If you are expecting a guide full of cool cut crease tutorials, you might as well stop reading right now. Because you will not find a single mention of cut crease… well, besides these two… in this entire guide. NO fluff, NO squeals (although there might be a few unicorn vomits), NO nonsense, and NO tutorials.
I didn’t want this guide to be another self promoting, “look-how-well-I-blended-that-eyeshadow” type piece of literature. I want you to learn exactly what it takes to become a makeup artist in the film industry. Hollywood might seem like a far away, unattainable dream, but after reading this guide I want you to walk away with a sense of relief and knowledge that YOU CAN DO THIS.
From this action-packed guide you will learn
❊ If the profession of a movie makeup artist is right for you in the first place
❊ Specific skill set, tools and business skills to approach production companies
❊ How to build a kit on a budget, and keep it growing as you grow as an artist
❊ That I don’t take myself too seriously, but I take my work very seriously, as I share many real life stories from my years on movie and TV sets.
❊ Most importantly HOW TO MAKE MONEY, so you can actually make a living. Because as much fun as it is to hang out with A-listers, you gotta pay your bills too. Am I right, or am I right?
Hi! I'm Ulla Gaudin, and as long as I can remember, and in fact even before I can remember, I wanted to be a makeup artist.
See the picture, get the picture? This was taken when I was three years old and mad as hell for not being able to stick that bobby pin into my doll’s plastic hair. I hadn’t really grasped the subtle differences between real and plastic hair yet…
My fascination with transforming people only grew from that point on. My first love was theater and creating a make-believe environment where anyone could be anything and everything was possible. Using my younger brother as a prop, or as a stand, I would bring to life marvelous stories about foreign lands that were warm and had an abundance of palm trees… Getting sidetracked here, but I’m from Finland and that cold weather apparently didn’t sit well with me even back then. No wonder I now live in a subtropical climate with tons of palm trees!
Fast forward a few (dozen) years, and despite some raised eyebrows followed with “That’s not a real career” from people closest to me, I decided to follow my heart and went through a rigorous 4-year degree program and internships in my native Finland. The school part was fun, but my favorite was the internships. The great thing about internships is that you get to learn while working and you see first hand what that job is like. No surprises after graduation!
I went on to work in large theater and opera productions, TV (from news to pilots to series), commercials (still my favorite) and feature films like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett and “All the King’s Men” with Kate Winslet, Sean Penn and Jude Law.
Not only have I learned the skills needed to create characters professionally, I have also learned what it REALLY means to be a sought after makeup artist in the film industry, and I can't wait to share the best of my expertise with you so YOU TOO can become a sought-after makeup artist in the film industry.
WHAT SHOULD YOU EXPECT TO LEARN FROM THIS GUIDE?
CHAPTER 1: Why I say no to tutorials in this guide
CHAPTER 2: Makeup artists in film industry
CHAPTER 3: Working in retail
CHAPTER 4: Do THIS first
CHAPTER 5: Kit building for dummies
CHAPTER 6: Working on a set, making money and how to budget
CHAPTER 7: Social media and film industry
CHAPTER 8: Should I be doing hair?
CHAPTER 9: Summary
CHAPTER 1: WHY DO I SAY NO TO TUTORIALS IN THIS GUIDE
NO, there won’t be any makeup tutorials in this guide!
I’m sure you are wondering why I wouldn’t include tutorials. I sometimes wonder the same thing… But that would be an easy way out, and I don’t like easy. Or I do, but when it comes to making a living and helping fellow artists, there’s no way in hell I’d take the highway.
I want you to learn EXACTLY what to do so you'll have enough experience and confidence to hop on the movie train.
I want you to learn EXACTLY how to create a budget-friendly kit that will grow with you as you grow as an artist.
I want you to learn EXACTLY how to approach producers, managers, whoever it is that you want to work with so you will get the jobs you have only dreamt about. Until now.
I want you to learn EXACTLY how to create a business plan and budget for the future so you can make bank!
None of that sounds easy, does it? If you are like 99% of makeup artists, you have never even thought about any of the above. You thought creating pretty faces was all you needed to worry about…
Well, let me tell you the truth about makeup artists:
They are notoriously bad at business and money.
You might feel pissed off and be yelling at the guide with names of super successful YouTubers or Instagram influencers right about now, but don’t shoot the messenger. Besides, those tubers and influencers are a drop in the ocean. I’m not saying you can’t do it, because I believe anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it, but that is not the easiest way to riches. Nor the most profitable way either!
I’ve been working in the film industry for over 20 years. Would you like to guess how many makeup artists I have seen rise and fall?
