Bob Scribner is an accomplished makeup and special effects artist. He has worked on the set of Planet of the Apes, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, CSI, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jericho, and Deadwood (to name a few). He has won two primetime Emmys: Outstanding Makeup for a Series (Non-Prosthetic) for Deadwood, and Outstanding Individual Achievement in Makeup for a Series (Star Trek: The Next Generation). He has also won the Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Award for his work on the television series American Dreams. We interviewed him for a look inside his world!
What is your favourite project so far?
I’ve loved so many of the projects I’ve worked on, but if I had to pick, I’d say Deadwood because it was quite challenging. On the show, I had to create the effect of the blood and the dirt, which was a challenge, and there was always something new to work on. I also did the beauty work for the girls. When you’re dealing with a film set (as opposed to a television set), there is more opportunity and more time to do prep work.
I’ve also worked on Pirates of the Caribbean. That was a challenging project because the director had a very specific idea of what he wanted and I had to turn that into a reality. Prep work in film is great, because if the actor has a problem with some part of the look, you find out before you actually start filming. On things like Deadwood and CSI, you are told exactly what is expected, so you have to come up with something quickly and think on your feet.
What was your proudest moment as a makeup artist?
Receiving my Guild Award from our Union was one of my proudest moments as a makeup artist. Being congratulated for my work was a great feeling. It made me feel as though I had earned my right to be there.
What are some of the challenges involved in working with prosthetics?
When you have a film set in the future like Planet of the Apes, futuristic makeup and artificial enhancements are required. The prosthetics are custom-made and they fit beautifully; when you start laying makeup on, they feel like a second skin. With Star Trek, the prosthetic pieces that we used (nose, forehead, chin) would sometimes have to be done five or six times. When we took them off at night after filming, we’d have to immediately dress them and get them ready for the next day. That posed quite the interesting challenge, but it was incredibly fun. I have also found that a makeup artist who really knows his craft is less controlling and wants to see what you can produce. When you accept other artists’ work it makes you look good, too.
Why did you decide to be a makeup artist, and what keeps you coming back?
Before I got into makeup, I was selling real estate. It was okay, but I wasn’t completely satisfied; something was missing. It was my brother who first got me interested in makeup. He called me one day asking me to be a model because the one they had booked didn’t show. So, I went to the makeup department, which was filled with makeup artists, and we laughed the whole time. These people are artists and are different from anyone else. We are all a little nutty at times! It becomes an artistic experience and a challenge every day; either there’s a personality you have to work with or you might have to realize you are working with another artist that is a little wacky (not that being wacky is a bad thing).
Would you say that it is the element of challenge that keeps you coming back?
For me, it is the fact that people are sitting in my chair because they want to (not because they have to) that caters to my ego and keeps me coming back. I’m the kind of person that is constantly researching and trying to keep up to date with styles and trends. Practicing and honing your craft constantly and studying the latest in the industry is a challenge, but with that challenge comes the mark of accomplishment. Your mind is constantly trying to figure out how to produce better results. The way I see it, you can be bored and not care about improving yourself or you can care and want to learn and really take advantage of every opportunity.
What would you say is the #1 best practice for any makeup artist to follow?
I’d say there are a few “best practices” for makeup artists. The whole notion of being organized and clean is very important. You want to give the clients the best impression you can so they remember your professionalism and the positive experience you provided.
I also think you need to realize that at least at the outset, you need to be able to bite your tongue and not divulge your personal opinion, no matter the circumstance. Clients are coming to you for makeup, not life advice. In some ways, when you’re first beginning, the less you are noticed, the better. You don’t want someone thinking “who’s that loudmouth doing makeup?” Just be modest, humble, and appreciative.
Have you ever had to deal with a particularly difficult client?
I have had my share of difficult clients, but for all their difficulties, they were beautiful and great in other ways. One actress liked very long lashes on her every morning. She was very particular about how they should look, and if I didn’t put the lashes on exactly that way, she wasn’t happy. I wouldn’t say they were totally difficult, but they would make it known if your makeup wasn’t on par. However, if you were dedicated and committed to doing a great job, they would want you to do their makeup regularly.
What do you think are some of the pitfalls or challenges that new makeup artists face?
I think it is important to remember that you are replaceable and you can be removed from a project or film quite easily. In my day, makeup artists were hired by the director as part of the film crew, but now the actors and actresses have a much larger say in who stays and who goes. Also, when you’re first starting out, you tend to think that you will be working every week. You might be off for several weeks or months in between makeup gigs, so you need to have something to fall back on. It takes time to build a name for yourself. You have to make sure you don’t form bad habits and that you’re trained correctly and know what you’re doing.
Is there anything you know now you wish someone had told you when you were starting your career?
You see, the problem with me is that I probably wouldn’t have listened if you had told me. I wish I had realized that though I was young and ready to start a career, I had to learn on my own, unfortunately. The model you have at QC is great, because you have a mentor there with you. That’s one thing that I wish I’d had: more people around me to ask for advice. I didn’t ask enough questions and I didn’t have anybody I could call and ask questions to. It is really great that QC has that. It can be very confusing when you’re starting out and you don’t always know the right answer.