I have a strong dislike for reality television shows in general. It is very rare for me to find a reality series that I actually can get into. However, the SyFy Channel had my number with its Face Off TV series. The show pits FX makeup artists against each other in competitions that showcase their talents. I can't get excited about singing or dancing competitions, but show me a group of people trying to beat the clock to create foam or silicon appliances to make actors look like monsters and apparently I'm on the edge of my seat. It's rejuvenated my interest in makeup FX. The show reminds me of reading about young up-and-coming FX artists like Steve Johnson, Screaming Mad George and Greg Nicotero in the pages of Fangoria magazine back in the 1980s when I was a teenager with dreams of one day becoming the next Tom Savini (I wound up going a different route, but have still dabbled with doing makeup for the occasional film short or micro-budget production).
One of my favorite artists featured on SyFy's Face Off is Tom Devlin from 1313FX. Unfortunately, he was eliminated from the show this week in a move that seemed more motivated by reality show politics than by judgment of talent. Fortunately, Devlin was shrewd enough to create and star in his own reality series American Nightmare which he premiered on YouTube the very next night following his elimination on Face Off. While Face Off follows an American Idol-type model as a reality show approach to makeup FX artistry, American Nightmare is closer in spirit to shows like Pawn Stars or LA Ink. Devlin's new series chronicles the exploits of him and his team at the 1313FX studio in Alhambra, California.
The first episode, Meet the Family, introduces viewers to the people who work for Devlin in the 1313FX shop: Cary, a former member of the rock band Pretty Boy Floyd; Andrea, who I can forsee more than a few horror fans developing crushes over her subdued makeup-geek charm; and Roger, Tom's dad who has taken enough of an interest in what his son does to come work for him. The opening credits also feature a woman named Jaime, but the show has yet to properly introduce her. After the initial introductions, the first episode focuses on the father/son work relationship between Roger and Tom. Roger seems to be something of a fish-out-of-water in dealing with his new work environment as he scratch-builds a machine to make vacuform molds. There is some tension within this son-as-employer dynamic, but it is easy to pick up on the pride Roger has in his son's accomplishments and feels for himself when the machine finally works as intended. The other thing that comes across strongly in the first episode is the satisfaction the 1313FX crew finds in their work. When many folks out there find themselves working jobs primarily to earn a paycheck, it can be inspiring to see a workplace in which the employees truly enjoy what they are doing for a living.
At less than 9 minutes in length, the show could easily be expanded into a full-length reality series for television with more of an in-depth explanation of the devices being used. It caused me to look up how-to guides for building vacuform machines online. I can see American Nightmare generating interest in the art of makeup FX among a new crop of fans.
[Edit: The first episode of American Nightmare is no longer available to the public on YouTube. Let's hope this is for a happy reason, such as the show getting a television deal. The promo for American Nightmare is still online and is now what is embedded below.>