How long have you been Department Head on SNL?
Ive been Department Head at for the past 25 years. It’s so crazy to think about it seems like yesterday I was doing my first show. I still get butterflies in my belly when the band starts playing the music during warm up.
How has working on SNL changed the most over all those years?
It has changed drastically. With the switch to HD it all had to change. The colors we used became more vivid. Every little thing showed. With prosthetics it really made a difference painting and application had to change. Before HD if there was a little edge you couldn’t see it but in the HD world everything had to be film quality.
This season I’ve started to do a lot more 3-D printing and 3-D scanning. In the past if we had to build a prosthetic for a host or cast member we would do a lifecast. But now I have every host Come in on a Tuesday and I scanned them just to be prepared in case.
How does 3D printing effect the process?
In the past if the host needed a prosthetic I would not get them in for a life cast until Thursday afternoon or end of day. But now because we have our 3-D printers and 3-D scanners I have the host come in on Tuesday do a head scan which takes about 10 minutes and then print their head overnight so that if I have to read through on Wednesday I need it I have it and it’s ready to go.
While in Covid lockdown I was trying to think of how we can still do prosthetics while keeping contact at a minimum. I decided to try and see if NBC and SNL would get us a 3-D scanner and they were very on board with it. Now this season I haven’t had to do a life cast of a host or any of the new cast members because of the 3-D scanner. It’s super clean I don’t have to cover their head with silicone or bald cap. It’s also great because sometimes an actor is a bit claustrophobic but now they just have to close their eyes and the scanner does all the work.
How has the work changed since Covid protocols have been put in place?
Trying to start up the show with all the new Covid protocols was really a big challenge. In the past makeup artist would bring their kits and work out of those and I would supplement those kits with just a few products. But because of Covid protocols at the beginning of the season my team and I had to put together full makeup kits for each cast member and supply it with everything they could possibly need to create characters as well as contemporary makeups. We also have a studio now in Brooklyn where we shoot our pre-tapes so I we had to make two full sets of everything, one for the NBC studio and one that lived in the Brooklyn studio.
I had a lot of help from so many companies MAKE UP FOR EVER, MAC, Bdellium Tools, Alcone, PPI, RCMA. For almost three weeks maybe four before the season started my core team and I got together and started figuring out what we needed to get, needless to say this was lot of work.
Also the whole studio environment had to be changed. We used to do quick changes all over the studio , which now we can’t do anymore. So much changed in order to get us back and so many people put so much work into it and I’m glad that it’s been paying off and we’ve been able to put on a show every week and it’s crazy to think we only have six more shows before the end of the season.
How would you describe the dynamic backstage during a live show?
The dynamic backstage has changed drastically this season in the past everybody got together there was a lot of camaraderie in teamwork. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of teamwork. It’s just that we can’t double and triple team a cast member to get makeup or hair done anymore. With all the Covid rules every minute we are in contact with a cast member or host is added up.
Another big change in the backstage dynamic is we aren’t doing makeup and hair in the makeup rooms anymore. In the past they would be anywhere from 12 to 15 people in a makeup at any given time. Now with Covid restrictions in that same room you can only have 2 to 4 people. And that’s including the talent. Also because makeup is the single time that an actor is unable to wear PPE we are at the highest risks of receiving or transmitting Covid. So our Covid Police as we called them are on top of us all the time, and rightfully so.
How many makeup artists are on your team?
I’ve got an amazing team of artists on the show before Covid I had maybe 15-16 makeup artists that would work on the show now we have a cast of about 20 and I’ve got a team of about 22 to 25 makeup artist on the show every week. It’s a lot to coordinate especially when we have to keep our contact at a minimum. In the makeup lab I’ve set up a whole bin system for everybody to keep their makeup kits. As well as stations to clean up their makeup kits at the end of the night and restock them for the next show.
How are the roles of your team broken down from a responsibility standpoint?
