S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership.
S2: You’re helping the actor create this character. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the actor say once the makeup is done, they start to feel something else, which helps them get to where they need to go.
S1: Welcome back to working, I’m your host, Joon Thomas,
S3: and I’m your other host, Isaac Butler,
S1: and whose voice did we hear at the top of the show?
S3: Well, June we heard the voice of Lesley and Sebert.
S1: And what does Leslie do?
S3: Leslie is a make up artist for TV and film.
S1: Wow. Might I have seen any of the projects she’s worked on?
S3: Well, are you a Resident Evil fan? June.
S1: So much, actually.
S3: Well, that’s okay, because she actually has a lot of projects on her resume, literally dozens of them. I mean, she’s worked on everything from Resident Evil Afterlife to both American Pie and its sequel, and she did the TV series of Margaret Atwood’s alias Grace. I mean, she it’s got a wide range of work, but but most recently, and it’s actually the thing we are talking about in the episode itself. She did the makeup for the children’s horror film Nightbooks, which you can see right now on Netflix. It’s been a big Halloween hit, and since this episode is airing on Halloween, we thought it’d be fun to talk to her
S1: as a perfect fit. I’m super excited about this interview, but first, I believe you have an extra segment for Slate Plus members. What will they hear?
S3: Yeah, Slate Plus members will hear a couple of extra tidbits from my interview with Leslie. We talked about how being a makeup designer has really shaped how she views the world and how she watches films. You know, what does she notice walking down the street that we might not or watching the news even? And how does she feel when she sees other people’s work on camera? And then we talked a bit about how to refresh yourself creatively between projects. I think you’ll be surprised by some of the things that she does between projects to just kind of clear the slate.
S1: Wow, that sounds fascinating, unfortunately. It’s incredibly easy to subscribe to Slate Plus. In fact, for a limited time only, it’s extra easy. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Slate, and for a limited time, we’re offering our annual Slate Plus membership at $25 off. As a member, you’ll get no ads on any of our podcasts. Unlimited reading on the slate site, a member, exclusive episodes and segments from us, and other shows like The Culture, Gabfest and The Waves. For the last quarter Century Slate podcast has been covering all the major news events, from elections to social issues to historic court decisions, our culture shows have debated. If things are sexist, they almost always are named the best summer songs and explained the latest Tik Tok trends. If we’ve become a part of your listening routine, we ask that you support our work by joining Slate. Plus, you can sign up right now at Slate.com Slash Working Plus to keep us going for another 25 years again. We’re giving you $25 off an annual membership through October 30 first, so you need to act quickly. Sign up now at Slate.com. Slush working plus. OK, let’s hear Isaac’s conversation with Leslie Sebert.
S3: Let’s just start with the very basics, who are you and what do you do?
S2: My name is Leslie and Sebert. I’m a makeup artist in film and television, and I have been for many years. I’m a member of I at See 873 and have been for quite a long time.
S3: How did you come to be a makeup artist? When did you first get interested in it?
S2: My father, John Sebert, was a director. Most of the commercials and short films. And as a kid, I would visit him on set and one day visiting him as a cheese tween. Really, I met a makeup artist who later became my mentor, but at that time she let me blush an actress’s cheek. And I was. That was it. I was gone. It was what I wanted to do, and so my dad would get me different courses for Christmas or birthdays or whatever, and I loved it. And by the time I was about 17, I was fully trained and started doing commercials at 18. So. Oh wow.
S3: So where are those courses? Where are you studying? How to do makeup for film and television?
S2: I grew up in Toronto born and raised, and my first course was a theater makeup, which was a really great foundation, which is important and took that for quite a while. And then after that, my dad being in the business knew people and again asked my mentor which direction, and she referred a wonderful woman. Her name was Wynne Walker. She used to work at CBC, which is a Canadian television. And she had retired and was teaching, and I was probably with her for two or three years. So I had a really, really amazing beginning of just learning the fundamentals, the important fundamentals.
S3: So what do you look for in choosing a project that you want to work on and do the makeup for,
S2: of course, script when you get a script and you read it and you enjoy reading it? That’s pretty great. There’s been some spectacular ones over the years, and that’s kind of it. If a script grabs you, it’s the right place for you to be.