An average monthly paycheck in the film industry for our department is around $10,000 before taxes. Sounds fab, doesn’t it? And yet, I hear month after month from the fellow makeup artists that they’re broke. HOW is that possible? (If you didn’t guess, the short answer is “makeup artists are notoriously bad at business and money”).
And this is not limited to makeup artists in film. Although that’s where the big bucks live…
The average hourly salary for a beauty advisor is $10/h. Have you ever heard of anyone staying in that job until they retire?
An average value of a professional bridal makeup artist’s kit is about $3,500.
The makeup course costs about the same or more. Yet she’s doing makeup for $40/ face. Quick math quiz here; how many faces does she have to do to break even?
I know your brain left me at “math quiz” so here’s the problem solved for you:
7,000/ 40 = 175
175 faces… if she’s super fast, it’ll take 30 mins per face.
175 x 0.5h = 87.5 hours
Almost 88 hrs of work with NO profit, no breaks and nothing to show for it. Not to mention you’re not getting hourly pay for those hours… and wait! There’s more! Now that you’ve completed 175 makeovers, those precious products you so proudly purchased for your kit are pretty much gone. But you didn’t actually make any money, how do you replenish them? No money = no makeup. No makeup = no work. No work = no money. What a hamster wheel from hell!
Are you completely freaked out yet? No? Only somewhat? Ok, good. Keep reading.
CHAPTER 2: MAKEUP ARTISTS IN FILM INDUSTRY
So, you want to be a makeup artist
“And if you like cameras flashing every time we go out…” -One Direction “Perfect”
You’re dressed head to toe in your best, your makeup is on point, you’re so ready for step and repeat with your celebrity client. You smile at each other, holding hands while posing to photographer after photographer. Cameras still flashing the security ushers you to the coolest club in the city. You rub elbows with musicians and actors alike. You’ve never seen so many celebrities in one place. It’s as if you can smell the fame. THIS is what you’ve always wanted. THIS is the ultimate dream of being a celebrity makeup artist...
Seriously! Wake up and smell the roses! This ain’t about you and ain’t ain’t no word.
THE last person in the world a celebrity wants to bring to a party, much less step and repeat, is her (or his) makeup artist.
We are the people behind the scenes wearing all black so we blend into the backdrop. We are the people who make sure the celebrities look fabulous before, during and after step and repeat. We are the people who get cursed at by photographers because we were in the way. We are the people who are more often than not called “flavor of the month”.
It’s a tough relationship between a makeup artist and a celebrity. So don’t get too attached to your celebrity friend, because it ain’t about you and next month it ain’t about the next person.
But what if you’re not interested in working with celebrities? What if you simply want to make someone’s day by creating the most beautiful look anyone has ever seen? What if all you want is to make people pretty for their photoshoot? You don’t have to worry about it ain’t being about you, right?
WRONG. You might be the best in the world and that one b*$chy client can bring you down in a snap of her fingers.
You see, it’s easy to think that we know all there is to makeup. It’s easy to say we know what foundation the client should wear, or what color eyeshadow would enhance the color of her eyes. But it ain’t about us! Your client might have her mind set to a turquoise eyeshadow on her old droopy lids because that’s what she’s been wearing for the past 35 years. She’s not going to change her mind because you studied color theory and know better. What she might do though, is tell her friends what a turd you were to try and convince her otherwise… There goes your career down the toilet.
Now that I’ve scared the crap out of you, left you feeling raw and vulnerable, probably ready to run up the hills screaming never to return to a single thought about makeup, it’s time to build you up. Whew, finally, right?
What does it mean to be a makeup artist if not fancy parties and pretty eyeshadows?
After what I just told you, you might be thinking we’re the dirt bags that get thrown around, but that was really me trying to scare you so your mind is clear to receive the right type of message about our profession. Being a makeup artist is not hard if you have an open mind and possess a few basic skills. Besides your fabulous blending skills, that is.
The most important skill you can ever learn is the art of listening. And not to listen only so you can reply, but to listen so you can understand and adapt. I know that sounds like a very basic skill but unfortunately most people only listen to reply. Makeup is a very personal experience and it can make or break your client’s “character” whether it’s for a wedding, movie or photo shoot.
A while back I worked with an Olympic athlete who looked like a deer in headlights when I first met her. She was extremely suspicious of my abilities to do her hair and makeup for the shoot because she had been ignored in the past.
On this shoot she was supposed to portray a strong, but super feminine, world class athlete. Producers wanted flowy hair, smoky eyes and skimpy outfits. I'm sure you know that's not what our Olymipians look like when they compete.
