With costume work for several films already under her belt, Ottawa High School grad Jennifer Birzer is making her way in the entertainment industry.
“It’s in a cool industry with great opportunities, but it’s entry level, and I’m still learning a lot,” Birzer said. “And it’s cool to tell people I work in film, even though it’s an entry level job.”
Birzer, a 2009 graduate of Ottawa High School, has been in New York City for over a year working as a costume production assistant and wardrobe supervisor on various films. Soon after arriving in the metropolis in June 2017, Birzer worked on “Like Father,” a comedy released last month on Netflix starring Kirsten Bell, Kelsey Grammer and Seth Rogan. Her credits also include “A Crime to Remember,” “Little Faith,” “Vox Lux,” starring Natalie Portman, and her current project, the hit-HBO series “High Maintenance.”
However, the path that took Birzer to success in New York was a winding one. As a young girl, her interest in show business was piqued by several theatrical and performance experiences.
“My parents took us to see a lot of theater, and they took us to see Peter Pan at the Starlight Theater,” Birzer said. “When I was in elementary school my mom would send the Cytones to my sister and me for Valentine’s Day. I loved their singing and dancing – that was probably a huge influence. I’ve kind of just always enjoyed the theatrical world.”
Her interest in costuming would be a later addendum to her interest in the entertainment industry.
“Growing up, I didn’t necessarily think I wanted to do costumes, but I’ve always really liked clothing and so it was a good fit,” she said.
Birzer brought a burgeoning love of fashion to her college years, deciding to major in it at Kansas State University.
“I decided on fashion, and K-State had a fashion major,” Birzer explained. “I thought I wanted to do Fashion Design because I loved sewing and I love shopping, but I can’t always find the clothes I wanted to buy in the stores, so I was like ‘fashion design, sounds great’.”
Birzer went through the school’s Apparel and Textile undergrad program, eventually switching her emphasis from Apparel Design and Production to Apparel Marketing.
“Their marketing emphasis encompasses all other aspects of apparel besides design, so it includes merchandising, some CAD with Photoshop, and fashion forecasting — basically the entire business side of things, more than the actual design of the clothes,” she said. “But I think costume design – creating an outfit for character, reading a script and really delving into that side of things – has been more interesting for me in the long run.”
Birzer continued to pursue her love of the theatrical while in college by working with Musical Theater Kanasas City’s summer camp.
“During the summers I was their costume designer for camp shows, and some of their winter shows,” she said. “So that was where I really got to be a part of the theater scene. I loved working with them.”
Birzer was unsure of her post-college path after graduating in 2014, but soon won a competitive internship for Nordstrom in Seattle.
“I did their buying internship the summer after I graduated,” she said. “I realize that buying for a fashion company probably wasn’t for me. I still really like Nordstrom – it’s a great place to shop and I love the company – but I didn’t think that buying was for me, because it was more numbers-based than I wanted it to be.”
It was after moving back to Kansas and working in fashion retail for a time that Birzer began working in film. Birzer met a costume designer named Megan Evens, the two exchanged numbers, and Birzer got a call months later in the summer of 2016.
“She was working on this movie in Kansas City called, ‘All Creatures Here Below’,” Birzer said. “That ended up being the first movie I worked on.”
Birzer gained entertainment industry insights from Evans, and also learned that the woman lived in New York.
“I had wanted to live in New York at some point in my life, and I think talking to her made that seem like a realistic idea,” Birzer explained. “She said there are jobs available for costume PAs – production assistant – which is an entry-level position that I would be doing to start out. Which is what I’m doing now.”
Birzer’s move set off a whirlwind of change, which would eventually find her settling into the rhythm of work and play in the city.
“And here I’ve been, for over a year now. It’s gone by really fast,” she said. “The hours are really long — it’s usually 12 hour days — but I like the people I work with the most. And obviously, I like clothes.”
Having worked in entry-level positions for over a year, Birzer is now looking to the next step in her career.
“I’ve been doing PA stuff for over a year now, so I’m getting ready to move on to the next step,” she said. “I like learning, and I feel like I’m learning new stuff every day, but I’m excited to see what the next step will be.”