Commission-ee, Commissioner: Tips & Tricks for surviving the process of making and receiving costume related items:
by: Abby Dark-Star
There are few people within our community who can do everything on a costume project. Those people absolutely floor me with their skills. I wish I could download their knowledge into my brain! (whoa I know Kung Fu) Without the people I’ve commissioned to make pieces, my costumes wouldn’t be what they are!
This blog is to assist those that are looking for an item to be commissioned, as well as to give the creators of props and costumes some insights to make the whole process easier. This collection of tips and tricks has developed over years of observing, listening and participating in both processes! I hope it helps!!
For those looking to commission an item:
As you start the process, you first want to get an idea of a couple of things:
• What item you need. You want reference images of the item (from every angle possible) you want to research the item thoroughly, get an idea of how you want it to look (accurate/functional etc), what materials to have it made out of.
• Your budget. If you cannot spend more than $100 on an item, that is your budget. If you are flexible, know what your limit is.
Once you have the above figured out, ask questions and get feedback about commissioners. Ask for references. Google the people that are suggested to you and look them up on prop building websites like The Replica Prop Forum and others. Check out their business website/page. Do they have a large percentage of people recommending them? What is in their portfolio?
If all you see is negative reviews, dramatic posts (either by them or others), or consistent apologies for late delivery of items, you might want to steer clear.
Now that you have an idea of who you want to contact, lets move on to the how. How you communicate with someone will be a huge step in getting your item just the way you want it!
I’ve found the following to be very effective:
• Introduce yourself; state where you found them (or who recommended you).
• Ask them if they are available for commissions (some book up almost a year in advance).
• Explain what you are looking for.
• State your budget.
• Include at least ONE reference photo.
• STATE THE DATE YOU NEED IT BY.
^ I cannot stress how important this is. Not only do you need to state when you need it by, it would be wise to have it 2- 4 weeks prior to the date of your event, so that you can do a test fitting and make any necessary adjustments.
• BE POLITE
Having ongoing, clear, communication with your commissioner will enable the process to continue smooth. Ask for updates (within reason- don’t pester but if you don’t hear from them a month after you’ve started the process, it would be wise to check in). In fact, if you would like progress updates or to be involved, make sure you specify this before you put your money down. Make sure that all parties are in agreement of what, when, how much and anything else discussed. Miscommunication is the number two killer of the commission process. The lack of communication is number one.
Payment is often a sensitive issue. If it is a large ticket item, a deposit isn’t unreasonable. Pay in a way that is secure and safe. Don’t pay for items using the Paypal “gift” feature, because that doesn’t protect you. AND be aware of the policies within your method of payment should something go wrong.
Once you get your item, give credit to those people. By not doing so you are taking their hard work and their income. If for some reason you commission something and then cannot recommend the individual/company, just say so, without dramatics. “I cannot recommend ‘X’ because they did not send me my item on time, etc…”
If there is a problem- see if it can be worked out with the commissioner before hand. I know that I’ve received items before that weren’t quite right, and instead of going off on social media, I’ve contacted the person and worked out a solution. Often your assistance and feedback can help the commissioner to put out even better work!
I’ve worked with a lot of different prop/costume commissioners and I’ve noticed policies that some use to make the whole process go smoothly:
• If someone sends you an email without the above info (the bullet list for commissionees) send them a questionnaire with all the information you need.
• Let them know your availability and turn around times.
AND FOR GODSAKES KEEP TO THEM. There is nothing more frustrating or negative to be paying your hard earned money only to be told “oh it’s not ready yet”. That is the quickest way to get a bad reputation. If you can’t keep your delivery dates then you might want to reconsider offering commissions, because even if your product is awesome, if I can’t use it when I need it, what’s the point of owning it?
• Keep the commissionee updated with photos/emails! Even if it is a two-second camera phone picture. You can set up a Facebook group to share information easily. Good, honest communication can solve almost any problem. Skype sessions are also great if there are any questions.
• When all the information has been agreed to, send an itemized invoice. Include a full description of the item, any special notes/requests. Get every detail. Put the delivery date, shipping method, etc. Send that to your commissionee to be signed and sent back. That way there can be NO misunderstanding of what is going on.
• If there is a problem with an item you’ve made, offer to make it right. If it is about an item that was made as per the customers instructions (hence where the itemized invoice comes in), offer to redo the item, maybe at a discount. While yes, it isn’t your fault, promoting a good will gesture will often make a customer so happy that they’ll willfully spread your praises which will equal more business for you.
• There is a golden rule in business. A happy customer may tell a couple of friends about their positive experience, but an unhappy customer will go out of their way to tell everyone who will listen.
There you have it, some tips and ideas for making the whole process of being awesome in costume, AWESOME.
Hope it helps and feel free to share!