Designing the Makeup of Sundance 2022 Select ‘God’s Country’


Sundance 2022 select 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 will premiere at Sundance on January 23rd.

Makeup Department Head, Catherine Deriana, designed a no makeup, makeup look for the main character Sandra as she felt that her character would have a more natural look. She used various products to achieve this look and would adapt it based on whether it was a daytime or nighttime look. 

She also did a lot of tattoo coverage and special effects makeup, including lots of bruising following various flight scenes in the film. This included researching the different pigmentation and look of bruises when they’re fresh versus when they are a few days old and recreating that with makeup.

In this exclusive interview, Cat discusses more about her work on the film, including some of the unique challenges she faced on this fast paced project.

PH: Hi Catherine! How are you? Can you share how your journey thus far as a makeup artist?

Catherine Deriana: Hey, I am great! Thank you so much for the chance to share my journey with you all. 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. 

PH: What (and who) are some of your biggest motivators and inspirations?

Catherine Deriana: Pat McGrath as an artist and entrepreneur is one of biggest inspirations. I aspire to not only achieve what she has as a household name, but also consult for major brands and have a line of my own one day! 

Another one of my inspirations is fashion which has always given me inspiration for the looks I design. What would couple with the outfit I plan to wear, what hair or makeup goes well with these characters’ looks. I enjoy the process of finding a complimentary look to fit well with the color hues of the wardrobe. 

PH: How did you get involved with God’s Country? What drew you to the project?

Catherine Deriana: 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 current experience at times 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! I was a business woman. I owned local salons and managed the Macys out there.

The encounters I had with locals in the small town we lived in were very difficult on me and overwhelming at times. People would just stare at me and make comments to make me feel unwelcome. The comments and the blatant racism felt like I went back more than 20 years in time. Now I will say that not every encounter was that way. I have met some amazing people. When you get into the city and college towns people are more aware and want to know more and interact, but where I lived for those 5 years it was extremely small and had A LOT of racism. So, I felt like I had to be a part of this project, and I feel honored that I was.

PH: Can you share your approach when developing Sandra’s “look”?

Catherine Deriana: 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 you present it to the director and executive producers and they tell you their vision and you 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 am able to use real world experience to adapt a 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 looks.

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.

PH: Do you have a favorite “look”? Why or why not?

Catherine Deriana: I found that my start with Laura Mercier and my freelance work with French lines Lancôme and Estee Lauder has really helped shape my favorite technique of Bonne Mine. It is a French technique all about creating a natural canvas and highlighting the natural blush tones in the skin. It brings out the beauty and the pigments of the skin while maintaining a natural appearance. I call it “no makeup, makeup”! It is how I start every look and then I build on it. If it is going to be a more glam look, we build the eyes and contour a little deeper. This look transitions onto camera so effortlessly although it takes a lot of effort to accomplish. 

PH: You also did a lot of special effects work. What was that experience like? Was there a lot of research involved? 

Catherine Deriana: I call what I do modest special effects. I do not do prosthetics yet. Maybe one day, but I leave that to the masters of that incredibly challenging craft! This film was my first time doing bruising, and I was able to accomplish it by doing lots of research and watching video training. My color theory knowledge was key to this though. 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 also done a head gashing in another film that will come out this year as well. 

PH: Can you share a tiny tip for creating bruises and/or other special effects that we may not know?

Catherine Deriana: The right brush is key. When getting into tiny spaces and crevasses of the face you need the right brush. Certain sponges can also add texture to the skin for added effect. 

PH: This project was pretty fast paced. How do you navigate that? What are some of the challenges?

Catherine Deriana: Time management and workflow are key! You must know the film set environment. After so many films I know sets well. This helps you to know good times to be able to jump in and speeds up production times. I find pockets of time to do touches and corrections without having to have talent back in my chair and interrupt the filming as much as possible. 

Also, being a strong communicator and a fast worker are absolute musts. Productions are so fast paced that there is a lot of broken communication when things move quickly and are constantly changing, so you must make sure that you are effectively communicating with the right people. For me my first point of contact is the 2nd AD. They are the ones that help align my day and are able to communicate on my behalf once we start rolling to my 1st AD, executive producer and director. There is a hierarchy and there is a set etiquette. It’s important to learn that because it will make your job as easy as possible.

PH: How does it feel to have people notice small details, or even makeup/no makeup choices in characters? (People are very perceptive!)

Catherine Deriana: Honestly,  the biggest compliment is to have a look transition onto camera, look authentic and someone notices details about it. Audiences do not always realize just how much planning and work go into creating a hair or makeup concept for an entire film. When you have a cast of six then doubles for them and stunts as well as backgrounds like the film I am on now, it is A LOT of moving parts and you create a look for each character. It means that all the hard work is seen and appreciated!

PH: Can you share any other upcoming projects you are working on this year?

Catherine Deriana: I am currently working on a feature film for 5 weeks that ends this month. This is an 1800s western period piece, and I am the hair department head. I am doing a lot of wig specialty work on this as well as traditional western braiding and hairstyling. For instance, “coronet braids” back then are known today as “crown braids” but they derive from the Victorian era. I am very passionate and skilled in wig work, and I enjoy researching the time periods and what is historically accurate when creating the overall concept! I did a lot of colorist work matching the wigs to the lead talents’ natural hair colors for their stunt doubles and doubles. I love it because you are typically able to use multiple skill sets to accomplish the desired look. This movie is full of some amazing action and lots of blood. Seeing how my hair concept is coupled with the incredible special effects/prosthetics and wardrobe brings things to life in a real way. 

PH: What is one of the biggest things you have learned as a makeup artist?

Catherine Deriana: In my last 11 years in this field the biggest thing I have learned is to always remain teachable and to have a goal of evolution. I want to continue to refine and define my craft and be open to the ability to create. The collaboration and artistry that happens by teaching and learning from my peers is what keeps the fire burning inside me. I am grateful to be able to work in a craft that I never get burnt out on the process of creating. This is because I am always seeking to push past my comfort zone and challenge myself to learn new techniques. I now as a master in this industry create my own techniques and create ways to achieve new looks and concepts as well.


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