Behind The Makeup In Bohemian Rhapsody

Friday, February 22, 2019

It’s the biopic everyone’s raving about. Charting the origins of iconic band, Queen, through to their Live Aid performance, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ draws us into the relationships between its members and front man, Freddie Mercury. With awe-inspiring acting, stunning scenes and, of course, a stellar soundtrack of Queen classics, it’s no wonder the film has been scooping up awards and nominations left and right.

One of those award nominations includes a coveted BAFTA nod for hair and makeup. And our very own tutor, Renata Gilbert, was part of the team working on the film.

With her 20+ years of experience in the industry, Renata’s worked on titles including ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ and ‘Band of Brothers’.

We caught up with Renata to ask what it was like to be crowd supervisor on set of Bohemian Rhapsody and get some insider tips on becoming a makeup artist.

Renata, front left, with Iver Academy graduates and tutors

Getting the gig

Renata had previously worked with Bohemian Rhapsody’s makeup designer, Jan Sewell, on the BAFTA-nominated film, The Danish Girl.

“I was asked by Jan Sewell, the Designer, to do Bohemian Rhapsody. It was totally awesome to be asked and yet you realise the challenge when you truly look at the responsibility of it all.”

“From the minute she asked me I started spending at least an hour day surfing the internet for reference photos and reading the script, then when I officially started, I spent a few days with Jan, we went through reference photos, mainly of Queen and Live Aid. We also went to the Art Department where they had a beautifully mapped out time-line of Queen.”

“The initial stage of any film project is about getting your creative eye into that period. For Bohemian Rhapsody, I needed to get my ‘eye’ in the same place as Jan’s – designers are employed first and then they crew up someone like me to run the crowd, so Jan had already been doing her research for a good few weeks and I needed to catch up fast.”

Photo Credit: Alex Bailey. TM & © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

What does a crowd supervisor do?

Crowd supervisors are responsible for the hair and makeup of any supporting artists, or extras, who will appear in a film. They’ll usually head up a team of crowd hair and makeup artists and are responsible for working with the makeup designer to execute the overall look.

Renata tells us “the key to being a Crowd Supervisor is organisation. Each supporting artist is seen before filming where the team can work out each look to enhance their costume, rather than time wasting and doing it on the morning of large crowd days.”

“I had to talk to producers, artistic directors, transport, the locations department, and I spent a lot of time with the costume supervisor. There’s so much to organise as well as create the final looks for camera.”

“So to be a crowd supervisor it can help if you are an all-rounder. On something like Bohemian Rhapsody you need to be able to do hair well because this film didn’t have separate hair and makeup teams. To be a crowd supervisor you also require good people skills when you’re employing 60 artistic people!”

Working as a team

We asked Renata how she worked with her crowd makeup team on set of Bohemian Rhapsody:

“I liked to keep the room fun with music in the background. And before you ask, no it wasn’t Queen! As great a band as they are you can’t listen to them everyday for months on end.”

“To get the best out of people it is about being assertive not aggressive, guide people where you need their eye to get to. Just like how Jan had a few week’s more research than me, most people only had the reference photos I sent to them a day or so before they come out to work, so they have to catch up even faster.”

Photo Credit: Alex Bailey; TM & © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Preparing to film

It’s obvious that research is crucial, and because Bohemian Rhapsody follows the members of Queen from their formation in 1970, to their 1985 Live Aid performance, the hair and makeup teams had to work to show the subtle style differences throughout the years in-between.

Renata explains: “a lot of research goes into creating any period makeup look so at the start of a project, my research covers a lot – all creeds and races, all classes, and ages, (someone in their 40s-50s in 1985 or any period for that matter do not dress the same as they did in their 20s). Basically, you have to know your stuff, and you must do your homework.”

“It was tricky trying to show the differences in the timeline, not between 1970 to 1985 because that’s quite a definite shift. It was the differences between 1970, 1972, 1974 etc. because changes from year to year are small but it was a flow usually of subtle changes that then lead you into the next statement of whichever decade, and pre-dominantly hair is the biggest difference.”

The Live Aid scene

In Bohemian Rhapsody, the Live Aid scene called for lots of supporting artist and had to capture the time period perfectly…

“For the Live Aid scene, we had 585 supporting artists to get film ready in a 3-hour time frame, which took 60 Makeup artists. Prior to filming my core team of 3-4 other MUAs helped me from organising the photos of each person’s look (Dana Degan the crowd contract trainee was amazing at this), to setting and styling any wigs (mainly done by Natalie Mitchell and Natasha Nicolic-Dunlop). If the main team who work on lead artists were free, they would help out too.”

For busy filming days, the crowd supervisor will bring on more MUAs to help out the core crowd team.

For the Live Aid scene, Renata tells us “I sent a lot of text messages to a lot of makeup artists, film hairdressers, juniors and trainees whose skill level was what I required on Bohemian Rhapsody.”

“Not everybody on my ever-growing list was free (there were 10 feature films being made at the time), so it took days to organise!”

“Then for the party scene, another busy crowd scene in the film, I had to call on other makeup artists as it required a totally different skill set.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox; TM & © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. 

It was also important to make the Live Aid scene accurate, and this is where Renata’s research kicked in.

“One of the things that gave the crowd team a big headache were tattoos. Any tattoo on show had to be covered. Plus, I learnt from all my Live Aid research that the concert took place on the hottest day of the year so the audience was a sea of bared arms.”

“Even with a magnifying glass in hand, I defy anyone to find a tattoo on those arms (it was a rare occurrence!).”

Tips for aspiring MUAs

Finally, we asked Renata to give us her pro advice for working as a crowd makeup artist in Film and TV.

“To be a good crowd makeup artist, you obviously need to have the skill set required, whether that be an all-rounder, hair, makeup or prosthetics.”

“Comprehensive training is required on a very practical basis, it is a practical job, I know there is a lot of research involved but research only transfers onto a person via a very hands-on process, writing about it will not make you a better artist that will only happen with practice.”

“When you’re starting out, as long as finances allow you, do anything that involves picking up a makeup brush. Do your friend’s makeup, help out with amateur dramatics, you will be surprised how things link to one another. Training with professional makeup artists like myself helps immensely as we can certainly pass on details of trainees, however that trainee needs to be easy to be around, incredibly helpful, willing and quite frankly go beyond the remit of the job.”

If you’re looking to kickstart your career in TV and film and learn from industry-leading experts, take a look at our makeup courses. Or get in touch to hear more!

Meet the Author
Tamsin Barbosa

Vice Principle

A well-respected makeup and hair artist specialising in film, Tamsin has over 30 years experience working on some of the biggest British and Hollywood releases in recent years.

01753 659 213