Tools of the Trade: An Interview with Costume Designer Cynthia Bergstrom

I have always loved costumes. Costumes absolutely make the character. An actor can be the best in the world, but without the right costume they are only half of the character they are portraying. The characters in Scream are no different. Some of the costumes in the movie subtly tell us things about them, while others have created horror icons that fit into the archetypes that stick in our subconscious. Recently I had the distinct privilege and honor to sit down with Cynthia Bergstrom, the lovely and talented costume designer on Scream (1996) and talk with her about some of her work on the movie and beyond.

Cynthia Bergstrom, Costume Designer, Scream (1996)

Cynthia’s credits include Scream, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV), Angel, CSI:Miami, Grey’s Anatomy, Medium, Private Practice, Ringer and many more.

John Gritton: Tell us a little about yourself and what you’ve been up to lately.

Cynthia Bergstrom: I live in Tiburon, CA which is just a few miles north of San Francisco & the Golden Gate Bridge.  And about 45 minutes away from where the party/death scenes were filmed.

I left the world of Film/TV & costume designing in 2013 to go to grad school.  After graduating with a Master’s in Spiritual Psychology…I just never looked back. I started a life coaching practice. I also coached with a volunteer organization in men’s & women’s prisons.  It’s some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.  I knew what to expect going into the prisons because on several other projects, we shot in prisons…it wasn’t frightening to me at all.

I moved to Northern California in Oct. 2017.  I am now head of marketing and business development for an architectural firm in SF, Marin & Sonoma Counties. 

Teacher of the Year recipient 6 years running back there in the pink.
Scream (1996)
I think most people know that I grew up in the town where Scream 1 was filmed, Santa Rosa, CA.  In fact, my mother was an extra at the high school.  She played a teacher.  You can catch her walking through the quad.  She is wearing a pink suit and has big blonde hair.

I’ve been hang-gliding, sky diving, cliff diving and I’ve flown a plane.  A small one.  I ride both Western & English.  I used to ski but right before Scream, I had a skiing accident that left me with a broken knee & torn ACL.  I was on crutches for most of the production.  I skied for a few more years…then found Yoga. 

I sing and I love taking nature photos.  I post them on Instagram.  The photos, not the songs.

JG: How did you become involved in Scream?

CB: I had met Wes Craven and his team a few years before Scream discussing another project.  I stayed in touch with one of the producers over the years, when Scream came along they called to check on my availability and interest level.  At the time, I was living in Nashville, TN.  I read the script but wasn’t really interested.  I had a full schedule, but over several months we kept talking, the script was evolving and they had chosen my hometown of Santa Rosa, CA as the filming location…how could I say no?

JG: The looks of all of the kids were distinctly different. Sidney had more muted tones, as compared to Tatum. Billy and Stu had similar Earth tones, Randy’s bright and flashy eccentric choices set him apart. Definitely the oddball. Can you talk about how each character’s palettes were chosen?

Skeet Ulrich, Neve Campbell, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan and Jamie Kennedy. Scream (1996)

CB: When I design costumes for film characters, I take in to account the personality of the character, what is this character about?  What is the back story?  What is this character presenting to the world and what is this character hiding from the world?

Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott.
Lovely, adorable, strong. Total badass. Scream (1996)
Sidney was a complicated young woman who was hiding a lot what she was feeling internally.  She wasn’t really saying anything nor was she committed to anything except being the good girl and adhering to an image of the teenage ‘Good Girl’ which made sense after the way her mother was rumored to be a licentious woman.  So, for Sidney, it was important for her wardrobe to be subdued in a way that would not bring attention to herself or her figure.

Skeet Ulrich as Billy Loomis.
Brooding, handsome, creepy, sometimes says stupid things,
still has the best lines. Scream (1996)

I also wanted to the costumes to be as timeless as possible and not trendy or overtly of the time period…mid to late 90’s.  That was easy to do with the guys.  T-shirts and jeans are indeed timeless. Billy, Stu and Randy each had very distinct personalities and each had very distinctive home lives.  Billy was the good-looking popular guy, very all American. I wanted to keep his palette more in line with Sid’s.  I wanted them to have a symbiotic match via their clothing choices.

Matthew Lillard as Stu Macher.
261 Turner Ln. Nailed the crazy eyes, Matt! Scream (1996)

Stu, I envisioned a bit like a beatnik from the 60’s groovy era. He felt very down to earth and confident, his character seemed to be very much in touch with who he is. 

