For our research section this month we dive into the world of Make-up and Special Make-Up, departments that are vital for how actors eventually appear on screen. We visit Carolina Leenders of ‘Head Affairs’ who has done make-up and wigs for numerous well-known characters in film and television. Further we invite ourselves to Rob’s Propshop of Rob Hillenbrink, where you are at the right address for the real specialists work.
Both Carolina and Rob are professionals who try to work as sustainably as possible. Rob Hillenbrink wants to offer solutions by buying in bulk and re-sell the most sustainable glues and facial paints in smaller amounts to make-up specialists. He also offers an ecologically friendly and non-toxic glue, that he developed himself, to colleagues.
It’s a big frustration for Carolina Leenders that the most sustainable mounting glues for moustaches and beards don’t hold so well. Most Make-up specialists don’t have enough knowledge to correctly interpret all the labels and too little time to really study the latest developments in that market. However, Rob Hillenbrink does have both. On top of that he shares the advantages of his large international network with his Dutch colleagues.
Carolina Leenders has years of experience. Amongst others she is known for the very famous characters Van Koot & De Bie and of Kopspijkers. Her company is completely designed for a sustainable approach. Everything is carefully transported and stored in separate boxes. If handled correctly, wigs often last a long time and have to be rented many times before the manufacturing costs are recuperated. She only uses real hair and it shows. This is sustainable, but also more expensive. Especially European hair, since it is easier to manipulate and color if needed. First everything is discolored and laid out. We can witness live how one of Carolina’s employees implants hairs one by one on a mannequin head. It’s immediately clear why real manual work is so valuable. Not a hair is thrown away: usable for a moustache, an eyebrow for Santa Claus or a repair.
But the process can be more sustainable. Think about toxic products. “We work a lot with acetone, paint and mastic. Shitty stuff, but water-based products often don’t attach well.” Within the field knowledge is not shared much; even so sometimes there is requests like: “Who has a little this and that in stock?”
That’s why we also go have a chat with Rob’s Propshop. At Rob’s place in Purmerend you walk around drooling at the sight of all his props and animatronics. His latest challenge was a giraffe for the film Dikkertje Dap of Lemming Film. Four people were needed to operate the molds on set. Just like for War Horse, which was made by the same specialist Rob collaborated with.
“I just want something to hold well and look good. If Plien and Bianca want to make a flip flop with a wig on, than that should be possible.” But nowadays many actors are allergic to certain products. This is taken into consideration with purchasing. A few jars extra and their own makeup remover is always cheaper than delay shooting as a result of skin lesions on actors. That is what makes purchasing sustainably interesting for producers.
Both Head Affairs and Rob Hillenbrink think it’s a must to stay longer on set to be able to remove make-up as carefully as possible. An extra strain on the make-up assistants. But we see the results back on screen. And this is also a familiar place for actors to share their thoughts and concerns.
Caroline points out the ever higher demand of image quality. “Fantastic, this 4K, but what if you then actually see the gauze of a moustache on screen?” Fix it in post-production? Not very sustainable. She pleads for good advance testing in order not to have to throw out amazing image quality in post for which you paid a lot in production. This is where you see big difference internationally. In England it’s often Light and Photography that decide. In The Netherlands sometimes the limits of make-up are decisive.
LED lights in make-up mirrors are sustainable, but are sometimes lacking in power. There is waste, but because everything is expensive, Caroline has to be economical. Every last bit of acetone is used. Most waste is wipes, tissues and swabs which are all disposed off in the biodegradable waste bins.
She would like to operate stand-alone with her own light in places without recourses. There should be a portable solution for that. And indeed this is already in development: Through Green Film Making Wattsun, a start-up, will present it’s stand-alone battery in May 2017 to the film industry.
Rob ponders often about sustainability, because of the health of everyone involved. But specific knowledge is hard to find in the Netherlands, because his field is very specialized. Not only is everything in his workshop made with a lot of love, it can also be re-used. That saves a lot of money. That’s why most producers know the way to his shop and his large collection of previously used props. Also for small budgets Rob will think along.
Cost of storage was the reason Rob left Amsterdam to relocate to the industrial area in Purmerend where there is enough space. It has the feel of a small factory where everything is in stock and made with real craftmanship. Once Rob had the ambition to start a partnership to share different machinery with colleagues. But in reality this did not work out. Even so his door is always open to share items as well as knowledge. He cannot stop and does not want to yet. He loves his craft too much.
Very often his department and postproduction had already been in contact before a producer appeared. This decreases waste significantly. But what still too little producers use is the possibility to make screen tests with development funding from the Dutch Film Fund. The fund is aware of the problem of cashflow at the start of project and know that with early testing a lot of problems later in the process can be avoided.
Robs biggest frustration is the inability as a company to dispose of waste in a sustainable way. He doesn’t want to dump illegally. He cannot get rid of paint residue well and so he lets it dry out, so it turns into regular waste instead of chemical. Furthermore he has a container in which he stores chemical waste until the day there is a way to get rid of it sustainably. Far from an ideal solution.
Municipalities should facilitate better for companies to arrange this well. Or it should be arranged with suppliers that if anything is left over after use, this can be returned to them. This way the supplier is also responsible. He mentions the example of modeling clay: in England you can return leftovers to the supplier, but in The Netherlands this is impossible. So Rob recycles it himself in water, as long as possible.
Sustainability to him means to take care of peoples health. For this reason he has stopped using polyester since a long time. He replaced it with epoxy. And he turned it into a sport to read labels and evaluate them. Xylene and toluene are not allowed on the property. And also here acetone is considered poison. White gas is much less aggressive, but using it is more time consuming.
When purchasing materials Rob’s most important criterium is an approval by the FDA. “It’s often more expensive, but we are using it on peoples faces. We cannot economize on this.” He also produces a lot himself en spontaneously offers to be a hub for colleagues. He is often able to order large quantities and has also developed his own ecologically friendly glue solution. He is already selling this within the make-up field and people are always welcome to knock on his door.
To make a lot of money, this is not the right profession, he explains. Very little is left from available budgets, and as a craftsman you also want to be able to deliver a quality product. So you make long days for a laughable hourly rate. Supply in other countries is much bigger, so also there people work with very cheap laborers. He recognizes the experience of Caroline with interns who often quit. She used to have 10 employees but nowadays works with freelancers and interns. Knowledge is lost, because students often are not interested enough or are demotivated by the long days and relatively low pay. So they switch fields. You are not in this field for the money, but out of passion. The old guild system was not such a bad idea!
· Ask your funders for a development budget to test different approaches and through which all the Heads of Department can coordinate together.
· For those who have limited time for their own research but still want to work as sustainably as possible with paint, glue and plastics can contact Rob’s Propshop for small amounts. He knows the best and most sustainable solutions and keeps track of developments in his field.
· Renting used materials and props is sustainable. Rob has a lot in storage.
· Craftsmen can also knock on Rob’s door if they need to use specific machinery.
· We cannot economize health. Sustainable here means: taking care of your people as much as possible, in front and behind the camera.
· For blood on set, you can pay Rob for what you end up using. The rest will go back to him and is not thrown away. You pay what you use and the jerry can can be used by others!
· Municipalities should come with a solution for companies to get rid of their chemical waste in a responsible and affordable way.
· A small portable battery to provide light for the Make-up department in a sustainable way and to be independent on difficult locations.