I hardly qualify as a "reality" TV fan. In fact, I know I've ranted about it here, more than once. I think shows like "The Bachelor/The Bachelorette;" "Survivor" and (certainly the worst offender of all time) "The Jersey Shore" are reprehensible and signs that Western Civilization as we know it is on its last legs. All that having been said, I do actually watch a few of the competition shows, mostly on The Food Network. I love the challenges given in the form of bizarre ingredients to the chefs on "Chopped" and find myself fascinated by the people on "Worst Cooks in America," mostly because I have been cooking since a rather young age and thanks to my mother and paternal grandmother, consider myself quite handy in the kitchen and am actually appalled by the lack of basic skills displayed by the contestants.
Now, Syfy (I still can't get used to that name) has entered the fray with "Face Off," a competition show for special effects makeup artists. Many years ago, Uncle P considered entering the field of SFX Makeup. My fascination with movie makeup started as child with the Universal Monster Classics. I grew up in awe of folks like Bud Westmore, Charles Pierce, Rick Baker and the legendary Tom Savini. All through college, I was the go-to guy for special makeups in shows like The Apple Tree; RUR and Ladies in Retirement. I did an independent study in Prosthetic Makeup (which required an excruciatingly difficult Anatomy class) and actually thought I might have a career in the field. Sadly, my sculptural skills were lacking and while I could draw a fairly decent representation of the effect I was going for and had (and still do have) some mad skills with a makeup brush, my hands just couldn't recreate in clay what they were able to draw in charcoal. Still, if I'm in or directing a a show which requires painted makeup effects, I'm the guy who ends up doing them. And that's OK.
So, I must admit admit to being quite jealous of the contestants on "Face Off." All of them have been working as professional FX artists on independent and/or major films and have some mad skills of their own, though a few are obviously more skilled and talented than the others. I've seen the first two episodes so far and have already decided on my favorites. Each episode features an Immunity Challenge and a Spotlight Challenge. The winner of the first challenge gets an automatic pass in the Spotlight Challenge, no matter how good or bad his or her work is. In the first episode, I immediately found myself disliking the lazy and undeservedly cocky Frank, who seems to want to do as little as possible and almost actually forfeited the challenge in Episode 2. Of course, I found the impossibly handsome Connor at the top of my list of favorites, along with the talented Anthony. Most of the contestants have multiple credits on IMDb; some on major films, though most on indie, straight-to-DVD schlock movies.
The first episode's Spotlight Challenge involved turning a model into Human/Animal hybrid, while the second concerned full body painting on a nude model. Jerk Frank refused to paint his male model's front, placing a lampshade on his head to add insult to injury. Still, he survived the cut, though I don't imagine (or hope) he'll last to the end.
The Grand Prize winner will supposedly go on to a massive career in the SFX industry, though since the advent of CGI, special makeup effects aren't the booming industry they were in the 80's (yet another reason to be glad I didn't pursue that particular career path). And while it's quite easy to sit back in the comfort of my living room and judge the contestants' skills, I know it can't be easy for them to produce quality work week after week, especially given the time constraints imposed upon them. But I am very much enjoying watching them try.
The show is ably hosted by Bud Westmore's granddaughter McKenzie and judged by three Oscar-winning Make Up Artists: Ve Neil; Glen Hetrick and Patirick Tatopuolis, and features a fourth specialty judge for each challenge. For a Fantasy/Horror/Sci-Fi geek with at least some insight into the industry, "Face Off" is a fun (if somewhat cheesy) peek inside the industry.
I hope the show continues to be the fascinating look into the creative process that it's been so far and I can't wait to see what happens when the contestants get into sculpting and molding prosthetics. Or when the challenges (hopefully) become more subtle. Six episodes remain, though I think I have a good idea of who will win, already. "Face Off" airs Wednesdays at 10 PM Eastern on Syfy.