While close to 70,000 people tried out for “American Idol” this past year, I’d say Syfy would be hard-pressed to find 700 viable and willing candidates for its show “Face Off,” which is a battle for best special effects make-up artist.
Yes, that’s a specialty! But it’s a cool specialty. These are folks who can turn humans into convincingly scary-looking creatures, be it an elephant man or a life-sized insect.
And one of the 12 contestants vying for $100,000 is from Decatur: Samantha “Sam” Cobb, a commercial sculptor by trade who has dabbled in movie-making special effects on low-budget zombie and werewolf films.
She didn’t do “Face Off” to necessarily get a job on “The Walking Dead” or “Green Lantern.” Rather, she took it more as a lark.
In fact, the “Face Off” production company sought her out to try out for the show in Orlando last fall. “I’m an experientialist,” she said. “When life throws something my way, I go for it. I figure this would shake up my creative juices.” In Orlando, she had 15 minutes to create a character on herself. She made herself into a piranha. They liked it. After another test, she made it on the show.
She came to Los Angeles and quickly realized many of her fellow contestants were far more experienced than she was. “I’m definitely on the lower end” when it came to time spent working the craft. But surprisingly, she said the more experienced make-up artists were helpful if she had any questions. She did not spy any sabotage.
“The weird thing is the special effects world is really small,” she said. “You really have to show you work well with others. There are no solo workers in this business. You can’t burn bridges if you want to work at any shop.”
Cobb also knew she wasn’t a drama queen by nature and would not get much face time. (She is barely seen or heard in episode one.). “I’m the nice girl,” she said. “I don’t have the explosive personality of Gage or Marcel. I’m almost edgeless.”
Although she can’t say whether she won or not, it sounds like if she did, it’d be quite an upset.
Cobb, 32, grew up part of her time in Singapore, where she fostered her love of art and makeup in middle-school plays. (She recalls even at her young age the irony of Caucasians in an Asian country performing “The King & I.”) After years overseas, she spent two miserable years at Walton High School in Cobb County, where she graduated but felt like an outcast.
In college in Chicago, she received a degree in linguistics and paid some of her tuition bills painting oil portraits for $300 to $400 a pop. She then attended grad school in Vancouver. But while she was intrigued by linguistics, she loved art. So she moved back to Atlanta in 2003 , worked as an overnight baker and latched onto low-budget films with names like “Motorhouse Massacre” to learn the art of special effects make up. For two years, she apprenticed at a local special effects shop run by Toby Sells.
Eventually, she got a job as a commercial sculptor at Chisel 3D and providing custom costuming for Dragon*Con and Halloween. She never considered moving to Hollywood, where most of these special-effects jobs are. “Hollywood,” she said, “is not my place in the world.”
Rathers, she’s a self-described hippie who doesn’t even own a television. (She plans to watch “Face Off” at a friend’s house with such a device.)
Cobb’s moving to Portland in March after seven years in Decatur. Her husband, Brian Holmes, a manager at Trader Joe’s, is going there to attend school for green energy. She isn’t sure what she’s going to do there but isn’t worried. “Someone said life is a raging river,” she said. “You hold on to the sides of the boat and get bashed against the rocks or just let it float down. My river has gone pretty fast but I like to float and see where it goes.”
Here’s her audition video:
“Face Off,” Syfy, 10 p.m. Wednesdays, debuting Jan. 26
By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog