July 23rd, 2015
Kate Benton has come a long way since her time training at the BBC. Nominated for Emmy, BAFTA and RTS awards no less than 8 times, Kate is known for working fast to produce major transformations – not to mention, she’s the other half of PAM’s business brain along with Jan Sewell. We sat down with her to talk about products, projects and plans.
WP: What first sparked your interest in make-up?
KB: My parents told me a story that when I was six, they took me to the local park, and it just so happened that a production company was filming there. So we all stood and watched for a bit, then the inevitable happened and it started to get cold, but, despite bribes and threats I refused to leave. It was the make-up team that I was fascinated by.
WP: What was your training at the BBC like? What was the biggest lesson you learned from your training there?
KB: My training was broad, excellent and expanding. The teacher was somewhat controversial in her approach while we were in school, i.e. we were not allowed to use liquid bases and had to use primary colours for many things; but she made us think about the artist who was to be on the receiving end of our brushes.
WP: You’ve had so much experience across film and TV projects – do you have a favourite? Why that one?
KB: I guess I would have to say this current project [The Last Kingdom], which has meant being away from home for six months in Budapest. Vikings and Saxons, lots of blood and dirt, wounds, laying on hair, extreme weather challenges and a long haul, but it’s hugely creative and great fun.
WP: What are some of the biggest challenges you often face on set, which prospective artists should be aware of?
KB: It’s a slightly deceiving job I think. There is the sheer hard work aspect, i.e. the hours and physicality of it, plus the technical know-how, but also the personality side is probably the biggest most important factor that will make or break you. You have to be flexible, charming, have the knowledge – and if you don’t, to be able to bluff it without panic! I think as a profession we should have knowledge about camera lens, filters, etc.; one of the most depressing sights is seeing make-up artists to go in to do checks on actors that are not even in shot.
WP: How did PAM come about?
KB: There was only one pro shop in London at the time, and I had small children so had taken redundancy from the BBC. I really felt there was a need for a new venue where make-up artists could ‘never stop learning’, share their knowledge and tips with each other, and to just shop in a friendly but informative environment.
WP: What are some of your favourite brands and products?
KB: Le Maq Pro is one of them. It was one of the main reasons for opening the shop, bringing in that brand; it just looks amazing on camera and to the eye. They’ve a huge range of colours, which are mixable, and it works well on prosthetics too. To me, it’s the ultimate make-up. Also I like little quirky but essential things. We have just got the new Flairosol water spray bottle in which is causing big interest on Facebook, because it sprays continuously and it’s such a fine spray. Ditto the tiny wig scissors that we use, which are angled so that you can use them safely on set on an actors face.
WP: Your work on The Young Doctor’s Notebook must have been quite challenging – from connecting the looks of Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe to the historical medical scenes. How did you approach designing the show?
KB: I was delighted but it was certainly a challenge. We had period (1914) we had lots of prosthetics, and operations – including sawn-off legs, multiple births, morphine addiction – and the delightful Mr Radcliffe and Mr Hamm to put the icing on the cake! Once the two leads had had their hair cut for the period, we were able to concentrate on the prosthetics, the blood, the snow, etc.
It’s wonderfully helpful having the shop and the wealth of knowledge that flows back and forward from it… tips get passed to and from, and the girls in the shop are amazing, they’re so clued up on products.
WP: What are the challenges you face on ‘no make-up’ projects such as Peep Show?
KB: I do find shows like Peep Show great fun, but I prefer the busier, wiggy prosthetic period jobs where I am constantly busy. On Peep Show, continuity becomes all essential because of the way it is shot. There are some episodes where new characters or scenes come in, which can really be fun and let you stretch your imagination. But it’s not to the same intensity as a show like The Last Kingdom.
WP: Do you have any advice on how to make the jump from being an assistant or a daily to becoming a department head or designer?
KB: I think once you have mastered the multiple skills needed to be a good assistant, and you are in demand, you will be asked by designers to cover jobs that they can’t do, or to run other units, and it’s a natural progression from there. Once producers see that you can cope with the demands of running a small job they are usually happy to take the next step and use you again.
WP: What does the rest of 2015 hold for you?
I came back to the UK in June, but now it’s straight into Season Two of The Royals. So from dirt, blood battles and Vikings, straight into glamour and glitz with Elizabeth Hurley…!
WP: With all of your experience, is there anything you’d still like to do – work on a particular type of film, or with a particular director etc?
KB: I’m thrilled and delighted to work in this industry. Even on the hardest days, I try and remember how lucky I am to be working in this job. Honestly, every job I do is a journey and I always learn something. To be in Hungary for six months and to be working closely with four Hungarian make up artists has been wonderful. Bring it on…. all of it!