• Seriously Red – Interview with Penelope Southgate & Tim Chappel

Production designer Penelope Southgate and costume designer Tim Chappel share their experiences working on the film Seriously Red screening at this year’s Sydney Film Festival. 

Seriously Red is a rowdy and rambunctious musical comedy. Red (Krew Boylan) is at a crossroads in her life. A vivacious and hilarious redhaired woman grappling with high expectations and low self-esteem, she pours herself a cup of ambition and trades her 9 to 5 career in real estate for a life under the spotlight as a Dolly Parton impersonator.

After misreading her work party’s dress code, Red tumbles outta bed into a new world of tribute artists and impersonators in her wild and messy journey that includes romancing a Kenny Rogers impersonator. Red must lose herself to find herself. As Dolly Parton says, “Be Yourself Because Everyone is taken’.” The film is produced with the full support of Dolly Parton and Danny Nozell (executive producer) and features a catalogue of Dolly Parton’s greatest hits.

Production Designer 
Penelope’s career in the film and television industry began when she joined the ABC design department in Melbourne after receiving a degree in Interior Design at RMIT. Whilst at the ABC she cut her teeth on a wide variety of programs, gaining knowledge and experience working on Period Miniseries, Contemporary Dramas, Variety and Award Shows. 

In late 1990, Penelope began working mainly in the ABC comedy department, designing programs such as The Adventures of Lano and WoodleyThe Micallef Program and the much awarded comedy series Kath & Kim.

Penelope left the ABC in 2000 to pursue a freelance career in production design, continuing to amass a diverse and varied body of work. Amongst her film credits are Crackerjack, (2001) directed by Paul Moloney, Lake Mungo (2006) directed by Joel Anderson and Kath & Kimderella also directed by Ted Emery (2011).

Her more recent television credits include three series of Please Like Me for the ABC & the USA network Pivot, HalifaxRetribution for the 9 Network and Come Lie With Me for Fremantle & UK Channel 4. Along with Seriously Red, her latest film project was Woody Woodpecker 2 for Netflix.

Costume Designer
In 1995 Tim won an Academy Award, a BAFTA and an AFI Award for his costume design for the feature film The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert. He later revisited this work in the stage show Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, The Musical which has been performed worldwide and won the 2011 Tony Award for “Best Costume Design in a Musical”. 

Following the success of The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, Tim spent many years in Los Angeles designing for feature films including Today You Die, Lovewrecked, Miss Congeniality, Into The Sun, Red Riding Hood, Mojave Moon and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to name a few. His TV credits include; V.I.P, High Society, Kathy And Mo, as well as a number of music videos for popular artists such as Missy Elliott, Cher and Matchbox 20. 

Tim designed the costumes for Jocelyn Moorhouse’s The Dressmaker and PJ Hogan’s latest film Mental, earning him a “Best Costume Design” nomination for the AACTA awards. He also designed for the TV Series I Will Survive for Channel 10 and Fremantle Media Australia, Channel 9’s Australia’s Got Talent, and Dancing With The Stars. Tim also designs the outlandish costumes for Channel ten’s The Masked Singer both here in Australia as well as the US.

Building upon his theatre work Tim designed for the the costumes for The Sapphires, produced by Black Swan Theatre Company and Company B, Gypsy directed by Gale Edwards and starring Caroline O’Connor, The Pirates Of Penzance directed by Dean Bryant, Guys And DollsWest Side Story and Funny Girl directed by Gale Edwards, the inaugural production of Sweet Charity directed by Dean Bryant at The Hayes Theatre , Dreamlover directed by Simon Phillips and The Boy From Oz also directed by Gale Edwards for The Production Company.

Tim won the Broadway world and the Sydney Theatre award for design costumes for Luckiest Productions/Tinderbox Productions’ season of The Little Shop Of Horrors.

2015 saw Tim expand into new areas including teaching and live events. Teaching at both NIDA and AFTRS is massively satisfying experience that he hopes to continue. His live events include the 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games Opening Ceremony and the 2021 Dubai World Expo Opening Ceremony.

2022’s Seriously Red marks a wonderful return to feature films.


What’s your your usual process as a production designer? And did you have to adapt your process in any particular way for Seriously Red?
PENELOPE: Every job is so different but you always start with the script. This always conjures up ideas & images in your head, which you then discuss with the director, try and get inside their head to see their vision and try to suggest better ones. The process with Seriously Red got off to an unusual start though, with a 2 week stay in Howard Springs, which meant my pre-production time on the ground was extremely compromised. There was a lot of zoom meetings and FaceTime location recces which is not ideal. Luckily, we had a fantastic director and crew on the ground.

Tell us about some of your locations and how they came to be?
PENELOPE: Even though our main location for the Copy Club was the Brunswick Heads Picture House, my favourite location was Viv’s house. It was a local home in Mullumbimby and the colours in it were amazing, something I would not be brave enough to use, but looked incredible. It was tiny and challenging but worth it. The owner was a graphic artist for the ABC many years ago and she had a great eye, it really made that location.

What’s your usual process as a costume designer and did you have to adapt it in any particular way when working on Seriously Red? 
TIM: Funny! I feel exactly the way Penny does. That’s probably why we work so well together. Every show is different but of course, you start with what’s on the page. My job as a costume designer is to read the script, liaise with the other creatives and listen out for the voice of the piece. Like Penny, I see the pictures and opportunities when I’m reading the script and hilariously enough, like Penny I often have to talk the Director into making the best creative decisions. That wasn’t the case on “Seriously Red”. From the beginning, we all had the same creative vision. It was like discovering a family you never knew you had. This kind of tight collaboration is a rare joy and the reason I work in this industry.  I’m truly blessed to have been involved.

Can you tell us about your discussions/interactions with your broader design team or creative team? 
TIM: Having the lead actor also be the writer of the piece added an extra dimension creatively. I always work closely with my actors to bring the characters alive but being able to talk with the writer about intent as well was super satisfying and productive. Our director, Gracie Otto also had amazing ideas. Her background in couture added a wonderful edge. Jess Carrera came through with some amazing sponsors. I think the most amazing collaborator was Penny. She came up with a super tight palette to work with teal, mustard, burnt orange, chocolate brown and cream. It worked a treat and gives “Seriously Red” a distinct visual identity.

Did you have to travel anywhere in particular, and if so what was that experience like? 
TIM: We shot the film in the Northern rivers region. The locals are amazing and so helpful. I used a mix of built and vintage costumes and the vintage shopping was so good.

Were there any particularly challenging characters you designed for?
TIM: Creating homages to such iconic people was both daunting and exhilarating. You have to both hit the mark with the audience’s expectations and yet somehow make it your own vision. I loved the challenge.

The 69th Sydney Film Festival will be back in cinemas across 12 days and nights from 8-19 June 2022, showcasing the greatest, strangest and most exciting works that cinema has to offer.

The Sydney Film Festival is offering a free double pass to see Seriously Red.  Enter below with your name and phone number. The winner will be selected on Friday June 3, 2022 and a Sydney Film Festival representative will be in touch to coordinate your preferred session time. 

Industry Discount

Sydney Film Festival is offering APDG members an industry discount. To access the discount, please sign into your membership account and click the link below.

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