She was supposed to hop in front of a camera, talk like she's been hosting a TV show forever, look like a damn supermodel, and the first person to meet her is this makeup artist she's never met. Of course she was feeling insecure! Wouldn't you be? Luckily for the both of us, I've been in the business long enough to know not to take any of this personally.
I focused on what she was saying, really listening to her concerns, and a) made her feel validated that I have heard her, b) I kept reassuring her throughout the day that although I had not used the products she's used to using, we can adjust accordingly if anything goes wrong, and c) told her every time I touched her face/ hair why I was doing what I was doing.
Long story short, our national hero warmed up to me after a few hours, and in fact one of the producers called me weeks after the shoot to tell how the athlete still gushes about me and how I made her feel. As the amazing Maya Angelou said:
"People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel".
The second important skill to learn is to be nice. Again, very basic, and I’m sure you heard that from your mother more than once, but you’d be surprised how big headed and “important” people become when they get their first real makeup gig on a photo shoot or movie set.
I’ve been asked many times how to “score” a high profile client. First thing I tell is that there’s no scoring. Erase that word from your vocabulary right now!
So you really want to be a makeup artist? With high profile clients? Since you asked for it, here’s my “easy way out” list on how to do it:
❊ Go to school and NEVER stop learning
❊ Work your behind off as an unpaid intern
❊ Work off whatever is left of your booty as an assistant
❊ Create lasting relationships by always treating EVERYONE like they are royalty. And I mean really going above and beyond for every person you come in contact with on set. This includes every parking attendant, doorman and cleaning lady.
❊ Remember there’s a 90/10 rule in this profession. It’s 90% about your personality and how you treat people, and only 10% about talent. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who has ever worked with high profile clients more than once.
Although your blending skills are extremely important, by now you might have realized that being a people person is much more important in this business. If you can master active listening (read more here) and truly be the person people can count on, you are way ahead of those who only practice the art itself.
CHAPTER 3: WORKING IN RETAIL
I got a job at a department store, I’m on FIRE!
You got a job at a counter? Great! But… I know, I know, me with these buts. Here’s the thing. If you work at a makeup counter, you’re technically not a makeup artist. You might have a certification, be licensed and all but working at a counter makes you a beauty advisor, not a makeup artist. In fact ANYONE can get hired to work at a counter, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
I recently saw one large makeup store chain looking for a regional “makeup artist” and guess what the main requirement was? NOPE! Not your application skills or even your education. The main criteria was to be able to sell at least $120 worth of product PER HOUR. Yep, the main requirement for this “makeup artist” job is how much stuff you can push on people in an hour. Another job advertisement said 80% sales, 20% makeup application. I’d say you are better off with some type of sales education than makeup at these jobs.
Beauty advisors are trained by the store or brand to sell their products. They honestly don’t give a hoot how well you can apply makeup. So if you’re dreaming of creating characters for living, a department store/ makeup store might be a place to start as a way of making money while you look for a real makeup job, but it will not advance your career in the film industry. It is, however, an excellent place to practice your application skills. You’ll find out later why, but first I want to share why I have a love-hate relationship with retail.
I was living in Hawaii in 2001 when 9.11 happened. I had been happily working on production after production, and when the twin towers came down the film industry in Hawaii died. Nobody wanted to fly.
So to make ends meet, I had to take on a job at a makeup counter at Neiman Marcus. Very fancy store, very fancy brands, very fancy pay. Fancy pay when I was able to sell something! You see, many of these department stores hire their salespeople at commission. Which is a great arrangement for everyone involved eventually but when you’re starting out, don’t have clientele, and the seasoned salespeople are ready to fist fight you for the clients, you’re more likely to be panic ridden than excited to go to work. At least I was.
After only about 3 months of being a sales associate I got offered a counter manager position with an hourly pay. I thought I was saved. Turns out I was even more screwed… Yeah, sure I was making an hourly salary but it was contingent on me making sure my counter sales stayed at a minimum of $10,000/ month. That’s a lot of eyeshadows to sell per hour! And even though my hourly minimum sales quota was half of what the above mentioned position requires, I was about to poop my pants at the end of each month. Quota not met = I could potentially lose my job, BUT if I went over the quota, I was even more nervous because quota exceeded = larger quota for next month. I had to sell even more eyeshadow!
Not to mention this was THE most boring job for a super creative person like myself. The only time I got to be creative was during very few hours of appointments for Halloween. Most of the time people would show up and want their “natural” look with nothing too loud. YAWN!
I found out very quickly that retail is not for the faint of heart. I might be tough but I’m not retail tough!
