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“FACE OFF”: More Westmore in Season Four

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When Syfy’s hit makeup-competition series FACE OFF returns this week, the judges won’t be the only veteran artists taking part. World-renowned prosthetic illusionist Michael Westmore, whose daughter McKenzie hosts the series, has become a regular mentor to the contestants, and Fango spoke exclusively to the two Westmores about what to expect in FACE OFF’s fourth season.

Having guest-judged in FACE OFF’s first two installments and guest-mentored last season, the elder Westmore—part of a makeup dynasty dating back to Hollywood’s golden age, a four-time Oscar nominee and a winner for MASK and supervisor of 18 years’ worth of STAR TREK aliens—now mentors the contestants each week as they’re whittled down from the starting 14 to the final winner. (For more info on the show and contestants, see the series’ official website.) FACE OFF, on which THE HUNGER GAMES’ Ve Neill, CSI: NEW YORK’s Glenn Hetrick and CLOVERFIELD’s Neville Page serve as judges, premieres tonight at 9/8 Central.

FANGORIA: How does Michael’s regular presence make this season of FACE OFF different from previous seasons?

McKENZIE WESTMORE: Well, as opposed to the judges doing walk-throughs of the lab, and perhaps not being able to say so much, my dad is really able to step in and give them advice. It’s almost like a master class in special effects makeup.

MICHAEL WESTMORE: What they’ve found in the past is, a judge comes in and tells someone, “Well, your thing would really look good blue” and they paint it red—is it a conflict in the judge’s mind that they didn’t listen to that advice? Where with me, if they’re doing something wrong, I can tell them. I’m not responsible for the results; if they want to listen to me, fine, and if they don’t, then at least they’re not going to be judged on something that a judge might’ve told them they should have done.

FANG: McKenzie, as FACE OFF has gone on, have you seen a higher level of craftsmanship on each succeeding season, and if so, is that true of this one as well?

McKENZIE: Absolutely. This season, I feel the viewers are going to be as blown away as I was by the makeups. Even in the first episode, when the judges came out for the first review, we were all absolutely shocked. We said to each other, “This is a level we’ve never seen in a premiere episode.” And it continues on throughout the entire fourth series. What you’re going to see from the artists is amazing—and also the challenges, because they’re incredible this season. I mean, the challenges are always great, and I didn’t think they could up the ante more, but they did!

MICHAEL: And the contestants actually rose to the level of the challenges. It’s remarkable, as the show progresses this season, the competitiveness among them once they all realize what their competition is. It’s so much an “I wanna kill you” type of thing; they still worked together and helped each other. There’s a camaraderie, because they’re all there for the same reason; it’s not like a reality show where they’re out for blood. There are conflicts and accidents that happen along the way, but…

McKENZIE: They’re there for the art. The craft.

MICHAEL: Yeah. What they were able to accomplish in the short time they had—to tell you the truth, I don’t know any professional makeup artists in Hollywood who could do it as fast as they did.

FANG: Now that FACE OFF is in its fourth season, do you get a sense that the people who auditioned had seen previous seasons, and knew what to expect and might have been better prepared?

McKENZIE: Not necessarily, because there are always things that can happen. They get teamed up, and they don’t know whether they’re going to get teamed up with somebody who’s at a higher or lower level than they are. Sometimes it’s not even a matter of whether they have a strong background, or it just comes naturally to them. So they could have watched the show in the past and gotten a good idea, obviously, of what the show’s about and where it’s going to go, but at the end of the day, the challenges are totally different. There are choices that get thrown at them that they don’t expect—and that happens on a movie set. The director comes in and says, “You know what, we were going one direction, but I’ve changed my mind—we’re doing a complete turnaround and going this other way.” I come in and do that a couple of times.

MICHAEL: Ridley Scott did that to me on BLADE RUNNER. Oops [laughs]!

FANG: Can you give us an idea of some of the challenges and twists this season?

McKENZIE: Some of the challenges we have are kings and queens, two-headed giants—that one really blew us all away with what the contestants came up with. We enter into hell and create demons, and there’s another one based around candy. There’s a good variety of different challenges they’re given to show off their skills on every level.

MICHAEL: What’s so amazing, once a challenge is given to them, is seeing how a number of them start thinking outside the box, and you go, “Wow. How would you ever come up with an idea like that?” That’s the way their creative minds work. Each one is such an individual, and a different artist with their own style that you see develop throughout the season, that when a specific challenge comes up, you think, “I wonder what so-and-so is going to do” because of how they’ve approached the last two or three.

FANG: Who’s responsible for coming up with the challenges, and is it difficult to come up with new ones this far into the show?

McKENZIE: The executives have a challenge team, a challenge department. I think they have an entire bible of challenges. There are so many, and my dad can attest to this—there are so many directions they can continue to go that they can keep it running for a long, long time.

