Contributor: Jarrell MoselyIf you arrived late to Make-up designory’s Industry Speaks spotlighting Jamie Kelman (http://www.fleshycreatures.com/), finding an empty seat was not going to be easy. The crowd of MUD graduates, students and staff were unquestionably there to see Kelman and understandably so. He’s a skillful special make-up effects artist, an inspiration and a superb storyteller. This can be seen in his special make-up effects work seen in movies such as Looper, Oz the Great and Powerful and Star Trek: Into Darkness. It was also evident in the way he masterfully told an inspirational, and at times comedic, story of how he went from a thirteen year old doing special effects make-up in his basement to a two-time Emmy award winning make-up artist.
It didn’t take much prodding for Kelman to open up about his career as make-up artist and his love for special effects make-up which began as a three year old watching Star Trek for the first time. “I’m a Star Wars kid,” Kelman stated. “I saw it and the world just opened up before my eyes,” he smiled as he revisited the childhood memory. “I believe that’s where it all started for me.”
When asked about his first job Kelman replied, “I have to thank my uncle for that,” and then vividly recounted the day his uncle, a producer of New York’s Shakespeare in the Park, had taken him to an FX studio when he was just a teenager. “I started working in the studio. I swept the floors and did other odd jobs around the shop.” He reflected. “But I learned so much and it was also where I got my first job working on the 1990’s show Monsters.” Almost as if he didn’t believe so much time had passed he added, “I was only sixteen years old.”
He continued the time line of his career. “After that I studied film at NYU but I always wanted to move to L.A.” and without pause he added, “L.A. is just where it’s at,” referring to opportunities for the up and coming special FX artist.
“Do you think going to school helped you in your career,” Devrill Weekes asked.
The answer came quickly. “I do. School is a great way to dip your toe in the water. You learn a lot from the people around you. You may find a new technique. I always learned from the people that were around me.”
Since, you mentioned that,” Weekes said leading into his next question. “Who was your mentor?”
“I had many,” he said and then took a brief moment to ponder on their names. “Matthew Monge for sure. He gave me my first job on Monsters and I learned so much from him and John Jackson. Dick Smith and Rick Baker of course and Steve Proudy. Definitely Katzu.”
“What is advice would you give to a make-up artist that are just starting?”
He replied. “Make it work.” Stop, step back and take a breath. If something isn’t working don’t keep doing it. If you can, make it better.” It sounded like age old advice you would receive from an elder and it made perfect since.
“Do you have a philosophy or a personal mantra?”
“Nobody wants to works with mean people.” He replied and the audience was enveloped by laughter. “I try to be nice. I try to have fun and I try to enjoy it.” His advice resonated with many in the room.
He continued to impart his words of advice. “I would also say protect your passion.” He said before adding, “Keep your passion alive because once it dies you may not be able to turn it back on.
A hand in the audience shot into the air with urgency. “How do you balance your work with your personal life,” asked a front row MUD student.
“I have a 10 year old and I’m married. I make time for them. When you start out take everything you can but don’t stay apart for more than 8 weeks. After that scandalous things start to happen,” He laughed. “You have to remember what’s important, which means sometimes you may have to say no. It’s also important that you know when and how to say no.
Other eager hands flew up. “What was your biggest challenge?”
The question required some thought. “I would have to say that beauty make-up was my biggest challenge. But I realized that you have to embrace what you fear the most so I started practicing beauty make-up. When I was working on The Grinch that Stole Christmas none of the guys wanted to do beauty make-up so they came to me.”
The questions began to come quickly. “What are some of the critical mistakes you’ve seen a new make-up artist make?”
“Trying to fly under the radar is the biggest mistake a new make-up artist can make. You have to make yourself known. You have to be on the radar. Now you have social media like Facebook so you can post your work.” He answered but shortly added words of caution and food for thought. “But people are posting everything on the internet. Only post what’s good. It’s better to have five great pieces of work than ten ok pieces.”
“Any advice for establishing relationships with a mentor?”
Reach out to them. You can find them on the internet and on Facebook. Send them a respectful email. Try hard to be helpful but stay out of the easy and learn. You’ll find that most people are willing to help you.”
“What’s on your goals list,” an enthusiastic voice asked from the crowd.
“I don’t have a goals list.” He answered. “I love what I do and I’ve had an amazing career. I’m living my dream. You’re lucky for the opportunities. Just grab them.”
And with those final words Jamie Kelman ended his interview and the audience erupted with applause. Without question he’d left an undeniable impression and left many words to ponder on later, words that would undoubtedly resurface during the careers of the make-up artist following in his footsteps.