CHAPTER 4: DO THIS FIRST
Where do you want me to start then?
You’re probably thinking “Thanks a lot, Ulla, now where the hell do I start? If retail will take me nowhere, what do you want me to do?”
I’ve been pretty harsh so far, haven’t I? I don’t want you to think all hope is lost and there’s no future for you if you work in retail. In fact, in the United States it is THE place to work while you’re building your portfolio and resume for union hours or full time film/ TV work. I come from a different background where internships were mandatory, and I got to work on an array of different faces for different types of work. Things are different here in the states.
Go ahead and get a job in retail! You’ll meet a lot of different faces, and that’ll be fantastic application practice for your future film career. I don’t want you to go and throw your life in the trash by refusing ANY work until you’re 100% sure you can support yourself with your freelance makeup work. Because that is what you will be in the film industry. A freelance makeup artist.
THE very first thing you should do though, is to enroll to a school or course for makeup. The school should be specifically for makeup, especially if you want to work in the film industry. I’m all for getting your license because there’s no such thing as too much education, but unfortunately in the United States the cosmetology and esthetician training doesn’t cover much makeup.
Before attending any physical, or online school, do your research and make sure the course is exactly what you are looking for. Ask questions. Any legitimate school has no problem answering your Q’s and will be excited to answer them. They will genuinely want to help you, not just take your money. Beware of anyone whose claims sound too good to be true, because they most likely are. The dark side of Hollywood is found even in webs of makeup.
Here are a few physical schools that I can personally recommend (in no specific order):
The online classes are a whole different animal. "But, Ulla, you can’t learn makeup online anyway!" Le sigh. I hear this statement about 78 times a day. Yep, you can’t learn makeup online, just like you can’t learn cooking, sewing, interior decorating or hairstyling from videos, webinars or self study guides... Why the hell do we have YouTube in the first place?
OK, I think I'm done being facetious. Look, the problem isn’t that you can’t learn online, the real problem is that there’s about 2.7 billion options, and I would like to say five of them are legit… I WOULD LIKE TO say five, but the truth is, there’s probably one other online course besides my upcoming course that will teach you everything you need to know to be able to enter the world of movie making. And that course is in French. So, unless you’re fluent in French, you’re out of luck. Of course you can always sign up on my waiting list HERE.
So what should you look for in a TV/ Film makeup course?
You should expect to learn at least:
❊ Hi-def makeup. This is an absolute MUST, most movies/ TV shows/ commercials are now shot on digital cameras and in high definition. Talk about seeing one’s pores!
❊ Injury simulation. You’ll look at your injured friends with different eyes from now on.
❊ Facial hair grooming, laying, and applying ventilated pieces. You will be caught staring at men.
❊ Old age makeup. And now you’ll start looking at your elders differently...
❊ Character makeup. Think Game of Thrones, Wrinkle in Time.
❊ Period makeup. History lessons are my favorite!
❊ And much, much more.
The second thing on your list to do after signing up for a course, is to practice, practice, practice and then practice some more. Hello makeup counter! There are a TON of people willing to sit on your chair and model for you when you’re doing it for free. This, by the way, should be THE ONLY time you’re doing anyone’s makeup for free outside a movie set.
Find an array of different shapes and shades of faces to practice on. Practice everything you learn in school at least on 10 different faces. Once you’ve finished your school, and practiced on 10,000 faces, call me. You think I’m kidding with that number? I’m not.
Unfortunately school, practicing, and working in retail is only a very small fraction of what you need to learn. You can only learn what production means by working on a production. Another hamster wheel from hell? Not necessarily.
How do I find any production jobs in the first place?
The best place to start looking for film makeup jobs is your state’s film office. Simply do a Google search for “film office of (your state)”. If you don’t live in the United States, search for a film office of your country, or film production companies in your city.
Sounds super simple, right? Why isn’t everybody doing this?
Well, first of all, not many people know about the film offices. At least not in the makeup world. Secondly, going to the website is only the first step of a veeeeeerrry long process of getting your foot in the door. Remember my “easy way out” list from above? Yep, the film offices are your key to the step #2; working FOR FREE as an intern in non-union jobs.
Now that you’ve located the film office of your state (or production companies in your country/ city), you need to find their “resources” page. These pages list thousands of names on different departments, all who are either currently working in the biz, or hoping to work.
Here comes the tricky part: there’s no way for you to know who is working, and who is only hoping to work. Or who is working on union jobs and who isn't. Legally you can't be hired as an intern on union jobs. But don’t worry, I’ll tell you what to do next.
