BILLY SUTER chats to Durban-based stylist PATRICK FLYNN, who has worked on cinema and television projects. He has chalked up 12 years of industry experience, specialising in TV adverts. His portfolio covers wardrobe styling, set dressing, buying and sourcing for shoots, and set builds and props making. He also handles styling and art direction for short films, music videos and photographic stills productions. Patrick is also the owner of STYLEbudd, a Durban costume and prop-hire shop.
WHERE AND WHEN WERE YOU BORN AND WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I was born in Durban in 1973 and grew up in Vryheid in Northern KwaZulu- Natal. I did all my schooling in Vryheid, then our family moved to the Cape when I was 20.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST DISCOVER YOU HAD A FLAIR FOR STYLING?
Growing up in Vryheid, most arts and creative stuff wasn’t too easily at hand, but I did a few art lessons after school, in my mid-teens.
I had a keen interest in fashion in the ’80s, and I often thought of becoming a hair stylist but never did pursue that,
My mom made a lot of her own clothes and also for our domestic servant’s children. My mom could draw just about anything and was a really good dressmaker.
My dad was a well-known and much loved and respected business owner, but his only creative talent was a really good singing voice.
It was only when I moved to Cape Town in my late 20s, in search of work, that I discovered a whole new world – the film industry!
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE STYLING BUSINESS?
I first started out in the film industry in Cape Town in 2002, when I was looking at a career change.
I was living in a commune with a few other guys, one of them being a production manager. We got talking one evening about his career. Also, I had been on a couple of sets as a “background extra” so I had a rough idea of what goes on.
He suggested I sign up with a crew agency and find out which department I best fit. I started out as a production assistant/runner and would offer my assistance to the costume designer, steaming the wardrobe and helping them wherever needed.
WHERE DID YOU FIRST FIND YOUR NICHE?
I found my niche in wardrobe first and then ventured into the art department – props and set dressing – as well. I love styling the most.
WHAT BROUGHT YOU BACK TO KWAZULU-NATAL?
When I heard there was a growing film industry in KZN I felt the need to come “home”. So I packed up my flat in 2008 and moved back to Durban to establish myself as a local stylist, and also started my costume prop hire business.
YOU TOOK ON A PARTNER TOO?
I met my husband, Karl, in 2010 and he now also helps me with making props and other art pieces for events and film productions. We married at a friend’s home in Kloof in February 2013.
Karl has a fulltime job at a warehousing company but is an artist in his own right. He makes most of my props.
I enjoy the arts, theatre, and we attend the theatre at least once or twice a month. We live in Glenwood, and enjoy eating out, chilling at home, dinner with friends and church life.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST MOVIE YOU WORKED ON – AND WHAT DO YOU RECALL OF THAT EXPERIENCE?
It was Wake of Death, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. I had recently made contact with a well-known costume designer in Cape Town and gave her my card. She said she’d call me if she needed any crew, although they were already about halfway through shooting and fully “crewed up”.
I still remember being on my bed in my flat and getting the call. One of her wardrobe truck supervisors had walked off the job and they needed an immediate replacement.
It was a night shoot, and I think the call time was around 5.30pm, so I got read, got on a bus and got myself into town and on set. Fortunatel,y they were shooting in central Cape Town at the time so getting to set was pretty easy.
I remember all the excitement… there were a lot of fight scenes and things getting blown up! We were on the main unit. Prior to that I had only worked on a few TV commercials, mostly as a PA or cast driver, so this was my first movie that I got to work on.
WHAT ARE SOME TV SHOWS OR FILMS YOU HAVE BEEN INOLVED WITH – AND IN WHAT CAPACITY?
I did a lot of the set dressing and buying for e.tv’s first season of The Biggest Loser in KwaZulu-Natal All the pre-production work was done by the production designer in Joburg and sent to Durban and set up. She then handed over the set to me and it was my responsibility to do the rest.
I built the show’s “elimination room” from an empty shell. The only piece they sent down from Joburg was the table. The rest was up to me to decorate and dress. It was a fun project.
I lived on the North Coast for about five months while on that job. I did most of my buying and sourcing between Umhlanga and Ballito.
My job also entailed setting up background dressing, like banners and a few other things on each of the contestant challenges.
I also had to dress two houses and source and dress the “confessional fridge” (a fridge dressed with temptation foods, and with no backing so camera crew could film the contestant). It remains one of the most exciting jobs I have worked on.
I have also dressed numerous sets and styled local and international commercials over the years – including for Kulula, Pep Stores, Designer Shoe Co, Mandy’s Wax, Spar, Smirnoff Spin, Wally’s Ice Cream, Shoprite, Snickers and many others.
Art department and wardrobe often go hand in hand, so I work in various capacities – from wardrobe styling to set dressing, buying, sourcing and art directing.
WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES?
In terms of films, script breakdowns are always a challenge. You have to keep asking yourself the question, “What If?”, and see each scene from every possible angle. It is so easy to miss something.
Attention to detail is a priority. I always try to be over-prepared than under prepared. People don’t realise just much goes into making a film or even a 30-second TV commercial.
In a personal capacity, a challenge is pushing through the hard times, when there is very little or no work going around. Durban is a small but growing industry.
Our crew don’t always have work, like in the other major cities, but we are all passionate about what we do. It’s the passion for what I do that drives me.
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST RECENT FILM PROJECT AND ITS CHALLENGES?
My most recent work was a two-month contract on a film that is still being shot in and around South Africa. I am not allowed to give any details, but I was employed to dress sets and do most of the buying for Durban.
We dressed the sets, handed them over to the production designer and would then move on to dressing the next set. It was very different to the usual being on set (up to 14 hours in a day). It certainly had its challenges but I really enjoyed it and learned a lot.
We shot a few scenes in market areas around Durban, which is always a challenge due to overcrowding and congestion, but nevertheless I am always proud when internationals shoot here.
We have a diversity of flavours and cultures, and our architecture is amazing. International clients enjoy coming here because of the beauty and mess all in one!
DO YOU ENJOYING SOURCING THINGS FOR PROJECTS?
Each project is a new experience, and with sourcing and buying being my passion, I get to go to some very interesting, cool places to source the most weird and wonderful things.
Durban is a shopper’s paradise… full of the most amazing places.
Seeing sets transformed, for example, from an empty room into an “elimination room”, or just a pavement and a few buildings turned into a train station, or just into something completely different, is amazing. I really do love what I do!
CAN YOU MENTION ANY ‘BIG NAMES’ YOU HAVE WORKED WITH?
Most of my career span has been working on TV Commercials. I don’t always get to work close-up with any big names, but I did once work on the pilot episode for a South African TV series, and got to meet Ian Roberts.
We were filming in a game reserve for one particular scene and I remember doing “final checks” on his wardrobe before the cameras rolled, and he was the most down to earth, kindest man ever.
I have worked on a few commercials with other well-known actors and actresses but, unfortunately, due to contracts and confidentiality, we are not always at liberty to share that info with the public.
WHAT IS NEXT LINED UP FOR YOU?
At the moment I am focusing on #STYLEbudd and remodelling the way we service the local industry (and the public). We have a few new ideas and plans up our sleeve, but, as always, I am also waiting for the next project to come up… from who knows where!
Freelance styling is a tough game but I enjoy the challenge, the heartaches, the long hours and the reward of seeing my creativity come to life on camera.
We have a saying in the film industry, “Hurry up and wait!”. That is very much a part of what we have to contend with on every job.