Costume designer and stylist Amanda Wing Lee Yee loves to work on female-centric projects that offer racial, cultural, and sexual diversity. She is known for her work on the interactive video game Telling Lies, by BAFTA winner Sam Barlow, and The Summer of Snakes, a post-war coming-of-age drama that takes its inspiration from the life of French artist Niki de Saint Phalle.
Amanda’s most recent work can be seen in Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure, a feature that explores LA’s porn industry with a respectful lens and challenges viewers on their prejudices of adult film work. Pleasure was screened at both Cannes and Sundance and was a winner at The Swedish Guldbagge Awards. This year will mark the release of another of Amanda’s projects, Emily the Criminal, a crime thriller starring Aubrey Plaza that navigates the current financial burdens faced by millennials.
In this interview, we spoke with Amanda about her approach to styling characters, her collaborations, and some of her favorite designs and upcoming projects.
Hi Amanda! How have you been?
Great! This has been a super busy year. It’s so nice to see the industry booming again with so many exciting projects happening all at once!
What is it like working with a collaborator as successful as Ninja Thyberg? Tell us more about your working relationship and short hand with them.
Ninja is one of the most unique filmmakers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. The level of her dedication, involvement and genuine curiosity in her subjects is unparalleled. We definitely connected on a common goal of wanting to shine a light on taboo subjects and dismantle female stereotypes.
You brought a unique approach to Pleasure.
Thank you. With a singular story like this, it’s extra important to be authentic, stay true to the characters and pay homage to the people who inspired it. Much of my work on this film owes to the countless adult film actors and filmmakers who generously gave their time, shared their stories and helped guide my designs.
Can you take us behind one or two of your favorite scenes?
My favourite ones are the casual chats between Bella and Joy that ground the characters, and make us relate to their unlikely friendship and root for them. The amazing thing about those scenes too, is that they were largely improvised which goes to show how talented Sofia and Revika are.
Tell us more about your process and how you decide the right way to approach it. Did you approach dressing / designing for characters in Pleasure in a specific way at all?
I love to map out the backstory, daily routines and habits of every character. I want to know their family history, childhood dreams, heartbreaks, what they like to eat for breakfast, their quirks, etc. The more nuanced the details a writer or director can give me about them, the more lived in and rich their wardrobe can be. Should there be old stains on the collar? Are they wearing mismatched socks? Was this vintage jacket passed down from her father? Those are subtle details, but they inform, mold and bring a character to life.
Let’s talk about Pleasure‘s acceptance at Cannes (2020), Sundance (2021) and recent nominations and wins at The Swedish Guldbagge Awards (2022). Congrats! – how did it feel to get this recognition?
Thank you! Cannes and Sundance were definitely wonderful and much needed news to receive during the peak of pandemic but it was also bittersweet in that we couldn’t celebrate our hard work being recognized in person at those festivals. As for the love we received as a team – having 7 nominations at The Guldbaggen, that was a big surprise, let alone our 3 wins (for Best Actress, Makeup and Costume)! It was so rewarding and I am most grateful to The Swedish Film Institute. Unfortunately I was not able to join the Pleasure team at the ceremony in Sweden but I was super excited to see everyone at the LA premiere this week!
What were some of the other challenges you encountered with Pleasure? How did you overcome them?
As you saw in the film, there were many emotionally taxing and physically intense scenes. It really took a toll on all of us but it was especially tough on Sofia who plays Bella. Ninja created a safe space during pre-production for us all to build a strong foundation, and a lot of carefully planned rehearsals, choreography were put in place to maintain that trust among the cast and crew so everyone felt safe during filming.
What are some of your other favorite past projects?
AnnaPurna’s Telling Lies – an interactive video game by BAFTA winner Sam Barlow – is high up on my list. It was a unique filming experience where there were always multiple sets shooting simultaneously in real time because our characters only interact through video calls and webcams. Another one of my favourites is French filmmaker Lara Panah-Izadi’s The Summer of Snakes – a post-war coming-of-age drama inspired by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle’s life. The costumes in this film are some of my favourite designs to date!
What else is happening next in your world?
I’m excited for the release for Emily the Criminal later this year. It is a thriller by writer/director John Patton Ford that shows a side of Los Angeles that we rarely see – the intersectional, gritty, and racially diverse LA that I fell in love with when I moved here 18 years ago. We have an amazing cast – Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi, and the great Gina Gershon!