I died last night. Literally… “General Yuya” bit the dust and that’s what you get when you refuse loyalty to a child king. Tutankhamun may have been the chosen pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, but he was clueless about battlefield strategy.
For the record, I did attempt to bribe the head writer, offering to become intensely loyal and live happily ever after in future episodes, but there wasn’t enough drama in that decision… Justice will forever be dispensed in the form of a twelve inch dagger.
As it turns out, death on television is more about discomfort than pain. I arrive at hair and make-up at 5:30am to work with our special FX duo. A week prior, they smeared a pink casting silicon called “molding life” over me to create the impression from which a prosthetic neck will be created. It’s frigid, and I fear it’s going to take off the entirety of my chest hair 40 Year Old Virgin style. But as it warms it begins to take on every crevice of my torso.
The mold is hairlessly peeled off after fifteen minutes and shipped off to KM Effects in England. A week later, a flesh-like “pro-gel” prosthetic the size of a lobster bib returns. The first stage of application begins by gluing a metal collar around my neck to hold the prop-knife in place: a plastic handle screws in at one end, a rubber tip at the other. It’s a heavy piece and requires support; if it flops about, it’s going to look bad.
A rubberband holds the collar in place as the work begins. Cotton pads keep the rubberband from cutting off my circulation. Keeping me alive for my death is a priority. After the glue under the collar dries, the specialists set to work filling in the edges with putty. A blow dryer speeds up the drying time. It also heats the metal collar and starts me sweating. Additionally, the bolt holding the handle under the collar is digging into my jugular. I realize the scene is hours from being shot. When I give in and mention it, a cotton swab the size of a q-tip is slid under the bolt; problem solved.
The next step is applying the pro-gel bib. It stretches like a giant wad of bubble gum over the knife and it’s opaque enough to conceal the metal collar. High-grade medical glue affixes it to my skin. Additionally, a catheter tube snakes under the prosthetic and leads up to the prefab slit so that I can bleed on cue.
Once the bib is secure, the team adds “fillers” to blend the effect with my neck. The edges of the mold are dissolved with damp sponges making it one with my skin. The next phase is “stippling” where the silicon is texturized to create a more human-like skin surface. I’ve been sitting in the chair for two hours so far.
Now the “coloring.” The FX team adds green and yellow to the light brown mix to match my natural skin color. Two hydraulic spray pens distribute the paint with a ticklish precision. Three hours have passed, and it’s all starting to come together.
My new skin has been successfully stippled and colored, but it’s lacking another natural element: stubble. I shaved less than three hours ago, but there’s still a significant shading differential, so I stay seated for another hour for the “flicking.” A severed paint brush dipped into a mix of dark brown and beige, is spattered, and “flicked”, a few inches from my face. The effect creates a miraculous five o’clock shadow nearly indistinguishable from my real beard.
Almost there. The last step of “powdering” will dull any remaining silicon shininess and make this effect complete.
I’ve been sitting on my ass for over four hours when our fearless director, David Von Ancken, calls me to set. It’s time to get back into costume and see how it all looks in context.
I arrive at the actors tent to astonished glares. The knife wound looks so realistic, the crew can hardly believe I’m walking. I become a photo target, but admonitions fly from producers, lest we give away a plot point.
The Stunt Coordinator approaches to coach me on my death moves: impact of the knife, horror of being hit, reaching for the blade, knees buckling, releasing blood from my mouth, and falling out of frame.
As we prepare for the take, I’m given a shot of simple syrup-based goo-juice. I hold it in my mouth and wait for “Action!”, which doesn’t come right away… I start salivating. The goo spills a bit and several of Morocco’s ambitious fruit flies start fighting for landing space on my nose. I shoo them, careful not to hit the protruding knife, and run the steps in my mind: knife impact, horror of realization, reach for blade, knees buckle, release blood, fall from frame.
Okay, we’re set. “Action!” is yelled. General Horemheb and I are surrounded. I refuse my allegiance to King Tut, and draw my blade. Tut suddenly throws a real dagger at me. It hits a canvass backdrop a foot to my right. I fake impact, grab my neck, spit some blood and drop to my knees. The rocks beneath me are painfully unforgiving and heated to sauna-room temps. I fall out of frame, sugar-blood oozing from my mouth, and land on more rocks, careful not to rotate too far lest the knife come unglued, and pretend to die, knowing I’ve blown the sequence. Should have buckled before oozing.
I’m helped back to my feet, where I explain to the Stunt Coordinator how pissed-off my knee caps are. He proceeds to protect them with clear gel pads the camera won’t pick up. Couldn’t we have done this before the first take? And how about a landing pad so I don’t have to hit the lava rocks when I fall out of frame? “Don’t be a pussy,” I’m told in a French Moroccan accent. I don’t have time for a witty retort. Take two is called right away.
In goes another mouthful of tasty blood-goo. My lips are stuck together. Before I can do anything about it, “Action!” is yelled. I nail the sequence this time: buckling, spewing, falling out of frame. The director and the DP like the take. But the Script Supervisor approaches with a continuity error: I’ve used my right hand to grasp the knife for the first take, then switched to my left for the second. Shit…
The director steps and DP joins the huddle to add that I should drop my left hand from the wound as I fall to my knees so the camera can see the effect we just spent four plus hours creating. Don’t move too much. Make sure you turn enough so we can see the profile of the blade. When falling, keep the angle you were in when you were standing, so you stay in focus. It’s a lot of technical bullshit to process while trying to die dramatically.
One finally “CUT!” leaves me on the ground, sauna rocks searing into my shoulders, as I bulge my eyes out, dribble blood from my mouth, moan, and exhale my last breath, and ignore the flies.
The director is pleased, so is the DP, the script supervisor and the producers watching in video village a hundred feet away. I, however, am severely depressed, because now, I’m sort of, well… dead.
As I sit back down in the FX chair for the removal of all this silicon, paint and glue, I begin crafting a stratagem for convincing our head writer to bring back General Yuya’s ghost to haunt the boy King in future episodes… I think it would make for a killer story line.
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