S3: Our listeners, of course, can see your work right now in the hit Netflix film Nightbooks. I went on Netflix today and it’s number seven in the kids category. It’s a top ten film there. What about the story spoke to you in terms of designing the makeup looks, you know? What was it that grabbed you or that you were trying to kind of track as you go along?
S2: Well, the witch Natasha, played by Krysten Ritter, it was such a different kind of which she was young and fun and wicked and evil, but also the costume designer Autumn Steed, who’d been on the show for forever, shows she really had a lot of research and background and knew the direction they wanted this character to go. Her color palette and her designs, it was so interesting and you just knew that this was going to be something different and that’s what you want. You always wanted to change it up. It’s another reason this script was so interesting to me is Sam Raimi was one of the producers who I have worked with before I worked with him on Poltergeist. The remake? Oh, wow, with Sam Rockwell, are you all right? And it was such a good experience. And that’s another thing when you are reading a script to know who is above the line, who’s there, who’s part of it?
S3: Do you do a lot of research for your work, like what is your research process like?
S2: Every show is different, of course, with this one. The research was more into fashion and looks and runway and what’s new. You don’t want to get caught in what’s happening at the moment because movies always take a bit of time before they come out. So you want to try to get a curve going that you’re starting something new and that was started from autumn’s creations of the wardrobe and then Kristen’s face, which is so awesome to work on. And that sort of goes into how I research and what I do. And it’s not so much researching other horror movies or anything like that. It’s more creating a look, being inspired from different things that you pull from different places and making a mood board or whatever and putting it on that it gets your creative juices going.
S3: Do you make mood boards for your characters? Is that a thing you do?
S2: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, especially if it’s a neat character like this. Yes. So in the makeup trailer, we usually have the Cork board or whatever, and so everything would go up there and you just look at it and it just inspires you. And when you know, Krysten sits down in the chair and you’ve got your makeup all laid out, you can just kind of keep bringing in things from that and Christine’s input, of course. And do you want to know what goes into the mood board?
S3: I’d love to know. You know, yes. So we have the character of Natasha has this kind of young witch. There’s a little bit of something hip about her, but she’s still a witch. She’s still killing children if they don’t fulfill her needs. And I would love to know, yeah, what goes on the mood board there? What’s what stuck into that corkboard, right?
S2: So with Natasha the Witch, she was captured by this apartment as a young girl, and so the thought process was that she’s childish. She hasn’t had any outside influences other than what she sees if she goes out a little. So the idea was that she’s a young girl when she was captured. She’s grown up in this apartment and she has still got a very childish idea of of herself, of her wardrobe, of her everything. So from that, we wanted to create a girly, fun, wicked evil, nasty, gorgeous witch.
S3: Amazing. So yeah, I mean, I guess I want to rewind a little bit to before we get to Krysten in the chair to kind of those early conversations you’re having with your director and maybe with the costume designer as well. What do you want to know from your director? You know, when you’re in the early phases of figuring out the makeup and I guess, what do you want to make sure you tell them at the same time?
S2: I mean, what’s really important in film or television is a movie arc. You know where the character goes, how they evolve or not, or whatever. So with Natasha the Witch, she was always very done. We always see her perfectly done, and by the end of the film, she’s starting to unravel. Things are really getting out of control, and so with her look also. So that was a discussion, of course, with the director of How is this and what do they need to see and how does it help the character tell the story? So that’s the super fun part of it is the arc. Yeah.
S3: So it sounds like, you know, your starting place is really rooted in character and storytelling. It’s really about like, who is this person and what’s going on at this particular moment in the film or TV show? And how can the make up kind of support and express that?
S2: That’s exactly what it is. You’re helping the actor create this character. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the actors say once the makeup is done, they start to feel something else, which helps them get to where they need to go. So that’s our job.
S3: So I know obviously there comes a point where you’re you’re playing around with the actual face of the actual actor who’s sitting there in the chair in front of you. Is there a sort of intermediate stage where you’ve mocked up some kind of image for you and the director to discuss first?
S2: Yes, that’s sort of the mood board you can photoshop and things like that. But I find because Photoshop is a two dimensional image. It’s just so much better to have the board have the feeling of what you’re going to do and then tests. So we have lots of tests before we start shooting. And then, you know, they can see they can actually see it instead of an image that it might not actually carry into it, right?
