In our latest interview, we spoke with Jillian Bundrick, the costume designer behind the SXSW selected film Americana. The film stars Sydney Sweeney, Paul Walter Hauser, and Zahn McClarnon, and premiered at SXSW on March 17.
Americana follows an ensemble cast of local outsiders in pursuit of the Lakota Ghost shirt, a rare Native American artifact renown for bringing its owner power, fortune, or freedom.
In Americana, it was important to Jillian to create realistic representations of the Native American clothing and artifacts featured in the film. Having previously worked on indigenous projects such as Reservation Dogs, Jillian has proven herself capable of designing indigenous costumes tastefully and accurately. The film was shot in Albuquerque, where Jillian sourced clothing from thrift and vintage stores and even obtained an authentic Native American medallion from an art gallery that brought a richness to the show that it wouldn’t have otherwise had.
PH: Hi there, Jillian! Can you share some of your professional background? What initially got you interested in costume design?
Jillian Bundrick: I studied theatrical costume design in college at the University of Oklahoma. I’ve been designing costumes for feature films of various genres for 15 years now. My favorite locations usually involve the wide open fields and big sunset skies of Oklahoma & Texas. That’s why Americana was a dream come true to film in the beautiful landscapes of magical New Mexico. Even better, it premiered in one of my favorite places I’ve lived, Austin, Texas at the Paramount theater for the 2023 SXSW film festival.
PH: How do you know when a project is the right fit? How do you choose which projects you work on?
Jillian Bundrick: I know a project is the right fit for me when reading the script makes me excited to bring the visual story elements & characters to life. Connecting with the director’s vision for the film is also vital to my choice of project.
PH: Can you talk a little about some of the projects you've worked on? How did you become involved with Americana?
Jillian Bundrick: I became involved in Americana when the producer, Alex Saks, reached out to me with the script and set up a meeting with the film’s director, Tony Tost. My authentically off-beat portrayal of four Native American Teens navigating life on an Oklahoma Reservation in the groundbreaking first season of the FX comedy series Reservation Dogs put my costume design work on Tost’s radar.
In my career as a Costume Designer, I’ve also had the pleasure of designing the costumes for William H. Macy’s directorial debut feature film Rudderless, a music centric drama starring Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin, & Selena Gomez which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014, as well as the rural crime thrillers Infamous & The Bygone and the contemporary comedies Unplugging, Braking for Whales, and Hot Air.
PH: Can you talk me through your pre-production mindset when constructing the design for this project?
Jillian Bundrick: Dissecting the vivid feast of characters and intersecting storylines that Tony wrote into the screenplay for Americana had me excited to search for color stories, photography, pop culture idols, musicians, classic country western music themes, films, & art that would all lend inspiration to the costume designs in the film. The visuals I pulled together formed my Costumes Look Book that became my guide for outfitting all of the amazing characters in our fantastic ensemble cast. The Costume Designs in Americana are steeped in aspirational looks emulating iconic heroes in our culture which aid in the visual commentary on America’s relationship with the western film genre.
PH: Can you share your experience filming in Albuquerque and how you sourced authentic Native American clothing and accessories?
Jillian Bundrick: My experience filming in Albuquerque was extraordinary. It was a delight exploring a new city and discovering all the hidden gems New Mexico offers. My favorite places to shop for unique character pieces are antique malls & local thrift shops, of which Albuquerque has a great selection.
I sourced authentic Native American clothing and accessories by directly involving artisans in the Indigenous community. These artists have allowed me to feature their works in Americana and it helps bring the costumes of Ghost Eye, Hank, and the members of the Red Thunder Society their complex & realistic portrayal. Hank’s style is specifically inspired by modern native streetwear brands mixed with
classic gangster, hip hop vibes. Hank’s black hooded sweatshirt and his “Priest Don’t Kill My Tribe” tee are both from Section 35, an indigenous-owned streetwear brand based on the Unceded Territories in Canada. His large finely Beaded Medallion was purchased from an authentic handmade Native Sioux arts, crafts & jewelry store in Rapid City, South Dakota - Lakota Sioux Arts.
PH: What was your process for (and how did you achieve) juxtaposing characters through overstylization?
Jillian Bundrick: As a form of escapism from the complex situations Penny Jo, Mandy, & Cal find themselves stuck in, they lean into flamboyant & exaggerated, larger than life stylized looks imitating the Pop Culture Icons they so admire while others, namely Lefty, Ghost Eye, and Dillon, sport looks that stay more grounded in practicality & the realities of rural America.
