At Warpaint, we often wonder the differences between working here in the UK compared to LA. The series are longer that’s for certain. So when we got the chance to speak to Wendi Avignone, MUA for Heroes and Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior we got the chance to ask about that as well as getting the low down on recreating some of those gruesome crime scenes.
WP: Can you give us a little bit of background: Where did you trained? How long have you been an MUA?
WA: I took many individual make-up courses in the beginning of my career in various academies and community college, but most of my experience in training has definitely been taught on my journey through all my peers.
WP: Your credits include some of the biggest TV series: 24, Criminal Minds, Heroes. Here in the UK our series are usually only 4-8 episodes long. What’s it like working on such lengthy shoots as an MUA?
WA: The hours we work on TV shows here in LA are very long, sometimes 14-15 hours a day. It’s a very unhealthy lifestyle and with that comes consequences. Sadly, we have lost crew members in tragic traffic accidents because they fall asleep at the wheel due to being overworked and extremely fatigued. We are hopeful that someone who has the means to make a change in this work environment will do so, and do it fast. So far, we have seen no change.
WP: How do you plan a series like Heroes? What are the processes?
WA: Heroes was a very challenging show to create. In my career so far, there has been no other show like it. The amount of work, time and detail was incredible, and the numbers of people and props it took to pull it off was astounding. We needed two trailers and a team of 8-16 artists almost daily to achieve the final product. I have never worked so hard on a show, sometimes 80 hours a week, 23 episodes back to back. It was exhausting, challenging, and still my favorite show thus far. We shot usually two scripts at a time with changes made that day in almost every scene. We had to make sure that everything was consistent and that was a serious task. There were 14 main characters and usually more than 10 speaking roles along with huge crowds of extras in the background. Heroes will always be a piece of my heart, I wrote a goodbye blog (http://heroesgoodbye.blogspot.com) when the show ended. I miss it dearly and hope to have another show along those lines in the future, minus the long hours.
WP: Criminal Minds has such a dark story lines, what it like to have to create such horror?
WA: I actually did the spinoff to Criminal Minds with Forrest Whitaker, which only lasted a season, but I have to say, I was a little relieved. It was very draining to recreate so many depressing storylines. I enjoy doing FX but there’s always the morbid side, like when doing my research, I have to look at real photographs of some disturbing things and that part is very hard for me.
WP: How do you research some of the scenarios in Criminal Minds?
WA: Books! I still think books are our most useful resource. You don’t find the realism on the internet that you find when reading a book. Pictures are graphic, but the detail is what is important and I can get a lot of information on a photograph from the explanation.
WP: What has been the trickiest job you’ve had to create?
WA: Hmmmm, that’s a hard one. I think perhaps working on a TV show rather than doing feature work is tricky. Having to think on your toes on a TV series is by far a greater way to test your abilities than working on a feature. With a feature, you have time to prepare as well as a bigger budget. With TV it’s a very strict budget and you must create very quickly. A script can be changed on a moment’s notice and we have to adapt on the fly. So, without naming one particular moment, I will say I am constantly challenged, stressed, and under the gun. I like it that way!
WP: What products can you not live without?
WA: I must have my airbrush and my Illustrator palettes. These are essential to my job.
WP: What advice would you give to newbie MUAs just starting out, on how to break into working for the networks in LA? How to break in?
WA: You just have to get along with people and be well liked, easy going and eager. Make-up people generally lean towards nice friendly people, rather than an ace artist. We have to carry our actors through their day and keep them happy. If you can do that, you’ll be successful. Have a good attitude and do your best.
WP: I have to ask because it was my son’s favorite show, what was it like to work on the original Power Rangers and create those fabulous monsters?
WA: I did do some Power Rangers in the beginning of my career. It was one of my first jobs and a great stepping stone. Saban Entertainment started with Power Rangers, Vr Troopers, Masked Rider, and Big Bad Beetleborgs. I was a part of all of these shows in some fashion. I created looks for some of them as well as ran Masked Rider. Looking back, I was fortunate to have this creative avenue. It gave me a chance to try different things, I learned a lot, not to mention it was really fun.