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Clowning around

As a make-up artist I have a process when I receive a screenplay. I read it through once over a coffee to get the feel for it. Then I go in and start making notes on every single make-up and FX shot in the film. Sometimes that can be easy and sometimes it can take forever. I’m never happy though unless I’ve got a pile of paper full of notes, thumbnail sketches and scribbles at the end of the second read through.

One day a new script turned up in my inbox called Punchy the Clown; a nice serial killer romp with a twist of dark humour. There was plenty of blood and guts in the movie but one scene in particular had me in stitches as I read it. It also had me scratching my head about how I was going to accomplish it on camera. This would later become known as the “lasagne shot” and featured about a gallon of blood!

The premise of the film (which was re-titled to The Clown) involved a crazy Clown bumping off a group of friends in a series of gruesome and interesting ways. As an actor I had a small role as the coach of a women’s soccer team and of course filming my scene wasn’t straightforward. We chose the hottest day of the year for me to be acting and running round on a football pitch coaching a training session. I think I lost ten pounds that day! The rest of the film was a breeze for me because there was no more running, there was however blood; lots and lots of blood.
We had day shoots, night shoots, shoots in houses and in forests and a pub (best location ever!). Our cast were being bumped off one by one as we progressed in a series of delightfully inventive ways. We shot the film out of sequence (a common practice) and by some fluke I ended up in the Clown outfit on a couple of occasions. It was cheerfully entertaining killing my friends and a death in a shower scene with CJ was memorable for all the laughing that we did trying to be serious.
We had people getting strangled and chopped up with axes but we had exotic gags too like a water pistol full of acid! That involved some interesting attempts to make skin bubble and foam as it melted.

There was also a surreal dream sequence featuring Sandra Marie Lees where she is playing with her belly bar. She rips the bar out of her stomach and then plays with the bloody hole it has left. With her fingers probing the wound she then proceeds to slowly pull out her own intestines! It was trippy to film and the amount of giggling that went on as I applied the prosthetic and make-up made the process take about twice as long as it should have!
One scene in the script had made me laugh out loud when I first read it:

Mark takes a swing at Punchy. The clown grabs Mark’s arm and twist’s it round.

Ow fucking hell.

The pair struggle for a few moments before Punchy yanks on Mark’s arm, ripping it out of its socket. Mark cries in pain and falls to the floor.

Oww fuck!

Mark tries to crawl away. Punchy takes the DRIPPING LIMB, reaches into the wet end and pulls out the BONE. Using the bone he clubs Mark to death.

So easy to write! Not so easy to achieve on screen. We shot the scene in stages with a variety of prosthetics and about a gallon of blood. Ripping off Mark’s arm was relatively easy and I made a prosthetic arm for that. Of course you have to see the stump of his shoulder so that required a second prosthetic. And there obviously has to be TONS of blood which meant rigging the arm and the bloody stump with tubes to spurt and pump the O Neg through. On top of that I needed to devise a delivery system for the blood from scratch and then the bone being pulled from the stump of Mark’s arm which required yet another custom piece.

Of course we chose to shoot the scene on a suburban street late at night. Despite the complexities it was great fun to do and the cast and crew had a good laugh at how stupidly gory and messy it got. We finished off with the Clown slamming the bone (also custom made) into a bowl of blood to get it splashing nicely over him and in front of the camera. From a couple of lines on script, through hours of design and building and two nights shooting we get around a minute of actual screen time!
We also dealt with the challenge of filming in a working pub which raised all sorts of interesting issues. The cast were great and I had an absolute blast filming The Clown. Like all the classic bad guys he’s still around at the end of the movie so I keep hoping for The Clown 2. Maybe one day.

While we were shooting The Clown I received a phone call asking if I would be interested in a horror film re-make project. The producer/director had seen images of my work from Last Time She Lived and wanted me to provide FX for his film. I said yes and that led to a very interesting experience and some sobering lessons about this business.

The end of Part Two

In Part Three: When things go right and when they go wrong