Word of warning before we move on though! Several of these websites allow you to list yourself as a resource, even with no experience. You can go ahead and do that, but do not expect to ever hear from anyone wanting to hire you! Producers tend to go to the people they know/ like/ trust, and they already have their info. If you think putting your name on a website will get you noticed, and working, you can stop reading this guide right now.
What you want to do instead is search crew listings for “makeup -Head of Department”, and “makeup -key artist” positions only, and send an email to every single makeup artist listed on those pages. If these are not listed, you should always email to whoever is in charge; producer or director. Your very last option should be info@xcompany email. Don’t give up if the website doesn’t list the contact email, you can always go back to Google and do some more digging.
Once you have the email address in hand, I want you to create a compelling, but concise, email about who you are, and why you’d love to work for them as an intern. Don’t write your life story, and most importantly DO NOT LIE about your experience. I once got an email from a girl I had never heard of before. On her resume she had listed herself as a key makeup artist for a movie I happened to be the department head of… Needless to say I never called her! I ran into another example of lying in a Facebook group recently. A young lady, who works as a national for a makeup brand, had posted photos of work that were done by very famous (think Bobbi Brown, Charlotte Tilbury) makeup artists all over her social media. She had ruthlessly taken credit for the work too! She got chewed up in that group pretty quickly. Word travels fast, don't ever lie.
Many of these artists/ producers/ directors, especially the ones that are working, are extremely busy and might not get to your email immediately. Don’t feel defeated if you don’t hear anything back in a week. As in any business, the fortune lies in the follow up! There aren’t many starting artists following up with the contacts. Don’t be one them! If this is really something you want to do, you have to be willing to do the work. Don’t be a pest, but follow up!
If you don’t hear anything after two weeks, send a nice little follow up email. Be sure to include that you want to work for free. We don’t get that offer often, and are always looking for help.
You might be wondering why didn’t I mention the film schools and their projects at the very beginning of this chapter. The truth is, universities and their film projects are a GREAT place to get experience, but their productions do not count towards your union hours.
“What are union hours, Ulla?”
More about this later, but shortly, makeup union is part of the larger union (IATSE) and they regulate who can work on the productions. If you want to get in the union, you need to work a certain amount of hours on set to qualify. But like I said, more on that later.
If you don’t feel ready to jump on a full blown production, definitely contact your local schools with film departments. You can never practice too much!
I know this is a lot of information to digest so there’s a handy little breakdown for you below.
And since you are my favorite person in the world for reading my guide, I have another surprise for you. You can get sample emails, both initial and follow up, directly to your mailbox by simply clicking right HERE. Yay for surprises!
CHAPTER 5: KIT BUILDING FOR DUMMIES
Now that you’ve started your outreach, and might “score” a job, you need to have a kit ready.
Even if you’re working as an intern, or as an additional artist for the background only, you will need to have your own products to use.
If you’re working on a paying job, you’ll most likely get some sort of kit rental fee. That fee is non-taxable. If you’re working as an intern though, please don’t go and ask for one. That won’t go over well. Trust me!
One thing that a lot of starting makeup artists do is buy a crap load of colorful, sparkly stuff. You might be tempted to buy every palette on the planet with your new found enthusiasm, but let’s be realistic!
Not only are there a very few jobs where you can use that bright orange “Pat McGrath”- style sparkle, here’s the shocking news: THE most important tool on set is a piece of paper towel.
Oooohhh, I can hear the silence! The crickets! The side eye with “Is she for real?”
Don’t believe me? Go ahead, ask any professional and they will tell you the same thing. THE most important tool on set is a piece of paper towel. Why? Because the majority of our job is to make sure people don’t look shiny, or sweaty, on camera. Blotting is what we mostly do.
Disposables are the number one necessity in your kit!
Things you should stock:
❊ paper towels
❊ wet wipes
❊ Q tips
❊ cotton rounds
❊ hand sanitizer
❊ disposable mascara wands
❊ disposable makeup sponges
❊ disposable lip brushes
These items don’t seem very exciting, or what you think of first when you start planning your kit, but these definitely should be the first you purchase.
Next comes your kit basics:
Since you never know the color/ shade/ undertone of the person you’ll be working with until they actually sit on your chair, I highly recommend learning color theory and how to mix your own colors.
For example MUFE (Make Up For Ever) has great liquid pigments to mix with practically any foundation to correct the color so it matches perfectly. This can be very confusing though if you’re not familiar with color theory. Let me give you an example.
