If I Had A Dollar For Every Time I Was Asked To Cover A Teenage Boy In Fake Placenta…

still-of-julianne-moore,-mark-wahlberg,-philip-seymour-hoffman,-john-c.-reilly,-burt-reynolds,-ricky-jay,-nicole-ari-parker-and-jack-wallace-in-boogie-nights-(1997)

…I would have exactly one dollar, because I’ve only been asked once. But that seems like more than enough, right? This was back during my makeup artist days and it was for some terrible independent short film, a kind of “safe sex” mockumentary informercial, and a character was supposed to hallucinate a pregnancy that ended in a teenage boy being born. “I want him to be, like, covered in placenta,” the director told me in our initial meeting. “Like his hair should be dripping wet from placenta.”

Listen, the best thing about working as a makeup artist is you learn to never tell your boss “no,” you say, “I’ll figure it out,” and that’s exactly what I set out to do, except that it turns out that no specialty stores for makeup artists even stock a ready-to-go placenta-like substance. Like, you can easily buy glycerin sweat or tears, or various different kinds of consistencies of blood (liquid, sticky, etc.), but the employees I spoke to were baffled by my request. “I cannot possibly be the first makeup artist in the history of time to need a placenta substance!” I said, exasperated, and they just shrugged.

Finally, a fellow makeup artist heard about my predicament and explained what my problem was: nobody makes a placenta-like substance because the only time you would need placenta is for a birthing scene, and you can’t put makeup on babies during a birthing scene, or ever; that’s just wrong. “It’s yogurt,” she told me, “tinted with just a little bit of pink food dye and sponged on to create the right consistency.”

Yogurt. Of course. A true lightbulb moment. “But,” she warned me, “this director is going to change his mind. He’ll see this teenager covered in placenta on film and he’ll think it’s gross and ask you to take it off.” I shook my head and told her thanks but this director was pretty committed to his disgusting vision and then set off to the grocery store.

The shoot was partially outdoors, and it was pouring rain, and they ran out of food, and our “trailer” was the back of a U-Haul crowded with lighting equipment; an overall terrible shoot. I sat in the rain with this very patient fifteen-year-old, and I sponged my fake placenta all over his face and hair and sweater, and you know what? As soon as the director saw him he said, “It’s too gross, wash it off.”

MY POINT — BECAUSE I DO HAVE ONE — is that makeup artists, along with hairdressers and costume designers, are really unsung heroes of the film industry, and they put up with so much, and while this entire oral history of Boogie Nights is incredible my absolute favorite part was when the makeup artist and costume designer talked about how they created Dirk Diggler’s fake penis.

We also made our own little trouser augment and just put it in the pants because you could see the outline in those very tight polyester pants. It was basically a woman’s stocking kneehigh filled with birdseed.

A woman’s stocking kneehigh filled with birdseed. Of course. Yes. Because no makeup supply store or vintage warehouse would have the right fake penis for their purposes. Build the fake penis or placenta your movie needs, that’s always been my motto. Anyway, the whole thing is great if you love makeup artists or fake penises or oral histories or the movie Boogie Nights or any combination of the above, read it here.