S3: And also, you started working in makeup prior to Photoshop being a widespread thing, right? Yes. Yeah, yeah. So so for our listeners who don’t know what makeup and costume tests are like, can you sort of walk us through what that process is?
S2: Sure. Part of pre-production, you finally have these camera tests. Sometimes you actually have pre camera tests where you just play with the actor and really just see what works on them, what they like, what they don’t like. You do that and then you’ll have another test, depending how extensive, you know, if there’s injuries or prosthetics or any pieces, aging, things like that. And then you’ll have your camera test where you’ll have costumes and hair and makeup altogether. And I highly recommend for any makeup person starting out there don’t ever do a camera test without having. And wardrobe, and then sometimes there’s contact lenses and things like that, and it really changes everything.
S3: Your department is so interdependent with those with those sword.
S2: It’s a team sport.
S3: Obviously, there’s makeup effects and supernatural beings in this film, but there’s also normal people. There’s the parents, there’s the normal kids and stuff. How do you sort of create that contrast? How do you establish what’s a baseline normal person look like, I guess?
S2: Yeah, that’s an interesting question, because some shows want everything super polished. They want everyone done from head to toe. Dave EuroBasket, our director, wanted Real with everyone else. The wanted them to look like real people that you can believe in. So the kids are very minimal. They have corrective if they even need it, which Winslow, who plays Alex, is just adorable and hardly needed anything. Lydia Jewitt, who played Jasmine. She also had a very simple fine. You know, she’s a teenager, and so she had a little bit more makeup on. But it’s pretty simplistic. But I thought there was a huge challenge with those kids because of all the stuff that happened to them during the movie. There was Shredder Goo, which was like a purple slime. There was candy vomit. And ultraviolet light dirt, right? So all these things, which was was shocking to us, but it took so many tests to get the final things that we used. We needed consistency. We need a color. We needed something that was going to last for continuity that we could reapply for weeks at a time. And it had to be food safe because it went on their faces and it could go in their mouths. But we couldn’t use candy because candy breaks down in anything. So it was a really tough challenge, and I think we probably tested 10 times, maybe more on those.
S3: Yeah. Which of those substances was the hardest to make up for you? The candy vomit,
S2: the candy vomit.
S3: What is it actually made out of?
S2: You know what the base is guar gum, which is a food substance or whatever you call it, and then trying to figure out different things to go in it. We ended up having to use like beads and things like that that looked like candy bits.
S3: Mm-Hmm. And is another team making that stuff or is your team making?
S2: We made it, which was fun. Yeah, every moment we had off set, we’re stirring stuff off and throwing it on each other’s faces, and it was fun. Yeah.
S3: Do you get to do that a lot? Is that like a part of the job that you really enjoy or,
S2: yeah, love to do it. But most shows don’t have candy vomit. And that’s the thing it’s never been made before. So Dave, our director, had a real, very distinct looked at what he wanted, and so we had to make it happen. And so test after test after test until everybody was happy with the color, the consistency because it also has to go on the wardrobe. But it can’t be the same product because on the wardrobe, it has to stay forever, right? And it can be plastic or it can be whatever. But on the face, it has to be completely different, like a food item.
S3: So but it has to read as the same substance?
S2: Absolutely. So that was the challenge it was when you just reading the script, you’re like, Oh, yeah, that’s great.
S3: And it sure sounds lovely. Yeah, right? Yeah.
S1: We’ll be back with more of Isaac’s conversation with Leslie Sebert. One of the things we’d love to do with this show is help solve your creative problems, whether it’s a question about preparation, figuring out how to make a really inspirational mood board anything at all. Send them to us at working at Slate.com or give us a call at 3:00 or 4:00 933 W o r k. And if you’re enjoying this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to working wherever you get your podcasts. Now, let’s return to Isaac’s conversation with Leslie Sebert.
S3: So, you know it’s a kid’s movie Nightbooks, but it’s also a horror film. I mean, I’m a middle aged man. There were a couple of moments that I was legitimately scared about, but you know, it strikes me that part of what you got to do in a PG rated movie is find that balance right. It has to be scary enough to be taken seriously as a scary film for kids, but not so scary that they turn it off or you get complaint letters or, you know, whatever it is. Absolutely. And every design department, I think, seems to play a part in striking that tonal balance. How did you think through or how did you and David Yaroslavsky, the director, think through finding the right tone?
