From zombies to True Grit,
graduate has found her calling
By David King
And it’s not just because the Western was nominated for 10 Academy Awards on Tuesday.
Johns, who graduated from Texas State in 2002, worked as a makeup artist on True Grit during shooting in Central Texas. It’s another credit in a booming career that has taken her from volunteering on a zombie movie to coordinating special effects for Robert Rodriguez’s Machete.
“The essence of this business is ‘I don’t even know what I’m doing next week,’” she says. “I’m like a secret agent: One phone call and I could be shipped to a different country. It’s never dull.”
It also can be extremely gratifying: She was nominated for an Emmy Award for her work on the HBO movie Temple Grandin, as she helped transform actress Claire Daines into the title character in a true-to-life story about a woman with autism. (Johns’ mother works with autistic children in the Austin area.)
“At first I was a little nervous because they said Claire Daines was going to be playing Temple Grandin,” Johns says. “I was like ‘Really?’ She’s beautiful and gorgeous, and Temple is very homely and down-to-earth and not about her looks. So we had to totally re-invent Claire into a whole other persona.”
For True Grit, the job was to turn modern actors into personalities from the Old West, something she had done several times before in Westerns made in Texas.
“When a project comes along, they start looking around for whoever can do whatever skills they need,” she says. “For that one, it was beards and handlebar mustaches and period makeup; how to properly groom everything into the right shapes.”
Johns worked on the film in Granger, which was transformed to look like an Old West town, from dirt streets to wooden facades on buildings.
“It was an amazing movie to work on,” she says. “Seeing all those people walking around the streets, you kind of got taken back to another time. It was really neat.”
Johns and business partner Carolyn O’Hara offer their services through their company Hawgfly Productions Inc., which they launched in 2004 after winning a business plan contest in Austin.
The duo had just two weeks to put together a plan, so they used an outline from one of Johns’ advertising class projects at Texas State.
“My last year, we basically did a marketing plan,” she says of the class taught by Jody Gibson. “It was a presentation to clients, all about the marketing, all about which ads go where. A campaigns class, essentially.”
Their plan won, beating out bigger, fancier, more-expensive plans because, as the judges said, Johns and O’Hara identified the problem, analyzed it and solved it.
“We put it all into a good business plan and beat out engineers and such with our zombies and blood,” she says with a laugh.
Johns got her start in the makeup business by volunteering on a zombie movie a few months after graduation. It was one of four jobs she was working at the time, and it turned out that the job where she came home covered in movie blood was her favorite. In the last seven-plus years, she has worked on productions all over the country, as well as in Mexico.
“It is a blast,” she says of her career. “You work 12 to 18 hours a day, and if you can love it after that, then it’s the job for you.”