Female Gaze: Trudy Buren

The blonde bombshell, the femme fatale, sirens of the silver screen. For 125 years, we have seen women on the cinema screen, but they were seldom in control behind the scenes. Luckily, things are finally changing. In this series of interviews, inspiring female filmmakers talk about their own work on the basis of film excerpts from other women’s films. In this fifth interview, Trudy Buren talks about her area of expertise, hair and make-up, in relation to the film Working Woman by Israeli director Michal Aviad.

By Gina Miroula07 February 2022

Portrait by Kiki Weerts

Trudy gets off the ferry: thick winter coat, a colourful scarf, ruddy cheeks. She peers over at Eye Filmmuseum further along the quayside, looming like an iceberg, shrouded in wintry mist. “I love this,” she says, “cycling in the cold.”

She has worked in hair and make-up on a huge range of fiction films including Polleke, The Heineken Kidnapping, God Only Knows and The Warden, since 1986. She also works on the television productions Ramses and I.M.

Natural beauty, a little more or a little less, and real people – that’s what Trudy likes. While working, she likes to listen to the stories the people in her chair have to tell. She chose the film Working Woman (2019), a story of sexual intimidation in the workplace, as the example for this interview.

Trudy on the wooden stairway in the Eye Filmmuseum building
Photo by Anna Meijer

Trudy had two great teachers: her Dutch teacher, with whom she often went to the theatre, and later maestro Paco Baez. “He inspired me and gave me my love of the job. For the film Moffengriet – Liebe tut, was sie will (Eberhard Itzenplitz, 1990) we had to publicly shave the heads of women who had slept with Germans. Paco invited his friends to take part, and we took the clippers to them: leaving all these rough, unevenly shaved heads. He taught me to shave in a realistically bad way. Isn’t that an incredible opportunity?”

You chose Working Woman. What fascinates you about this film?

“The story unfolds at a calm pace. The make-up artist has made the actors up very naturally, which makes it pleasant to look at the actors. The theme is also close to home. Around the time #MeToo started, I heard a lot about uncomfortable incidents at drama school, as well as casting directors who couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. Eventually, these abuses at the top level all came to light.”

“The film world is pretty touchy-feely, hands do get put in the wrong places. And it’s still difficult to say something about that in the moment. You tend to wonder whether it’s your own fault: was I asking for it? Am I giving off the wrong signals? How can I dial down the awkwardness?” Trudy still sees it happen today. “I’ve said to people: if you just move your hand up a bit, then it’ll be alright.”

In one scene in the film, where Orna’s husband asks her how things are going at work, Trudy clearly recognises Orna’s feeling of guilt. “Her boss is behaving inappropriately, but his actions are not being picked up. Orna finds it difficult to tackle this issue within her relationship.”

You have to accept cookies to be able to watch this.
Trailer for Working Woman

What fascinates you about hair and make-up in the film world?

“What I really like is no-make-up make-up. You always add something, but what you’re doing is mainly just landing a helping hand. Sometimes you look in the mirror and think: just covering a few little spots is enough. You could say, what I really do is help actors be who they have to be.”

Ahead of shooting, Trudy makes character studies. “I want to know where my actors do their grocery shopping and where they go in their free time. Do they buy their shoes in a regular shoe store, or are they a more up-market type? Little decisions like that say a lot about what kind of hairstyle they would have.”

“You could say, what I really do is help actors be who they have to be.”

Trudy Buren

How do you prepare for the characters when working on a film?

“I am given the script and I read it, then I sketch stories for the characters. Often, I will have talked to the director already at this stage. Then we have a style meeting with the costume, art and design and camera departments, and the director. We make sure we all share the same perspectives, and share ideas with one another."

Sometimes mood boards are created, or Trudy is given colours to work with by the art department. “For productions, I mostly look at pictures in magazines and newspapers. Or I surf around on the internet or go to the library. The sequence when preparing a film is: first the art department, then costume, then me. I’m usually a bit cagey, because often I have to make the finishing touches.”

In 2020, you worked on The Warden starring Freek de Jonge. How did you create his character study?

“Freek plays a man who has lived for forty years on an island in harmony with nature. He’s a real beachcomber. For example, he’s come up with a wonderful way of catching water and using it to water tomato plants.”

The audience shouldn’t see the famous Freek, but a wildlife warden. For Trudy, this means hair that is too long and a bit greasy, a broken pair of glasses repaired with a piece of wire and hanging from a string.

“I also gave Freek grimy, weathered hands, which I made look older so he looked like a real gardener. They are in close-up a lot when he’s feeding the gulls, and tinkering with things.”

At one point, the warden breaks his arm. He puts the arm in plaster himself using a first-aid manual. “A doctor from the Bergman clinic helped me make all kinds of casts. They had to go in stages, as they had to get dirtier and more worn over time. The audience thinks: they haven’t done anything with that man, but of course that’s nonsense.”

What makes you think that the hair and make-up in a film are not working?

“It annoys me sometimes if the tint of a colour isn’t right and there’s a visible difference on the neck. Or if someone is supposed to look bad, but you can see that it’s faked: the bags under the eyes are too dark, or there’s too much make-up when they should actually be taking colour out of the face.”

Trudy laughs, saying: “Look at yourself in daylight for a while, you can learn a lot from that. If your own eyes don’t believe what they’re seeing, the camera won’t believe it either.” Trudy tries to intervene as little as possible during shooting. “None of that touching up with powder brushes. At most, I’ll remove a weird sheen or a stray lock of hair.”

After a take, she gets to look at how the actor looks on camera. If there’s a week’s pause in the actor’s shooting schedule, this is really important for continuity. “We also work with a special app on the iPad. This allows us to save photos of actors corresponding to the right scenes.”

