*In feature #1 of my Sickly Talented column, I will introduce to you the great talent of Lindsay Serrano. Having met her in person and having spoken a few times over the computer, I know she is every bit humble and sweet as she is innovative, passionate, and hungry for the business. She is also part of the groundbreaking production company, Mass Grave Pictures. Below you can read over her bio, which highlights the beginning of her career in special effects, as well as an interview in regards to all of her previous works. Check it out!
Lindsay Serrano graduated from Long Island University in 2008, with a BA in Media Arts with a double concentration in Production Management and Theater. Also In 2008 Lindsay completed a special fx makeup course at the School of Visual Arts. After graduation, she worked as a production assistant and assistant stage manager in a number of independent film and theater projects. In 2009 she interned at Tandem Otter Studio, assisting in the construction of the puppets for the Addams Family on Broadway, and was hired as a makeup artist and set designer at the haunted attraction Blood Manor. Lindsay became the Lead Makeup Artist in 2010, and worked there for two more seasons, during which she was dubbed “The Blood Fairy.” In 2010, Lindsay began working with Devarez Films on their independent television show Zombie Hunters: City of the Dead as a Special FX Makeup Artist before being asked to step into the role as Assistant Director. In 2011, she and her husband Manny Serrano formed Mass Grave Pictures.
Lindsay spends most of her time producing MGP’s various projects but still likes to get her hands good and bloody for the really gory FX. For MGP’s first feature film, Blood Slaughter Massacre, Lindsay produced and acted as Special FX Makeup Supervisor designing makeup for the very talented artists, Cat Martin and Emily Stinson. In 2013, she made her directorial debut with MGP’s web series The Attack of the Brain People which she co-directed with Louie Cortes, She is currently working as a Production Manager and Special FX Makeup Artist for Surreal Design Inceptions on their upcoming web series, The S.P.I.E.S Files.
H: Working on Broadway is a pretty unique experience; I’d wager almost everyone in the horror industry would kill for the opportunity, especially when working for a production such as The Addams Family. What can you tell me about your experience working behind the scenes in a Broadway production?
L: It’s funny, it really wasn’t that different. They are still trying to stretch the budget as far as possible and meet near impossible deadlines, just on a grander scale. I interned at Tandem Otter Studio who built the puppets for the production, including the large tentacle monster underneath the stairs. It took a large team of us to put it all together. There were different teams assigned to different tasks, a fabrication team that built that tentacle structure, a sewing team that created the skin cover and a puppeteer team that designed and built the controls that made the creature come to life. Each of the puppets they build had their own teams as well. It takes a lot of hands and great communication between the team leaders to get it all done in time.
H: What made you want to learn and master special effects make up? Did it come for you as easily as expected?
L: I guess I’ve always been interested in special fx makeup. As a kid, I remember watching that old HBO show “Movie Magic,” and being astounded that there were humans underneath the creatures that appeared on the movie screen; and that there were people who could transform everyday humans into these fantastical creatures. When I got older, I had a VHS of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” that had a behind-the-scenes feature with it. I must have watched it hundreds of times, amazed at how the artists were able to transform someone as recognizable as Michael Jackson. But to me, the people who did that kind of stuff were far away in Los Angeles and that may have well been the moon as far as I was concerned. I didn’t grow up as one the 80s “Monster Kids,” my parents kept me pretty sheltered from that kind of stuff, but I was an artsy kid, I drew, sculpted, played a lot of “pretend” and held on to my secret desire to work for Jim Henson’s Creature shop even when my parents and teachers pushed me to focus on a more practical career. In my late teens, I rediscovered horror and monsters, finally seeing Romero’s Dead trilogy and the Friday the 13th series and like most kids in the 80s, I finally had a name – Tom Savini. I researched everything on him, followed by Dick Smith, Rick Baker and KNB.
It really didn’t come as easily as I expected. Like most make-up artists, I’m self-taught, for the most part, trying things I found in books or on YouTube, seeing what worked and what didn’t. At first I tried using my “normal” makeup to re-create wounds and failed miserably, but as a got the proper tools, I got a bit better. Still wasn’t satisfied, I was lacking something so I found an introductory class at the School of Visual Arts that taught the basics for bruises, burns and cuts. One of the most important lessons I learned in the class is that you need to understand the wound you are trying to create (how was it made, how old is it, how would the wound affect the skin around it, etc). That’s the part that came easily to me, using my imagination to create the wound in my mind until I can see what I want and then creating it on the skin.
H: “Zombie Hunters: City of the Dead” has really blown up in the independent circle in the last few years. Since you’ve done the special effects on some of the episodes, what can you tell me about the decision making process when it comes to wounds, make up, and gore? Do you guys have a drawing board and think, “Hm, how can we bloody someone up today?”
L: The guys at Devarez Films, the makers of “ZH: COD” are great in that they are willing to try everything and take it to the next level. Patrick Devaney and Christopher Murphy (the director and producer) work really closely with their Head of Special FX, Michael Scardillo of Scars FX, to design at least one or two special zombies every episode including an exploding head, multiple gunshot wounds on one zombie, a decapitation and even recently a tomahawk throw. I worked closely on a couple of the signature effects for 6, 7 and 8 and really learned about air compressor squibs, prop making, and how they go hand in hand with makeup to a brutal effect.
