×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Costume designers want their share

Pros lobby for a piece of the action figure pie

If you happen upon any members of the Costume Designers Guild at Comic-Con this year, don’t mention the “M” word. “There’s a huge, very lucrative thing called ‘merchandising,’ and it’s shared between a very small group of people — and we’re not in it,” grumbles Oscar-winning costume designer James Acheson (“Spider-Man”).

Hellboy figurines, X-Men lunchboxes, Jack Sparrow Halloween costumes — as well as videogames, posters, trading cards and McDonald’s Happy Meal toys — are the lifeblood of a movie-merchandizing industry valued in the billions of dollars. But thanks to the “work for hire” nature of costume designers’ contracts with studios, they won’t see a penny of it.

Greg Anzalone of Sideshow Collectibles, a California-based high-end toy and collectibles studio, hears their frustration. “We do believe costume designers should be better recognized for their work,” he says, referencing Sideshow’s book “Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars.”

But recognition isn’t enough, insist costume designers, who don’t understand why it is they see nada for their work, while music supervisors, actors and theater stage designers receive royalty checks when studios license the fruits of their labor.

“When you create a property, the studio owns the likeness, and they can do with it what they like,” says Bif Bang Pow partner Jason Labowitz, whose “Big Lebowski” bobbleheads and figures feature the characters’ signature attire.

Labowitz likens the costumes’ recognition factor to Neca’s “Shaun of the Dead” figures: “The short-sleeve shirt and the tie — it’s what he wears through the whole movie, and I don’t think anyone’s getting credit for that.”

There are exceptions. Michael Runnels, VP of business affairs at ICM, says his client Joanna Johnston presented her idea for a “Polar Express” pajama line to Warner Bros. and had her name on the inside label of an official “War of the Worlds” jacket. But such deals are few and far between.

Lost potential earnings aside, designers believe excluding them from the merchandise design process often results in substandard products. “A costume designer understands the character’s aesthetic better than anyone,” says Deena Appel, who conceived “Austin Powers'” signature look and serves as spokeswoman for the Costume Designers Guild. “We should have the opportunity to help make the products better — and get paid for it.”

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • Felicity Huffman

    Felicity Huffman Issues Apology After Receiving Prison Sentence: 'There Are No Excuses'

    Felicity Huffman issued a long statement of apology on Friday after receiving a two-week prison sentence for paying to illegally boost her daughter’s SAT score. In the statement, Huffman, in addition to saying  she accepts the court’s decision, acknowledges and apologizes to other parents fighting to get their children into college. Along with the prison [...]

  • Actress Felicity Huffman (C-L) and her

    Felicity Huffman Sentenced to 14 Days in Prison in SAT Cheating Case

    Felicity Huffman was sentenced on Friday to 14 days in prison for the crime of paying $15,000 to boost her daughter’s SAT score. Judge Indira Talwani also ordered her to serve 250 hours of community service and a year of probation, and pay a $30,000 fine. The sentence came as a surprise, as Talwani had [...]

  • NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER

    Rihanna Sings (Briefly), Pharrell and DJ Khaled Rock the Mic at Star-Studded Diamond Ball

    In just five years, Rihanna’s Diamond Ball has become one of the music industry’s biggest events of its kind, nearly on the level of the Clive Davis Pre-Grammy Gala. While there are several dazzling charity events with equal starpower and often-unique performances, what makes the Diamond Ball different is, obviously enough, Rihanna’s supernova aura and [...]

  • Amber Heard Seeks Info on Johnny

    Amber Heard Seeks Info on Johnny Depp's Arrests and Substance Abuse

    Amber Heard is asking Johnny Depp to turn over records related to his arrests and drug treatment, as her lawyers defend her from a $50 million defamation suit. Depp filed suit in March, accusing his ex-wife of tanking his career by writing a Washington Post op/ed alluding to her domestic violence allegations against him. Heard [...]

  • David Nevins, Chief Creative Officer, CBS

    David Nevins: CBS-Viacom Merger to Create 'Virtuous Eco-System' for Content

    CBS and Viacom leaders are looking for opportunities to create a “virtuous eco-system” for content that can prosper across the various platforms of the two companies that are set to merge by year’s end. That was the sentiment shared by David Nevins, chief creative officer of CBS and chairman-CEO of Showtime Networks, during a Q&A [...]

  • 'Resident Evil' Stuntwoman Files Suit Over

    'Resident Evil' Stuntwoman Files Suit Over Horrific Motorcycle Crash

    A stuntwoman who suffered severe injuries on the set of “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” in 2015 has filed a lawsuit alleging that the film’s producers reneged on a promise to cover her medical costs. Olivia Jackson was driving a motorcycle that collided head-on with a camera rig during the shoot in South Africa. According [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content