S2: Visually, what was really fantastic also was Dave wanted to push it. You know, he wanted to make a good scary movie for kids and adults. And obviously, like you said, when you see it, he achieved it. I think what helped for the makeup department is there’s no blood. So that, I think, is a whole scariness and reality to itself. Whereas like I said, the candy vomit, the shredder goo, the shredders were terrifying to ride, but the colors and camp. I mean, and that’s purely up to Dave and the producers. You know, how far can they push it? And so I think makeup helped by having these great colors and having the brightness and having the fun.
S3: You know, there’s also obviously, it’s a supernatural film. There’s a lot of VFX and post-production stuff going on in it. How does that shape your work? Because there’s stuff happening that’s not going to be on set, right? It’s going to happen well after the movie is filmed. How do you take that into account as part of your process?
S2: Quite often they’ll have storyboards and things like that just to piece it all together, so everybody’s on the same page. They did that also on this one, and so you get a glimpse of what it’s going to be, you know, a very, very rough glimpse of what it’s going to be. And so you can do your work according to that. But with Krysten, really, I think the only thing that changed was she would do the blue mist and the eye color, but the rest of it was real.
S3: Once the film is actually in production, once we’re on set. What is your role at that point in the process? What are you doing in the day to day of shooting the film?
S2: Makeup Yeah.
S3: I mean, at that point, you’re applying everything.
S2: You’re absolutely so. You know, every morning we come in, we have our call time, usually an hour or more before crew calls so that everybody’s ready before you know the crew gets there. Kristen’s makeup was quite extensive. Think it was probably about an hour and a half, maybe tops maybe an hour and 15 to do so.
S3: It’s not like those Star Trek crew calls where they’re like, I was in makeup for eight hours.
S2: That’s the thing with when you’re working with kids, you don’t have much time on the clock, so you have to be fast. Krysten very professional and she sits and she lets you do your work. And we had designed everything before we started shooting pretty well. And so, you know, I’d have the continuity books and they’re all out. All her stuff would be out. She’d sit in the chair and we would get going.
S3: What’s a continuity book? Can you explain that to me?
S2: Oh yeah. So every makeup artist and hair person and costume person, you must have a continuity book, which they never shoot a movie in continuity. They always jump around. And so in one day, you could be changing the look three times from a different shooting day script day. So say Day one Krysten Scott, the pink fuchsia lips and she’s got whatever right? So you just have to make sure when they’re shooting that scene, she has that exact same look and the costume and the hair. So your book is your Bible. Basically, you just have to refer to it all the time.
S3: And so it’s got basically like a photo of what the finished thing is supposed to look like and then you are matching to that image.
S2: Absolutely. And then you’ll have your write out of what you have. And also, the digital copy is great if you need to send it to someone or. But the working one for makeup, I don’t know how people do without because you can actually put the color, the actual eyeshadow color into the paper, you know, so. People, if they do it all digitally, you can’t do that, which I guess, you know, works for some people, but I believe that you need to have more detail.
S3: And then in between takes, are you touching up?
S2: Absolutely. When you see all these YouTube makeup people that look perfect, it lasts for about five minutes. So yes, all during the day, you will do touch ups, usually right before they start the camera rolling. They’ll say finals and you hair, makeup, wardrobe zip in there and you do your finals, whatever you need to do, you know lipstick if someone’s had coffee or whatever, right?
S3: Because it strikes me that it must be part of the design process, you know, to take into account that this stuff is sort of constantly being destroyed and then needing to be refreshed because they’ve got a good Jillian Watts of light on their face. Maybe they have food or they’re crying, and that’s a that must create certain boundaries in terms of I don’t know how elaborate or which substances you can use or whatever.
S2: For sure, durability is a huge part of movie makeup. You know, you can’t apply something that. Doesn’t have staying power, right? You know, unless it’s a very short scene and it’s only a one off and you’re never going to do it again because a normal day is 12 hours when you have kids, it’s less. But then the kids will wrap and you keep shooting with the main actress for 14 15 hours and you do her close up on the 15th hour, almost always, because that’s just the way it works. And so for what you started in the morning at 4:00 or 5:00, in the morning at 9:00 at night, it has to look exactly the same and just as perfect. So yeah, there’s maintenance
S3: has the advent of digital cinematography and higher res cameras and things like that. Has that changed your job? Because the level of detail that the camera can capture is so much higher?
