Matt McGorry as Mark Higgins, Mamoudou Athie as Dan Turner in episode 108 of "Archive 81". Courtesy Netflix.

Makeup of “Archive 81” – interview with Etzel Ecleston

February 18th, 2022
Matt McGorry as Mark Higgins, Mamoudou Athie as Dan Turner in episode 108 of "Archive 81". Courtesy Netflix.

Continuing the ongoing series of interviews with creative artists working on various aspects of movie and TV productions, it is my pleasure to welcome Etzel Ecleston. In this interview she talks about the art and craft of makeup, and her work on “Archive 81”.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself.

Etzel: My name is Etzel Ecleston, and I was one of the Department Heads on “Archive 81”. It was brought to my attention that a Key Makeup Artist’ position was available due to the initial Makeup Department Head moving on to another project. I was referred to the project by fellow colleagues as they knew this is the type of makeup genre that I truly enjoy. It has action, suspense and it has special effects as well.

While filming the last couple of episodes, an opportunity came up where I was promoted to Makeup Department Head.

Kirill: And stepping back a little bit towards the beginning of your career, what brought you into the field of makeup, and more specifically into doing makeup for visual storytelling?

Etzel: I started out at the MAC cosmetics counter as a makeup artist, and there I fell in love with being able to change someone’s emotions if they were feeling down prior to doing their makeup. That was a good practice to speak to people and to have a multitude of people in one’s makeup chair.

After 2-3 years I found that as I was binge watching movies, and I was sitting all the way through the end credits to see who did the makeup. A lot of people like myself watch Marvel movies and stay for the post-credit scenes, but I was also doing that to see the makeup department credits. I wanted to be a part of the entertainment industry, and I became involved in independent films. I joined the makeup union, which opened the doors to meet amazing people within the entertainment industry, and to get referred for amazing projects that I have been blessed to be working on.

Kirill: As you joined the industry and saw the behind-the-scene making of the movie magic, has it reduced in any way your enjoyment as a viewer?

Etzel: I like being able to see how things are broken down. I love contributing to these stories, and I love being able to see how a story comes together. There is no disappointment or loss of enjoyment in seeing how that magic is made. I love being a part of this collaborative effort.

Julia Chan as Anabelle Cho in episode 108 of “Archive 81”. Courtesy Netflix.

Kirill: Our home screens keep on getting bigger and higher resolution. Do you find that you need to do more, or maybe do things a bit differently as both digital cameras and our screens are getting that much more detailed?

Etzel: It definitely depends on what the character calls for. Certain executive producers and directors don’t like seeing a lot of makeup on the actors for specific scenes of the characters being portrayed. As a makeup department head, you have to remember what the director is asking for, and sometimes have to compromise remembering the cameras have much higher resolutions.

On “Archive 81” we have Melody Pendras placed in 1994, and her makeup was designed with the idea that she is a graduate student who doesn’t have a lot of money, but who still wants to look presentable. Then, that drives the choice of specific products on her face that would also look historically correct. Generally, it’s about what the character is calling for.

Kirill: Do you find that natural look is something that people assume is easier to do compared with more elaborate period makeup?

Etzel: Sometimes it is perceived that way by people who are not in the entertainment industry or are not makeup artists. In my opinion, it is not quite so. We have higher resolutions, such as 4K, and sometimes you do have to do a little bit more work for the person to look completely “natural” and the products that you use have a big influence on that.

Kirill: Is there such a thing as your own favorite style of makeup on this show?

Etzel: My favorite type of makeup on “Archive 81” was the makeup for the 1920s and the party for the Vos family. Going back in time with retro makeup is one of my favorite things to do, especially for historical makeup where you have to do specific things on the face in a certain way. For example, with Georgina Haig that plays Iris Vos, I had to redraw her eyebrows so that they would look more like someone in the 1920s.

Face chart for Iris Vos, courtesy of Etzel Ecleston.