Like I said earlier I’ve got an amazing team of make up artists that work on the show. My core team is Jason Milani, Amy Tagliamonti ,Brandon Grether and Joanna Pisani. The five of us put together all of those kits we talked about earlier at the beginning of the season. Now every week Brandon keeps track of everybody’s Covid tests and testing patterns so that we know that everybody is on a testing schedule. Jason and Amy and Joanna a running point between the rest of the team to make sure they know where everything is getting done. Each individual artist is with only one actor any they receive a breakdown of the looks per sketch. They then coordinate with the cast.
How long do you have to prepare for each show?
The preparation schedule hasn’t changed much. Our table read is still Wednesday we have Thursday and Fridays to rehearse and the show is on Saturday. We do a lot of pre-tapes on Friday. Anywhere from two to three full segments are shot in our Brooklyn studios giving us only a day really to prepare for those. And also at the same time preparing for the live show on Saturday night. Sometimes I don’t get to start working on things for Saturday until Friday morning and all the pre-tapes are out and running.
What is your design process like for a character?
When I’m trying to design a character the first thing I do is meet with the writer to see what they have in mind for the look. Then I’ll meet with the cast member or call them up and see if they’ve got any ideas that they’d like to bring about. From there I’ll either start sculpting or sit in front of the computer and do a quick photo shop render to try and figure out what I need to do. Sometimes it’s a set of teeth, Sometimes it’s a nose or a bald cap or some facial hair, or crazy nails, but we don’t get to see that until the dress rehearsal when we get to do it for the first time. Before Covid we would try some of the things on during the rehearsal starting 1o’clock but because everyone is masked I can’t really do that anymore. So I’ve just got to have faith and hope that I made the right call and see it for the first time at the 8 o’clock dress rehearsal.
Is the process any different when you are turning an actor into a real person like a President celebrity?
The process of creating a real person is pretty much the same the only difference is we never want to be mean about what we do. I learned early on to keep things on a minimal scale. If I had it my way I would sometimes put a lot more pieces on or do a lot more but Lorne doesn’t like to lose the cast member in the make up. So I try and keep the makeup to a point that you can see who they are trying to be but still see the cast member underneath all the makeup.
What is the most challenging thing about working on the show?
One of the biggest challenges about working on SNL is the time. Most other shows and productions you’ve got weeks or days to build whatever you need or figure out what you have to do but on SNL things change minute to minute and from dress rehearsal to air.
For example the last show we did Kenan needed to be bald for a sketch but needed his own hair for the sketch before that giving me only five minutes to make him bald.
Makeup is not the the concern when Lorne is making the schedule, the show being funny is the concern. So it’s left up to me and my team to pull off a five minute bald cap. In the past before Covid it was a lot easier there would be six makeup artists on top of Kenan gluing and painting and working around him like a pit crew but now with Covid we can’t do that. So we pulled off the five minute ball cap with just Jason and I hustling and amaze ourselves that we did it. That’s just one example of crazy crazy changes. I think that same show or the one before had almost as crazy a change Ego had to go from normal into Dionne Warwick. Nails ,teeth , wig ,make up ,costume all had to be done within minutes and with Covid protocols and social distancing.
What is the most fun?
What I find the most fun about SNL is the challenge. By this I mean when the writer come to you with some crazy idea like turning Kate Mckinnon into a blob fish and I leave after talking to them go all right I’m gonna make this happen and when it works, man that’s the most fun you could do. Or finding out you only have minutes to pull off a makeup that should take an hour and getting it done. The adrenaline rush is really amazing.
You and your team have won a lot of awards for your work. What do you think is so appealing about the work to the voters of these awards?
It has really been an honor that the work we do gets noticed and recognized by our peers. think one of the things is that we do it as fast as we do and still trying to maintain a quality about it. It feels great to know people notice the work and appreciate it. Last year my team and I won three MUAHS Guild Awards for the first time and we have won eight Emmys over the years it’s been amazing. Never thought I’d win one much less than the eight I did win in the 25 years on the show.