Mike: This week's guest is Oscar and BAFTA award winning costume designer Ngila Dickson. First working in her home country of New Zealand on projects such as Xena: Warrior Princess and Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures.She soon rose to become one of Hollywood's go-to creatives after crafting the unmistakable costumes of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As well as; Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai and many more. It’s 11pm here in London because Ngila is joining us from a beautiful New Zealand morning. How are you doing?
Ngila: I’m doing good. Thank You Mike.
Mike: Very good to hear. Now I’d like to start at the beginning because it is often documented with successful people that they rarely have a set path with their career. And you were certainly no different. So how did you go from selling your own fashion creations at the Cook Street Market to running a fashion magazine years later?
Ngila: Wow you have done your homework haven't you. It’s a small country and it’s really hard for those kinds of businesses to really gain traction. I began in fashion and then realised I didn’t like the fact I couldn’t go out and look at what everybody else was up to. My curiosity about everything else that was going on was really stymied in that role. So to facilitate having a fashion label I used to work as a pay-stop artist for a music magazine called Rip It Up. The fabulous Murray Cammick in the end one night he said to me ‘with$2000 you can start a fashion magazine’. Because I had been banging on about where are the fashion magazines? And so on and so forth. That led to probably the most wildly creative, best time five years. Which I spent working with a lot of up and coming writers. A lot of up and coming photographers and a lot of up and coming designers. So you can see where all that is leading. So after five years there was one of those fabulous economic crashes, which was 1987. Murray had to cut back and he said Ngila you can take the magazine and go out and see if you can find someone to; buy it, run it, be your managing director. And I just knew that wasn’t for me. So we shut it down and there I was out on the pavement, and I started styling. I was styling commercials for bands and inevitably in that world you get to know all of these people and then some crazy, young director decided that should be the person who did the costumes for his first movie. And it was an absolute baptism of fire. The director was a man called Gregor Nicholas who has gone on to be a really successful commercials director. But one thing right here in this moment I will say, you have really got to listen to your instincts. I could tell right from the get-go that this one was going to go wrong. But I had such limited knowledge that I just didn’t feel it was my place togo ‘erm this all feels wrong.’ And so you just bowl on and actually in that process you meet extraordinary people. And that’s part of the film industry isn’t it. It’s with every job you do. I mean when you’re at your age Mike your circle is much bigger. But what you find is that as the years go by you walk away from every project possibly only with one or two people that you’re determined to stay in touch with. But at the beginning of your career you are right there with all of that energy and ideas, everything seems possible.
Mike: Often there is a prevailing argument that in those early years, usually regarding smaller budgets that people do have more creativity than when you rise up the tree and hit the blockbusters/ the politics etcetera. Would you subscribe to that viewpoint?
Ngila: No I don't buy into that at all. I think they’re all the same. I think when you are working on a small, and honestly that comes from having pretty much done the lot, everybody talks about how they long to get back to that place where they started: that energy. But I don’t find that the energy or excitement has gone anywhere. And I just think all of the problems are the same, they’re just amplified on a larger show. So as long as you’re really conscious of that, is one way of remaining level headed when you’re dealing with something that it seems,when you pick up a script and you meet the director that you’re suddenly in this rarefied atmosphere. The bottom line is I don’t think that is the case at all, I think you’re still working as a bunch of student filmmakers. Ultimately that is what we all boil down to.