Special effects (SFX) and prosthetic makeup are some of the most integral parts of filmmaking, especially when it comes to horror and science fiction. Tate Steinsiek, a native Oklahoman, is a master of the craft, working on everything from small budget horror flicks all the way up to The Amazing Spider-Man.
“Monsters and imagination were a big part of my childhood,” says Steinsiek, citing the Michael Jackson music video for “Thriller” as a major impetus for his obsession. He particularly loved the special features interview with Rick Baker on how he created and applied the makeup for the iconic music video.
“This was a game changing moment,” says Steinsiek, “when I realized that making monsters was possible.”
Steinsiek left Oklahoma after high school and took a class under Tom Savini, a groundbreaking special effects artist baed in Pittsburgh, Pa.
“Towards the end of my first semester, Tom gave me a script called Zombie Honeymoon. Tom was retired from FX and acting full time, so he asked if I wanted to take a look at it,” he says.
Working on the film in New Jersey, he instantly fell in love with the process.
“I’d never seen such a complex machine at work; it was beyond inspiring,” he says. Thus began a fruitful career.
After a decade in New York, Steinsiek found himself called back to Oklahoma to open his studio, Ill Willed Productions.
“I anticipated my studio being the home base for the creation of things, and I’d fly out for execution,” he explains. “To my great surprise, I returned to find Oklahoma alive with a creative community, and a lot of films shooting in and around the state. That was nearly ten years ago, and seeing the progress since has only confirmed that coming home and joining the local creative movement was 100% the right move for me.”
Steinsiek has garnered his fair share of career highlights, including two stints on the SyFy reality series Face Off, as well as a 2019 Saturn Award nomination for “Best Practical Makeup Effects” for the film Dragged Across Concrete.
“I was competing with Marvel films – it was absolutely bananas,” he says. “Clearly Avengers won the award, but as they say, it was an honor just to be in the same conversation as artists like Mike Marino and Bill Corso.”
In 2019, Steinsiek also directed a horror film titled Castle Freak, a reboot of the 1995 original.
“We shot on location in Albania,” he says. “I only thought I had experienced the true meaning of ‘challenging’. Try directing a film with a DP [director of photography] that speaks literally zero English. Things got creative!”
Steinsiek was thrilled to make it to the end of shooting.
“It was a sunrise, and we were all standing outside in the courtyard of a two-thousand year old mountain top fortress looking at the open sky,” he says. “We watched the sun come up, passed around a bottle of Raki and celebrated. It was a fantastic experience.”
More recently, Tulsa’s independent theatre, Circle Cinema, honored Steinsiek on its Walk of Fame.
“It was such an insane complete circle in my life, fittingly at Circle Cinema,” he says. “Plus, I’m only feet away from Chuck Norris’ medallion and that alone is life changing.”
As for advice on getting into the special effects industry, Steinsiek says you should always be practicing.
“You have to be patient and learn the process, but these days, there are volumes of options out there,” he says.
He also recommends getting on set early and often.
“The experience of interacting with a crew and finding your place in that machine,” he says, “is the most valuable education you can get in film.”