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‘It’s like building a kite and then seeing if the damn thing will fly

Time Staff Writer

An array of burn scars. A handful of warts. A dribble of blood. Makeup artist Paul Batson put them all together 10 years ago and got Woochie. Woochie is the name of Batson’s Santee business that manufactures three-dimensional makeup--everything from finely sculpted clowns’ noses to something termed Batson’s Slit Throat. Batson also puts out a thick catalogue of his creations that is not for the faint-hearted. The tamest design in his 160-item inventory is some bubbly, gritty substance called Zombie Rot. The 52-year-old Batson and his colleagues have set up shop at Kobey’s Swap Meet at the San Diego Sports Arena to meet the Halloween crush. With the haunting holiday only a day away, he is selling fake blood and werewolf paraphernalia at a frantic pace. Times staff writer Caroline Lemke interviewed Batson and Barbara Martin photographed him. I had been in a little acting school with my brother when we were kids. My mom took us, and I thought that was fun, and the smell of greasepaint lingered. That was something that was very special to me, looking back.

So I thought: theater. I don’t know what I’ll do with this, but I like theater. I think it would be an interesting place to be, so I’ll just go and do that. If you like something, and do well at it, that seems more important than worrying about how do I translate this into employment down the line.

I got into a makeup class, this little unit-and-a-half makeup class in a three-unit course at San Diego State, and I thought, darn! I got fascinated with changing someone’s face to look like the role they’re playing. People learn their lines, they do everything, but they so often forget that they don’t look like what the audience expects or hopes.

After college, having no place to go, I went back to running the printing press for the county Department of Education, which is what I did before I went back to school. And that got deadly. The sun goes up, the sun goes down, and here I am watching this paper go by, and I got desperate. I got so desperately unhappy doing that that I gathered up what I could, took some items I’d already been messing around with, and took them out to my shop in Santee. And with these eight items I said: I guess I’ll try to go into business.

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The reason my business exists is I took what I knew and looked at what was out there and thought, gee, there’s a lot of bad stuff, and let’s put something that’s exciting together if we can and let people do that in their kitchens before Halloween.

I’m sensitive about what I make. We were making some things that were very realistic, but were also vulgar. Really, I think I’ve abandoned those things, haven’t touched one in years, because people assume when you make something like that--and it’s true also in the case of gory things--that that is the summit of your thought, that that represents where your mind tends to dwell, where it has its most fun. And I do care, in some cases, what people think. I’m not a gore hound, I don’t think. Out of 160 some items, 30 of them are gory. The rest aren’t.

I hear people who are generous say, “Oh, why aren’t you working in Hollywood?” That wouldn’t be my kind of atmosphere at all, really. I don’t think I like working on what the trade calls talent. Many of those people are extraordinarily narcissistic. “Are you going to put that on my skin? Is that good for my skin? No, no, no. Go away.”

That’s why I never do Halloween makeup on what I call civilians, that is to say, non-theater people. I think of theater people as having a high threshold of pain. They want to look the role, and, short of anything that makes holes--whatever within reason you’re going to do to make them look like this part, do it. They aren’t wearing those heavy costumes and running around stage and learning lines and devoting themselves to come over here at the last moment and say, “Is this good for my skin?”

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This is the only place in the world where I think I could do so many things that I think I have reasonable ability to do, and do them all by myself, not to have parcel something out--to have control over something. It’s just great fun to dream something up and stick it out there and see if the public wants it, needs it or whatever. It’s like building a kite and then seeing if the damn thing will fly.


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