S2: For sure. My career, I’ve been lucky enough. I started in feature films and so I always have done a feature film makeup that is going to be flawless. And so with 4K and all of these new, there’s also beautiful makeups out now, too. Even before my time, you know, there was max factor and things like that that were quite heavy, that were fine way back in the day, like the pancakes and things like that, because the film quality wasn’t as good and the lighting wasn’t, you know? So yes, definitely. Now there’s beautiful products, and the lighting makes a big difference, too. But I think for myself, I have always done a flawless makeup if that’s what is needed, and so I didn’t have to alter too much. You do have to be careful of different foundations and things like that and different skin colors. You know, there’s gorgeous things out there now where they didn’t used to be. And so you’d have to be careful. That’s all. But that’s the main thing is, I believe if you are in daylight and you look at a makeup that you’ve done and it looks beautiful to your eye close up, then you’re OK, you’re going to be fine. But if you take someone outside of the makeup trailer in daylight and you see something, then they’re probably going to see it on camera.
S3: Right, right. You can’t hide. Yeah, yeah, totally. It’s fascinating to me thinking about makeup for film, you know exactly how much work goes into just what we think of as looking natural. You know, and it’s not that the person could just walk out of the trailer and then are there ready for their close up, Mr. D.M.. So I mean, I know it changes project to project. But for our listeners who might not sort of know that much about makeup and film, like it takes a lot to get someone to just look normal, right? It takes a lot to just have a kind of natural look, quote unquote looking person.
S2: It does more for some people. The main thing is like if you’re doing a straight makeup or a corrective makeup is the quality of the makeup you’re using and to color match the skin. I mean, you don’t want to change people’s skin color too much because it never looks natural. Some men on film don’t need makeup. They might lose a little bit of powder or something like that. I always feel less is better than more, but you need a little bit just to even out the skin tone. So there’s a few actors out there that don’t need anything. But oh yeah, absolutely. But in general, yes, it’s surprising when you do a straight makeup how much makeup actually goes on. But it’s not a lot of makeup it’s blending and it’s being careful not to see it and enhancing their features. That’s the biggest thing is you want to enhance someone’s features, so doing a corrective, you’re actually enhancing their features or making them look better.
S3: You know, the other thing, of course, is that trends in makeup change over time, right? So like if you’re doing like a period piece, let’s say it’s set in the 19, 1968 or whatever. Are you sort of looking back at like Issues of Life magazine to look at kind of what makeup was like then or what happens when we’re not in our present era and you’re thinking through makeup
S2: again, like every script, you have to do research either contemporary or if it’s a period piece. Definitely. I did a really fun feature a while ago called Down to Earth, which was a remake of another movie, but it was almost every decade, all the way back to cavemen. And it was so fascinating because yes, you have to research. And if you have a big day with a lot of makeup people coming in, we call them dailies to do background and things like that. You have to have boards for them to refer to because you can’t expect someone that just got the call the night before to remember exactly in 1940s makeup or an 1850s makeup or something like that. So. Absolutely. You have to research the period and. I mean, nowadays, it’s quite easy to find photos and things all the way back to.
S3: Can I ask where are you and your design process right now? What are you? What are you working on?
S2: I just finished a wonderful Netflix thriller called Ivy, starring Alice Braga. She’s from Queen of the South. Fantastic. So, yeah, winding down from that and looking forward to the next project, there’s a few things that are in the mix. But it’s funny. You mentioned period piece because I love thrillers and horrors. I love dramas. I love period pieces because it’s the research and in the creative process.
S3: Yeah, totally, totally. Well, Leslie, thank you so much for joining us here on working and talking us through your process.
S2: It’s been a pleasure.
S1: Isaac, that was fascinating. The makeup department is an area of the performing arts that I know absolutely nothing about, and I learned a ton from that conversation, as you said. We talk a lot about collaboration on this show, but it was fascinating for me to see how interconnected the hair, makeup and costume departments are. But at the same time, how different their needs are. So in the case of Candy Vomit, I loved how much time you devoted to candy vomit, by the way, in the interview. It needs to look the same on faces and costumes, but the underlying needs of how the product has to behave is very different, so they’re actually made of different things. As a crazy feat of coordination and chemistry,
S3: yes, indeed. And let me also just say candy, vomit, candy, vomit, candy, vomit. You know, I’ll admit that makeup is an area of film and TV production that I didn’t know that much about either. And you zeroed in on on one of the things that was really surprising to me. I mean, it’s a no brainer on some level, right? Anything that you’re wearing or that’s on your body or your face in a film, it’s going to have to be worn under hot lights with a camera pointed out that potentially all day or even for several days straight, and it’s going to have to look exactly the same in every shot. If you know much about how TV and film are made, you probably understand that cognitively. But the actual real world implications on that for anyone in design and production, they’re actually pretty enormous.
