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Interview: Catherine Deriana on the Makeup Design of 2022 Sundance Selection ‘God’s Country’

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Catherine Deriana, the makeup department head on God’s Country, which just played at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

God’s Country follows Sandra (Thandiwe Newton), a grieving college professor, who confronts two hunters she catches trespassing on her property and is drawn into an escalating battle with catastrophic consequences. It premiered at Sundance on January 23rd.

For this project Catherine worked on creating a very character driven, natural look for the main character Sandra. She also did some special effects makeup, including lots of bruising following various flight scenes in the film.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into makeup and hair design.

I have always wanted to be in the entertainment industry. I’ve always been interested in becoming an actress or vocal performer, but I’ve also been obsessed with doing hair and makeup. From 2011 to today I have been actively trying to make my way into the film & entertainment industry and until I did, I was always determined to position myself to be marketable when that time came. I would actively take classes to perfect and expand on my techniques, work for brands to get well versed in product knowledge and take opportunities to help me learn all the skills necessary to build myself as a brand. During those 11 years I attended The Douglas J Aveda Institute for Cosmetology in Ann Arbor in 2012, and I got my associate’s degree in cosmetology management in 2014. Those experiences helped me build up my skills in hairstyling, skincare, makeup artistry, and how to own and operate a business. Over the last 11 years as a makeup artist I have worked for brands such as Laura Mercier, Estee Lauder, Lancôme, Chanel, Philosophy, Clinique, Becca, Mac, Shiseido and more. I have done some smaller budget movies over the years, but then in 2019  I got a call to do my first film as a hair assistant! Now, 11 years after I started this journey, I have worked on 11 films in this industry and headed departments on many of those projects! I am an IATSE 488 union member, and I am currently filming a feature right now as head of department for hair. 

How did you get involved with God’s Country?

A local casting director referred me. She knew my work and that I had been working on a lot of projects. What drew me in was the script and the important and timely story. I had been living in Montana, and how they captured my experience in that time ignited a connection and passion for this story. I related to Sandra. I am a Black woman who had been living in Montana with no diversity and experiencing a different kind of racism and culture that made me uncomfortable often. It is a completely rural environment and 98.7% white with no trace of Natives among locals and a lot of starring and blatantly unwelcome attitudes. 

What was your research process like for this project?

I always search for potential looks for a character after I read the script. I take notes about what I may be envisioning as I read and then make sure it is period appropriate and specific. You also have the vision of the director as well. With films I will research by typing in look ideas to align with the ideas that are going off in my brain and then pull it all together for a concept. What kinds of hairstyles do college professors wear, what would a mountain woman wear and how would she wear her hair? Is she originally from a rural area or coming from a city? The look ideas must fit the character for who they are and what they do as well as how they live and express themselves.

Tell us more about the special effects makeup you did in this film. How were you able to achieve the look of the bruising after the fight scenes?

This film was my first time doing the bruising special effects makeup, and I was able to accomplish it by doing a lot of research and watching video trainings. I researched blunt force traumas, bruising from punches around the eyes, and fresh versus healed bruising. My color theory knowledge was key to this though. A combination of reds and blues to overlay and create purple hues, and then I used a sponge with texture and different brushes to make it appear like it was a part of his flesh. If you are not knowledgeable about pigmentation both underlying and how to create certain hues of color, you cannot create a bruise of the skin. I have done a head gashing in another film that will come out this year as well as tattoo coverages and all of these things require research. Accuracy is key. Talk to nurses, look through medical books, and then decide how you want to approach it for the most realistic look.

Can you describe Sandra’s look and how you achieved it? 

Whenever I am creating a concept for looks, whether hair or makeup, I look at the time period. Is it a modern-day piece or is it a period piece? Then I read the script to understand the characters and really analyze them. Who are they? Would they wear a lot of makeup? Would they need a more elaborate look in one scene versus the other? What is happening in the scenes? What would be appropriate and realistic? Then I present my ideas to the director and executive producers, and we discuss their vision and work together to find the perfect look. I’ve been at this a long time, and I’ve worked on hundreds of  heads and faces, so I can use real world experience to adapt any look. 

Sandra is a college professor. She is a modest woman, very minimal and not to mention; she is a Black woman in rural Montana. I always saw her with a very subtle look because you do not want to draw attention to yourself in that kind of environment. There are also other details of her life that you will find out in the film that contributed to my developing of her look.

Thandiwe Newton is such a hands-on master of her craft. She had such amazing insight and input about her character as well. She wanted to make sure that we kept her wavy hair texture. Thandiwe also did not want to look younger, she wanted to look her age. Her interpretation of this character added to the way I would style scenes.

What was the most challenging part of working on this project?

There were a lot of looks to recreate and concepts to create on the fly. This film originally started principal photography in 2019, but then COVID held them up for a year. They were not sure if the movie would ever get finished. I came on when the production continued. There were actors that had been replaced due to unavailability, looks that were established before, and ones that had not been created yet. It was chaotic, but it was also a miracle for them. Julian Higgins and Shaye Ogbonna were so excited to see the film be back up and running again. That kind of passion is contagious so as chaotic as it was, it was also one of the best film experiences I have ever had. It was an honor to work with Julian and the entire cast and crew!

What are some of the key products that you used on this film?

HD foundation, MAC foundation, MAC brow pen, Skin Illustrator FX palette, Aveda sensitive skin cleanser, Estée Lauder advanced night repair, and KMS curl up control crème.

Anything else you would like to add?

I hope that by sharing my journey it encourages someone to keep after their dream! It was a long journey, but it was a journey with necessary growth, and now I am grateful for the path it took to get here! Everything, both triumphs and failures, have made me ready for all the challenges and dynamics of this job! I have grown so much personally and professionally; now being given these opportunities, I do not take them for granted, and I am able to rise to the occasion and thrive. There is not really a challenge I cannot find some solution to. I have matured in my craft and my ability to problem solve. I have always made it my mission to encourage, uplift, and mentor when I can. Keep fighting for what you know in your heart is what you want. Learn to ignore the naysayers even when they are the people closest to you. Focus and manifest the things that you want for your life and career. The right mindset is key and it is not an attitude of defeat, but one of perseverance! I have learned that some people are not going to understand the vision you have because it’s not theirs and that’s ok. Trust in yourself and work HARD!! Do not expect things, work for them and be humble. Ask questions and always be open to learning. I am an expert at my craft, but I don’t know everything. That is the beauty of this industry. I will always be able to learn something new and be able to collaborate with other artists.

Also, I just wanted to share that you can find me on Instagram @Styledbycatd and at my website www.Styledbycatd.com.

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Written by Betty Ginette

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