Kirill: When you went to the interview for this job – or maybe for other interviews – what do you usually bring with you to show your vision for the project?

Etzel: On this project I was interviewing for the key position, so I did not need to bring any visual aids. When I do interview for department-head positions and the executive producers want to see how I interpret the makeup of the character, I bring face charts to show what the makeup could look like for that specific character.

Kirill: Do you prefer to work with people that you’ve already worked with, or do you want to explore new opportunities when you choose which production to work on next?

Etzel: I work with so many people, and one of the great things about my job is that I get to meet new and exciting people. I don’t have a preference. I am lucky and blessed to be able to work on so many different types of productions, and to contribute to those stories.

Kirill: You mentioned being true to the era or to the financial means of the character as just two examples of what you think about. Do you want me as a viewer to be thinking about those things, or do you want makeup to become an integral part of the story and for me to be looking at the story itself?

Etzel: If you’re watching the show and you get lost in it, if you do not concentrate on how the makeup looks, then I feel that I have done my job. Maybe some viewers watch that scene from the ’90s and reminisce about living through that time, and remember their own hairstyle and eyeliner and lipstick choices, and get a quick sense of nostalgia – then I’ve done my job well.

Kirill: How much time did you have in pre-production on this show?

Etzel: The makeup department on the show started around October, but I didn’t join the crew until January. I was the department head for episode 8, and I had a few days to plan for it. I knew that it would be set up in the 1920s from reading the script, and I took a week to research that era and come up with my plan for their looks. Then it becomes a collaborative effort to account for what the director wants, to come up with a compromise if need be, as to how the character is supposed to look.

Julia Chan as Anabelle Cho in episode 108 of “Archive 81”. Courtesy Netflix.

Kirill: Do you feel that you get enough time to accomplish what you set out for yourself?

Etzel: You always have to pre-plan and see how much time you are going to need for the makeup so you can accomplish it. You need to tell production the day before as to how much time you want with the actor or the actress so it doesn’t get rushed. For example with the Iris Vos character, I told the 2nd AD (the person in charge of scheduling the time) that I needed at least 45 minutes to do her makeup.

Kirill: How does your typical day look like once the production starts shooting?

Etzel: Whatever the call time may be, I go into the trailer and I make sure that I have the call sheet and sides to make sure what specifically is going on that day. Sometimes slight changes are made overnight or at wrap. If this happens, I adjust accordingly. The day prior, it is decided between the department heads who is going to take the actor or the actress into hair or makeup first. I gather the bags and makeup that I need for the actors and actresses on that day, as sometimes you travel a lot and don’t have any time to go back to the trailer throughout the day.

After the actors are makeup 100%, I travel to set, and set myself up where I can get to the actor quickly if makeup touches are necessary. Specifically out of the way from any equipment. I have an iPad to see the scene with the actor or the actress that I am covering. If we’re lucky, it’s usually a 12-hour workday, but sometimes it can go to 16 hours.

Kirill: When you look at that iPad, is there a big difference between what you see on that screen and what you see when you look at the real faces?

Etzel: Sometimes it’s a little bit of a difference. It’s always good to have last looks, to have the first AD [assistant director] to call the actors and check them on the camera. A scene might call for them to be a bit sweaty or to look a little disheveled, and in that case you might not have to do a lot. And sometime you do need to add on certain products – depending on what the scene is calling for.

Kirill: How has Covid changed things in how makeup department runs?

Etzel: I wear glasses, and when you need to wear a shield, it adds a few more minutes to adjust.

I wish that the person could see that I’m smiling underneath the mask. I miss that connection. It is what it is, and not just in our industry. What is different is that when a key person tests positive, the whole production may get shut down for two weeks, or that person cannot be on set for that whole quarantine period. We’re still working through this pandemic.

Kirill: Do you feel that the industry is still trying to find the new “normal”, so to speak?