S1: Yeah, no kidding. I loved Leslie’s story of falling in love with makeup after a sort of magical encounter while visiting her dad’s workplace and deciding then and there that that was what she wanted to do with her life and then doing that and having a successful career. In your experience, how often does that happen to people who work in the arts, like where it’s effectively a dream imprinted on them since their childhood? And do you think that’s a good thing? Mm hmm.
S3: Well, you know, I’ve recently been asking this question of a lot of our guests, and it definitely appears that, you know, ala Peter Parker, there’s a moment in high school where they get bitten by whatever their version of the radioactive spider is. And and that’s that their fate is sealed. I mean, there’s exceptions to that. Morgan Rhodes, who was the music supervisor we spoke with a few weeks ago, originally wanted to be a voiceover actor, and then she was a DJ before she was a music supervisor. A friend of mine describes it this way. There are two kinds of people eels and squids. Because a squid looks like a squid its entire life as a baby squid, it’s just a little tiny squid, and then it gets bigger and bigger and bigger as a squid. But eels at the different stages of their life actually look like completely different animals. They’re just not the same thing at each phase, and both of those are totally valid ways of being an artist like I’m an eel. I was a child, professional actor and then a director. Now I’m a teacher, writer and podcaster. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a squid, but I do think the idea we have is a culture that you sort of have to know what you want to do at a really early age. Then you’re locked into that for the rest of your life. I mean, it’s OK to figure shit out in your 20s and then figure it out again in your 30s. I mean, did you always want to be a podcaster at Slate.com when you were a child?
S1: Absolutely. I was. I was absolutely on that path from long before podcasting was ever invented. No, but I always wanted to be a journalist. Like, even though there was nothing like that in my family, I was that kid who was trying to, like, figure out how to use the weird Stettner in the cupboard so that I could make magazines for people at my elementary school. So I was always kind of on that path, but I’m in a mixed marriage, even though I’m not married because my partner is definitely an eel. So I’m a squid. She’s an eel, so I know that both are valid. I always get a lot of the questions you ask about our guests research processes, and it was interesting to hear that for Nightbooks, Leslie and her creative team wanted to make Krysten Ritter characters seem fashionable, but they also didn’t want to date the project by using something that was on the cutting edge at the time of filming. That’s really, really hard.
S3: Well, first of all, thank you for saying that, you know, I was just talking to my students about research today, and I really do feel that the research process is where inspiration usually comes from. You know, we think it’s like, Oh, the idea strikes you like lightning and then you start working, but it’s actually usually you start working and then the idea come. So that’s why I ask a lot about it, because it’s very important to my own creative process. That particular challenge seems really strange, because fashionable is not a timeless concept, right? That’s not actually possible. So it’s like, how do you shape it in such a way that it doesn’t feel too contemporary, but feels sort of classic and like it’s always going to be in, you know? And actually, thematically, that’s important because even though her character is imprisoning these, these children, she is herself a prisoner of this system that she’s within. And so it does have to feel a bit like she is preserved in amber. But you know, you go back to like TV shows like Seinfeld, where they have the huge shirts and the like poorly cut pants or. You know, there’s going to be a period of time where we look back at people wearing hoodies and blazers, a look that I love, I should say. And we’re going to laugh about, you know, that look and what that was. So you know, you have to find something that reads really both specific and ageless at the same time. Yeah.
S1: One thing that Leslie made very clear is that tests are essential and for special effects especially, but for anything that they’re trying to do. Just as you need dress rehearsals in the theater, you have to test Luke’s under the lights and whatever other conditions you’ll be filming in before you’re on the extra expensive clock. And I wondered as a writer, do you have any equivalent of that kind of test, huh?