MICHAEL: That’s what’s amazing: When this was thought of as a reality show…not specifically FACE OFF, but when you think about a makeup challenge—yes, you’re going to do an old-age makeup, a beauty makeup, maybe hair. This isn’t that. This takes it way beyond that concept. I don’t doubt that when this show finally finishes up, they will have 1,000 concepts left. It’s like when I did STAR TREK, and had to design a couple of aliens every week. In the beginning, I thought, “I’m gonna run out of ideas.” Well, when we finally wrapped up after 18 years, I had a catalog of things I never used.

FANG: Michael, how did you become a regular on the show for the first time this season?

MICHAEL: Well, I was a guest judge on the first two seasons, and on the final episode of season three I was brought in to mentor the students. Then, all of a sudden, a light bulb went on over somebody’s head, and they thought, “Gosh, why don’t we have a mentor for the show?” So production called me and asked if I was interested, and I thought it was a great idea. I’ve spent my life teaching—I’ve taught at UCLA and LA Valley College, and on STAR TREK I was continually teaching the artists under me exactly how I wanted the aliens to be. So what I’m doing now is virtually what I’ve been doing my whole life, and really enjoying it.

FANG: Did you find that everybody was receptive to your mentoring, or did you run into any situations where maybe somebody thought they already knew what they were doing?

MICHAEL: Yes. [Pause; laughs] Actually, only one.

McKENZIE: And it ended up biting him in the butt!

MICHAEL: Yeah, it didn’t work for him. They thought they knew more and were gonna do it their way. A lot of it was in the design more than in technique or material.

FANG: Can you say who that was, or are you going to leave that to be seen on the show?

MICHAEL: I’ll leave it for you. I don’t know if they’ll even keep it in, because it was at the end of the show. It was funny, because McKenzie and I would walk through together and say, “Well, what are you gonna do here?” They told us, and then I gave them some advice, and then they told us what they were going to do, and McKenzie and I kind of looked at each other like, “Well, OK… We’ll let the judges take care of that. We’re outta here.”

McKENZIE: It got to the point where on the elimination stage, I never really had a chance to go up close and see the makeup, so my dad and I would do our own. It was not on camera, but we would do our own little walk-throughs and look at the final makeups up close, and see what happened in the lab after the advice and the talks and the hours spent in there. It would all turn out exactly how my dad and I had foreseen it.

MICHAEL: There were several times when that happened. The judges would make some comment and McKenzie would say, “Uh…well, my dad told them that.”

FANG: How was the camaraderie between the judges this year?

McKENZIE: We’re lucky to have the panel that we do, and it’s going to be interesting to see how it continues through. Glenn has his aesthetic leanings, as does Ve and as does Neville. They seem to be be on the same page, for the most part.

MICHAEL: I believe all three of them can agree on something that’s really good and something that’s really bad. They might like letter A over letter B, or have their own preference on something, and when the judging comes around they’ll go and talk it over.

McKENZIE: All three got very, very tough. There were a handful of times, I would say, when there was a massive disagreement they would have to hash out offstage, but that happens. It’s part of the process.

FANG: Michael, being in the business as long as you have, what are your views on how makeup FX have changed in general over the years, and how do you see that expressed in the work these young artists are doing?

MICHAEL: I’ll take you back a while, to the ’80s: I used to carry a little kit with all these wonderful things in it, fishing lines and hooks and all kinds of stuff I used to make and use. This kit was my little magic box that I carried. Well, now all these little personal things that I made, you can buy them in the supply stores. Products have developed to the point where you can go and buy a scar—not just a scar, but hundreds of different designs that are already pre-made. When I was doing FIRST BLOOD, I had to personally make Sylvester Stallone’s scars for him the night before every time, pouring out the plastic and drying them and everything. Now you can buy 90 percent of this stuff off a shelf somewhere.

These students, though, each season—and I’ve noticed this even more in season four—have an understanding of materials. These aren’t just people off the street who say, “Gee, this is a good idea, I wanna do it.” They’ve all dabbled in it and have some working knowledge of silicone, and how to make a mold. And that’s where I come in, because I can help them out, advising them on products and working with them, because they may not have a lot of experience. I’ve made thousands of molds, so as soon as I see them making one that weighs 100 pounds, they’re wasting time, wasting plaster and not really completing it. So I’m able to help them save time, and time management is probably the single most important factor, after having enough talent. You can be brilliant, but if you don’t complete the assignment, you’re going to be either marked down or taken off the show. That’s our biggest problem with everybody: time and how they manage it.

FANG: Any other final thoughts you’d like to share about this season?

McKENZIE: I really do feel every single day—even when I’m wrapped, I’m behind the scenes watching, and now having my dad integrated into the show and seeing it through different eyes—there’s so much more for the viewers to enjoy this season on an artistic level. From the artistry to the competition to the judging, and then the new challenges and guest judges who’ve come in, like Bryan Singer—he’s a titan in the industry, so to have someone on his level come in and judge was quite phenomenal. I think the viewers will have a field day with what they’re going to see.

About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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