I’m sure you’ve seen the videos of women using red lipstick under their eyes as a corrector. These videos were a big hit a couple of years back. All of a sudden I had people calling me asking if they should start using red under their eyes, or that they had tried it and had failed miserably and couldn’t understand why…
Had these ladies understood color theory, the first thing they would have paid attention to would’ve been the ethnicity of those women in these videos. They were ALL Indian/ Middle Eastern descent. And what is the base tone of their skin? Olive! What is the base color in olive? Green. Right again, great job! Can you guess what is the corrective color for green undertones? You got it, it’s RED.
So to all you crazy pinkish white women out there; don’t go slapping red under your eyes. Unless you want to look hungover or sick, that is.
So to all you crazy pinkish white women out there; don’t go slapping red under your eyes. Unless you want to look hungover or sick, that is.
Even if you’re not pinkishly white, you should consider using something besides red under your eyes. Whether you’re African, South European, or Scandinavian descent, your undertone most likely is not green.
Here’s my quick, easy color theory lesson for you. To figure out the undertone of any person, simply look at the inside of their arm to see what color their veins appear to be. If they appear blue, your correcting color should be orange, if they appear purple, the correcting color should be yellow and if they appear green, only then should the correcting color be red. Even then I would be very cautious to use pure red, there are many orange correctors that have a lot of red in them. Plus most concealers today are high pigment enough to cover whatever maybe going on under your eyes.
What kind of foundations and concealers should you get?
I recommend starting with a cream foundation palette like this one from RCMA: http://www.rcmamakeup.net/vk-palette-10.html#.WlZnPSPMzJ8
These foundations are extremely highly pigmented which makes them very versatile. You can use them as is as a foundation or concealer. Or you can mix the foundation with moisturizer to make it more of a tinted moisturizer texture/ coverage.
You might be gasping for air at the price of those palettes, but you’ll get a whole lot of product for that price. Plus it’ll be much easier to carry with you than 15 bottles of liquid foundation.
Palettes are the way to go with pretty much the rest of your kit too!
Investing in a couple of great, versatile powder, eyeshadow, blush and lipstick palettes will keep you going for a long time. Not only are they much more convenient to carry around, they’ll be much easier to keep sanitized too.
You don’t, and I repeat, YOU DON’T need a crap load of crap to get started in the industry. If you invest in your disposables, and quality palettes at first, you are more than ready to do the jobs. Once you start making money, you can start adding to your kit individual shadows, lipsticks and other trinkets but for now, steer your eyes away from all the pretty sparklies that you won’t need.
You can get my recommendation for your full kit, cost included, with links to disounts and where to buy from
CHAPTER 6: WORKING ON A SET, MAKING MONEY AND HOW TO BUDGET
There’s no business like show business
Now we’re finally getting to business! SHOW BUSINESS that is! This right here is my baby, my love, my life for 20+ years.
This biz requires the most grit and endurance. It’s like a never-ending marathon that you can’t stop. Sounds pleasant, doesn’t it?
It’s also the most rewarding if you are into character creation and seeing your work come to life on a big screen. You can rub elbows with A-listers, attend premiere screening events, have secret alias phone numbers on your phone, work 90-100 hrs a week, sit on a swamp at 2 am with the said A-lister both missing your kids… Ooops, getting sidetracked here.
Life on a set is amazing, but can also be incredibly grueling and tiring. Usually you get to work with the most wonderful, most loving and caring people you’ve ever met. The crew becomes your family. You spend so much time together, you forget you have a life outside the set. You get to immerse yourself into creating a make-believe world where anything is possible. And then watch it come to life in front of your eyes at a movie theater!
Although I have painted a picture that makes you think we live in a Hollywood blockbuster, there’s A LOT of things that you need to know before you can fully function as a distributing member of our secret society. You can’t just show up and think that because you went to school and practiced on 10,000 faces, you’re a pro now. Here are a few things that need to make absolute sense to you before ever stepping a foot on set:
HOW TO DRESS AND BEHAVE ON SET
Yeah, yeah, there I go again yelling in all caps, but the last point is THE most important. You can’t be your outrageous self on set. You know, because it ain’t about you…
Let me tell you a little story about an Academy Award-winning makeup artist. This person is seriously talented, otherwise they wouldn’t have won an Oscar!
This makeup artist was extremely ugly to others though… they would curse out anyone, talk behind people’s back, backstab you at any given moment for any given reason. Until one unfortunate day this person’s luck ran out. The artist was behaving as if the world owed them something on set and the producers finally had it. THE PRODUCERS! You gotta be pretty god damn bad for the producers to tell you they’ve had it. This means you’ve already burnt through fellow artists, actors and the director… The producers wanted this person off the set immediately. The artist refused to leave… Yep, you read that right. The artist REFUSED to leave. Can you guess what happened next? The production called the police to remove this defiant artist off the set.
