Monsterpalooza Madness: (From left to right) Sam Cobb, Marcel Banks, Megan Areford, Gage Munster, Conor McCullagh, and Frank Ippolito of SyFy’s Face Off original series.
INTERVIEW BY: MICHAEL G. PLUMIDES, JR.
I had the chance to catch up with a friend, Conor McCullagh, noted makeup artist and winner of SyFy’s Face Off competition, this week. I made Conor’s acquaintance last year, where he was involved in GHOST TREK from the early stages of development – since then he won Face Off… and his day rate went way up. Anyway, Conor hasn’t spoken out regarding his experience on Face Off in much detail and has, until now, been silent. But knowing Face Off was SyFy’s biggest unscripted reality show franchise ever, I seized the opportunity to get an exclusive interview with Conor McCullagh, the new face of horror.
Michael: How long have you been in makeup and special effects? What was the driving force behind your desire to create “Nightmares” (a reference to Conor’s website www.nightmaresetc.com)?
Conor: I’ve been working in the film business as a makeup artist for twenty years now. I think the “driving force” would have to be my love of makeup effects in the genre films I watched growing up: American Werewolf in London, The Exorcist, Poltergeist, The Thing.
Michael: I knew that head you were working on looked a little like Rob Bottin’s work (makeup effects artist for John Carpenter’s horror classic remake The Thing).
Conor: I wish.
Michael: How many legs does it have?
Conor: (laughs) Six.
Michael: You’ve worked with a few indie directors in your time, such as Mark Young from Charlotte, North Carolina. Do any particular funny stories come to mind working on indie films?
Conor: I’ve worked on three features with Mark: Southern Gothic, Tooth and
Nail, and The Killing Jar. Those films were all great experiences. Something funny always happens on Mark’s set because either we’re blowing up heads, slashing throats, or melting faces. There’s a lot of blood and someone gets covered in it (Go here to watch the trailer for Southern Gothic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kP1oyeev4wo ).
Michael: But you’ve worked on major motion pictures filmed in the Southeast for the Farelly Brothers, and more recently Big Momma’s House 3 . You’ve also worked on network television shows like The Vampire Diaries. Discuss doing indie vs. big budget projects you’ve worked on.
Conor: In regards to big budget versus small budget, I’d say there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Studio films are great because you usually get more time and more money to work with, but I really enjoy independent film making because you get to be a bigger part of the production. I really enjoy being able to sit down with a writer or director to come up with ideas and really make a mark on the film. There are so many people involved in studio films that you often end up feeling like a cog in a gigantic wheel.
Michael: Is that why you left Vampire Diaries?
Conor: Well, with Diaries, I wasn’t doing makeup anymore. I was applying little dots to
actor’s faces. I wasn’t happy, so I didn’t go back (for an interview with Conor about Vampire Diaries , go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=To62kcd5EIc ).
Michael: So, after you finished Big Momma’s House 3, you started teaching makeup in Orlando.
Michael: How did you learn about SyFy’s Face Off competition and what audition did you perform to be on the show?
Conor: I first heard about Face Off when the producers informed the school, where I was teaching, that they were holding auditions in Orlando. In my first audition I created a full
head, pull-over prosthetic, dentures, a chest prosthetic, and gloves to create a kind of “demon vampire”. I think I went a little overboard with the makeups. But they really liked it and signed me on.
Michael: What were the housing conditions like living in a communal sense for Face Off? Was there anyone who was intolerable or “excruciating” to live with?
Conor: The Face Off household was actually two lofts that were side by side and they were really nice. The only problem any of us had to deal with was snoring generated by a select few. It did cause me to sleep on the couch a number of times.
Conor in disguise: One of the many Face Off competitions to be overcome.
Michael: I think you were confident you would win Face Off. At least that’s what you said in the trailer. You said something about “mopping up the floor with the competition?”
Conor: C’mon. That was just for television.
Michael: Okay, then. Who worried you on the show? Who gave you the best run for your money?
Conor: The more skilled competitors on the show were Tate and Frank, in my opinion. Obviously Frank wasn’t really enjoying the whole experience and seemed happy to leave by the third challenge. Tate didn’t have as much experience, but the judges were very impressed with his ability to conceptualize.
Michael: Were you surprised when you won Face Off? Did you feel you were “the ringer” as we discussed?
Conor: I was surprised when I won. The competition really shook my confidence. I never thought of myself as “a ringer”. The producers cast makeup artists with different levels of experience and from different parts of the country. If they had cast everyone based solely on experience, the show would have been nothing but thirty-and-forty-something white guys from Los Angeles. I don’t think it would have been nearly as interesting.
Michael: Yeah, that doesn’t make for good television. They need the drama element… speaking of which.
Conor: What? (laughs)
Michael: Okay, Conor. Be honest.
Conor: Uh-oh. Here it comes. (laughs)
Michael: Did you hook up with Megan?
Conor: (Pause) No.
Michael: Liar. Okay, then what was your “relationship” with Megan? It was certainly exploited for television. Did your interaction interfere with your “performance”?
