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Tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT, Syfy debuts FACE OFF, the first competition TV series devoted to the craft of special FX makeup. In the great reality-show tradition, 12 up-and-coming artists will tackle various challenges and be winnowed down one by one until the sole victor remains to claim a major cash-and-supplies prize. One of the judges deciding who stays and who goes is Glenn Hetrick, owner of busy California shop Optic Nerve Studios.
Hetrick, whose credits include LEGION and TV’s HEROES and CROSSING JORDAN, shares judging duties with veteran makeup artist Ve Neill and filmmaker/creature creator Patrick Tatopoulos (see previous story and photos here). On tonight’s premiere, we meet the contestants and watch them tackle their first challenge, and on the second episode (airing Wednesday, February 2), they create “living pieces of art” with nude models! Hetrick, whose creations can be seen on a weekly basis on CSI: NEW YORK, spoke to Fango about his experiences in the non-scripted television realm.
FANGORIA: How did you get involved with FACE OFF?
GLENN HETRICK: While they were in the midst of their national casting process to put together the contestants, they were looking at studio spaces; at one point, it was a possibility that they were shoot in an actual [FX shop]. I met them momentarily about using Optic Nerve as a filming location, and they were still doing reads for potential cast—department heads, on-set makeup people, special effects guys. I went in and did a read, and it was very organic; I think I went back maybe three times and read with different people. We did little critiques of some work that wasn’t really from the contestants, just to see how the process would go and how we interacted with one another.
FANG: It must have been exciting to wind up alongside Neill and Tatopoulos.
HETRICK: Absolutely, they’re both heroes of mine. Ve and I are very good friends, and Patrick is absolutely one of the icons of effects design, so it was a thrill getting to know him and sit shoulder to shoulder with him at the judges’ table.
FANG: Did the three of you consult on the makeup challenges, or did the producers come up with those independently?
HETRICK: The producers did, and I have to say, they did an amazing job, because the challenges become their own characters in the show. The concepts are so cerebral; it could have easily become one week we do a vampire, another we do a zombie, another we do a werewolf, and that wouldn’t have been much fun to watch. The way they’re designed, each week there are different skills that are pushed to the limit, which allows us to see the contestants from many different angles. And it allows us to make far more intelligent and educated decisions on who stays and who goes, and who we want to see next week. It’s not just about who sculpts or who can do paint or who can glue edges down the best. It’s also about creative problem-solving and decision-making, which is ultimately important when you’re under deadlines. Going into it, we didn’t know the time crunches they would have or their levels of experience, which varies among the cast, and we were pleasantly surprised when we found ourselves behind closed doors, having a tough time during deliberations while figuring out who to send home.
FANG: It’s interesting how you refer to them as “the cast”—how were they cast? What went into the audition process for the artists?
HETRICK: They had open auditions in LA, and I believe in Florida, and you could also submit your work on-line or with a videotape. I don’t know for sure, but I think the initial requirement was that you tape yourself doing a makeup or show up and do one at the casting session, but you only had something really sick like 15 minutes to prepare it and fifteen minutes to apply it. Once they saw how you were as a person and how your makeup turned out, there was a second round where you were allowed to design a more complex makeup and had to apply it to yourself in front of the judges. I’m sure there were hundreds and hundreds of people who tried out, and they just whittled it down to our cast of 12.
FANG: Almost all of the competing artists have feature-film credits. Was a certain amount of experience required to be a contestant?
HETRICK: Not really. Of course, they didn’t want anyone who just thought makeup effects would be a cool living and had never done it, because we didn’t want to watch that unfold on screen; if you don’t have any skills at all, you didn’t belong on the show. That said, there was a huge difference in the skill sets—some people were stronger leaders and better at organizing, and others had a stronger art background. Some of them did have film credits, and a lot of them were super-low-budget, so they were used to working under time constraints and with no money. And everyone had a background that proved that they were extremely passionate about this and committed to it.
FANG: Was there anyone among the contestants who you were familiar with, or encountered in the course of your professional career?
HETRICK: We’ve been asked this a lot… I don’t think Patrick had ever met any of them, but Ve and I had met one or two; I had met two or three of them, actually. But the closest it ever came was, they were either at another studio when I was working on something for someone else, or—I’m pretty sure Tom Devlin and Megan Areford had both at one point done a job at my studio, but it was like a one- or two-day gig that my supervisors handled, so I don’t know and have never interacted with any of them personally.