Penny Jo’s costumes are heavily influenced by Dolly Parton’s early style circa 1970’s. While Penny Jo’s personality is a bit shy and reserved, her waitress uniform exudes her playfully retro country style. Her plaid patterned work shirt is accented again in the cuffed lining of her vintage high waisted denim jeans. She’s also added some flair to her thrifted two-toned cowboy work boots by hand gluing rhinestones all along the stitched seams.
Mandy’s costumes are a revolt against her traumatic upbringing. By emulating her unapologetic punk rock idols Joan Jett and Blondie, her style empowers her to face reality with a physical armor of heavy metal chains, spikes, razor blades, knives, and safety pins. It is a loud warning to others that she is not to be trifled with.
Cal’s style was inspired by a mixture of Sitting Bull Portraits & Charles Bronson’s cowboy character Harmonica from Once Upon a Time in the West. Cal’s costumes are made up of ill-fitting, hand-me-downs pulled from thrift store discount bins including baggy chocolate corduroys, holey jeans, sturdy boots, vaguely native patterned wooly cardigans & his thick canvas work jacket.
Lefty’s style is indicative of his simple, good hearted nature. His costumes are stylistically more grounded and salt of the Earth. He takes pride in his appearance and always makes sure to exchange his practical worn down ranch workwear for finer, more polished threads when going into town. His looks were mostly inspired by classic American cowboys and it’s hard not to fall for his sweet good guy charm.
Ghost Eye’s costume is reminiscent of veterans of the American Indian Movement. He is a bastion of old school style in his classic denim jean jacket. The simple silhouette of Ghost Eye’s style allows his intellectual revolutionary and activist principles to stand in the forefront while his outfit remains subtle and sensible.
Dillon’s Costumes are languid and enhance his bad attitude and violent nature. His signature vintage cowboy boots play up Cal’s projection of him as the archetypal evil cowboy, even though his outfits are sedate and typical of his trailer park lifestyle.
PH: What are some of the designs and costumes you specifically had to create? Where did your inspiration come from?
Jillian Bundrick: Cal’s Jacket was one of the first pieces I started with. I began with a standard tan canvas work coat readily available at the thrift store as a base. To make his silhouette stand out against the wide open empty roads and sprawling wheat fields we were filming him in, I dyed his jacket a deep, rusty scarlet red, a visual reminder of the domestic violence and concrete isolation Cal is cloaked in.
I specifically altered by design the white western pearl snap blouse Penny Jo wears in the finale of the film to showcase the progression of her style and flourishing confidence she is gaining from her budding
relationship with Lefty. The idea was that Penny Jo embroidered the yoke of the shirt with a garden of sprawling Poppies, symbolizing her name and her hope for a freer future. I also added a black pearl encrusted collar and tied it off with a pink crushed velvet bow tie. This final outfit is more vibrant and exudes her aspirational idea of Nashville stage ensemble.
Collecting all the odd bits and ends I used for the iconic Joan Jett-inspired Moto jacket for Halsey’s character, Mandy, was also a real treat to design. Bottle tabs, razor blades, knives, safety pins, metal rings, locks, keys & more safety pins added to the heavy weighted density of Mandy’s costume pieces that help anchor her down and keep on surviving.
PH: How important is designing indigenous costumes tastefully and accurately, and how has your other work on indigenous projects helped you achieve this?
Jillian Bundrick: Keeping Native Influences involved in my process is vital to designing Indigenous costumes tastefully and accurately. Through my previous work on Reservation Dogs and other projects, I have cultivated relationships with modern Native streetwear brands and Native artisans that have allowed me the honor to feature their craftsmanship. These relationships are key to promoting cultural visibility through realistic representation in film & television.
PH: Did you encounter any challenges from a design perspective? What's a big focus for you this year (personally or professionally)? What makes you most excited about the work you do? Can you share any upcoming projects you have in the works?
Jillian Bundrick: One of the fun challenges in designing Penny Jo’s Costumes for Americana was how to slightly downplay Sydney Sweeney’s tantalizing beauty enough to believe she was a shy, timid, slip of a girl. Lefty states he wouldn’t even be able to talk to her if she didn’t have her stammer when they played darts in the bar. By keeping Penny Jo’s costumes on the demure side with higher necklines, high waisted denim pants and bulkier outer layers, I was able to attain that sweet, country, girl-next-door figure.
A big focus for me this year is maintaining momentum in my costume design career while also making it a priority to find balance in my personal life. It was such a pleasure to see Americana premiere at SXSW, and I am ecstatic about the great reception it got from the audience and the critics.
I’m most excited about the imaginative part of costume design. From just a written word, I am able to create influential visuals for viewers. I love to find inspiration in art, nature, and photography. It is so satisfying when a character comes together through the collaboration with the director and the actor.