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There’s not a letter or decimal point missing in that headline. Makeup artist Robin Mathews, who is nominated for an Oscar for her work on Dallas Buyer’s Club, achieved the film’s impressive look on a budget of only $250 — that’s two hundred and fifty bucks for the whole thing, not just one scene or character. The other side of that budget is something more difficult to quantify; it’s a balance of time and effort, of experimentation and nights and weekends spent playing with technique rather than resting.

Mathews gives some details about the work below.

Vanity Fair talked to Mathews, who called the film “the most under-budgeted movie I’ve ever been a part of shooting.”

The film was shot in 28 days, and required star Matthew McConaughey to go from being lean but healthy to a very ill man affected by complications from AIDS, with a significant weight loss. But the short schedule and low budget also necessitated shooting out of sequence. That’s typical for most films, but not always for movies where actors have to lose weight for major segments of the shoot.

Mathews explained,

We had to take them back and forth from their sickest look to their healthiest look, up to five times in one day. They maintained that 40-pound weight loss throughout. So when you see them in the film, and they look like they’re 25 pounds heavier and healthier because of the medication, that’s just makeup.

Some of that makeup simply used old-fashioned techniques that have been employed since the silent era. To create seborrheic dermatitis for some of the AIDS-suffering characters in the film, Mathews “couldn’t afford to buy prosthetics, [and] I didn’t have the time to make prosthetics,” so she turned to a solution of “grits and cornmeal, because it was affordable.” 

For McConaughey’s healthier scenes, Mathews used “dental plumpers” to fill out the actor’s face, but otherwise used more time-tested techniques to emphasize illness, using photos of skulls and skeletons as reference to “highlight and contour every bone or tendon, and sometimes veins, that I can find in their entire body. It’s full body makeup.”

This is all great because it points to the fact that film can always come back to the simplest techniques. If the story and actors are good, and the people behind the scenes are resourceful and dedicated, there may be no need for giant budgets.

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