tone for the actors when they’re first cast on the job.

When people know that you’re a costume designer, often when it’s a detergent commercial and it’s a mum and dad in jeans and T-shirts, they would often think ‘what did you actually do?’ But the beauty of a good costume designer is to look like you were never there at all.

Often it’s not a case of going out and buying a bunch of stuff, but seeing who they’ve cast as an actor and thinking about who the characters are. The great thing for me is that there are so many different kinds of scripts. You could be doing science fiction, a horde of Vikings or even a horde of zombies. Often it’s about working to budget, facilitating so it goes how the agency and production company want it to go. And you’re trying to push it as much as possible. There’s a great craft to all of that.

 

BSB: What sort of person makes a good costume designer?
MG:
Someone who’s got the patience of a saint, who can wear his hat at a jaunty angle and has a wry or dry sense of humour. If you’re doing a job with a cast of thousands you need to be able to push people in the right direction.

For example I did a Bond job for Tom Kuntz in Croatia where I had to motivate my local Croatian costume department. We had about 400 in the cast. A lot of them had never done a commercial before and I was trying to make it look chic and Italian with bright colours and make sure the costumes reflected Lake Como and the locations we wanted it to look like. So I’m there on crowd days trying to motivate my team at three in the morning, trying to get everyone ready for six in the morning, trying to wrangle people whose English might not be very good. Then once you’ve done all of that you have to go off to agency and client and make sure they’re happy, do a bit of finessing if you need to, to try and get it nailed.

 

BSB: Whose craftsmanship do you most admire?
MG:
I could list an entire crew. Or I could list the craftsmen, model makers, tailors and machinists I work with who carve my drawings into the work I’m known for. But what I do admire is the craft of cinematographers like Martin Ruhe, Tim Maurice Jones, Stephen Keith-Roach. Artists all, capturing light and filming our work to look the best it possibly can.

If you look at someone like Dave Lee, production designer. He’s the master of massive sets and props, creating the worlds that I can plonk my costumes in. I love the synergy of working with a brilliant production designer.

It’s the other people that you work with that make the work so beautiful. There’s no point in my costumes looking good if the lighting’s shit.

 

BSB: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done this year?
MG:
I worked on a drama for ITV called Dark Heart. The brilliant thing about that was that not only do I help fill the content that goes between the dramas, I’m now helping create the dramas themselves. It’s like working on both sides of the coin. That was a marvellous job to work on. It was great to prove to people who don’t work in commercials that the vision could extend to two hours. As much as I love science fiction and Vikings and period costume, it’s also nice to prove that I can do red carpet and look after big celebrities and deal with the politics of that as well.

I also did hordes of zombies for Tom Kuntz and eBay. That was part of a 15-year relationship I’ve had with Tom for some of the most wonderful jobs that I’ve worked on. I really enjoyed doing that.

 

BSB: What are your goals for 2017?
MG:
When I’m truly happy is when you give me a cast of thousands with a difficult agency and difficult client. I always look forward to those challenges.

I’d love to do more science fiction. It’s always been a personal passion of mine. When I was a kid the stuff I was inspired by got me into costume and fashion. The idea of something that was otherworldly but would still be wearable today. And coming up with something where you’re taking something from one era and putting it together with something else, surfing on the waves of time travel.

I love designing stuff that’s three dimensional. Give me a brief to design a fighting astronaut. More of that is what I’d love to see next year.

 

Check out Mr Gammon's work on his website or have a look at his Instagram feed.

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