How Hairstylist Justi Embree Made Storm Reid and Nia Long's Seamless Reshoot Wigs for Missing
There are a million little things that go on behind the scenes of making a film work, but chances are that wigs aren't one of the first things you think of when it comes to movie magic.
In some cases, this is pretty obvious. We've seen plenty of movies where bad wigs make it clear that certain scenes were shot out of sequence, and nothing pulls us out of the experience faster. The 2023 thriller Missing is absolutely not one of these movies—and that's made even more impressive when you understand the complexity of the stars' braided hairstyles and the fact that the team completely reshot the movie's sending. How did they pull it all off? With the expertise of hairstylist and wig master Justi Embree of Embree Theory.
Justi is a hairstylist and wig maker who worked on the film, entrusted with the job of creating wigs for Storm Reid and Nia Long to ensure that not a hair was out of place so even eagle-eyed viewers wouldn't be able to tell the difference. That's much more easily said than done—and we had the pleasure of hopping on a Zoom call with Justi to learn about her work, her process and what makes her proudest in the interview below.
SH: Did your role as a hairstylist and wig creator play out differently for Missing than on a typical shoot?
JE: When I came on board Missing, it was actually toward the end of the project. They had a great new idea and decided to reshoot the whole epic ending and climax, so what made this job different is that before I came on, there had been someone else who had established the characters and done work that now required a lot of matching. After a while, actors go on to other projects, so when they come back to a project, that creates a whole new set of circumstances. The magic is making it seem seamless even though everything's changed. That made this project a little bit different and a little more challenging, but I was up for the task, and we did a beautiful job and were able to recreate those looks and make them meld seamlessly.
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SH: What was the process of getting started on crafting the wigs for stars Storm Reid and Nia Long to get them looking perfect and consistent with the rest of the film?
JE: In this case, the process started with references. We had the first set of pieces that had been made, as well as photos, and the previous department head had done such a great job documenting everything, so it was easy to visually see what was there. We had those pieces to start with, but we also created other pieces. Part of bringing movie magic to life is stunts, and we needed to create stunt wigs to replicate the actor's hair, both for stunt people and the actors themselves. We often have to create several wigs replicating the same look to make these scenes happen.
SH: What is the physical process of making a wig like the ones in Missing? Does a lot of braiding and cutting and styling go into each one?
JE: It's all those things and more, and it can be super time-consuming. The first thing you start with is the measurements. You need accurate measurements because it's important that the wig fits well and fits comfortably. Second is obviously how it represents the character.
(Missing via Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group)
What made this project interesting was that some time had passed. I had an expectation because I had Storm [Reid]'s measurements, and we'd already created multiple wigs for her character, June. We physically made a lace front wig for her, with the intention to braid it later, as Storm's character has braids. We got that wig fully constructed using her measurements, and got it nice and color-matched and seamless with the braids. We gave it an all-over finish—in this case, I used a Redken EQ Shades No. 6, because the wig was already a natural color and I just wanted to bring it up to get a perfect match for her hair. Next, we physically sectioned each box braid and added in synthetic hair. In this case, we were blending different colors together to create the exact look that she had for the movie, prior. In this case, she had twists.
Now we get there, and it's great. We've constructed this wig and everything's gravy. It's the first day of shooting, and it's time to do it. I walk into Storm, and I see her, and she has a full set of braids already. I don't know if you know anything about braided hair or wigs, but braided hair can create quite a bit of bulk under a wig, particularly if you have extensions and hair added. My first thought was, oh my God, I've created this piece, and now it's not going to fit or look flat.
It took a minute—we got in there for a couple of hours—but I was able to figure it out. It just took a little bit of alteration on the spot. Some changes had to be made. That's what happens.
SH: What did it mean to you to be able to solve that problem and make everything feel like one seamless and cohesive story?
JE: I loved it. It was so important to me for that to take place. Missing is such an amazing project to be a part of. When when I got the call, I was so excited because I knew Searching had been such a great hit. There are some really strong female leads in this one, and I just gravitate to that. It really was a dream job.
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SH: What was the most rewarding part about getting to make that happen for the film?
JE: I always like to say that my biggest goal is to beat my own high score. I don't have to compete with anybody else—just myself—and this was one of those moments. Once I finally got the chance to see it all come together, it was a big moment. I could say, "Hey, I did that." The physical evidence is right there, and it feels good when you set out to create something and it comes out the way you saw it in your mind. That's the best feeling in the world, I think. I definitely got that on this project.
(Missing via Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group)
SH: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
JE: I also have an Instagram page @embreetheory that I've been running for a really long time. I share hair tips—tips on conditioner, treatments and all sorts of things geared towards helping women, young women in particular, who are just learning how to care for their hair properly between visits. Salons are great, and I'm not advocating home hairdos at all, but I think that the YouTube generation has taught us that we need to share and have community around this. If we can do that together, and really learn to take care of our hair, then it's just going to make it better for both these women and their hairstylists.
Curious about what goes into costuming a TV show? Click HERE to read our interview with Rafaella Rabinovich and her costume design work on Netflix's The Imperfects.