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How Stranger Things made edible fertilizer and almost gave Billy a Goonies tattoo
Amy L. Forsythe, the head of Stranger Things' makeup department, says she bought a "really nice, really cute" calendar planner at the beginning of this year. But here we are, six months later, and that planner is still empty. And instead of continuing work on Season 4, she's holed up (or "held captive") in her Atlanta apartment while production remains on pause.
It's strange, she says, to be "living this little hiatus life," while waiting to hear word that her show can start up again. And when it does, how different will production be? Will makeup application be limited to actors who cannot do it themselves? Will there be limits on direct or prolonged physical contact within scenes? "Our show is so big," Forsythe says, "that it's hard to write it without everyone interacting together. I can understand how other shows can maybe film with two people at a time or whatnot, but I don't see how they can do that with our show. We'll see what happens."
While she waits things out, Forsythe says she's prepping for an eventual comeback by creating yearbook-style cheat sheets charting the evolution of character looks for new members of her makeup team, playing with new recipes for her Upside Down makeup kitchen, and dreaming of the day the cast and crew can physically reunite. In the meantime, she shared with SYFY WIRE some tricks of her trade, including one tasty tidbit that fans can recreate at home, should they want to try Mrs. Driscoll's favorite fertilizer snack.
How did you decide that making "fertilizer" was the makeup department's territory, versus props?
The props master, Matt Marks, is a good friend of mine, and there were other things that the props department needed to prioritize, which I totally understand. We were filming Mrs. Driscoll coming out of the house to get in the ambulance, before the scene of her eating the fertilizer. I needed to establish it topically on her, so I needed to figure out what she was eating, to match what would be in the bag. Matt said, "You know the fertilizer that is like dirt with little white things in it? That's kind of the direction we're headed." I didn't know if they were going to have the oxygen mask on her face or not, and I needed to have options, so it could be in her teeth and all over her mouth.
It took some trial and error with food from the craft service truck. I can't remember what I used for my first attempt, but I sent a video of me with the stuff all over my face and mouth and teeth, kind of snarling, and the Duffers were like, "That looks too chocolate cake-y." I think that was because there was too much liquid in it, because I had combined it with what I was planning on using for Mrs. Driscoll's drool, which we didn't end up using. I nixed that combination, and then went back to square one to make something grittier. When I tried mixing granola with chocolate syrup and food coloring, I discovered that there is something in the granola compounds that doesn't take the food dye, and leaves all the little white specks that I needed. You don't really see the white specks, but I wanted them there just in case, because you never really know what the camera is going to pick up. Matt Marks liked my little concoction, so I gave him the recipe, and he filled the prop bag in the basement with it.
What is the recipe?
You pulse honey almond granola in the blender until it's fine, put it in a cup and add the Hershey's syrup, half an ounce of black food coloring, ten drops of red food dye, ten drops of blue food dye, and five drops yellow. Shake it well. Add three teaspoons of steeped espresso grounds. I didn't add espresso grounds in Mrs. Driscoll's version, because we didn't want to get the actress jacked up on caffeine, but if you add a little bit of coffee flavor in there, and I'm hooked. This would make the best Dairy Queen Blizzard on the planet! Use it as a topping on a scoop of ice cream.
Have you had any other tasty makeup concoctions?
In Season 2, Will Byers gets possessed by the Mind Flayer, and so I changed the color of Noah Schnapp's eyes with special effects contacts. I darkened his eyes, so they weren't as bright and young. I changed the color of his skin, to drain the health from his skin. That included his lips and tongue. He's screaming a lot, so I didn't want a bright pink tongue. I tried using these little rainbow-colored lollipops from craft service. A bunch of my team members started sucking on lollipops to test them, and it did make your tongue murky, but it's not like you can control the color sticking on your tongue, which wasn't a good way to keep continuity. So then I tried frosting. I took some white frosting, added food coloring until it was an olive swampy green, and painted it on his lips and tongue. He then swished with water, so it would dull it a bit. I found out later that Noah hates frosting! I felt so bad. I was like, "Why didn't you say something?!" I thought, since he's covered in chocolate half the time, that he would like it, but no.
It's got to be a constant problem with kids eating candy that destroys their makeup…
If they go to craft service, and they eat Nutella, and it ends up all over their faces? Yeah. It's just like, "Come on, little chocolate monster." That was my joke to him. He would taunt me by holding Nutella in front of me, and I'd be like, "No, no, no. Don't do it." I texted him once, "There's chocolate in the corner of your mouth in the poster." Everyone has their thing, you know? Some people love the lollipops that turn their teeth blue, and you're like, "Please don't do that."
One summer day, craft service was handing out freeze-pops, and that's going to turn people's mouths bright purple, so I was just like, "Any other treat, please?" Any food can ruin the makeup. David Harbour really wanted to have Hopper's lip cut, but every time he ate chicken wings, the grease took it right off. I'd have to make sure his lip cut was checked on all the time, so I told him, "No more lip cuts!"
What other suggestions did actors have for their makeup?
Dacre Montgomery wanted Billy to have a tattoo, but in Season 2, that didn't feel quite right. By Season 3, it made sense, because he's a little older, he might not be in school anymore. So a friend of mine, Jeremy Sutton at Electric Anvil, helped me design it. I sent him some images of skulls, and we had thought of putting an eyepatch on one of the skull eyes as a nod to Goonies, but it didn't look right. I sent it to the Duffers, and I said, "Is it just me, or is the patch a little too much?" And they said, "Yeah, we like the regular skull."
Billy also goes through a Mind Flayer possession, and you had to drastically change his physical appearance. What was the toughest part of that transition?
Dacre actually got sunburned when he was sitting on the lifeguard stand, because there's only so much sunscreen you can put on somebody when you're also spraying them down with sweat. That day, we had to film him in the shower. That's when the black veins start showing in Billy's arm, he reacts to it, and he hits the wall and slides down. That wall was textured, so every time he hit the wall and slid down, not only would it hurt him, because he was sunburned, but it would scrape off some of the tattoo cover-up I had put on his sunburned back. There was no way to stop that, so we had to keep reapplying it.
You have different kinds of blood. What are some things people don't realize about fake blood?
You need different viscosities for the nosebleeds, to control how far it goes down Millie Bobby Brown's face before it hits the lip. We haven't had any chunky, viscous mouth blood yet, but if we ever did, that's in my bag of tricks. That's a blend of Craisins with some black cherry Jell-O mix, Emergen-C powder, and some water, until you get a nice, thick consistency. It's a really delicious, really disgusting mouth blood.
You can add colors. A couple of companies sent me black versions of the blood they sell, but it looked too greasy. It looked like tar. So I use that to put on people's hands. I can do that for one of the new characters when I need to put grease on him — I can use the black blood for that. The way the camera reads it, we wanted to add a purple hue to the black, so it hits the light a little differently. I play with that a lot, and how it transfers being in the mouth and mixing with saliva, because you don't want it to look like purple coming out of the mouth. You can add flavors. I got some little flavored oils that bakers use — caramel, peppermint, cotton candy — but I haven't had a chance to use them yet. I need to dilute them first. I do know someone's interested in having caramel blood in their mouth, if we get a chance!
I keep my blood kit in a Stranger Things lunchbox – I think there's a photo floating around somewhere of me holding it over Winona Ryder's head because it started raining – and everything is in there. All the different kinds of blood, all the tools to change the consistency, transparency, viscosity, or color, because it could read differently depending on the cameras, lights, and filters. I wish I had brought my lunchbox home, to be honest, because I could be playing with the combinations during this downtime. I just want to have everything ready for whenever we need it, because you never know! It's Hawkins. Anything can happen.