FANG: How harsh will we see you get in your judging capacity?
HETRICK: I believe I’m most commonly referred to by the people involved as the Simon Cowell of the show [laughs]. But I think there’s a huge difference in my approach, because I’m not doing it for entertainment’s sake, and I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings or offend them personally. I’m eviscerating their work because that’s exactly how I got good—that’s how I was treated, sometimes by my idols and heroes. And it hurts, but you have to be torn down in order to realize that you need to push to get better. Because that was such a motivating factor in my artistic career, I’m doing the same for them. I think it’s a favor, really; you need to be pushed constantly to expand your boundaries, and that’s very much what I do on the show. I’m hard on them, but it’s for a reason; I’m pushing them to see how they react and how they raise their game.
FANG: Obviously, reality shows thrive on competition and personality clashes. How much of that is there in FACE OFF, and how much is just devoted just to the working process?
HETRICK: I haven’t seen final cuts of most of the episodes, but from what I have seen, I’d say it’s about a 60/40 or 70/30 split, where 70 percent of it is what they’re doing, how they’re interacting, how they’re physically building the stuff, focusing on how there’s a great tension in there. No one came on the show to lose, and it’s a big prize—and bigger than that is the recognition and what it can do for their careers. So they’re very competitive, and that makes for interesting television. It’s natural that when you start out with any 12 people in a room, you’ll find some fundamental differences that will cause some sparks. But when you put them under extreme pressure and there’s a great reward at the end, those conflicts are going to come to the surface pretty quick. And as we went on, there were challenges designed to pair them up at random and they’d have to sort of bear the brunt of their responsibilities, good or bad, as a team. So that started to get interesting.
FANG: What about disputes among the judges—were there ever any times where you, Ve and Patrick had a big disagreement about who would be eliminated, or the quality of the work you were seeing?
HETRICK: Absolutely. Not so much about the quality; that was always high across the board, and we all share a fairly similar aesthetic eye. But when it came to who was going home and why, there were times when deliberation would draw on for so long that we found ourselves saying, ‘Look, we have to adopt a new paradigm for this situation in order to come to a resolution.’ That often involved taking a look at the very specific instruction of that challenge and saying who had succeeded better—not in terms of the skill level or the ingenuity, but who did what was asked the best. And many times, that was the determining factor of who won and who went home.
FANG: As the process went along, did you—or Ve or Patrick—ever look at this as a way to perhaps audition people to work at your shops? Did you at any point think, “This is a person I’m gonna get in touch with after the show”?
HETRICK: Well, going into the show I didn’t know what to expect from any of them, but I was pleasantly surprised by everybody—by their tenacity and ability to hang in there, and to continue to push themselves and work really hard. I was pretty much blown away by some of them and would absolutely consider hiring them in the future.
FANG: Do the cameras follow the contestants out of the lab and allow us to see them interacting offstage, as it were?
HETRICK: From what I’ve seen, there’s a little of that, but it’s not like most other shows like this, where you see what they’re doing and then there’s a lot of stuff at home in an apartment. It really focuses on the process of the makeup effects; there’s not a lot of them sitting around at home, drinking vodka or eating pizza and talking to each other. It’s in the lab, where you’re seeing the drama play out.
FANG: I imagine this is a series you would have been excited to be a part of if it had come around when you were just starting out.
HETRICK: I would have given my eyeteeth to be on the show, though I don’t know how well I would have done. Years later, I have a studio now, and I’m a supervisor and there are on-set makeup artists and there’s all the politics and pressures of what can happen on set; just a simple miscommunication can cause an amazing amount of problems. So seeing the pressure these kids are under, and what the prize is, I take my hat off to them. I don’t know if, as a younger man, I could have handled it today, and at the same time concentrate on delivering my best work. There were all these different aspects weighing on them during production of the show, and when they came up with what they did, I was amazed not only at their skill level at beating the clock, but that they were able to concentrate long enough in that situation to accomplish anything.
FANG: Did you learn anything yourself from your time on FACE OFF?
HETRICK: The most important thing, as far as taking something away from it, was seeing new raw talent in a way that’s exciting and reinvigorating. Watching younger people with not as much experience who were just so crazy passionate and so innovative and really pushing the envelope of what can be done in that amount of time—it definitely was a real boost to see people love our art that much.
See FACE OFF's official website here.
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