Facing (invented) reality
Los Angeles — Katie Machaiek grew up in Owls Head surrounded by theatrical props and effects, thanks to her mother, a longtime drama director at the high school in Rockland, and her late father, technical director of the school’s shows for many years. That background led her in a roundabout way to special effects makeup, a true behind-the-scenes pursuit. On Tuesday, Jan. 15, however, she goes center stage as one of 14 contestants in “Face Off,” a reality competition show on the Syfy cable network.
Machaiek can be seen in one of the Season 4 trailers now airing on Syfy and related NBCUniversal cable networks, saying she has been trying to get on the show for two years, but she had come very close to making it each of the three seasons since its inception. In fact, she might well have been on last year, were it not for the Maine Drama Festival.
“The Season 3 finals were postponed, then they called and said, we need you here in three days,” she said during a recent phone call from the West Coast.
Machaiek was not in LA when the “Face Off” producers called last year; she had just arrived in Rockland to work on special effects makeup for "Notre Dame de Paris," Oceanside High School’s one-act play entry that ended up winning the Midcoast regional and went on to the Class A state finals. Among her designs were the cathedral’s gargoyles, who served as the play’s narrators. The student she trained to do the airbrush makeup, Maxine Buretta, won a regional judges commendation for her work.
“I was concerned that she was blowing an opportunity, that she clearly wanted, and encouraged her to go back but Katie was adamant that she wanted to do the one acts. She is fiercely loyal to the program, and truly was a driving artistic force to our concept of ‘Notre Dame,’” said Alison Machaiek, Katie’s mother.
“I said, I can’t come — I can’t do that to my mom! They said I probably would’ve gotten on if I had,” Katie Machaiek said.
At that point, Katie was well acquainted with the “Face Off” auditions process. It begins with meeting with producers and taking a psychological profile test, then doing a two-hour makeup challenge test.
“Then you don’t hear anything for weeks,” Machaiek said.
She eventually made it to the top 15 for Season 1, which ended up using 12 contestants.
“I was a cast alternate, in case, you know, someone died or something. It was kind of a bummer because I was so close,” she said.
The next year, she went through the whole process again, ending up in the top 20; then came Season 3, which she had to turn down. For Season 4, she started in the top 40 and eventually made the final cut.
“I was determined! It’s really difficult to get on this show, or any reality show. It’s like a puzzle, the way they put the pieces together — it’s not just a competition, it’s how you fit,” she said.
Machaiek will see how all the filming, which took place last July, is fit together for “Face Off” on Jan. 15 at 9 p.m. and the next 10 Tuesday nights at that time; while she knows the outcome, she is sworn to secrecy. So is her mother.
“I knew when filming would begin, and had emergency contact numbers, but beyond that, had absolutely no knowledge of what was happening in the weeks that Katie was ‘in the house.’ I can tell you she had a very positive experience, both professionally and personally,” said Alison.
Katie could only discuss the first episode, “but I haven’t seen any of it yet, none of us have; we see it the same time everyone else does,” she said.
Machaiek’s inspirations come from fantasy; she said she grew up watching “Labyrinth” and “The Dark Crystal.” After graduating from Rockland District High School, she went to Emerson College in Boston to study filmmaking. She ended up developing an interest in still photography, which is where her path began to diverge.
“I grew up with jars of stage blood on the shelves and stuff, so started using theatrical makeup on people in my photos. Filmmaking friends saw them and asked if I would so makeup for their student movies,” she said.
After graduation, Machaiek moved to Los Angeles and attended the Cinema Makeup School there. Now 26, she is a freelancer who has worked on a number of music videos and films. And then there’s her Christmas gig, which keeps her from coming home to the Midcoast for the holidays.
“I do Whos’ makeup at Universal Studios Hollywood, based on the Jim Carrey ‘Grinch’ film. There are Whos who walk around the park, do a stage show and run the train through Whoville. It’s a lot of work but a lot of fun…this is my third year doing it so Christmas is postponed, basically,” she said.
Postponed until February, that is, when Machaiek will return to the Midcoast to help out with Oceanside’s Maine Drama Festival entry again; this year, it is a one-act cutting of a “Twelfth Night.”
“We’re relying on Katie's artistic talent to help conceptualize Shakespeare's classic comedy in a circus setting,” said her mother.
Machaiek specializes in makeup application, airbrushing and paint, but “Face Off” demands a full range of design and fabrication skills as well. She said it was really important to make a strong impression that first episode.
“It’s a big deal, you don’t want to be eliminated in the first one,” she said.
She said there are a couple of challenges in the first episode, one of which involved starting with a pre-made prosthetic. For one challenge, the contestants were required to use a crown as inspiration, which briefly turned the show into a bit of a wrestling match.
“There were 20 crowns, one of which was black. You know, people in FX gravitate towards darker things, so everyone wanted that one. But I saw a sparkly ice crown next to the black one,” said Machaiek, who said she had to work her way through the black crown melee to get the one she wanted.
For one of the challenges, making a goblin king, contestants were paired for a joint venture; Machaiek was set up with David Greathouse, a 40-something artist from Ohio.
“I worked with this awesome guy named ‘House.’ We had to choose a region and we had Swamp or Arctic. I had just done an ice queen, so we went for Arctic. I think ours turned out really beautiful. I’m really proud of what we did,” she said.
Machaiek said one of the show’s demands is that the artists reflect not only their aesthetic inspirations in their designs but also their personalities. And of course, any reality production aims for its contestants’ personalities to produce compelling TV via raw emotion.
“You wear a mic and you really do forget you have it on you … I think I’ll come out OK though,” she said, adding she represents Maine a few times via her T-shirts.
All in all, Machaiek called being on “Face Off” an amazing experience … and she is looking forward to sharing that experience with family, friends and the rest of the viewing audience on Jan. 15.
“I can’t wait to watch!” she said.
For more information about “Face Off,” visit syfy.com/faceoff.
Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.