May 4th, 2017
With a mantelpiece that houses a BAFTA, two Emmys and an RTS, and a CV with many of the biggest period movies of recent years, you’ll be surprised to learn that Daniel Phillips’ first significant work was in fashion before a move to Auntie Beeb – and the rest, as they say, is history. The last time Warpaint chatted to him was on the iconic BBC version of Bleak House for which he received both BAFTA and RTS awards. It’s been far too long.
WP: Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
DP: I was born in Hampshire on the South Coast of England and I now live in-between my flat in Ealing and my house in East Sussex, where I like to go after for a more quiet existence after a heavy film shoot.
WP: What were your ambitions as a child?
DP: I was a very artistically creative child and I knew that I wanted to work within the Arts, although make-up artistry was not really a career option during my schooling years. There was little or no career advice to aid my direction. I initially trained as a salon Hair Stylist and then went on to work within Technical Graphics. I did, however, instinctively know that I needed to head for the Bright Lights and Big City; it’s strange how one is aware as a child that small town norm is not enough.
WP: What brought you into the make-up industry?
DP: My Mother was an interior designer and one of her clients had a daughter who was a make-up artist within film. I saw a picture of her on location in the Caribbean and recall thinking how glamorous that was and a good mix of creative arts and travel. That was my motivation to follow my career path.
WP: What was your first memorable work?
DP: My first memorable work as a make-up artist was as junior assistant to Phyllis Cohen and Christina Saunders. They were very big names in the fashion make-up industry at the time and mentors at the London College of Fashion. I worked with Christina on the iconic Levi Jeans commercials and with Phyllis on an Issey Miyake show; at that time I was leaning more towards Fashion and Editorial. Having left College, I then worked as a fashion make-up artist for a few years before I joined the BBC in London where I honed my craft for seven years.
WP: What are the things that you love about working in the industry?
DP: I love to work with a team of talented people towards the same goal. I like the comradery and the fact that each production is different with its different issues and problems to solve. It’s a great feeling to put together a team that all have different strengths and are all able to contribute.
WP: You’ve worked on many memorable characters – do you have a favourite?
DP: I think my favourite character to create would have to be The Queen with Helen Mirren. Although not technically difficult as make-up and hair, it was crucial to find a balance of not doing a lookalike make-up, but creating a character that the audience would accept as a Royal figurehead within the first few frames of the movie. We were only allowed a 30 minute make-up and hair window to complete her look, so we had to scale down to the key points. Once the look was established, I then passed it on to my assistant and I then established other characters. This was also the film that had the biggest impact on furthering my career.
WP: What qualities do you look for in the members of your make-up team?
DP: Team qualities I look for in assistants are:
- a) A natural leaning to the creative side.
- b) The appreciation that hair and make-up go together to create a look.
- c) Complete tact and diplomacy.
- d) The understanding that it’s a tough industry and that we are a service behind the camera and therefore ego and loud personalities are not conducive to a calm creative environment.
- e) To be of an age where you have had some life experience. It’s important to be able to converse with many different types of people on different levels and subjects.
WP: What are the challenges faced by freelance artists?
DP: Working as a freelance artist, it is important that I keep up to date with new techniques and products if I wish to stay ahead of the game. There is great talent coming up all the time and I’m still only as good as my last film. Even as an established artist, I still never really know what my working year has in store for me and in my earlier days as a freelancer that was difficult with the uncertainty. London is an expensive city to survive in. When I started my career, there were far less make-up artists in the industry and there was much more work to spread around.
WP: Do you have a signature style or type of work you are known for in the industry?
DP: Most of the projects that I am offered tend to be of a period nature. I guess that’s what I am known and have a preference for. I love working on a script that tells a good tale. I do find that with the more European films I am left to be more creative with less interference.
WP: What should someone know before getting into the business?
DP: Make-up artistry is perceived to be a very glamourous industry and that is true to a degree. However, whether working in the fashion film or commercial area, one should understand that the industries are overly subscribed with make-up artists. Only the really determined survive and it’s important to broaden your skill base so that you are able to lend yourself to various production requirements. Don’t specialise in one area. Be able to cross from hair to make-up to SFX. Often UK/ EU budgets are not large enough to have the luxury of separate hair and make-up teams. One can really only specialise if working in the editorial section.
WP: How do you continue to grow your career as an artist?
DP: I think it’s important that one keeps perspective in one’s career. I love my job, but I also think it’s important to enjoy the down time. Film making is all consuming and it is about finding a balance. I am fortunate enough now to be able to choose the films I wish to work on and I tend to take the ones that I find I will have a great time on both artistically and socially.
WP: Do you have a project that you’ve done that you are especially proud of? How did you get involved with it?
DP: One of my earlier productions as a new designer was the French & Saunders series, which was great for being creative. It also taught me the importance of speed with live audience and quick changes, and I was able to cover many genres of make-up and prosthetics. They were very well known for their film parodies and I love to create lookalikes. A perfect combination!
WP: Which project was the most fun to work on?
DP: The project that was most fun to work on would be Florence Foster Jenkins – a great production team and director, along with music, dance and 1940s, which is one of my favourite periods to recreate.
WP: Who inspires you and whose work do you admire?
DP: I am inspired by fashion designers such as the late Alexander McQueen and make-up artist Pat McGrath. I believe that there is always room to cross over ideas from high fashion to film. This helps to keep the screen visuals innovative. I admire Pat, Jenny Shircore and film hair stylist Lou Sheppard.
WP: Is there an actor that you’d like to work with?
DP: All of the actors I have worked, with bar maybe just a few, have been very respectful and collaborative. For me it’s not really any particular actor that I look to work with. It would be directors; I would quite like to work with Tom Hooper or Baz Luhrmann.
WP: What’s changed most about the industry during your time?
DP: I find that the hours are much longer now and one has to now be available almost 24hrs a day – especially with co-USA productions where there is a time difference. I often will wrap a film day in the UK and then go home to answer copious emails or telephone calls from a studio in America. Many more studio producers have a greater say on the style of the movie – especially when character merchandise is involved. There was a time when the director was the king pin on a movie and I only ever worked to him or her. Now everything is decided by a studio committee, unless of course one has a very strong director to steer the helm.
WP: Have new technologies affected the way that you work?
DP: Techniques have had to change. We now no longer have the luxury of working on film tape, everything is digital and that often does not have the same golden quality. It can be a harsh medium to work with and every flaw is shown. One really does have to step up to the skills plate and refine everything. I find I now use less make-up to create a character. The positives are that this then promotes new techniques and refinement – especially within the prosthetics field where the old foam techniques would not hold up to the camera.
WP: How have changes in product changed the way that you work?
DP: There is an incredible choice of cosmetics available to us, however, I do still use my trusty favourites. Part of the skill of a make-up artist is the ability to be able to make things work often with the most basic kit. We now no longer have to think about how to create an effect – it’s in a bottle on the shelf! I know that’s a good thing, but I do have a greater sense of achievement when I have solved a dilemma by myself.
WP: Has social media impacted on your work?
DP: Social media is great for finding out about new techniques and new make-up artist on the scene. It’s also useful to find out who is working on what and where. This aids building up contact lists wide and far. I cannot personally say that it has affected my work much. I have an agent and most of my productions are from contacts that I have worked with over many years.
WP: What’s next for you?
DP: I have only just completed a film called Victoria & Abdul, which is a true story based on the relationship between Queen Victoria and her Indian servant. This is with the same team who brought us Florence Foster Jenkins.