#24. A Conversation with Andrew Clement

JA: So let's begin with your work as a make-up artist for NBC's Saturday Night Live; tell me about the work you did for the show, how you became involved, the memories you have being around the cast of actors, and which seasons you were involved in.

AC: I wish I had been involved in the first few seasons of SNL, it was such a fertile time for the show. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I’m not quite that old. As it is, I watched those shows in Jr. High and High School, and now I have the DVD’s. I love watching the development of an icon like that. By the time I was on the show it was the 86/’87 season with Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, John Lovitz, Victoria Jackson, and Dennis Miller. I was Kevin Nealon’s makeup artist, as well as doing the occasional guest star and musical guest. Each of the principal actors had their own makeup artist, hair stylist and wardrobe person. It was a great job to have. Not only was it a wonderful experience to be around such a talented, funny group, but I learned to do good, fast make-ups under the rows of bleachers, in the dark, with a flashlight in my teeth. It was a lot of quick, out of kit character work, beards put on with toupee tape, and the like. It was pretty crazy. Being a live show, you never knew what could happen or who you were going to bump into in the halls. I got the job because I was doing all the prep work for The Princess Bride out of the NBC lab for Peter Montagna. The department head at the time took notice of me, and liked my work ethic.

JA: You would also work in television on Late Night with David Letterman; what was your time spent working on this program like, and had you always known that you wanted to eventually end up in special effects makeup?

AC: I worked on Letterman at the same time as SNL. I was a staff makeup artist at NBC at the time, and I went wherever I was assigned. The weekdays would consist of the news, Letterman, Phil Donahue, The Today Show, etc. Whatever was at the 30 Rockefeller location. Sometimes I would even be shipped out to Brooklyn to do the soap opera Another World. It was an amazing training, I got to work on such a variety of faces, and got used to working on celebrities, high ranking politicians, and I learned a sense of professionalism. But as much as I was learning at NBC, I never wanted to be just a straight makeup artist, my passion lay in the more complicated prosthetic make-ups. I also wanted to get into the makeup union, and it was a golden opportunity. Unfortunately, at the same time that I accepted the position, the union changed the requirement from a year and a half apprenticeship to a three year stay. I was also told that during my time there, I was not to do any prosthetics, since I already knew that part of the job. Unfortunately, the idea of putting my first love on the back burner for three years was too much for my young mind, no matter what the reward, so I left after a season.

JA: Tell me about the work you did on the Rob Reiner film The Princess Bride as a special makeup effects assistant; what was it like being involved in such a big production led by a star director?

AC: When I worked on The Princess Bride I was still very young and inexperienced. Peter Montagna hired me to assist with all the lifecasts, molds and foam runs for the show before he went off to London. I really had no idea what the show was about, or how big it was to be. I had worked on a few Billy Crystal shows with Peter before this, and as far as I knew it was just the next one. But it was the first time I got a great reaction when people found out what I was working on. After this I learned to research the projects I was on carefully, as well as getting a full understanding of who I was working with or for, no matter how small my role in it was.

JA: In 1991 you were the head of the animatronic paint department for the Jim Henson Company's new television series Dinosaurs; what was it like to work for the Creature Shop, and what challenges did you face while working on this program?

AC: Working at the Henson Creature Shop is one of the fondest memories I have. The people there were some of the nicest, most talented, most unusual people I have ever met. Jim Henson had gathered talented people from all over the world who came from different disciplines, and had them bring their unique talents to each project to come up with new ways of doing things. We had people who worked on carnival costumes, classical animal sculptors, milliners, and more. I tried to learn what I could from everyone. My job was basically in two parts. We had these heads and suits that had been made by the London creature shop, and sent buckets of unlabelled paint, with no notes as to how to reproduce the look. We had to standardize the colors, and reverse engineer a coloring sequence for each character so we could have continuity no matter who was painting. Then I would come in at 5 a.m. each morning and repaint all the patched and worn areas from the previous days shooting. After they had all gone to set, I would begin to paint replacement parts. I would usually finish my day around two in the afternoon, and begin a full day of work in my company, Creative Character Engineering, which I had just begun around the same time. I already had two full-time employees who needed my input. I was at Henson’s, working those hours for three years. It was a pretty crazy time in my life.

JA: After working with the special makeup effects on Ernest Scared Stupid in 1991, you would go on to be a sculptor and model maker for Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness; tell me about the memories you have working on this cult classic, and also, who in makeup and special effects inspires your work as an artist?

AC: I love working with Sam Raimi. I’ve been on his projects a few times. I started as a sculptor on Army of Darkness, then did a lot of creature work on Hercules and Xena, and most recently did a little something on Spiderman 3. Spiderman was really fun for us. one of the things we did was glue all of these pieces of monofilament to Toby and Topher’s faces with little silk tabs. We used these to pull and distort their faces to give the impression that the Venom goo was pulling their skin as it took them over. Sam loved it when he saw it, and said “Hey, just like the old days!” Even though Sam can afford any effect under the sun, he still seems to enjoy when simple things work well.

