I ended up in my first independent movie by accident, really. I was on campus at Wright State University during the fall of 2001. In the building that held the theatrical stages, I wandered around aimlessly as I waited for the rest of the cast of the student production I was in to arrive for one of our shows.
I am not sure what made me arrive early, but perhaps it was a good thing. Had I not been there, racing through the halls in my wheelchair, up and down the curvy path, I would not have seen the audition notice in the small, quiet, acting room. I was not one to just pick up audition sides and go right in without even knowing what I was getting myself into, but for some reason, I picked up the papers outside the room to read over what the audition was all about.
I had always loved film. I still do. I always found more comfort in front of the camera than up on stage where the first moment of any show was a terrifying, stage fright-filled endeavor. Once I got past my first line on stage though, I always seemed to relax.
This was different, though. I had been in front of cameras since I was ten years old when I was representing a disability organization as their poster child. I had been on television more times then you could count, made television spots, video recordings, and so on. I was comfortable with cameras and it really made me feel like I was coming home.
So, as I sat in the building outside the audition room I scanned over the paper, which gave minimal information on the concept as well as the cast of characters. I was a little confused because it seemed as though this movie was about a group of people making a movie. I had never made a movie. What kind of role could I play?
I scanned the list, looking for the perfect role for a short, stout, disabled, transgendered person in a wheelchair. As I went down the list, I tossed out various roles I knew I could not play.
Grips were out, as were booms, because they required way too much physical activity for one little gimp to handle. I had no idea of what the heck a gaffer did (though I learned!), so that was out. Eventually, I had narrowed it down to two options: makeup artist and craft services.
Anyone who knows me knows that even before I transitioned from my birth name to Dominick and who I am today, I was relatively masculine in behavior and not very domestic. It seems that these were probably the least likely jobs I would have on a movie set, and yet I felt I could work with them.
I knew nothing about makeup and even when I went on stage, someone else always had to do my makeup for me. I was clueless about these kinds of things. As for craft services, I thought it might require more physical work and I am more into burning food then cooking it, so the craft services role went out the window pretty quickly.
I had made up my mind. I was going to audition for the role of the makeup artist.
The Audition of a ‘Professional’ Make-Up Artist
I had no angle, and no script to follow. I was told this was pure improv. As I waited, the door opened and I met Behn Fannin, the director of the movie. He asked if I was there to audition. I nodded and without a second thought, I wheeled in to the room where he sat with another guy and a camera.
Behn was a very nice, fun person. I could tell this almost immediately, and I relaxed thanks to his mood and the fact that the camera, a very familiar friend to me in an odd sort of way, was ever present in the room. Behn explained the movie was about a film crew making a movie. It was a mockumentary and though I was still a little confused, I somewhat understood what he meant.
As he asked what part I was auditioning for, I made a conscious decision about my character. I would be the makeup artist… a VERY BAD makeup artist, but a makeup artist nonetheless.
It was as though I had been made for the part as words came spewing out of my mouth in mish-moshed verbiage. Further, I knew they liked my shtick because they kept laughing at me. As an artist, it made me feel good.
I was, for all intents and purposes, the makeup artist who had been in the business for years, but no one knew why. On the spot, I invented a reason for being in a wheelchair (my legs had been maimed by the mechanical shark, Bruce, while I had been doing his makeup for the movie Jaws). I had even invented a new product, which I had been using for years, called Lookslikeskin.
As I walked (wheeled?) out of the audition, I breezed down the hall to the theater where the show I was to be in that evening would be held. Even if I did not get the part, I had fun and I felt good about myself. However, I quickly had to switch gears from the fun loving makeup artist to become the hardcore doctor who demands that AIDS be acknowledged by the CDC in the play, which was set in the 1980s.
Celebration of the Hired Actor
Behn had said to expect an email with the cast list. The end of the term was approaching though, so I had to focus on classes and my exams. I had all but forgotten about the movie role when lo and behold, I opened up my email to find the cast list. As I read through the list, my heart was pounding. I could feel it echoing in my chest.
There it was… my name… and next to it the role of Makeup Artist. I called up my best friend G first. We celebrated on the phone, and later off of it by going to our favorite restaurant, Cold Beer and Cheeseburgers.
I called my family and informed them I would be spending Christmas break in the dorms since shooting would take place during that time. They seemed disappointed, but I did not care. It was 2001 and my father had recently passed away. I was in no mood to go home to my dysfunctional family. I could not put up with my mother’s constant kvetching at every little thing I did. In a way, this movie role was the beginning of a whole new life for me, one independent of my family.
I could not wait to begin filming. My exams seemed to fly by and soon it was December. I spent the first few days of break with G because I had nothing to do on campus. Everyone, for the most part, was gone. I liked the peace and quiet of the dorm, and even caught up with some friends I had not spoken to in quite some time.
It was like a countdown until the day we first met to run through the premise of the script. The day could not have come fast enough.
Making a Movie
We met to discuss the script and I realized my assistant was played by a girl named Natasha. I found many in the theatre programs unfriendly. I was not sure if it was because of my chair or something else, but Natasha had always been especially nice to me. Now, we were playing enemies.
Behn had liked my take on the role and he had decided that Natasha was going to be the one actually doing all the work. I wanted the credit of course. I decided my character was mean, and the whole movie would be spent berating everything Natasha’s character did. This seemed to work very well for us.
The actual script contained one explanation of a scene Behn wanted to film. However, we were to ad lib everything else. This was how four or five days of filmmaking commenced.
We would show up, sit around, hang out, film random scenes, and then go home when it was time to go. It was a very relaxed and creative atmosphere. Behn must have gotten an extreme amount of footage because he had three independent cameras as well as the main camera filming the crew.
One thing that I loved was the actual invention of Lookslikeskin. It was in the movie and I explained what it was. The concept for it was that I was profiting off of selling air, and since it “Lookslikeskin”, everybody wants to use it for its natural appeal.
The thing that bothered me the most though was the lights. They were hot and I am fair-skinned so it was not long before my cheeks were a constant shade of red. Sitting around and waiting to film was slightly boring too, but other than that I do not have any complaints.
I cannot really say that I did much for the movie. I made Natasha carry everything, do all the makeup, and sat around in my wheelchair bitching. It was a pretty easy gig and I found myself trying not to laugh the entire time.
The Movie Makes a Splash
I had not thought much of the movie during the following year. I had received my video tape in the spring, like everyone else, of the footage of the movie. However, I thought that Behn had shelved the project to work on other things.
Imagine my surprise when a year later I find out the film had run at some of the independent film festivals including the New York festival. It had even won awards such as best mockumentary.
I look back on the time I spent filming The Making Of… with great fondness. In that time, I have developed a thirst for making my own films. Who knows, maybe someone reading this will remember The Making Of… and decide to hire me as their makeup artist… or perhaps they will decide to find someone who can actually get the job done right!