While Randy was obviously intelligent but a bit goofy and not really taken that seriously.  He had a big personality and liked attention.  Hence, the brighter colors.

Jamie Kennedy as Randy Meeks. He was working. Thank you. Scream (1996)

As for Tatum, she was bold and daring.  Her character was that of a free spirit and willing to take chances…she was the antithesis of Sidney.  She was hiding nothing and put it all out there for everyone to see.

Rose McGowan as Tatum. Rocking the midriff! Scream (1996)

JG: How much of themselves did each actor bring to their character’s wardrobes?

Rose McGowan as Tatum Riley. Scream (1996)
CB: Rose McGowan brought a lot to her wardrobe.  She and I went shopping together for some of her pieces.  She had a lot of input.  I had originally seen her character as less funky and eclectic, it was Rose that brought the funk to her costumes.  She was great fun to work with.  She knew what she was bringing to the character and she played Tatum so well.

I wouldn’t say any of them brought themselves into their wardrobe…except for maybe Skeet, who played Billy.

JG: Them green Hushpuppy shoes, tho! I love them! So wanted a pair!

CB: I know! Hush Puppies were very popular at the time.  They were huge and ok, not so timeless.  But totally geeky and perfect for Randy.

Green Hushpuppies. Need these so bad!

JG: The killer’s boots in Scream 1 have been searched for and debated and scrutinized for years. Some speculate that Billy wore the boots around the fountain, others stick to the bathroom boots for reference, please tell us, what boots are they?
Left: Boots in the bathroom. Who do they belong to!? Prankster? Stu? Principal Himbry?!
Right: Lightened screencap of Sidney's attack boots. Scream (1996)

Billy's fountain boots.

CB: If my memory serves me correctly…the boots Billy wore to school and around the fountain were similar but not the same as the killer’s boots.  We talked about the boots a lot in pre-production and all the subtle nuances that might or might not give away the killer’s identity.  I’m pretty sure they were not the same boots.  I have been asked a lot over the years as to the make of the killer’s boots and where they came from and to be perfectly honest…I don’t recall.  Best guess is that the came from Sears.  They might have been work boots from Sears.  As for Billy’s…I really don’t remember.  But if I were to guess, I would say that they also came from Sears and were just slightly different from the killer’s.  Didn’t Stu have those boots on too? 

JG: Lots of lime green. Randy, Gale, Tatum. These are the “outsiders” to their respective groups.

Left: Courtney Cox as Gale Weathers. She should be in New York.
Right: Tatum Riley, NOT the beer wench. Scream (1996)

Randy tells us the rules... So we can break them. ;)
"Freshjive" was a Streetwear company from 1989 to 2009.
CB: Perhaps, but they were also bright, bold…”look at me”, “I want to be seen” characters.
Gale’s suit was more chartreuse than lime.  Randy was definitely in a lot of green and lime at that.  Tatum was more on the yellow-ish scale.  

"The Scream" by Edvard Munch, 1893

CB: I based a lot of the pallet on Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream.  It is rich with colors of orange, red, golds, yellows and yes…lime green.

JG: How much guidance towards the killer was considered? Were the different Red Herring’s clothes done in any intentional way?

Look at Sheriff Burke's boots! Is he the killer?! Is Dewey wearing the same boots? Is Dewey the killer!?! Are these police issue boots?! Is Background Cop #3 the killer!?! Who else has these boots!?! Scream (1996)

: There was so much consideration given to not revealing the identity or even the gender of the killer.  Red Herring clothes…you’d have to tell me what you see as Red Herring clothes. ;)

JG: In dressing Billy and Stu you’re juggling giving enough of the killer away, while not giving away too much. A tough position when the script literally tells the audience who the killer is when Randy lays it all out in the video store; Dad’s a red herring (Billy and Stu’s plan was to frame Sidney’s father) the killer is Billy. Brilliant writing by Kevin. How did you navigate the balance between making it believable that Billy and Stu are the killers for those that know, while making it subtle enough as to not make it obvious?

CB: To be perfectly honest, this was never the intention.  Costuming Billy & Stu was all about creating the illusion, the image of likeable, non-threatening teenage boys.  The choices for their wardrobe were to make them believable and relatable.  It’s about bringing forth authenticity, so that the character comes to life in a real and believable way.  

