Steven Spielberg's "The Post", "Molly's Game", "I Tonya" and "Wonder" in 2018 and "Sicaro" and "Eye in the Sky" in 2017,
Producers: Kevin Proctor & Mark Vennis (POW Films)
Charlotte Arden (Gizmo Films) and Peter Dunphy - Executive Producer
Macy Shackleton (Age 9)
Hebe Beardsall (20's)
Maxine Peake (30's and early 40's)
I'd worked worked with Maxine twice on "Henry IV Pt. 2" and in "The Falling" she was our leading lady. It was Maxine who suggested I'd be a good choice for "Funny Cow".
There was so much to like about this script; the opportunity to work with Maxine again, the co-creative possibilities with the people involved, the acerbic, engaging script which spanned 4 decades of very different periods, 1950's - 1080's.
Spanning 4 decades required bullet pointing the periods and traveling the eponymous "Funny Cow", and 2 other key characters through their arcs over 2 or 3 decades with multiple actors playing each. Each character needed to be instantly placed in period, social tone, and moment.
"Funny Cow" remains one of my favourite and most satisfying productions, up there with "Full Metal Jacket", "Hornblower", "Casanova" and "Margaret Thatcher - The Long Walk to Finchley". For "Funny Cow" which was a gritty piece rather than stylised, my work had to be thin and realistic, not at all conspicuous and yet we needed definite differences to register the movement through time.
I particularly liked the scene at the end of the film in the hospital when Bob is dying. His hair was much shorter than we were used to seeing him wear for the 70's which was a very clear difference between the 70s and 80's. In hospital he had a very short 80's blue collar haircut and Maxine visits with a full-blown 80's perm, which had also been coloured, bleached. It's not obvious to the uninitiated, but this would have been very expensive to have done and maintain which reflects her newfound wealth and success which contrasted dramatically with her 'own' brown hair and simpler 'home spun' hairstyle as the younger "Funny Cow".
The character of "Funny Cow" is played by 3 actresses, Macy Shackleton age 8, Hebe Beardsall in her 20's and Maxine Peake for the character's 30's-early 40's. As usual, when joining up 3 actresses into one character, it's common practice to carry through one definitive characteristic. I needed to find the one that could work for all three actresses. It had to be a characteristic that could thread through the necessary changes - and this was the fringe. Neither Macy nor Hebe had fringes, but we chatted about the through line and they kindly agreed to not only let me cut their hair but to cut in short definite fringes - not something most actresses would allow. Thank you Macy. Thank you Hebe.
Funny Cow's Mum was played by Christine Bottomley and Lindsey Coulson. Lindsey's hair was in a useful cut for her 1970's look, but Lindsey's was a gorgeous bright blonde - far too bright for our palette and too long and layered in a modern cut to convincingly and quickly achieve a period look for her section - so I wigged her in an ash blonde wig to bring her towards Lindsey's colouring and dressed it in an 'old fashioned' hangover from the 1940's look. Bob was played by Tom Gibbons and Tony Pitts - the only option here was to wig Tony with a stock wig from Alex Rouse. It was a nice little wig, it worked well on Tony, but because it wasn't made for him and was a little shorter than I'd've liked, it needed regular on-set attention. Still, we were lucky to find one from stock that worked at all at such short notice, (2 weeks before filming, with a Christmas and New Year break taking up most of that 2 weeks).
Part of the appeal of low budget films is that although one puts in more hours than are paid because resources are limited, you are generally left to get on with the job with your actors and then "show'n'tell" for directorial approval. Sometimes bigger pictures are more about trying to harmonise design by committee which can throw up some complicated steers, swallows up precious time while everyone pitches in and can push the look of a picture into the incongruent or worse the unbelievable. If you have the time, access to the cast for tests, time and resources for tweaks and re-tests that's fine, but often, unbeknownst to those in the 'committee' time is often too pressing for the committee process and to achieve the quiet, thin, finished work that sits well and 'invisibly' within the tone of the whole production.
As I have said, this picture spans 4 decades 1950's-1980's. In prep it was simple math, the script was 90 pages to be shot over 25 days, that's an average of 3.6 pages a day, which is a full day for most feature films. So in prep, we agreed that most days we'd need to schedule sticking to one period.
On "Margaret Thatcher - The Long Walk to Finchley" we filmed an average of 5 pages a day which was pretty intense, with both Andrea Riseborough and Rory Kinnear ageing 20 years; so with a bigger cast, more periods and more extras I knew I had my work cut out if I was going to acquit myself decently of the requirements of "Funny Cow".
I had a very modest bonded budget of £8.5K for 36 principals with initially 96 crowd (the number at which I signed off on my budget, but which ballooned to nearly 400 in the last half of the shoot, and on one of the last and our biggest crowd days, 4 friends of someone turned up to be extras, and they'd not been fitted, nor had I received a heads up-so that and numerous last minute surprises had to be managed).
