Allie Shehorn is a freelance makeup and special effects artist. She has worked on music videos, commercials, shorts, and feature films, including the Lunacy Productions thriller Rust Creek. She stopped by Lunacy HQ recently to help us celebrate Halloween and to share some insights about the role of a makeup artist in the independent film world.
Lunacy: What drew you to this profession? Were you always interested in makeup?
Allie Shehorn: No, I was actually going to art school originally. I was getting my BFA in fine art—painting, sculpting, that kind of thing—and there was a film shooting at school one day. I met some of the people on the crew and they seemed really nice. My classmates in art school weren’t as nice or personable; everyone was kind of on their own. So that changed my whole point of view. I decided a film set was more the type of environment I wanted to work in, so I enrolled in the Cinema Makeup School here in L.A., and I’ve been working steadily since I graduated.
LU: You work freelance, so you get to pick and choose which projects you get involved with. What kinds of things factor into that decision?
AS: A decent rate? That’s always nice. (laughs) I always want to make at least minimum wage. When I first got out of school, I took jobs that were basically for free. You’re just trying to meet people, and get your name out there, and build your portfolio. Once you get more experience you try to look for projects that interest you. For me that’s special effects. I’m still pretty new to this, so I still take jobs doing beauty makeup, hairstyling, whatever—but special effects is mainly what I look for in a job. How much blood do they need?
LU: So you can make people look pretty, and you can make people look bloody. What other kinds of things can a special effects makeup artist do?
AS: Creature work, prosthetics, life casting. I do costume stuff, like steampunk masks and things like that. Props, weapons every now and again. Moldmaking. Wounds. Body parts. Organs. Bloody, gory stuff.
LU: When somebody hires you to create a creature for a shoot, what is your process? How do you come up with the creature design?
AS: I usually start by asking the director to send me pictures of things they like in a creature. So they might send me ten different images and tell me what features they like about each one, and I take that and combine those elements into a mockup that I create on my iPad. Then I’ll sculpt it and see where we go from there. We can change and refine it in the clay, and when we’re ready we go through the whole process of creating a mold and running the silicone prosthetics. And that can take a week or two depending on the size of the creature.
LU: Let’s say I’m making a really low budget slasher movie and I don’t think I need a makeup artist. I’m just going to buy some makeup at the Halloween store and some corn syrup blood and do it myself. Why should I consider hiring a professional instead?
AS: When you hire a good makeup artist you get someone who has experience in working with high-end products and who knows what will or won’t look good on camera. Everything is shooting in HD (or 2K or 4K) now, so when you use sub-par materials, or don’t know how to properly use the materials you have, you can really see all the flaws.
Just make sure you do your homework and get the right person for the job. Take a look at their portfolio and see if they can do what you need them to. If they’ve only done beauty makeup and you need special effects, ask to see some samples of that. And definitely meet or have a phone call with them to see if they have the right personality to fit in with the rest of your crew, make sure they sound knowledgeable, things like that.
LU: What’s your favorite part of being a makeup artist?
AS: Every day the job is different. You’re working with different crews and different people and you’re never really doing the same thing twice. I love the little challenges that come up working on set. Like the director might decide they need someone’s throat slit, and it’s just fun being able to look in your kit and figure out how to make that happen on the spot.
LU: What’s your favorite thing you’ve worked on so far?
AS: I did this demon creature for a Crypt TV short that will hopefully be released soon, and it took me two weeks to build it. It’s a lot of hard work and time and effort but I was really happy with the way it came out.
LU: Wrong answer. You were supposed to say Rust Creek.
AS: Rust Creek was amazing! (laughs)
LU: That’s better. Last question: What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give someone that’s thinking about working in independent film?
AS: Hire a good makeup artist. Someone who’s a team player and will help out in any way they can.
LU: Hey, that sounds like you!
AS: Yeah, hire me!