Spotlight: Carolyn Leone, Costume Designer

Can you offer a brief intro/bio, including your occupation/focus/interests?

I was born and raised in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.  I studied Costume Design at The University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana.  After graduation, I moved to Los Angeles.  I lived and worked in Los Angeles for nine years, then was hired on a television series in San Diego. I lived and worked in San Diego for another nine years.  At this point in my career, I was hired by Warner Brothers to be the Costume Designer for the television series EVERWOOD.  When I came to Salt Lake City to work on EVERWOOD, my only prior experience with Salt Lake had been being a spectator at the 2001 Olympics, and I thought I would only be in the state temporarily.  I spent a few years working half time in California, and half time in Utah.  But over time, I began to enjoy working in Utah so much better, that I am pretty much full time in Utah these days.  I love the mountains, the wonderful wardrobe crew members, and the lack of traffic!

Did you always want to pursue work as a costume designer? You’ve also been credited as an actress. Was that a career path you were interested in?

I was never very much interested in being an actress.  Although I always found it to be fun.  I ended up having a few “acting credits”, because I had been a gymnast in high school.  I was working in the Wardrobe Department on a television series, and they pulled me in to do some tumbling when a stunt women was a “no-show”.   Then the strangest thing happened, about once a year a different stunt coordinator would call and ask me if I could still tumble, and in my younger years, I could honestly still say yes, and they would hire me for one day to put on a costume and a wig, tumble a little, and get a pay check.  It wasn’t a bad once a year gig, to make some money in the lean years.

How did you initially get into the industry?

My sister Margaret was the person who first interested me in studying Costume Design.  She was a few years older than me, and had studied Theatre Arts in college.  She really thought I would enjoy Costume Design.  I tried a couple of classes, and really fell into loving it.  The way I initially broke into the “industry” is that I signed up to do temp office work through a temp company that contracted with Production Companies.  So even though I was answering phones and filing papers, I was surrounded with people who were making movies.  It was pretty easy to tell anyone in a Wardrobe Department that you are willing to work for free.  You usually can’t finish the sentence before your standing on a wardrobe trailer washing the dirty socks of the rich and famous.

Can you tell us about your experience, both living and working in Utah?

I am a huge fan of the state of Utah.   I could not believe the amazing talents and work ethics of the crew I “inherited” from a local designer when I started on EVERWOOD.  I also could not believe how community minded everyone was.   It is so common in Utah that people include you in things, that they do not even think of it as a “thing”.   It is lovely, and inviting.  A local organization called Spy Hop invited me to be on their board of directors.  The former film commissioner Leigh von der Esch phoned me personally to ask if I might consider staying in Utah after EVERWOODcanceled, because she knew that there were very few from my tribe in the state.  Even my neighbors showed concern that I might be leaving Utah to head back to California permanently.  It truly is a unique and amazing quality for a state to have.

How do you typically prepare for a job?

I read the script.   Then read the script.  Then….read the script.    THEN, write down all of my impressions, and start researching.  Another thing I try to do right away, is call all my favorite crew, and beg them not to say yes to another project, while I am figuring out the details of getting them hired on my project.  I have learned over the years, that you can never know the script too well.  And even if your “artistic vision” is different from the directors, they still always appreciate that you are bringing something to the table.  Most of my projects end up being an interesting mixture of my ideas, and the directors, and show runners ideas.  That’s what creates a truly original product.  The final project will not look like “I” designed it, because there is always some sort of “We” involved.  It is the magic of the movies.

How much of a Utah presence did you feel on the set of Utah-made productions that you have worked on (in terms of locations, cast and crew)?

Many of the projects I work on use the full gambit of what Utah has to offer.  Sweeping mountain views, to dank city alleyways.  The diversity is amazing. And, our local Location Managers are amazing.  Every time I think I’ve seen it all, they blow me away with some cool interesting spot that I’ve never seen.

Can you tell us a cool or funny experience that you had on one of your recent film sets?

I spent a full 20 minutes working on the set of Yellowstone, trying to not “bother” Kevin Costner, because he was sitting in the same  room reading a newspaper.  Then realized, it was his stand in.  I also did not want to “bother” the stand in.  They look so much like each other, that it is uncanny.

If you could work with anyone or anything, who or what would it be?

I would love to work with Colleen Atwood.  She is my personal favorite Costume Designer.  As far as directors and producers go.  Wouldn’t it be great to work with Martin Scorsese?  I’m not sure if I’ll ever get the chance, but if you’ve ever seen him interviewed, you know that he has an almost child like exuberance toward not only his projects, but the entire topic of story telling.  You almost have to smile when you hear him talking about film making.

Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself?

I am the youngest of nine children.  I love to cook.  I can still do a cartwheel, but the Stunt Coordinators have stopped calling.

What advice would you give to a local who is trying to get into the industry?

Join the Motion Picture Association of Utah (MPAU), so you will have the opportunity to meet the people who are making films in Utah.
Be easy to spend time with, behave as if no job is below you,  and do not give up.


Visit the MPAU website for more information. Look for an invite from the MPAU for their next networking event on Thursday, January 10, 2019 at Lake Effect. Event updates will be listed on the Utah Film Commission event calendar.

Syd Smoot is the Film Office Coordinator at the Utah Film Commission. She’s a Utah native and studied cinema studies at Northeastern University. 

For any press and media inquiries, contact the Utah Film Commission at filmpress@utah.gov.