Kate Griffiths moves from teaching speech to leaving audiences speechless with SFX Make Up
We are delighted to chat with theatrical makeup artist, Kate Griffiths. who has over 10 years experience in the film and theatre industry as a freelance makeup artist in special effects, design and makeup application. Kate has worked on many short and feature films, both here and abroad. This interviewer follows Kate on twitter and her work is brilliant and occasionally very gory - so fair warning! -
Hi Kate, thanks for taking time out of your hectic schedule. Before we start properly, I’ve a question that’s been bugging me for ages – how on earth do you do the massive hole through the hand special effect – or is it a trade secret?
It’s actually so simple and it’s really a trick on the mind, there’s no Photoshop or editing involved! I take two identical pieces of paper/packaging/card, cut a small piece out of one and stick it on the hand and then build flesh around it. I then have to line the hand up with whatever is underneath so that when you take a photo it looks as though you are looking through a hole. It only works on camera, or with the eyes directly over the hole, otherwise it won’t line up. It only takes about 5 minutes to do, it’s honestly very simple!
Your work covers film, theatre, promotional work and teaching. How did you start out and get to where you are now?
I used to work in education, strangely in speech and language and loved being in the classroom but felt I wasn’t fulfilling myself creatively so I took a 1 year course and studied whilst I was working. As soon as I’d qualified I knew I would not want to continue with what I was doing. I was fortunate enough to do a few jobs teaching what I’d learnt and eventually whilst doing that, my school job and doing as much work for free at weekends and evenings in local theatres and with indie film companies, I managed to give up my “real” job and started out as a full-time freelancer and haven’t looked back since. It was hard, but I knew I could do it. I wouldn’t want to do it now, there are so many people coming into the industry and not enough work.
Exit 6 Film Festival is dedicated to showcasing short films – can you tell us a bit about the work you’ve done on shorts?
I do a lot of shorts. I enjoy working on them as you don’t have to commit days and days or even weeks and weeks of long-term travel etc which you do when you work on a feature, unless of course the production company can really push it out quickly. Generally I’ll be sent a script, I go through it, highlight all the SFX and then work out with the producer or director how we can get it done in the shortest amount of time. It’s better for their budget rather than having an MUA on set all the time they are filming, it’s a waste of their money and my time! I like to crack on and get all the FX done and leave!
Is working on a feature film vastly different than working on a short?
Only in the time commitment, although working on a feature is great fun working with the cast and crew – I’ve always got on well with whoever I work with and if you’re going to have to be up early doing people’s makeup and being on set all day, then you need to be happy in what you’re doing! It’s good to do features as well as shorts, but again my time can usually be worked out so that I’m only there for when I’m needed to do all the SFX, and most people love that part of the shoot!
As I mentioned earlier, some of the work I’ve seen of yours on social media is scary and pretty gory – is this the majority of your job requests?
Yes! Basically, I specialise in horror. I love it. I like being able to create something hideous, scary and very bloody – I see it as an art form. In fact, I also do a lot of work for the NHS replicating severe trauma scenarios for the Advanced Learning Life Support exams, which although different from horror is actually at the same time very similar – it’s called Moulage. I’ve learned a lot of medical terminology. I guess that nothing fazes me – if a director wants something very specific I take pleasure in being able to work out how to make it, make it as cheaply as possible (because everyone’s on a tight budget!) and also how to make it incredibly scary at the same time as being anatomically as correct as possible. It's not always easy, but I usually find it fun!
What’s your favourite type of job?
A good horror film without a doubt! I’m just reading a script for someone where I will need to cut the chest open – that’ll mean another trip to my butchers for a venison rib cage!
You also do a lot of teaching work with young people – how did this come about and what kind of work do you do with them?
I’ve always loved being in the classroom – my tagline for my workshops is ENGAGE, EDUCATE, INSPIRE and I believe that I’ve fulfilled all three aspects with everyone that I’ve worked with over the years. I’ve been into hundreds and hundreds of schools, colleges and universities sharing my knowledge with students studying Performing, Creative or Visual Art subjects. Schools also have to offer Enrichment – it’s part of the curriculum where young people are given opportunities to explore a subject that would never be offered within the school environment. My workshops help people to use their creativity, often where they don’t realise they are creative, to work as a team player and look at “makeup” from a scientific point of view (there’s a lot of biology involved and seeing things visually with makeup is often a much better way of learning – and much nicer than cutting up animals in a science lab!). I also offer private tuition which is popular with students building portfolios or looking to learn “tricks of the trade”.
How would someone with an interest starting a career in theatrical makeup get started?
There are two camps of learning and I neither promote nor disagree with either, but either way, it’s a very hard industry to break into now. Some people will take the educational route and go to university or college to study – there are some amazing courses available now but I always advise students to find out whether the tutors are still working in the industry as products and techniques change constantly. Some will chose to go privately, although courses are very expensive but probably more hands-on and some will learn techniques through online tutorials – there are some very good, and free ones available. The hard part is finding paid work at some point, but with most jobs these days within the creative world, people have to offer to work for free to get experience and credits. It’s the way I did it, it’s hard, but hopefully they’ll get there in the end.
Do you have projects coming up that we might be able to see your handiwork in?
Lots! I’ve just done some great stuff for a new film called Winterskin which already has distribution for the end of this year. Charlie Steeds is the director/producer and already has three features under his belt. Definitely one to look out for as I’m quite pleased with what I’ve done! The other one to keep an eye out for is Invasion of the Not Quite Dead by Antony D. Lane. It’s been a long, long project and I’ve done all the effects for it throughout and given quite a few years to it, but it’s going to be good! We’ve seen the teaser on the big screen and my effects look amazing, so I’m relieved and excited for it to be released later this year.
You can follow Kate on:
For more info about her work visit her website.