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USC costume design degree leads grad to dream job on TV’s Outlander

A chance meeting leads to a Beverly Hills exhibition and elaborate work on the time-traveling romantic drama filmed in Scotland.

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Here’s how 2016 USC School of Dramatic Arts costume design graduate Megan Guthrie-Wedemeyer’s summer is going.

In breakneck fashion, she’s moved from a chance meeting in a restaurant to a temporary gig mounting an Emmy-season exhibition to packing for a dream job in Scotland on the costume team for Outlander, one of the most lavish period pieces ever produced for TV.

“Honestly, I can’t believe it’s real,” she said.

The journey begins

It started this way. Guthrie-Wedemeyer, who designed costumes for five productions at USC Dramatic Arts, was at home in Valencia three weeks before graduation and at a restaurant ran into the mother of a girl she knew in high school. The mother is an accountant for the time-traveling romantic drama Outlander. The mother asked Guthrie-Wedemeyer for her résumé, which was given to Terry Dresbach, the show’s Emmy Award-winning costume designer.

Dresbach, who normally works in Scotland where the Starz show is filmed, happened to be in Los Angeles, seeking help to curate an exhibition of the show’s elaborate costumes and sets for Starz and Sony Pictures Television. The Artistry of Outlander would be mounted in The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, following an earlier exhibit at Sak’s Fifth Avenue in New York City.

On the Monday of Guthrie-Wedemeyer’s last week at USC, she interviewed for the job of dressing, transporting and arranging the mannequins. She landed the job that same day, started on Thursday and then had to ask for Friday off to attend her graduation ceremony.

Friends in need, friends indeed

And then things got even better. Living out the axiom that USC grads conquer Hollywood by joining hands and walking through the gates together, Guthrie-Wedemeyer was able to hire four USC colleagues to help mount the exhibition, which opened in June and runs through Aug. 14 at the Paley Center.

She hired two fellow costume design graduates, Meagan Smith and Marly Hall, with whom she spent four years in class.

“They are a triumvirate — on task, creative and have a wonderful team spirit,” said Terry Ann Gordon, who teaches costume design at USC Dramatic Arts and is a governor of the Television Academy. “They have always helped each other out, and we couldn’t be prouder of them.”

Guthrie-Wedemeyer also tapped Jonathan Stoller-Schoff, a 2016 USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences grad in international relations whom Guthrie-Wedemeyer met in her residence hall during her freshman year. He directed an independent student production for which she did the costumes and worked on “countless” theater projects. She also sought out Emma Menzies, a newly minted USC School of Cinematic Arts grad in film production, who directed a few short films where Guthrie-Wedemeyer did the costumes.

“I worked on so many productions with these people that it was a no-brainer to hire them,” Guthrie-Wedemeyer said. “All are really hard workers and great people.”

Packing it in

The 18th-century costumes arrived in crates from Scotland at a production office in Pasadena. Guthrie-Wedemeyer, Smith and Hall had to dress the more than 25 mannequins, which turned out to be no easy task.

“For modern mannequins, corsets don’t do anything,” Guthrie-Wedemeyer said. “And the period shoes kept falling off the heels. We had to figure out how to make the clothes work.”

Alterations — some with an electric saw — were made to the mannequins, not the clothing. Fully dressed, the mannequins made the trip to Beverly Hills in a 26-foot U-Haul truck. The USC team drove the truck and set up the mannequins on the center’s first and second floors.

By the time the exhibit opened in early June with a gala event for the art director and costume designer guilds, Guthrie-Wedemeyer had been offered a job as a costume trainee in Scotland on Outlander. She leaves for Glasgow Aug. 15.

“It’s a dream job,” Guthrie-Wedemeyer said. Since the show incorporates time travel, starting in the 1940s with a World War II nurse who is transported to the 1740s, there are two different periods of clothing to create.

“Because it incorporates those two different time periods, Terry Dresbach designed 18th-century costumes inspired by the 1940s, including the iconic Dior bar suit transformed into an 18th-century garment,” Guthrie-Wedemeyer explained. “Her pieces answer the question, ‘how do you translate time travel into costume’?”

Due to visa restrictions, Guthrie-Wedemeyer will have to leave Scotland next February. She will return, however, with a solid professional credit on her résumé.

Gordon, who wrote a recommendation letter for Guthrie-Wedemeyer for the Outlander job, said her solid background will hold her in good stead for the future.

“She’s very skilled creatively and also does the research to back up her choices.”

‘Find your tribe’

In the class she teaches the business of costume design at USC Dramatic Arts, Gordon tells her students to “find your tribe.” She said that students who work together in college tend to hire each other throughout their careers, knowing that they speak a common language, understand each other’s aesthetics and know their academic background and skills.

“My goal is to get them working and not be wanna-be designers,” she said.

Gordon’s wish for this year’s trio of graduating costume designers is coming true. In addition to Guthrie-Wedemeyer’s success, Smith just landed a costume job on the USA Network show Colony and Hall is busy designing costumes for two plays opening in August (Mmmbeth at Rio Hondo College in Whittier and Mutual Philanthropy at the Atwater Village Theatre in Glendale).

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