The script is written, the actors are chosen, the set is dressed. All that remains are the costumes to give the characters life. Simple fabrics must be turned into ball gowns or uniforms, or heavily worn rags representing an impoverished life. Creating and finding clothing and jewelry for the wardrobe department can be a whirlwind experience filled with tracking down the perfect piece of jewelry and making alterations on the fly.
Dana Campbell knows this feeling all too well, as an Emmy award-winning costume designer whose career includes motion pictures, movies for television, TV series, comedies, dramas, reality programs, variety specials and the mega-popular live competition Dancing With the Stars. It was, in fact, Dancing With the Stars for which she won an Emmy Award (shared with Randall Christensen) for Outstanding Costumes for a Variety or Music Program.
Thriving under pressure and the ability to adapt to any genre, Campbell’s talents can be seen in the comedy Back on the Strip, a hilarious and sincere coming of age story about life not always going according to plan and how to make the best of new opportunities. Described as a “cosmic gumbo of The Full Monty, Magic Mike and a bag of chips,” a young man moves to Las Vegas to pursue his dream of being a magician, only to end up joining a male stripper group.
After losing the woman of his dreams, Merlin moves to Las Vegas to pursue work as a magician, only to get hired as the front man in a revival of the notorious black male stripper crew, The Chocolate Chips. Led by Luther – now broke and broken – the old, domesticated, out-of-shape Chips put aside former conflicts and reunite to save the hotel they used to perform in while helping Merlin win back his girl.
In celebration of Back on the Strip and Campbell’s illustrious career, The Koalition spoke to her about her inspirations, her career and how this movie was a collaborative effort.
“I know the actors I got to dress pretty well. I worked on Real Husbands of Hollywood for six seasons, which lasted over 10 years. I’ve known most of them for 10 years [and] we all get along pretty well, so that made it easy and fun. Also, I love [director] Chris Spencer. I love what he wrote and what he wanted to accomplish. I have his back 100%. I am very character driven [and for this project] I [was able to] get into a character and collaborate with the creator and the actors. For everything I do, it’s a collaboration [and] this movie happened quickly [with] a lot of it on the telephone and long distance.”
Back on the Strip’s costumes are largely inspired by African American culture and everyday life, with the actors’ input being used in the designs. For church scenes, actors don custom-made robes and headpieces that are found in numerous Black churches. While Campbell and the actors collaborated on costumes that were both comfortable and funny, which created a little fun spin to the costume design.
Campbell and her design partner, Ermelinda Manos, worked with the cast to create the best looks for the actors’ stripping scenes that were both comfortable and full of personality. There’s Merlin the magician (Spence Moore II), who looks up to David Copperfield and David Blane. Amos (J.B. Smooth), who is known for his jump kicks, Desmond (Faizon Love), known for his body, Tyriq Da Face (Bill Bellamy), known for his good looks, Dr. X (Gary Owens), whose identity is a mystery, but is on day three of his 90-day body transformation. Lastly, there’s Luther, known as the new Mr. Big (Wesley Snipes) with aching body parts.
“I know a lot about tearaway, breakaway and stunts. So, my part is just making things able to easily come off [with either Velcro or snaps]; things that are easy to tear away. As far as [making it] funny, each person’s tearaway breakaway [required a lot of] hands-on participation in those looks. I didn’t get to complete all the ideas I had. There was also another costume designer [Ermelinda Manos] that worked out of Vegas. Plus, you have all the guys with all their input, and we were on a very tight budget and a very very very short schedule.”
Despite Back on the Strip the budget constraints, Campbell is a very resourceful designer, who thrives under any budget. “I’m definitely resourceful. I just really love to push the envelope and to raise the standards of excellence all the time and we give a hundred thousand percent all the time. We just wanted to support Chris [since this is his debut film. From the actors to everybody below the line and behind the camera in front of the camera, we all wanted to support Chris as much as we possibly could, so we did our best.”
To learn more about Back on the Strip, Erica Campbell’s inspirations and more, check out our full interview above.