Most of the crowd were set in the 1970's, which is one of THE most expensive periods to achieve for make-up and hair. Thankfully, I was brought on very early and due to the film being put back a couple of times, I could prep very thoroughly and do extra in my own time. I appreciate working with film makers who are appreciative of the detail being correct and I'll pull out all the stops to make it so. I don't mean to sound pretentious, but once you've worked for months with Stanley Kubrick as I did on "Full Metal Jacket" and been around his uncompromising passion for detail, it's difficult, almost impossible let things slide or 'do'. I haven't done the make-up designers' equivalent of an Alan Smithee yet, nor do I propose to do so.
In prep I focused on how make most effective use of the Leeds SA casting pool by casting the right hair lengths for the right periods. The Leeds SA casting pool was only so big it would have been senseless to call someone for a 1950's scene just because they the right fit for the costume if their hair was too long, and would be better used as lovely 60's or 70's hair which we might need on another day. This would save the cost of paying people to have their hair cut into 'severe' period hair cuts, AND the time to do the fittings in advance for said hair cuts, and save on unnecessary wigs and the extra staff to affix and maintain them.
Then this needed to be translated into a foolproof formula that would be useful to the 2nd AD Gemma Nunn and used effectively by the crowd casting companies so that the SA's were shortlisted by hair criteria as well as fit for Costume.
This would save a lot of time and money that we didn't have and it really worked.
Gemma and I would then go through the castings to decided who'd be best for which period. It was simple and effective, and time spent up front in this way SAVED LOTS OF TIME away from the later part of the process of getting people to set.
I kept two copies of the document on the make-up truck to be readily available for cast fittings and meetings and for my main team and dailies to refer to and keep their eye in. It was invaluable.
Since spending time in New York in the 90's frequently visiting friends I learned some essential American phrases/philosophies which go completely against the draconian hangover of Victorian work ethic that exists in the UK, but I like them anyway and apply one in particular wherever possible - "Work smart not hard". I don't mind hard work at all, but I'm not a fan of stupid or unnecessary hard work. It was clear it was going to be hard enough to deliver feature quality results on "FC" for the budget, so we had to work smart too.
I am so I am grateful that Gemma our 2nd saw the value of the plan and was willing this one time to depart from the norm and cast for hair as well as costume and resolutely stick to some fundamental requirements in the crowd casting, such as no fake tans, acrylic nails and none of the current trend for over shaped "slug" eyebrows.
I am sure that for a picture of this size budget I would have only been given 3 weeks prep, if that, which, believe me, would have been absolutely impossible, a disaster and I'd've had to walk away. I'm experienced enough to know and see what's coming and what's needed rather than believe and fall in with the wishful thinking of the budget makers. What? Am I going to say yes and then say, " Who'd've thunk?"
Thankfully due to the fact I was crewed so early I knew I could if necessary put in my own time. The roll date slipped twice, so I was able to give put in the time the film really needed which was probably more like 6 weeks solid with a few days up front of that to get Maxine's wigs discussed and started. To get Maxine's brown wig made and the blonde one re-fronted, took 5 weeks and that's not including the meeting 10 days beforehand which depended on Maxine's availability before work could even start on the wigs.
Most productions horribly underestimate the time and artist availability needed to commission a successful wig and worse production are often under the misunderstanding that the best people are just waiting around for their production. The best wig makers are busy and if not booked far enough in advance, will not necessarily be available. The effects of such choices are out of the hands of the hair designer and often made months in advance of filming and can make their detrimental presence felt on screen, and the hairdresser often wears it.
This picture required the eponymous "Funny Cow" to be represented from age 9 to early 40's, played by 3 actresses. The character of Funny Cow's boyfriend "Bob" plays a couple of decades with 2 actors and "Funny Cow Mum" through 3 decades with 2 actresses. To help the audience suspend disbelief I wanted to create a trait in common to link the actors as immediately as possible.
For the character of "Funny Cow" I felt a fringe could tick a number of boxes, it was authentic for the 1950's, often worn by little girls of 10 IF accompanied by an above the shoulder hair cut. It could also work for the 1960's on Hebe and from past experience of working with Maxine, I knew a fringe would suit her and work with various hair styles she could wear for the 1970's and 1980's. The key to achieving this would be to get Macy and Hebe to agree as neither had fringes and Macy's hair was down to her shoulder blades, it's a big thing to ask an actress to cut her hair significantly for a role - most absolutely won't and wigs are required, but we couldn't possibly afford to wig Hebe and wigging Macy was out of the question. I'm grateful to Hebe and Macy for jumping in with the plan.
For "Bob" played Tom Gibbons has blue eyes which had to match Tony Pitts' brown eyes, so Tom wore brown contact lenses. Tony Pitts sideburns were made to measure in a redder, warmer colour than his hair, just like his own beard.
For "Funny Cow Mum", Lindsey Coulson, had dark blonde hair and though Christine Bottomley also had blonde hair, it was very long and bright for our palette so I wigged Christine to shorten her hair length and tone down her colour. Even though Christine works in the 1950's part of the story, we agreed to keep her hair 'old-fashioned' in a late 1940's, dated, practical and an easy style that she could do herself, without heated rollers or tongs which would have been beyond her means, and as a drunk beyond her interest. This also fitted with her reduced circumstances, common in post war Britain.