As far as people who inspire my work, For the last couple of years I’ve been a business partner with Dick Smith, who is a legend in this business, and a constant inspiration to me. He is the make-up artist responsible for The Exorcist, The Godfather, Amadeus, and he is recognized as the father of modern make-up effects. He has spent his later years as the premier teacher of our craft in the world. I’m awed by him, not only for what he has accomplished, but in the way that he is continually excited by new developments and the progress of his students.

JA: You would continue to work in television on shows like ER, on surgeries and animatronic effects, and Star Trek: Voyager; speaking of Star Trek, let's talk about your work as a makeup artist on the new J.J. Abrams film to be released in 2009, what is it like to be on the set of such a highly-anticipated film with such talented people?

AC: Unfortunately, I’m contractually bound not to say anything about Star Trek. I will say that I took the position on the show because I knew there was going to be a sizeable makeup department, and I had always wondered what it was like to work on a big crew. I had not gotten the opportunity to work on a show like The Grinch or Planet of the Apes and I wanted to see what that level of organization and skill looked like, in hopes that I would be running a big crew myself someday.

JA: Tell me about the animatronics you built for Dr. T and the Women, and also, did you have any interaction with director Robert Altman?

AC: I work a lot with William Shatner, and he has a great quote in his new autobiography about people he has the pleasure of not working together with. In other words, you are both on the same project, but never meet. This was the case with Robert Altman. I never traveled to their location, which was Texas, I think. I made an animatronic baby for Richard Gere to work with that matched footage of an actual birth that is in the film. I finished it, and sent it off to be filmed on location, and it was taken care of by the prop department on that film. That’s not usually how I like to work, but it suited that show. Now, I had been sending progress photos, and getting notes from the director long distance. I had also pre-arranged in my contract that I retained custodianship of the animatronic when filming was over. However, when Mr. Altman saw the baby he was so taken with the realism, he had the production buy the baby so he could personally keep it.

JA: You would also get involved in the Species trilogy in 2004 working with animatronics, followed by Meet the Fockers the same year; is there a medium you prefer to work in, or do you enjoy the variety? Also, do you have a favorite project you have worked on or creation that you feel is your best work?

AC: I love to shake it up. I like working on the greatest variety of work possible. If I do an animatronic, then next I want to do a subtle makeup. My dad was a weekend artist, and that’s exactly how he worked. One minute he was doing an oil painting, and the next week he was developing his own photos in the bathroom. Last year we did a really exciting film called Repossession Mambo with Jude Law and Forrest Whitaker. In it we did an amazing range of work. All the way from small tattoos to full bodies, and we pushed into new territory with a lot of computer aided fabrication. The more I stretch myself and my company, the happier I am, and the more diverse the projects that we are likely to be awarded. That having been said, I do like fantasy or science fiction films, and I try to avoid gratuitously gory projects. I’ve been very lucky with the things I have been offered.

JA: You were credited with Creative Character Engineering for Cloverfield in 2008, this is the first time you would work for producer J.J. Abrams; are there any specific professionals in the industry who you have always wanted to work for or with?

AC: It’s funny, I really feel like I’ve been circling J.J. Abrams’ camp for years, and keep getting hired for his projects through unrelated channels. We started with Lost where we made and rented a few things for the prop master in Hawaii, whom we had worked with before. Then my old friend Kevin Blank pulled me in on Cloverfield. After that, I was hired as a prosthetic make-up artist on Star Trek. Now Fringe has begun using us, despite the fact that it’s an east coast show. That’s the kind of repeat business that has defined my company. We have these fifteen-year or more relationships, and no matter how great the distance, our product is worth bringing in.

As far as who else we would like to work with, I’m sure it is no surprise that we would love to contribute to shows by directors who respect and further the fantasy genre. Also, I just want to contribute to good films that have a specific, unusual need that I can address.

JA: You appeared as an actor with William Shatner on David E. Kelley's hit series Boston Legal; who's idea was it to have you play Denny Crane's makeup technician, on a show that you also served as a makeup artist?

AC: It was my idea to play Denny’s makeup technician. I was making specialized silicone appliances for the character to wear, that would simulate a rig that allowed him to cry fake tears on cue. I had already been Mr. Shatner’s make-up artist the previous season, I’ve been doing his makeup for commercials for years, I read the script, and saw the role, and I called Janet Knutsen, the producer, and asked to play it. I was already in SAG, so it was a pretty natural choice, since I would just be replicating what I was doing in real life. I get to work with Mr. Shatner several times a year, depending on his schedule. I don’t have any other clients that I just do corrective work for. I really enjoy working with him, he’s so professional and fun at the same time.

JA: You have worked on so many successful films with accomplished directors like Mike Nichols, Jay Roach, Tom Shadyac, and the Wachowski brothers; so what is next for Andrew Clement, and also, how would you sum up your career with one word?

AC: I hope the word that has always defined me and my career is craftsmanship. I think that I would like an attention to detail to always be my defining trait. I just made something small and quick for Fringe and got a report back from set that it was performing admirably and the paint job was miraculous. I like people to know that when they call me, they can stop worrying about that aspect of their project. Whatever they order shows up on time, on budget, and done to the highest level possible. If I also get the chance to push the design or technology to a new level, and still stay on model, that’s even more gratifying to me. I’m always exploring new technologies, and re-educating myself. I may not have a very splashy career so far, but I have pride in my work, and a very loyal following.