Producer & Director: Stanley Kubrick
Co-Producers: Jan Harlan and Phil Hobbs
Cast: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D'Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Dorian Harewood, Kevyn Major Howard, Arliss Howard, Ed O'Ross, John Terry, Kieron Jecchinis, Kirk Taylor, Tim Colceri, John Stafford, Bruce Boa, Ian Tyler, Sal Lopez, Gary Landon Mills and Ngoc Le. For TA and other members of cast please refer to IMDB.
Credit: Co-Make-up Artist - Single Card front end.
This was probably the best picture of my careeer. Nothing before or since has come close to the experience, the amazing experience that was working with Stanley Kubrick. His focus and concentration were unswerving, his discipline total and his dedication to perfection and detail uncompromising, the best I've ever known. That's why he was considered 'difficult' to work with, but I don't have, and have never had a problem with doing my best to 'meet' a director or artist in their vision. Mutual respect makes it possible and more enjoyable. Sometimes it isn't easy and you have to man up and push yourself until you nail it - and there's nothing wrong with that. If you don't - then how are you to grow as an artist or a film technician? I think there was a part of Stanley that was just shy and found people in numbers difficult to manage when all he wanted to do was forge ahead with his vision. I get it, some teams can be a challenge to keep on point, especially for someone who is alegedly, possibly was on the spectrum. He had a great smile when he chose to and I have a photo to prove it ;-)
How on earth did I get this gig at the age of 25 you may ask? It all began, as it always does in this industry with a phone call, a magical phone call. Someone somewhere got my number ;-) 1984 and 1985 had been very busy years for me working as an assistant on "Lady Jane", "Club Paradise" and Chiefing my own picture for Lewis Gilbert "Not Quite Jerusalem", so I guess word was getting around.
I received a call one day to go and 'help out' on this Kubrick production, to do some dirtying down. When I got there it transpired two previous Chiefs had been fired by Stanley and the remaining assistant make-up artist Jennifer Boost was struggling on her own. When I arrived at the appointed time with my own products, I could see why. Make-up was in a Portakabin and outside was a line of about 30 men in uniform ready to be made up, in total there were would be 60 cast and crowd that day which we did between just the two of us. Little did I know this was a mix of our actors and TA 'extras'. We cracked on, got the call out and only then did I meet Jenny properly for the first time. Stanley asked for me to be asked back the next day .... and the next and then, on the third day, I received a message ... "Stanley wants you to do a bullet hit test". I did the test on a TA volunteer while Jenny covered set and I went to see Stanley with my test for a "show'n'tell". Continued below ...
I stood next to my test, which anyone in the business will tell you, is quite a thing to do - especially for Stanley Kubrick. Stanley walked right up to the artist, then closer still, scrutinised my work for a good 5 seconds and said "I'll buy that", and with what I would come to know as his customary abruptness, he walked away.
I was asked to go to the office and speak to Phil Hobbs who asked me if I would stay on the picture. I had rumbled this might happen and had discussed terms with Jenny as I could tell she was concerned I might be hired over her as the new Chief. As we were of similar age and experience I offered we proceed as equals, splitting the fees, the credit. From then on just the 2 of us cracked through the cast and TA crowd. I chose to do Matthew as my leading artist and Jenny did Adam because they had key scenes together in those first few weeks in the Pagoda set and we split up the rest of the platoon as most practical according to the days filming, though an informal rhythm did form. We approached and prepared the make-up effects together, dead NVA were done my way, (I made-up the featured dead NVA in the Pagoda set); products, and suchlike were discussed and we worked as a pair, a team. When necessary we worked with the SFX team, John Evans and co. and were briefly involved in discussions on how we'd do Pvt. Pyle's suicide. In the end it was entirely John Evans effect, the blood and brain matter were delivered to the white tiles behind Vincent D'Onofrio by a pneumatic pipe from bottom left of frame. The other effect I remember working on was the severed head of the sniper. The artist went for a life cast and the prosthetic head arrived, but it needed finishing at the neck with more flesh and gore so I made some vein and artery tubes and "fleshy" areas and attached them to the neck and had the idea that when lifted it could be out of a tray of blood so it was dripping when lifted into frame. Perhaps it was too much in the end, because it was not in the final cut, but that's the way it goes sometimes - perhaps it was too ghoulish in Stanley's opinion. Anyway, as Lewis Gilbert once said, "If you don't shoot it you can't cut it."
On my last day Phil Hobbs suggested I go say goodbye to Stanley, and I'm glad I did because he paid me a lovely compliment and said "You did a good job". I felt terrific and felt like I was walking on air for a few hours afterwards.
I have been asked to go in and replace the HOD on 3 other films, "Hannah's War" (1988), "The Dirty Dozen" (1988) TV series for MGM/UA and "The Devil's Harvest" (2015) - and in all three cases there was a positive outcome for the Production and myself. In the case of "The Dirty Dozen" the problem was simply they needed another pair of hands and the existing chief and I happily worked together for the rest of the series and remained friends afterwards and in the case of "Hannah's War" Menahem Golan, asked me to do another picture with him, "The Threepenny Opera".
Below are some original black and white photos I've kept with the script and call sheets for years. I was a keen photographer at the time, and I think I took them. I have also took a lovely smiley picture of Stanley which I'll get around to uploading.
It's a shame both our eyes closed with the flash, but here's a shot of us at work. In my hand is a beard trimmer to keep Matthew's stubble in check, this is how I know it's before I applied the tan gel, sun-kissed rosiness, dirt and grime. In the background you can see Kevin Major Howard to the right and a TA extra at the mirror adjusting his shave to the left. It was really informal but we all cracked on efficiently and happily. We even had a spell of practical jokes.