TMNT Interview: Sara Seidman Vance

Earlier this year Cowabunga Corner was able to get in touch with Sara Seidman Vance, a crew member from two of the live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films. Sara worked on TMNT 1 as the costume dresser for Donatello and did make up and stand in work for TMNT 2.

Sara was nice enough to agree to an interview about her time working on the Ninja Turtle movies and giving us a little update on what she's doing now. 

CC: When did you realized you liked working with costumes and make up?

Sara: I was a little girl. My dad had been in Vaudeville, and my mother was an artist, so I was always surrounded with it.

CC: How did you first get your break in working on movies and TV show?

Sara: The first movie I worked on was "Weekend at Bernies" as an extra. I met a lot of the crew and other people, and it springboarded from there with my past theater and performing experience.

CC: Can you tell us a bit about your job as a costume dresser on the first TMNT movie? Were you assigned to a certain character and what time would you have to arrive for work to start getting them in costume?

Sara: My character to dress was Donatello played by Leif Tilden. In terms of going in for the dressing, it varied from four in the morning to six in the morning, and different times if we were working nightshoots. It was always different every day.

CC: What was the process of getting the characters into costume for that movie and how long did it take?

Sara: First, we put on their shorts which went to the knee, then their feet, then their chest piece that was laced in the back, then their backpack with their head which had to be held on my shoulder because the backpack was so incredibly heavy. Then the shell would go between their legs and snap into their chest and onto their back. Then, their hands, then the leather elbow knee joints that joined the halves together to hide the gaps between pieces, but also give the Turtles freedom to move. The head would always go on last. I had to have Donatello ready in under an hour, and sometimes faster depending on the schedule. In the first movie the outfits were a whole lot more cumbersome than in the second.

CC: In Ninja Turtles 2, your title changed from costume dresser to make up artist. Was there much of a difference in your jobs between the two movies?

Sara: Yes. Actually, I was a turtle stand-in and makeup artist. As a stand-in all I had to do was wear an old turtle head that had no mechanization inside and a green jacket. I only did makeup on the show for two weeks. That was easy. The make-up artist was the late Del Armstrong, who had started his career with the Munchkins on "The Wizard of Oz." When I met him, it turned out Del had known my father in Vaudeville. He asked me if I could do makeup and I said, "Yes, theater makeup." He said, "Would you like to do the background for the two weeks we have them for the big dance number with Vanilla Ice?" I said, "I'd love to, but I need to keep my stand-in position because my mother is dying from cancer and I need the money." At that point, Del looked at me and said, "I'll make sure you can do both your jobs, and you'll get two paychecks for those two weeks and not lose your stand-in position." So Del made sure the schedule was set up so I could do the extras very early, and then still make my call to set as a stand-in. I was truly blessed.

CC: If you were not originally a fan of Ninja Turtles, did you find yourself a fan after working on the Ninja Turtle films? Watching any of the series or reading the comics?

Sara: No. I enjoyed it for the time that I was involved.

CC: Do you have a favorite character in the TMNT movies? If so, who?

Sara: Michelangelo and April O'Neil. Probably because I had a strong friendship with Micha, and became close with Paigue Turco from TMNT2.

CC: Did you get to work along side Jim Henson, and if so can you tell us a bit about your time working with him?

Sara: No. But I did meet him on Ninja Turtles 1 when he came to the set. He was a very quiet, focused man.

CC: Were there any days on the set that stands out, from something funny happening, a prank, costume problem, or blooper that you would like to share with us?

Sara: It's not funny, but I will never forget it; the day my mother died. My mother had asked me and my sister (who was also working on TMNT 2) to sing a song, that she used to love, to whoever we were with at the time that she died. She also insisted that we not stay at the house, that we go back to work. So after the morturary came to get her, because we were called away from the set when she passed at my home, my sister and I went back to the set and, of course, everyone was aware what was going on. We told Michael Pressman of my mother's last wish. He graciously stopped production, had the cast and crew gather around us, and my sister and I sang "The River is Wide" for my mother. There wasn't a dry eye in the house, including mine and my sister, and I will never forget Michael Pressman's kindness in honoring my mother's last wish.

Side Story: Michael ended up using that song as a background piece in an episode of "Picket Fences", the television show he produced later.

CC: What was the best thing about working on the TMNT movies?

Sara: The friends I made. The film industry is such a vagabond existence that I made many close friends on that show, not just actors but crew.

CC: What was the hardest thing about working on the TMNT movies?

Sara: The heat. Both movies were shot during the summer, and it was hot when the Turtles had to be encased in those suits for outdoor shots. They had to have a "Cool Room" for the turtles that was below 50 degrees. Sometimes their body temperatures would shoot over 100 being encased in the latex rubber.

CC: Are you still friends with anyone from the set of the movies that you met while working there?

Sara: Many people. I have remained dear friends with Michelin Sisti who played Michealangelo, as well as Paige Turco and others from the Hensen team.

CC: What are your personal feelings about more movies, including the most recent Ninja Turtle movie, going to CGI instead of live action?

Sara: Hated the CGI. That's about it.

CC: You’re still working in television and movies, can you tell us a little about what you’re doing now?

Sara: Last year, I was nominated for a National Emmy and won seven other awards for a project with the Christian Broadcasting Network titled "The Jewish Jesus." I did all make-up and special effects make-up for the project.

CC: What was your most favorite job to date?

Sara: I enjoyed each show for each different moment that's been inserted in my life. I can't really pick a favorite. I have many favorite moments.

CC: For an aspiring make up artist, is there anything you’d like to suggest to them to help them go in the direction of working on television and movies?

Sara: Education. Take from experienced make-up artists that have been in the industry more than five years. Face-to-face classes, not classes on YouTube. You can get technique ideas, but you need to be in a classroom situation where it's hands-on and the teacher can work with you hands-on, and also be able to visibly see on monitors what your work looks like. You need to know more than just make-up. You need to know anatomy, lighting and how to make adjustments with all the different skin types. You also need to ability to work with many different types of make-up brands, not just one or two. My quote is "It's not about beauty. It's about the illusion of reality," but you also want to make the make-up look as natural as possible, unless the project calls for it to not look natural.

CC: Is there anything you’d like to say to the TMNT fans out there?

Sara: Bless you for keeping the Turtles alive!

Thanks Sara so much for taking the time to do this interview for us! It's been a real honor to hear your stories! And I hope we can help keep your mom's memories alive by sharing here on Cowabunga Corner.

Hope everyone else here enjoyed the interview!

All pictures are property of Sara Seidman Vance, used with her permission and all rights reserved.

Entertainment Earth



I forgot to add that Suzanne Patterson assisted me on "The Jewish Jesus",a very accomplished make-up artist who was nominated with me.