S3: That’s that’s a good question. I mean, it’s very funny that you said this because we’re finalizing the copy for the book literally today. Like, I just found a typo and sent it in there, like, that’s the last one, you know? So I feel that’s very much we’re looking at the book, we’re looking at the insert where the photos are, the captions in the right place in relationship to the photos. So I do think that what she’s really talking about is concretize ing the idea. You know, you have an idea and it’s up here and it’s very lofty, but you have to actually look at the real thing to be able to figure out whether it works or not. Most creative problems cannot actually be solved in your head. They have to be solved in the thing itself. One thing I do and I know Charlie Jane Anders talked about this in your wonderful interview with her is read the text out loud. Every time I had a hand in a draft of the book, whether it was of a section of the book or of the entire book, at some point that revision process, I was reading it out loud. You have to be careful about that because you don’t want it to only read well out loud. It has to read well with the eye as well. But you catch so much stuff about your phrasing when sentences go on too long, when the clauses aren’t in the right rhythmic relationship with each other, you know so much writing as musical and rhythmic that really reading it out loud is essential to me.
S1: Well, and I happen to know that you’ll be recording the audio book soon. So if that was also a good
S3: practice, yes, I start on Monday. I’m right now trying to figure out how to pronounce all the Russian words and oh,
S1: well, good luck with that. Isaac, before we go, I also want to ask you to elaborate on a tweet that you sent out over the weekend. You said, and I quote my writing advice is simple by a laser printer, preferably a brother, black and white one that will last forever and has like zero bells or whistles. This blew my mind, partly because I’ve been printing out the chapter. I’m working on the copy shop because we have consistently failed to find an inkjet printer that stays alive for more than a few months and more than once. I’ve gotten home and I’ve realized that I’ve printed the wrong version, and it’s just maddening. But enough about me. Tell me if you’re serious about this, and if so, why June?
S3: I am as serious as a Paul Hollywood handshake. I am as serious as the grave. Wow. If you want to be a writer or you already are a writer, a brother, brand, black and white laser printer is among the most useful things you can buy. For one thing, you don’t want to be running out to the copy shop. You don’t want to be taking an hour long errand every time you need to print something out. Laser printers in general, they’re more expensive, right? But they are far superior to inkjet or laserjet printers. They’re more reliable. They break far less frequently, and they need their toner changed much more rarely. They also print faster. So when you’re working on a book or a play or anything, you’re going to have periods where you need to print out large volumes of stuff. Sometimes it’s going be hundreds of pages at a go, and you don’t want to spend all day feeding 50 more pages into your piece of junk inkjet, only to have a jam halfway through or to run out of black ink. And then you’re like, Oh, maybe I’ll print this next part in magenta. Keep going through the cartridges until they’re all empty, you know? The thing with the brother black and white laser printers is that they do one thing and that’s print stuff in black and white, and changing a toner cartridge is easily yanking one out and putting one in, and they hold a bunch of paper and they last forever. You do not need one of those printers that can print over Wi-Fi. You’re going to spend all your time configuring the Wi-Fi settings. You do not want a laser printer that prints in color. They need like 20 different toner cartridges to work. Just get the most basic and reliable one you can and use it until it explodes. The last brother one I had got me through graduate school. I was often having to print out 20 copies of a 25 page story or essay or whatever to hand out in class. You know, you just want to know that it’s going to work, and particularly if you’re a writer who’s applying to a lot of stuff. Some of those things still need hard copies. I always think revising on a hard copy is far superior to revising on a screen. You’re just going to use a printer a lot. Having a good one that you know is always going to work is really helpful.
S1: You know, it’s funny. We’ve talked a lot over the course of this kind of new version of working, which is now about eight months old about how we started right at the beginning of the pandemic. And that meant that we haven’t been in offices and, you know, I think like a lot of people, I did some printing at the office and it has been kind of revelatory to realize how little you do need to print. But I am so with you, every format that you read on, you see different things, not only things like typos, but you know you experience the prose differently in each format. So I agree I want to print. It’s just I didn’t have the smarts to buy that particular kind of printer, and I’ve just been so frustrated.
S3: Well, you know, I only learned about this because I read an interview with the great playwright David Agami and someone’s like, What advice do you give writers just starting out? And he was like by Laser Printer. I was like, Wow, what? He’s probably right about that because at the time I was temping at a magazine publisher that will go, let’s call them non day cast. And I was, you know, occasionally printing out stuff I needed for rehearsal that night on the night and cast laser printers. And I was like, Oh, well, there’s probably an affordable one I could have.
