Involved with it All
Somica Spratley’s Makeup Magic
By Brett Levine
The video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller may have inspired thousands of people to learn complex choreography, but for makeup artist Somica Spratley its impact was more significant. “I saw it,” she enthuses, “and I knew then what I wanted to be.” Of course, Thriller wasn’t the totality of Spratley’s early cinematic education in the makeup arts and special effects. “I loved Tales from the Crypt, Wishmaster, and The Thing and The Witches. But my favorite was Buffy because it was about a kickass female hero.”
By 2006, Spratley was in Birmingham, having completed a private makeup and special effects course, and while the instruction was incredible, her professional opportunities weren’t quite what she expected. “I was applying — unsuccessfully — to do makeup for haunted houses,” she laughs. An immersion program in Windermere, Florida, took her to her first film set, and by 2009 she was part what was, at the time, the fledgling Birmingham Media Networking Group. The rest, as they say, iso. . . splatter?
“My prosthetic work is gore, which is pretty much what people know me for,” she explains. “This can be challenging sometimes, because more often than not when you say you do special effects makeup people immediately think ‘zombies’. And that’s fine,” she pauses, “because most people are into that and it’s familiar. But to be able to see how good a makeup is usually means using less, not more, blood.” I would definitely like to expand from that into more advanced work.
“Normally I make all of my pieces custom, and I always test new work on myself.” This attention to detail is simply a part of her methodical working process. “I want to be involved with it all,” she continues. “There are so many new materials on the market. You just have to stay current.”
Her capacity for creating suggestion of subtle discomfort has led to unique opportunities, including the chance to make pieces for KAIS’s Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere directed by Richard Paris Wilson. “I fabricated a blister piece, back prosthetics, and more. It was an incredible opportunity to have here in Birmingham.” Spratley also has credits for the features Spiritus (2017 and Sword of Trust, set for release in 2019. And an upcoming dramedy with A24. This was probably the most rewarding because it was my first as a department head and was incredible learning experience.
Birmingham’s burgeoning film industry, as well as the collaborative and collegial atmosphere that has developed in the city since 2009, means that there are far more opportunities for Spratley to pursue. “I have seven different film-related projects coming up in the next few months,” she remarks excitedly. “Without giving too much away, they include a sports-focused action drama, teaching opportunities, and several shorts. I think of it this way: I love opportunities for collaborations with like-minded people.”
Spratley also approaches her position in the industry with a certain directness. “My biggest challenge? Being a black woman. And my biggest opportunity? Being a black woman. What I mean by this,” she pauses, “is that there still aren’t as many women, particularly women of color, at the top of the industry.”
Spratley doesn’t just focus on the film industry. She has also built a reputation as a go-to makeup artist for avant-garde fashion shoots, creating distinctive looks including dark, horror-gothic glam for B-Metro’s 2017 fall fashion feature To Die For. “I think that may have been my favorite avant garde fashion shoot to date,” she explains. “Even working in editorial fashion, you don’t get a chance to be that creative that often here in Birmingham and be published.”
For the future, Spratley intends to simply continue developing her skills, working on exciting projects, and moving between the film, music, and fashion worlds. “In the end, I’m really inspired by music, sound, and color. I always knew I wanted to do something creative in film because I love creating content. Now, I want to challenge myself to develop my skills in a wide range of media, and to have a wide range of skills. To put it simply, I want to be involved with it all.”•