JG: Let’s talk about Ghostface. In the script the killer is described as wearing a “Ghost Mask” which says little, and even less about the rest of the costume. What were the early design ideas and challenges for Ghostface’s costume?

Ghostface is in your window, Casey! Scream (1996)

Casper mask, 1950s-1960's. Creepy!
Casper the Friendly Ghost (1939)
CB: We went through a lot of masks.  I think at one time we even looked at a Casper mask, but that may or may not be 100% accurate. It was a long time ago. 

Even though the mask wasn’t my department, I did a lot of research for the mask, looking back through various historical periods. My original sketches of the Ghostface costume were based on a combination of the painting, The Scream by Edvard Munch and the Grim Reaper.

Original Ghostface Costume Sketch by Cynthia Bergstrom (1995)

JG: We’ve heard stories about the costume being white for a while into production. What were some of the reasons to turn it black? One would think that as with regular white clothing it would get dirty and bloody, causing a continuity nightmare.

White clad "Ghost" character from the 2019 film "Haunt."
Seeing a lot of inspiration from our beloved Ghostface
CB: While I always saw the Ghostface costume as black, Wes originally wanted it to be white.  This was surprising to many of us. He wanted the costume to look like a cheap costume shop costume made out of white ripstop fabric. 

During the early phases of pre-production, I had my team create several protypes.  We put a man in the costume and had him hide behind some bushes and act menacing.  We took pictures from every angle…Wes then realized that white wouldn’t work.  I think his initial thought was to not make Ghostface look menacing, but it just didn’t work.  Yet, Wes was convinced still that the costume should be white…until one day while on a location scout our DP saw the black fabric with silver lurex thread in a fabric store.  It was a thrilling day!  The hunt for the perfect fabric was over and we got our black robed Ghostface.

JG: The fabric for Ghostface was unique in that it sparkled. What was the decision behind the sparkly fabric? What type of fabric was it? It seems to have been some sort of knit with lurex thread. Did the fabric create any challenges in construction or on set?

CB: It was a knit with a bit of stretch.  The decision was simply that the light would catch the lurex thread and make it shine. There were no challenges as I recall on set or in construction of the garments.  We performed several camera tests to make sure it would work.

Look at that fabric glisten! It's these subtle touches that separate the onscreen Ghostface from what you see hanging in Halloween shops. Scream (1996)

JG: Where did the fabric come from?

Britex Fabrics on Post St.
in San Francisco. In business for
more than 60 years.
CB: It was found in a small fabric store while scouting locations.  I think there was only one bolt left and perhaps even less than a full bolt…so we ordered several bolts of it.  It may have been ordered from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco, CA.  We were already on location in Northern California, the costume was made by a tailor and his team who had offices in SF.

Britex offers a Customized Swatch Service where they will search out a fabric that fits your needs. As anyone who has ever searched for fabric knows, stock comes and goes. Unfortunately, Britex no longer carries that wonderful Sparkle Black Fabric we are all searching for. These were the fabrics they found. John C. Gritton (2020)

JG: We know that there were challenges with the mask for a good portion of pre-production. How much did the mask affect the overall design of the costume? What elements changed when the mask was finally chosen? The robe used with the KNB mask seems to be different than the robe eventually used for the Funworld mask, specifically the hood. What was the reasoning behind that?

The hood used with the KNB mask is smaller and tighter to the head. Scream (1996)

Whereas the hood used with the Funworld Fantastic Faces mask is larger and more billowy. Scream (1996)

: There weren’t really any issues with the mask and the robe.  What did happen with the Fun World mask was that it showed the shape of the wearer’s head.  Even with the hood of the robe.  Again, we did not want to give away the shape, size, gender or identity of the killer(s).  We also need to ensure that the hood would stay put while doing stunts.  We ended up creating a cardboard stiff buckram brim type device that inserted into the fabric of the hood.  From there we attached straps to keep the hood in place.  We also created shoulder padding, so as to not give away the shape of the wearer…being it a man or a woman.

JG: What were some of the overall inspirations behind the look of Ghostface? How much was designed for functionality? (Attached gloves, etc.) How much was done for disguising the killer’s identity?