S1: All right, listeners, we hope you have enjoyed the show. If you have remembered to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts that way, you’ll never miss an episode and just a reminder that there’s a special 25th anniversary offer available through October 31st. It’s $25 off your slate plus membership. To learn more, go to Slate.com. Slash Working Plus
S3: thank you to this week’s guest Leslie on Sebert and to our fabulous producer Jessamine Molli. He’s stepping in for Cameron Drews. We’ll be back next week with the working debut of our new co-host Karen Hahn, who will be talking with cartoonist Tommy Lee. Until then, get back to work. Hey, Slate plus subscribers, thank you so much for everything you do to support us. We have a little extra from the interview with Lesley Ann Sebert, and we hope you enjoy it. Thanks again. Do you feel like being a makeup designer has sort of changed the way you interact with the world, like when you walk down the street or you take it? Are you sort of filing away what the makeup of the owner? You know, when you what can you just watch a film or when you’re watching a film the whole time, you’re like too much eye shadow?
S2: Oh, absolutely. Well, that’s the problem with a bad makeup in a movie can take me out of the movie, and I don’t enjoy it, which is too bad. But yes, walking down the street, even the news. I was watching the news today and it was like, Oh, how can they let those poor people go on like that? I want to call them up and go down there and do their makeup for them.
S3: Amazing. Amazing. What do you do in between projects to stay kind of creatively refreshed?
S2: Oh my gosh. I do everything I. I’m very artsy and I paint. I make jewelry. I do stained glass. I mean, I do a lot.
S3: I do stained glass.
S2: I do, I think,
S3: anything that looks like in your house? Or is there a studio? I do.
S2: Yeah. No, I do it in the house. I’ve got a studio where I’ve got like a little mini studio in the house and I’ve got the glass grinder and the whole bit. So you don’t need that much space, but you do need a lot of space that the little bits of glass don’t get somewhere they’re not supposed to be.
S3: Right? Totally. And do you find that all those different creative pursuits and inform each other, like does your painting practice influence your makeup designer?
S2: I think it keeps the creative juices flowing, and I think it’s important when you are an artist to keep going and, you know, even taking the dog for a walk and noticing the greens and all these kind of things. For sure, I would bring it in to, you know, if I’m doing a makeup and I’ve got, you know, I’m like, Oh, remember that green? I wonder if I can. You know, so there’s yeah.
S3: Do you ever feel like you get creatively blocked? Is that a thing that happens? You know, is there a makeup artist version of Writer’s Block?
S2: I would say maybe stifled is a better word. Sometimes you work on projects and you have some inputs that are not in the same stream of what you’re thinking. So that can be tricky. That can be very tricky, but you try to state, you know your reasoning and
S3: how do you navigate that when that happens? And collaboration is something we talk a lot about on this show and I’m always curious about, you know, it doesn’t always work or, you know, sometimes it breaks down, but you still got your job to do, right? So how do you how do you navigate those moments?
S2: Most of the time when I’m hired, I’m hired because of my experience and they trust me. And in Dave’s case in this show, you know, he’s like, I don’t want to have to deal with this. He gave me his input. And so a lot of directors or producers, you’re hired for your experience and your track record. And occasionally, if someone new comes in and they have a different thought, you can usually go back to the director and and the actors and say, you know, this is the theme or this is the way we’re going and it’s discussion, and that’s kind of how it works.
S3: Interesting. Interesting. How has the COVID pandemic affected your job? Because I mean, so much of it is getting right up in someone’s face and touching them and being in their air space and stuff like that. So can I ask what like now when you’re on set? I mean, you have to wear like a hazmat suit? How does it work?
S2: Yeah. You know, actually, when we were shooting Nightbooks because it was the first one sort of out of the gate after COVID hit, I think we started shooting in August or September, maybe August. So we had medical gowns. We had medical KN95 masks. And we had the medical, the shields. And that was all day, every day. It’s hard. It’s super hard. So thank goodness the gowns have gone. They’ve realized that we don’t actually need that. It was a learning curve for everyone, but it is still makes it a little more difficult for sure. A lot more difficult. But you know, we adapt. You know, we’re human beings. We adapt.
S3: All right. That’s it for this week. We’ll see you next time.