When it comes to creating a zombie horde, the guys at Devarez are pretty open to everything. They give you the parameters of the scene, like these are fresh zombies or these zombies survived an explosion, and then just step back and let you create. Mike has a variety of prosthetics that he’s made, and cases and cases of make-up wheels, blood types and other toys for you to play with. Then it’s all about what you can create in the time given. It’s really a great, creative environment for make-up artists.
H: I finally got to see the award winning feature Blood Slaughter Massacre last week. I noticed that you used very realistic looking blood. Being an aspiring effects guy myself, I know the constant struggle of trying to find what ingredients work best when creating fake blood. Without giving too many of your secrets away, what are some general blood making tips you can provide to beginners such as myself?
L: With Blood Slaughter Massacre, I knew going in that Manny Serrano (director) was planning on using a technicolor filter with low contrast and blue lights when filming that paled the red color of blood, so I had to work pretty closely with him to find just the right color blood. We also needed different kinds of blood: one that was safe to go in actor’s mouths, one that could be shot out of the air compression tubing, another that could be used on wardrobe that didn’t turn pink, and lastly a soap-based one that could be used on the location and easily cleaned up. I used a lot of pre-made blood then modified with food color to get the right color and used water to thin it down when needed like for the compressor. One of the best tricks I used for Blood Slaughter was adding coffee grounds to thicken the consistency; it’s a great effect for old wounds and for bodies that cops discovered hours or days after the kill.
H: Not only did you have fun doing cool brain tricks on “Attack of the Brain People,” but you also wore several hats and served as co-director, co-writer, and producer. What was it like to have the freedom to write AND create what you envisioned in your head?
L: I’m lucky that I’ve had a lot of freedom working with the directors and productions teams that I’ve worked with, but as the saying goes, the ship has to have a captain. Directors do have the final say and I have had to make some small adjustments to make them happy, so to finally be the one with final say was awesome…and terrifying. As a makeup artist, you get to focus on one detail of the larger picture, and as a director, you have the entire picture that needs focusing on. At the end of the day, everything is the director’s fault, good or bad, and that can be pretty overwhelming. We brought on a lot of the same cast and crew from Blood Slaughter, so I was really lucky to have a team that I trusted in place, with Louie Cortes as my co-director, Manny Serrano as my DP, Ralph Merced as props master and Cat Martin and Emily Stinson assisting me with makeup. They were all really patient with me when it took longer to approve makeup or camera angles. I can’t really describe what it’s like to watch something come alive that only existed in your head. You do get a taste of it with makeup, but as the director, the captain of the ship, that feeling is magnified a hundred times.
H: What is the most difficult special effects job you’ve ever had to tackle?
L: Wow, it’s hard to choose just one. There are two really challenging effects that come to mind. At the haunted house I worked at, we had a Freddie Krueger character that inhabited a boiler room. Usually he just wore a store bought mask but there was a news camera crew that specifically requested to film his room. The owners asked me if I could create it from scratch…and gave me about an hour to do it. The second was the babysitter in Blood Slaughter Massacre that had both of her eyes removed. I’d done a similar effect for a character that walked around a convention where I glued black panty hose in front of his eye so it looked like it was removed but the actor could still see and walk safely. We were concerned that the camera would pick up the eye behind the thin materials, so I had to come up with a makeup that blocked out the actress’ eye completely but was easy and quick to remove in case she got nervous not being able to see. I found these band-aids made to cover eye injuries, and then Cat Martin and I built up the wounds with mortician’s wax and added thick blood to age the wound. The actress was such a trooper and handled it amazingly but I was happy to know that if she didn’t, we could easily have removed it.
H: You’ve accomplished a lot in your career in just six years. What advice do you have for beginners who are starting to navigate through the world of special effects? Does practice really make perfect?
L: My best advice is to just go for it. I landed my first make-up gig at a haunted house about a year after I started. My portfolio was pretty small but the owners saw something there. It was a very sink or swim kind of situation, but I just felt like I had to prove myself and I did. They made me their lead artist the next year. And yes, practice, practice, practice, on yourself! Learn how different skin types respond to make-up and practice on yourself so you know what the products should feel like. You never know if someone could have a bad reaction to the chemicals we use, so learn what it should feel like so you can quickly diagnose a reaction and respond. Also, don’t just focus on learning makeup, study art and biology; learn how to use colors – how dark colors recede while light colors pop. The more knowledge you can apply in creating a wound, the more realistic and powerful the effect will be.
H: What are your future plans? Do you have any new makeup jobs lined up or are you going to focus more on production jobs?
L: A little of both, actually. I still love doing makeup, but right now I’m focusing on designing effects. For the short film, M is Mastectomy, I worked closely with Cat Martin to design the mastectomy scars, finding reference photos, approving materials and building the blood pump and tubing system for the blood. I’m still heavily involved with make-up, but I do my work in pre-production before handing it over to my talented team of artists so I can focus on the production side of things. I still plan on helping on shorter days and small effects. I just can’t resist getting my hands dirty…or bloody.
*If you’d like to see some of Lindsay Serrano’s work first hand, you can buy her episodes of “Zombie Hunters: City of the Damned” here, or wait until Blood Slaughter Massacre is distributed by Wild Eye Releasing.