Trudy finds working with real hair “marvellous”, although it sometimes can be problematic. “If an actor is working on several productions at once, another make-up artist might have determined their hair colour. And I can’t change that, which can be a shame. And I’m not a big fan of wigs. However well they fit, it’s still dead hair.”

“I’m not a big fan of wigs. However well they fit, it’s still dead hair.”

Trudy Buren

How do you go to work, from the moment an actor walks into your domain and sits down in your chair?

“First of all I ask them whether they are wearing any face creams, and whether they’ve had a coffee yet. I get the hair out of their face and start on the make-up: just a lick here and there, a bit of camouflage where necessary, a dab of colour here, a dab there. This calms the face. I prefer not to use a cape, because then you often miss the neck. Then I do the hair. We have a good conversation, or just chat about the weather. Sometimes we don’t talk at all, and I just have some music on. After half an hour, we’re done.”

Do directors approach you with jobs, or do other people sometimes approach you?

“Usually, the director leaves it up to the producer: who’s available, what’s the budget, how many countries are involved in the production? Some directors know me and pass on my name. Then I might meet them in advance, have a coffee, talk about the script.”

Sometimes Trudy gets introduced to a director who speaks a different language, or has a different view of people. “I think it’s a good thing to be able to make a conscious decision and say ‘no’. I’ve had the experience of working with a director who I didn’t understand. If you’re going to be working together for three months, that’s no fun. You’re better off not getting into that situation.”

“Costume and make-up are at the bottom” of the hierarchy on a film set, Trudy says. “People have to wait for us, and that’s not something people like to do. Time is money.” When working on a series, everything always has to be even quicker and more efficient. “You have to work in a more pragmatic way, not spend time making character studies.” This is the reason why, in recent years, Trudy prefers to work on feature films. “I like the dramatic arc, being able to contribute, stories you know from A to Z.”

Trudy finds a certain kind of peace working on feature films. “I’m a calm person by nature and I know people appreciate that. It’s not something I can turn on or off, it’s just the way I am. I don’t easily let things get to me. When you’re in my chair, you know it’s going to be alright.”

“I don’t easily let things get to me. When you’re in my chair, you know it’s going to be alright.”

Trudy Buren

Are you able to watch a film without looking out for the hair and make-up all the time?

When I was learning the trade in England, I was always keeping an eye on how everything looked; I couldn’t tell you what the film was about. I’d be really impressed by how they had fixed the wigs on really well, or the prosthetics, or I’d be like, ‘oh: there’s a seam showing there!’ Always looking, looking, looking. I don’t do that anymore now.” Trudy does still run an expert eye over things though, and can tell straight away whether it’s been done well or not. “If it’s all good, I can enjoy the film. If something’s not right, it’ll keep on annoying me.”

“People in our business never judge each other too harshly, because sometimes we simply aren’t given enough time to do it right. There’s often someone breathing down your neck. And sometimes different choices are made during the editing. Then I think: that’s not the order we shot it in, because now that wound is suddenly too fresh. A little while ago, I said after a viewing to the editor: ‘You’ve really shaken things up there, eh?!’”

Are there differences in hair and make-up in terms of what people want in a film outside of the Netherlands?

“When I work abroad, it’s usually with a Dutch director. The design is in Dutch hands, so I don’t have to worry too much about the rules in other countries. The hierarchies are often different abroad. Often, there will be different people doing the hair and the make-up. You can see this on the film credits. There are ‘hairdressers’ and also ‘special hairdressers’ for Mister or Miss so-and-so: the leads. We’re not used to this in the Netherlands, as we don’t have that much money to spend here.”

Trudy worked on The Heineken Kidnapping (Maarten Treurniet, 2011) in South Africa. “I was working with a South-African colleague there, as it was a co-production. She was doing the hair, and I was just doing the make-up. But Rutger Hauer had to have his hair done by me, and that can be problematic. She the hairdresser, but I was the Head of Department.”

Ten years ago you bought your own make-up bus.

“I used to work in the weirdest places: in a tent, under some stairs, or next to the toilets. Just as I was about to go work on a long shoot, a colleague called me and asked whether I wanted to borrow her make-up bus. She was working in the studio, so the bus wasn’t being used. I accepted her offer and saw how great it is to have your own workplace. This is how I was able to do the series Lijn 32. I’d pull up in the morning, give two plugs to the location manager and I could open shop.

After that, I did a production in a cellar where the ceilings were too low. This caused problems for Trudy. “John, my partner, said: you need to look after yourself better. Find yourself a nice bus, and I’ll fix it up for you. In 2011, I bought a DHL bus from Germany. We covered the whole thing in foil. From then on, I either worked from the bus or didn’t take the job. It was a bit tough at first, and I missed out on a few jobs, but eventually it got better and better. The actors also really like it. There’s good light, a heater, and you’re in a world of your own for a little while.”

Ten years later, Trudy’s bus was no longer allowed in cities because of its emissions. “Quite right too: it was a dirty diesel. I gave it to someone in Romania. These days, they hire a bus for me.”

You’re starting work soon on a new film in Poland. Can you tell us something about that?

“The story is by director Danyael Sugawara: When fucking spring is in the air. He wrote the screenplay in cooperation with Heleen Suèr. It’s about Kasia from Poland, who after the death of her grandmother is trying to find out about her family history and her emigre parents’ money.

“I’m going to drive to Poland and spend the night somewhere past Berlin. My temporary bus is in a secure parking place there. I can’t bear to think about my Dior and Channel not being there anymore next morning!”

Trudy has known for a few days now what the lead actor playing Kasia’s hair should look like. It was a sudden realisation: “I asked some colleagues for tips for a good hairdresser in Poland. I still get nervous about the final result in every project I do.”