One week ago I headed out west to the International Make-up Artist Trade Show (IMATS) in LA. This was my second year attending the show, and I took my notes from last year in order to be better prepared for this year’s madness. My notes, in short, read like this: “Shop first, shop fast, take as many classes as possible”. For those of you who have attended trade shows, especially ones in which there is a great deal of shopping direct from vendors, you know that it SUCKS. Maybe some people love it, but if you’re a bizarre, introverted type A like myself, the shopping part is sort of hell on earth.
See? Hellish, right?!? Opening night was pro-only, so my MUA friends (Crystal and Bek from Cirque FX, beauty artist Jen Brown) and I jumped right in with our shopping lists and cold hard cash. I stocked up on some long time favorites (Embryolisse products, a favorite mattifier, Crown brushes, Nurturing Force primer) and had a chance to see and handle some things I’ve been curious about (Linear Standby Belts, Vueset palettes, Viseart’s much beloved neutral eyeshadow palette). I squeezed my way in to say hello to my friends at the ever-swamped Frends booth, and elbowed my way in to say hi to my wonderful artist / educator friend Autumn, at the Crown Brush booth. Full disclosure, my travel companion Jen and I had a margarita before we hit the show. That is definitely going into my notes for next year, as a must do.
Day one of the IMATS began like this; strong coffee and long lines. Once we made it into the show, I headed straight to the education wing of the convention center, the place where you could visit the Makeup Museum, watch the “Battle of the Brushes” student competition, and take numerous classes from industry pros. The class I intended to sit for seemed to have been cancelled, and I found myself listening to Robin Mathews, the Dept. Head of Dallas Buyers Club. I was riveted. I sat down and started taking notes. Listening to her answer questions and talk about DBC with interviewer Joe Nazarro is truly worth a whole blog of its own, but I’ll do my best to sum it up.
Also worth a blog of its own is my obsession with character, and why that has led me to be passionate about film and tv makeup. For right now, I’ll try to focus. Dallas Buyers Club is an incredible feat of character makeup. Most people know that Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto lost weight to play their roles in the film, but most people do not know that it was shot in 28 days, on a relatively modest budget, with a handheld camera using ambient lighting. What does this mean to a makeup artist? It means camera was ready in 5 minutes, but makeup changes still take the same amount of time. Since the film was shot out of sequence (as most are) this also meant that during one shooting day the characters might have up to 5 different complete changes, and when you’re talking about people whose health deteriorates drastically, these are important and very particular looks. Because of the severe time constraints, Mathews and her team used old school, tried and true methods to add and take away weight. Plumping the face with reverse highlight and contour to add pounds, and using in depth knowledge of human facial anatomy to take away pounds in the areas that recede with illness; temples, under cheekbones, along the jawline.
Technical challenges aside, DBC also presented a number of exciting opportunities for the makeup dept. The film is set in Dallas in the mid-’80s, so it was a period piece as well as needing to have region specific makeup. Texas, you guys! In the 80’s! McConaughey and Leto’s characters battle illness throughout the film, and Leto’s character is a trasngendered drug addict, so there were endless layers to the character looks. During her talk, Robin Mathews said that for a project like this, you really need to “relish the research”. Some of her inspiration for Leto’s character were 60’s starlets, Bridgette Bardot, Twiggy, and Dolly Parton.
The next class I took was, “Pretty as a Drag Queen” with Courtney Tichman from OCC. I’m a big fan of OCC (not least of all because they were very generous and sent some amazing product to use on a film I did last year) and this sounded like a blast. Right from the start, Courtney said that the takeaway from this class would be, “Put more on. If you want to be more glamorous, put more on!” I’d have to agree. The class was fun, a good refresher in highlight and contour and sculpting the face.
Day One of the IMATS, I got to have lunch with my beautiful and talented friend Karina, who I met on an indie feature last fall. We talked about working on this film together, and how it affected us. She reinforced the feeling that I am so fortunate to have worked on this, because of the cast and crew. Even though I had to keep pushing myself through all of the difficulties, in the end, I am so damn proud of what we did on that movie. I gushed to her about the DBC talk, and we sat in the sunshine and caught up on all the other things in life. I adore her, and the fact that she made time to see me (in Pasadena!) while I was in town just made me that much happier to be in the business that I’m in. She is a gem.
