Dressing Ghosts and Legends

While most Aucklanders are stuck in traffic commuting to and from the office, you’ll find Sarah Goodhue helicoptering in and out of the Southern Alps, zipping through the narrow streets of Hong Kong, or working from the palm-fringed shores of a tropical Fijian island.

Right now in fact she’s navigating the cultural wonderlands of Thailand and Vietnam, as the lead costume dresser for a post-Vietnam war film directed by Spike Lee. Days are long (sometimes 20 hours), and the pressure can be intense, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

"The film industry is an amazing place to work. I still don’t feel like I have a real job. I probably never will”

“The film industry is an amazing place to work. I still don’t feel like I have a real job. I probably never will,” says Sarah, who has forged an exciting career on set as an integral member of the costume department.

“I love that no two jobs are the same and no two days are the same. You’re always somewhere different working with new costumes, sets, designers and crew. I also love travelling so getting to travel around New Zealand and overseas for work is amazing.”

Sarah has worked on everything from Ghost in the Shell and Mortal Engines, to Avatar, Da 5 Bloods and Power Rangers - and in the past five years alone she’s worked out of New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, China and South East Asia.

“I work in the costume department and my role can vary from job to job, but I’m always set based, either in key crowd standby or as a lead costume dresser.”

On her current job she’s responsible for running three costume trucks, setting cast costume trailers, garment care and maintenance. She works with the costume designer to establish looks, and with the lead standby to follow costume continuity. Some days are massive, with over 200 extras, so when needed, Sarah also jumps in to help the designer with styling the background.

“My day always starts early. We arrive before the cast get in so we can set the trailers for them, and we’re the last ones to leave after we have wrapped their costumes. I spend a lot of time prepping, liaising with the 2nd AD and our costume supervisor, looking at the next day and the days to come. On this job we have to fly between different countries so I also have to make sure the right costumes are packed, we have enough baggage allowance, and generally think ahead to what the onset standby will need.”

"I remember this whole world opening up when I realised I could work in movies in New Zealand. I used to watch behind the scenes videos and think it looked like the most fun job in the world."

Sarah’s passion for the film industry was triggered at an early age.

“One of my friends at primary school was an extra in Lord of the Rings. I remember this whole world opening up when I realised I could work in movies in New Zealand. I used to watch behind the scenes videos and think it looked like the most fun job in the world.”

She graduated with a Diploma in Film and Television Production majoring in Art and Design in 2005 and has been immersed in the world of film ever since.

“My first job was art directing a kids’ show called Studio 2 for TVNZ which I loved but I always wanted to work in costume. A few years later I was lucky enough to be taken on as a costume assistant on Legend of the Seeker, where I got to learn from some of the best costumers in the business.”

When that wrapped, she went on to Spartacus and Power Rangers, moving up the ranks to lead dresser and onset standby.

“My first big film was The Hobbit, working in the extras and stunt costume team. It gave me the confidence to step up into key set roles. In between the big jobs I worked on a lot of local drama, mostly as the lead dresser, sometimes as an onset standby. Every job I did I learned something new.”

Working on the Hillary TV series high up in the Southern Alps brought its fair share of challenges and excitement. 

“Every morning I had to talk with the mountain safety team and make sure the actors would be heading up with the right layers to keep them warm, and then every night I had to plan out how many bags we were taking with us for the helicopter manifest. The conditions change so quickly up there we had an emergency tent in case the weather turned and we couldn’t fly out.”

From here Sarah was snapped up as key background standby for Ghost in the Shell, in charge of the on set team looking after the extras and stunts costumes in Wellington and Hong Kong. She considers this to be one of her greatest career highlights so far.

“We had some amazing costumes and filmed at some crazy locations all over Hong Kong. We did some big days (18-20 hours!) and we all went a bit crazy, but getting to work in Hong Kong was very cool.”

A job on Mortal Engines came hot on the heels of Ghost in the Shell, and last year Sarah spent two months in Fiji working on The Other Side of Heaven Part 2.

“It was so great; we were based in Pacific Harbour so we would work all week and then go diving all weekend.”

After returning from Fiji she was snapped up as the key crowd standby for a yet-to-be released Disney movie.

“I had one week’s prep in Auckland and then I flew to China for five weeks.  We also shot in the South Island for a month with large amounts of extras - some days I had as many as 28 people in my team helping me. That was one of the projects I’m most proud of. It was a huge job across three very different locations but together with my team we pulled it off.”

It’s a whirlwind lifestyle that’s not for the fainthearted, but for Sarah it’s a dream come true.

“You have to love it. We do long hours but I love what I do, I love the people I work with and I love seeing the projects I’ve worked on come together. Finding balance can be challenging – it’s so easy to jump from job to job but remembering to take time out when you need it is important. Luckily I love to travel.”

In the 15 years since Sarah launched her career, New Zealand’s film industry has gone from strength to strength.

“There are so many more of the bigger jobs coming here now. It’s great because it opens up a lot more entry level positions and gives newcomers the chance to make contacts in the industry.”

And does she have any words of wisdom to share with these newcomers? Absolutely.

“Work ethic is so important – it will take you way further than experience in this industry. Be open to possibilities. Someone once told me I was taking a step backwards when I took a lower job, but funnily enough it led me straight into my first costume job. Everything I have done has helped me be where I am today.”

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