CB: The gloves were created to disguise the killer, they were attached to make sure they stayed on during the fight scenes.  And the inspiration was from the look of The Grim Reaper as I discuss above…from here it was all about making the costume functional.  The gloves weren’t really gloves but mittens with elastic at the wrist to keep them in place.  The inspiration for that was from a baby’s onesie.  It just made sense to me.

JG: Scream ended up being a huge hit that revitalized an entire dying genre and spawned several knockoffs. The character of Ghostface has been cemented as a horror icon next to Michael, Jason and Freddy. Part of that longevity is the timeless nature of the costume. Was there an awareness that this character would become an icon and did that create any type of pressure on you having such a big part of his overall look?

CB: To be direct, no.  Not at all.  Timelessness was important yes, but it really wasn’t what I was thinking about when I designed Ghostface’s costume.  It was really more intuitive than anything else.  It was a vision and my job as a costume designer is to bring forth…my vision but primarily the vision of the director and writer.  Was I thrilled that the white costume idea got thrown out…yes!

When I design, I design with the project in mind, what is right for the script, the character, the overall production.  It’s an intuitive and investigative process.  Trusting that intuition and vision is key.  If I designed with the idea that I was creating an icon…it would not have reached the iconic status that it has.  It just wouldn’t, the entire process is organic.  That’s the beauty of it for me as a designer…there’s a sense of confidence that goes along with that philosophy…it’s art.  It’s the creative process.  I’m thrilled that we can still talk about it 24 years later.  I remember going to a Halloween party in Los Angeles a year after Scream came out.  At the party were several Ghostface costumes.  I mean, what a rush!  I love it.  It’s so much fun.
Trick or Treat! Funworld (1997)

: What were some of the best parts about working on Scream and creating Ghostface’s look? The worst parts?

Downtown Santa Rosa, CA, Population: 177,586 (2018.)
Beautiful, picturesque, forever Woodsboro.
CB: The entire production was so much fun to be a part of, we laughed a lot. We were on location in Northern California in Sonoma County.  For me, it was especially meaningful as I grew up in Sonoma County.  We shot in my home town.  It was exciting to be making a movie where I grew up.  It was great to be in the wine country, it’s so beautiful.  Which what eventually led me back here some 20+ years later. I worked separate hours from the crew, I remember my crew telling me how hard it was to deal with all the blood.  There was a lot of blood and there were a lot of night shoots.  That was hard on the crew. But overall, we had such a good time and we knew at one point that we were making something incredible.  We could see it in the dailies.  Magic was happening.  It’s was thrilling.

As far as creating Ghostface…it was fun.  I loved every moment of it. There were technical things that had to be figured out, lots of details to be worked out.  It was a collaborative process, every day I was inspired by Wes and his creative genius.

Wes Craven and Drew Barrymore on the set of Scream (1996.)

JG: Are there any secrets about working on the movie, and specifically about Ghostface’s costume that you would care to reveal?

CB: Yes, there are lots of secrets that I can’t share.  No, seriously…I can’t think of any. J

JG: Is it true that the cast burned their wardrobe after wrap? If so, How Dare They!?! ;)

CB: Yeah, I don’t think that happened.  We always keep wardrobe from every show in the different stages of clean, dirty, bloody, etc. in case of reshoots.

JG: Finally, you were involved in working with and creating a style two of the biggest feminist horror icons of an entire generation of fans, Buffy Summers and Sidney Prescott. How did you manage to so incredibly capture the essence of these characters? They always remained strong and confident in the face of danger, while always maintaining their femininity and vulnerability. How were you able to so successfully dress these two amazing characters in a way that kept them strong, both physically and mentally, without using the old tropes that would have stripped them of their femininity?

Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott and Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers.
Two warriors, icons, role models, heroes.
Scream (1996), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)

: That’s a huge compliment.  Thank you.  I’m touched.  I suppose the simple answer is that just because a woman is strong, confident and can kick ass…doesn’t mean she has to hide her most powerful strengths.  That of her femininity and vulnerability.  These two qualities are Super Powers.

Thank you so much, Cynthia! These insights into the thoughts, ideas and creative choices have shed light on the finer aspects of costume designing and what brought Kevin’s words and Wes’ vision to brilliant light. We are so appreciative of the work you did on the film, and taking the time to have this conversation with us.
Post a Comment (0)
Talk Scream in the message board or FB Group!