Next up was the Thomas Suprenant, Out of the Kit Character Makeup class. I really loved this one, he had two models onstage and brought only the ubiquitous large, clear set bag that I myself use. He unpacked it for the audience, and explained each product and why you might carry it. I loved seeing so many of the items that I carry and use, as well as some neat new tricks that I can’t wait to try. He talked about the challenges of starting your day doing a full makeup in a trailer, then going to set with everything you MIGHT need on hand, at a moments notice. The ever changing “perfect” set bag!
Day One ended with Steve Prouty discussing the transformative makeup for Johnny Knoxville in Bad Grandpa, and the nature of making a film in which the public cannot know they’re on film or that Johnny Knoxville is the man they’re interacting with. Fun fact, Prouty notes that, “In North Carolina you can get people to help you bury a body”. The makeup and prosthetics had to be “bulletproof” due to the amount of expression that Knoxville uses with his face, hands, and whole body. There were stunts involved too, so that adds another element of challenge. And a makeup artist’s favorite — stunts followed by a CLOSE UP (note: not actually a makeup artist’s favorite). He talked about working under time constraints, and the need for the makeup dept to become a well-oiled machine and execute the look with perfect precision each time, in under 3 hours. Say what you will, but Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa has an Academy Award nomination.
Day Two of the IMATS began with a class on Color Fundamentals, with my friend Autumn Scruggs. Autumn has an unusual and fantastic background in that she started in makeup effects and animatronics, and then discovered that she loves beauty makeup. Her philosophy is exactly what I love about beauty makeup; clean and fresh, with healthy skin that actually looks like skin, not plastic. Her color theory is spot on, and it is apparent that she loves teaching. She knows her stuff when it comes to product, and is happy to share, however she does emphasize that being an artist is about experimentation and thinking on your feet. Use whatever works best for you when it comes to brushes, makeup, and technique. I’m lucky to call her a friend, and I get to pick her brain about makeup whenever she’s in Chicago!
The Bill Corso keynote was exactly what you’d expect, a retrospective of his brilliant career with some truly mind-blowing makeups. I’m sure the reel didn’t even scratch the surface of the work he’s done. A truly fun part of the talk was dedicated to an old age makeup he did for Heidi Klum last Halloween. Klum is known for elaborate Halloween makeups, and she contacted Corso with her request months in advance. It was a full body makeup, complete with custom prosthetics and painstakingly applied vericose veins. Show director Michael Key noted that if this makeup had been in a movie, it would likely be nominated for an Oscar.
The last talk of the day, Joe Nazarro interviewing Dexter Dept Head Keith Hall, was a great way to wrap up the show. In a recurring theme for me, I was fascinated by the variety and the task creating “normal” characters (cops, regular citizens), regional makeup (Miami tans), and ultimate gore. Hall was humble and softspoken about his work, but when the Q&A began, his excitement about his job was clear. The intense schedule of working on a episodic (especially one with so much BLOOD) and breaking down a script one week in advance is something I have yet to do, and I hope I get a chance to work on someday. During their respective talks, both Hall and Mathews spoke about the actors involvement in their character’s looks, and I love that collaborative part of the job.
I enjoyed the whole weekend, but truly, the winner for me was listening to Robin Mathews talk about DBC. For me, it was everything I love. It was the perfect mix of behind-the-scenes stories, character design and collaboration with actors, clever product usage (grits and cornmeal borrowed from Mathews’ Mom!), and the entirely relatable less-than-perfect conditions of filmmaking that end up leaving an artist with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. After the show, I spent three more days in LA with my husband; eating, drinking, sightseeing, and hanging out at some of the coolest dive (and non dive) bars I’ve ever been to. I caught up with friends that moved out there years ago, and now that I’m in the same business, we had a ton of catching up to do. I admitted to a DP friend that I kind of want to live, eat, and breathe my work right now. I would definitely not hate it, if work in LA became a part of my future. It’s all about the company you keep, and I’ve got some awesome friends out there.