Producers who’ve had it with the temper tantrums
Police called to set
That doesn’t look too good on your resume, does it? Needless to say, this artist not only got fired from the job on that particular movie, the agent let the artist go, and the last I heard this artist hasn’t worked a single film since and is frowned upon even in retail settings.
This is an extreme example, but it shows you the power of social skills that are required to operate in film industry. It doesn’t matter how incredibly talented/ skilled you are with makeup, if you’re not pleasant to work with, you won’t be working in the business for long. Even if you’ve won an Oscar.
I don’t have any crazy stories about people dressing weird on set, but I’ve seen some stuff. Please don’t show up on a full length, bright orange chiffon dress in high heels. There’s a thing called “set chic”, and that’s not it.
Set is not the place to show off your fashion sense, so your safest bet is to wear something black, and comfortable. Especially the shoes! You need to be able to walk in them for 16 hrs straight. Plus most productions require you to wear closed toe shoes anyway.
As for the rest of the items on that “need to know” -list of mine... I could write another guide simply about those, so here they are very shortly noted:
Call time = time you need to be ready to work
This doesn’t mean the time you need to show up. This is the time you have already set up and are ready to roll. Generally speaking, if you’re not 15 minutes early, you’re already late.
Call sheet = tells you everything you need to know about that day of filming Among other things it tells you scenes you’ll be shooting, the location, and the
actors. You’ll find your call time on the call sheet too.
Script breakdown = what every scene in the film will look like
This is a very vague explanation, but there’s no other way to make it short. Continuity = what each actor/ actress looks like in the each scene
This is probably the most important skill you can master. You will have to document each scene, in the order it happens, to make sure the actor looks the same on each take and each day you’re filming.
Like I said, these are VERY short descriptions of the terms. I go through them extensively in my course, but for now it's time to move on.
WHAT SHOULD YOU EXPECT ON YOUR FIRST JOB ON A SET?
Very often I hear how the life on a set must be very glamorous...
This will get you the most facetious answer from me, ever. Because people’s idea of a movie set couldn’t be further from the truth.
You should expect to
❊ Go to work a-hole early. I’m talking 3.30 am early
❊ Hurry up and wait pretty much all day
❊ Work 14-16 hour days, often 6 days a week
❊ Not know what time you get off, or what time you go to work the next day, until production is wrapped for that day.
Let me give you an example of a regular day on set:
We come to work, set up our stations, and have breakfast. We will get the final revised call sheet and sides for that day so we will know exactly what we’re doing, and who we are working with.
After about 30 mins to an hour the first talent shows up and we’ll start the process of getting their hair and makeup done. During this time the P.A’s and A.D’s will ask you to give the time estimate of how long it’ll take you to complete the look. I will always add 10-15 mins to my estimate, just to be safe! You don’t want the camera waiting for you.
When all the talent is ready for the first scene, it’s time to go to the set. We have to be there during the entire time of filming, because we have to make sure each person looks exactly the same at the beginning of the shot. Most of the time this means blotting, but many times it also means reapplying the lipstick because the actress drank/ ate on the scene, or there was kissing going on, or it’s a scene where we’re pumping blood and the actor needs to be cleaned up. Each scene is shot multiple times, often from multiple angles. We also have to document (take pictures) what every person looks like at the beginning of each scene. I have made a mistake of parting someone’s hair on the wrong side because I forgot to take continuity photos... Talk about face palm moment when I saw the film. Learned my lesson for sure! I’ve been very stringent about my continuity since.
There is hardly ever a day when the same actors are on all the scenes for the day. Usually actors come in at different times of the day. When the next set of the talent comes in for the day, at least one person stays to cover the set, and the other(s) go back to the basecamp/ trailer to get the next people ready.
We break for lunch 6 hrs after crew call, and after lunch we will have to touch up all the actors. Then it’s back to set until wrap.
As you can see, there’s not a whole lot fabulous glamour going on. It is very scheduled, "very stick with the plan kind of world". SO HOW CAN YOU HELP?
You have found your internship opportunity, and are ready to make the best impression. What should you do once you are on set?
You should be willing to help with WHATEVER the department head/ key/ any other mua needs. Those active listening skills come in very handy here. If you hear someone talk about how she needs to get something to the post office, but doesn’t have time to get there during business hours, offer to take care of it for her. You won’t be stuck on set for 16 hrs interning, you can go after 8 hrs. Take care of things for people who are stuck there. This has absolutely nothing to do with makeup, but like I said in the beginning, this job is more about your personality than your makeup skills.