Etzel: Yes, the entertainment industry is still trying to do that. There are protocols to follow, and I felt quite safe with the protocols on the set of “Archive 81”. You wear a mask and a shield, you follow the protocol, and you find your way to the new normal so that your day can go as smooth and fast as possible.

Kirill: There was a period of time during the first year of Covid where I felt that movie theaters might not survive this pandemic. Are you happy that moviegoing experience seems to be coming back, to a certain extent?

Etzel: I definitely am happy that the movie experience is coming back. One of the things that drew me to be a makeup artist was to be able to see the whole production come to life on that big screen, so I am happy to see that movie experience coming back slowly but surely.

Mamoudou Athie as Dan Turner in episode 108 of “Archive 81”. Courtesy Netflix.

Kirill: What is your most memorable moment on “Archive 81”?

Etzel: My most memorable moment for “Archive 81” is how the Vos party came together. Filming this scene in the middle of the pandemic, could have been really hectic as to we needed to have certain amount people on that set to make it look like a party. Production was safe and good where we had a mansion, and that huge space in the scene worked out well all around. That party scene was definitely one of the things that I loved about being part of “Archive 81”. It was great to see the whole story put together, especially with the makeup that I researched for the actors playing part of the Vos family, so that they would look historically correct makeup wise for the ’20s.

Kirill: What do you do between productions?

Etzel: I try to take classes, especially painting. I like to do research as I want to enhance my craft. I like to look through photography books and take mental notes. Sometimes I take those images from the books and replicate the look onto face charts.

Kirill: I usually talk about technical advances in cameras, lenses, lights or 3D printing with cinematographers and production designers, and what these advances unlock. Is there much change in the field of makeup in terms of quality and characteristics of different products, and how much you can do with them?

Etzel: The advances in makeup have been great. For example, with the different types of primers that you use before you put the makeup that make the foundation or concealer you are using stay a whole lot longer throughout the day. That way you don’t have to do that many touch-ups throughout the scene. I also see that with special effects and different techniques that my co-workers use for it to look seamless with prosthetics.

Kirill: Is there such a thing as makeup products made for movies, or are you using the regular make-up products available in general stores?

Etzel: There are definitely products that you wouldn’t be able to get in department stores or at Walgreens. They’re made specifically for TV and film. One of these in particular is latex which I used on the character of Anabelle which needed to make her look a bit older.

Kirill: How do you keep up with these advances?

Etzel: There’s a vast amount of makeup products that are currently out, and it’s really interesting to find out about them. There are conferences and makeup shows, and I do like to attend when I’m free. It’s always a learning curve and a I like practicing with these new products.

Kirill: Is there such a thing as your favorite makeup color?

Etzel: My favorite color is purple. I absolutely love it. There are so many different options, from darker bordeaux and eggplant to light lilac and violet.

Kirill: What stays with you after a production is done?

Etzel: For “Archive 81” in particular I absolutely love that I was welcomed with open arms, especially as I joined when they had already been in production. Mamoudou Athie who played the main character is an incredible gentleman to work with.

If there was anything negative, it would have to be the weather. It was so cold. We were on a mountain, and it was nighttime, and Pittsburgh is really cold, but it made the scene really believable – to have something that dark, cold and ominous.

Kirill: If you had a time machine, and you could go back and meet your younger self and tell her do not worry too much about X, what would that X be?

Etzel: Definitely just to have patience as far as when everything is going to come about. This is especially true for the entertainment industry. You have to have patience and perseverance to see when something is going to come about, when you’re going to get that big break, when you’re going to be able to be a part of that project that is the right one. That’s what I would tell my younger self.

Dina Shihabi as Melody Pendras, Ariana Neal as Jess in episode 108 of “Archive 81”. Courtesy Netflix.

And here I’d like to thank Etzel Ecleston for taking the time to talk with me about the art and craft of makeup, as well as Kate Twilley and Elizabeth Forrest for making this interview happen. “Archive 81” is streaming on Netflix. And if you want to know more about how films and TV shows are made, click here for additional in-depth interviews in this series.