Hair and make-up designers Gregor Eckstein and Jeanette Latzelsberger discuss creating styles for multiple time periods in German drama Das Geheimnis des Totenwaldes (Dark Woods), which is inspired by the real-life search for a missing woman.
At a time where true crime penetrates all genres of television comes German drama Das Geheimnis des Totenwaldes (Dark Woods), the story of the search for a missing woman in Lower Saxony that is inspired by one of the most infamous crimes in post-war German history.
In the summer of 1989, Barbara Neder (Silke Bodenbender), the sister of high-ranking police officer Thomas Bethge (Matthias Brandt), disappears shortly after two couples have been murdered in nearby woodlands. Hans Lingner, an artist and gun enthusiast living on the edge of the forest, is quickly put under suspicion.
But the links between the earlier murder cases and Barbara’s disappearance are not initially picked up by the investigators. Instead, the police begin to suspect Barbara’s husband Robert (Nicholas Ofczarek).
As a Hamburg police officer, Bethge is not allowed to investigate a crime in Lower Saxony, so he so seeks support from colleagues Anne Back (Karoline Schuch) and Frank Behringer (Andreas Lust). His quest for justice continues long after his retirement as he and his team eventually, through painstaking and meticulous research, track down a suspected serial killer.
Produced by Bavaria Fiction and ConradFilm for German public broadcaster Das Erste and distributed by Global Screen, the six-part series is directed by Sven Bohse (Ku’damm 56 & 59) and written by Stefan Kolditz (Generation War).
Here, hair and make-up designers Gregor Eckstein and Jeanette Latzelsberger offer an insight into their roles on the series, how they developed styles for different time periods and the way their department is changing as television drama becomes increasingly ambitious.
How did you join the series?
Eckstein: The director, Sven Bohse, contacted us as he had previously worked with us on other projects and knew that we had vast experience with hair and make-up, which had to be implemented within a short filming period.
What were your initial thoughts on how hair and make-up would play a role in the series?
Latzelsberger: We knew we would have to be extremely creative to show the style of the various periods in which the series is shot. We chose to use specific wigs and hairpieces to make it possible in the schedule to shoot one scene representing the 1980s and then another scene set in 2013.
How did you develop different styles and looks for the show?
Eckstein: After speaking with the actors and the director, we were able to create styles for how each character should look, which included using prosthetics designed to visually represent the passage of time.
What styles or trends were you particularly inspired by?
Latzelsberger: We were inspired by contemporary magazines and books to incorporate the typical style for these times, and used original historical characters in our designs, always keeping in mind to ‘tailor’ these to the actor.
Did you want to recreate the exact look of the time period or did you bring in styles from other periods as well?
Latzelsberger: We have stayed as close as possible to the style of the time so that the viewer really feels they are seeing a true reflection of each period.
How was your work affected by the time jumps that take place in the series?
Eckstein: That was a big focus in our planning, because we have to age the actors and try to fit the changes of the make-up and wigs of each period to fit with the shooting schedule. Sometimes it was not possible that all the actors could be ‘aged’ at the same time, so we had to work closely with the director, the production team and the cameras and mutually decide which scene to start with, so that the actors would be ready in time.
Who were the main characters you worked with and how did hair and make-up contribute to bringing them to life on screen?
Eckstein: The main actor, Matthias Brandt, was a great challenge for us as he had to be in the make-up chair 25 times for two to three hours. We glued on nine prosthetic pieces, a wig and a moustache. That’s not easy for us or the actor, but as soon as the make-up was on, he was zoned in to the period. It was the same with Jenny Schily and all the other actors.
How did you work with other departments to create the overall look of the characters and the series?
Latzelsberger: We worked closely with the costume department, production team and the director to get everything worked into the filming schedule. We also worked very closely with the camera department, who were on hand to help with prosthetics and wigs to ensure they used the correct lighting to achieve the best effects.
What were the biggest challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
Latzelsberger: Firstly, it was to get all 11 actors’ hair and make-up looking right in time for filming each scene, so we could begin to produce the wigs, hairpieces and prosthetics required for each of them. This was a huge amount of work and we only had six weeks to prepare everything. On one particular day, we had to age nine actors for one scene, so we decided together with the director, production and the director of photography to shoot the takes in a specific order and style of framing to get everyone ready in time.
What lessons did you learn from the series that you would pass on to other hair and make-up designers?
Eckstein: We wouldn’t recommend shooting a film with lot of prosthetics in a very hot summer! We started to shoot this series at the end of July last year, but we shot most of the heavy ageing scenes towards the end of the shoot in the fall. Hair and make-up is a team effort, it’s never a solo show, so it’s crucial to work closely with DOP, director, costume and production. It was challenging to get everything right in the time we had available, which meant four months of hard work for our make-up and hair department.
As television drama becomes more cinematic and ambitious, how is your role changing?
Eckstein: It’s challenging. When shooting in 4K, we can’t hide wig laces or prosthetic lines so easily. In addition, we have less time now than we did some years ago to perfect the hair and make-up. However, the right light and camera position supports us in achieving a professional look.
What is something surprising or unexpected about working in hair and make-up design in television that people might not know?
Latzelsberger: We have very long days, but it is a lot of fun, and a drama series like Dark Woods really allows us to do our job well. Sometimes when doing the make-up and hair for the actors, less is more. Often the best make-up is when you don’t actually notice it. The audience is spoilt with good effects, CGI and make-up from Hollywood blockbusters. Given our time and budget, we try to replicate that in the best possible way.