In June 1996, film makeup artist Bobbie Weiner got a call that would change her life. “Can you make extras look dead and frozen?” the voice asked. Director James Cameron was shooting a movie about the doomed Titanic, and he needed to transform 75 actors into blue-lipped, icicle-dripping corpses bobbing in the ocean (actually a massive water tank in Rosarito, Mexico). The bodies had to look real and stay that way during five-hour stretches of filming. Word was that Weiner had created some impressive horror-flick monsters.
“I did not want to go to Mexico,” says Weiner, who at the time had a steady gig in San Diego doing makeup for the TV show Renegade. Plus, “Cameron had a terrible reputation—as a screamer, a driven human being. But then I thought about having ‘James Cameron’ on my résumé.”
Weiner signed on, and every day for the next five weeks she rose at 4 am and drove an hour across the border to join eight other makeup artists on the Titanic set in Rosarito. Cameron told her the looks had to last or else he’d make her go into the water to touch up the makeup. “I thought, They’re not hoisting me into that tub!” She quickly discovered that if she applied three layers and pressed superfine setting powder into each one, the makeup would stay in place. “I was on top of the world,” she says. “It was amazing to work for a director who knows what he wants.”
The Titanic gig did more for Weiner than just sharpen her résumé. It also set her on the path toward building a multimillion-dollar makeup empire. Now, 15 years later, Bobbie Weiner Enterprises produces makeup lines for theater, films, funeral parlors and costume shops. She also publishes horror-themed comic books and sells novelty food items. But the company’s biggest earner is her camouflage face paint for hunters and the military (the defense forces of the United States, Israel, Spain, Chile, Australia and New Zealand all use her products). “If I sold the business today, the U.S. government contracts alone would be worth about $15 million,” she says.
Until Titanic came along, Weiner was scraping together a living. After three marriages, she thought she’d finally gotten it right when she married a doctor in 1983: “He was my greatest love.” They were married for nine years, until he left her for a 19-year-old, she says. “I am not a great picker when it comes to husbands.” After the divorce, she learned to live without her sprawling Bel Air home, Porsche convertible, country club membership and two-bedroom yacht. “I felt as if I’d been shot,” she says. “I dropped 30 pounds. I was so traumatized, I lost my voice. All my friends left but one. At that social level, no one is interested in you unless you’ve got the package: the car, the mansion, the man, the money.”
Although she had enough cash to live modestly for a year, she worried because she had no marketable skills, just an abundance of energy and a flair for connecting with people. One day, at the hair salon for what she feared would be her last highlights appointment (“too expensive”), she shared her crisis with the stylists. “I don’t know what to do, where to begin,” she admitted.
“Go to makeup school!” one of them suggested. Weiner protested that putting eyeshadow on wealthy ladies at a department store cosmetics counter was her idea of hell. “Oh my God, no!” said the stylist, a former soap opera actor. “Do makeup for TV and films. With your personality, you’d be great.” Weiner had zero interest in makeup but thought working on films beat folding sweaters at the local Gap.