Conor: I think the perception of our relationship got skewed by some of the comments being made by other contestants. If you really watch us on the show, we were two
people who got along and worked well together. She didn’t interfere at all. We were supportive of each other. We were friends. That’s all.
Michael: You seemed surprised when Megan was voted off.
Conor: I wasn’t surprised. She knew she was going home. Megan told me the
night before she was ready to go. She just hoped they would let her leave with her “dignity” after all the mudslinging.
Michael: Rumor has it you are planning something with Ve Neill, the Oscar-winning makeup artist for Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice. Is that true?
Conor: Ve was one of the Face Off judges. She and I had talked and she invited me to work at her booth for International Makeup Artists Trade Show – Los Angeles coming up this June. I’m honored that Ve thought enough of me to work by her side. She is great.
Michael: How did you get involved with GHOST TREK?
Conor: Like you don’t know. (laughs) You contacted me when you found out that I lived in Charlotte. Well, actually I was living in Atlanta at the time working on Vampire
Diaries but I still had a North Carolina cell phone number and address. Anyway, I read one of your early scripts, and we ended up meeting while I was still working on Big Mamma’s House 3 in Atlanta.
Michael: You told me how Martin Lawrence watched back to back episodes of The Wire
while in the chair. You want to tell the story about the luggage thing?
Conor: Ah, no.
Michael: What’s the verdict on GHOST TREK?
Conor: The imagery is hilarious.
Michael: Too bad you couldn’t work on the pilot. Robert Filion, who you worked
with on Cold Storage, and I were in pre-production while you were shooting Face Off. Starr and Dean Jones (Deep Space Nine) did Addy Miller’s (The Walking Dead) make up for us.
To become a fan of GHOST TREK go here: https://www.facebook.com/GhostTrekTV
Conor: Nice ham-fisting by the way.
Michael: I had to get my shameless plug in there, somehow.
Conor: Well, hopefully GHOST TREK will get picked up.
Anyway, I asked you the other day whether or not you were a “Universal Studios Monster” fan like I was. But you weren’t influenced by Bud Westmore or Jack Pierce. Who are your makeup heroes?
Conor poses with the host of SyFy’s Face Off, McKenzie Westmore, at Monsterpalooza.
Conor: My heroes in makeup are the usual suspects: Dick Smith (The Exorcist), Rick Baker (Men in Black, The Wolfman), Steve Johnson (War of the Worlds), and the late Stan Winston (Jurassic Park, Pumpkinhead).
Michael: No one ever mentions John Chambers. I thought he revolutionized
the art with his Planet of the Apes prosthetic effects.
Conor: Not really my era. I’m more mid-late 70’s early 80’s. You’re older than me.
Michael: Thanks. Anyway, what would be your ideal gig?
Conor: My ideal gig. Let’s see. My ideal gig would be a big creature feature with enough time and money to do it right. Creature suits, creature puppets, and creature makeups. A makeup and effects artist’s dream, basically.
Michael: You know they’re already casting Face Off again. Will SyFy have you back on Season Two as a judge or possibly for commentary?
Conor: I have not discussed Face Off Season Two with the producers at this point. I sincerely hope they do consider me for something. Being a guest judge would be
great! We’ll see what happens.
Michael: What do you dislike the most about the makeup business?
Conor: I think what I dislike the most about makeup and the film business, as a whole, is the lack of stability. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for three years now.
Michael: But you’re a Canadian currently living in Florida. Before that you lived in Atlanta, and you own property in Charlotte. You’ve bounced around a lot, as you said. Where next? Are you contemplating going back to California where you started?
Conor: I would really love to be able to settle in one place without having to move back to Los Angeles. Only for the sake of my career, I have to consider it. It’s not my first choice. But, I just got back from Monsterpalooza and it was amazing. It was like a Face Off reunion. Meg, Frank, Sam, Gage, Marcel, Jo, and Anthony were all there. Ve Neill and the other judges were there. Rick Baker was there for a short time but yet again, our paths didn’t cross.
I am going to be doing some work for Ve Neill, but I’m not disposed to discuss that right now, and Greg Nicotero expressed interest in having me come back for The Walking Dead Season Two. So, I made some great business contacts, took a lot of pics with fans, and probably partied a little too much. But, it was a fantastic experience. And to be recognized by so many great makeup effects legends is really validating.
Michael: What’s the best advice you have for fledgling makeup artists?
Conor: The best advice I can give is diversify. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself. Learn the beauty makeup, hair laying, airbrushing, prosthetics… being a “specialist” only works to your advantage if you plan on moving to LA and never leaving.
Michael: What’s next for Conor McCullagh, “Winner of SyFy’s Face Off?” What are your
plans for the rest of the year?
Conor: I may also be attending some conventions this summer, and I’m waiting to hear on a few films I bid on. After that, who knows? I love what I do. As long as I can make monsters for a living, I’m happy.
GHOST TREK: CONFEDERATE GHOULS IS NOW A FILM IN PRE-PRODUCTION TO SHOOT IN THE EARLY SUMMER OF 2018 IN CHARLESTON, SC AND ITS ENVIRONS.