Jump in the opportunities to help. Move tables, carry set bags, cut up paper towels, set up chairs, ask if you can wrap up the other mua’s stations at the end of the day etc. You get the picture. When you are on set, learn HOW to be there. Don’t worry about makeup at first. Listen and learn what other artists are doing. Don’t question why they want you to do something, simply go and do it. You also need to jump on the opportunities to be on a set. We don’t know our schedules weeks ahead; if someone calls you to come to set tomorrow, tell them heck yeah, and then figure out how to reschedule/ cancel whatever else you had in your calendar.
The last piece of advice on how to help is BE QUIET AND DON’T GET IN THE WAY. We don’t want to see or hear you on the screen, or have people tripping over you. Be super helpful, but quietly invisible. Like Batman.
Moving on. LET’S TALK UNION
What the heck is IATSE anyway?
This is directly from their website, couldn’t have said it better myself:
"The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada was founded in 1893 when representatives of stagehands working in eleven cities met in New York and pledged to support each others’ efforts to establish fair wages and working conditions for their members."
IATSE has several “local unions” (more from their website)
"Each local functions independently, maintaining their own Constitution and By- Laws, elections, dues structure, membership meetings, and more. Locals negotiate labor contracts regarding wages, work rules, and grievance procedures. They also provide services to their members by administering health and retirement funds and providing training and education. The IATSE local unions work for the interest of their membership, while also representing the overarching goals of the IATSE International."
For makeup and hair we have 2 main locals, Local 798 for east and Local 706 for west coast.
Each has their own requirements how to join:
Local 798 covers a very large jurisdiction (several states), whereas 706 only covers Los Angeles. If your state doesn’t fall under either, don’t freak out, you’ll be able to get on a set too. Plus many states are right-to-work states anyway, meaning productions can hire you even if you’re not part of a union.
WHY SHOULD YOU CONSIDER UNION?
Even if you live in a right-to-work state, being a union member is a huge benefit. They will negotiate the salaries, retirement benefits, health benefits, retirement savings etc for you. They will make sure you don’t work too many hours back to back, and even make productions pay a penalty if you can’t eat your lunch.
There is a lot more info than I can possibly fit in this guide, but I hope you have a general understanding now what a union is.
That's a lot of dry info right there. I'm sure your brain left me long time ago, so I figured I'd throw a picture of pretty brushes here to wake you up.
SHOW ME THE MONEY!
Time to talk about money, honey.
Like I mentioned earlier, you SHOULD NOT be working for free outside interning on a movie set. After you feel like you’ve practiced enough (although you can never practice too much), you have enough photos in your portfolio, and are getting paid gigs on sets, you absolutely need to start saying no to free stuff. There will always be a gazillion and one directors, photographers, other muas etc who’d like you to work for free. But we all have bills to pay, so I’m here to tell you it is OK to say no to free work.
Our profession is very often seen as “oh, she likes to do makeup, she could do it for free” -industry. But if you’re a kindergarten teacher, I would never ask you to watch my kids for free because “you like kids so much you made it your profession”. So stick to your guns, girlfriend, and stop doing makeup for free once you’re established. If someone tries to guilt you into it, they’re not worth your time!
What should you expect to get paid?
As you see, we get paid pretty damn good once you get to the point of getting paid gigs. Until then I want you to keep on hustling at the makeup counter so you can pay your bills, and keep practicing. Even after you start getting paid gigs, you have to be careful how you spend your money, because we are freelancers and there will be times when you are not working 5 days a week.
WHAT ABOUT THAT BUDGET?
I know you are anxiously waiting for my explanation on how to budget your money. Or not. If your first instinct to word “budget” is to vomit, I feel ya. I wasn’t always very good with money either. There were times when I had to tell the landlord that my rent would be a few days late, or had to borrow money so I could pay back someone else whom I had hit up for money. And don’t even get me started on credit cards!
But it doesn’t have to be that way!
I was taught all the basics of budgeting in school. I was lucky. I just didn’t implement anything. I wanted to spend my money on more makeup than I could ever use. Here’s a good spot for the old saying “Don’t do as I did, do as I say”!
This doesn’t have to be a miserable, “I-will-never-buy-anything-in-my-life-again”, experience. You can still buy that eyeshadow you love so much! You just shouldn’t buy 50 of them at once. You might be wondering what all this have to do with makeup, or working on set, but this right here is EVERYTHING. You remember what I said in the beginning? “Makeup artists are notoriously bad at money and business”... I’ll be damned if I let you be one of them!
Here’s an extremely easy example how to budget your money monthly. This works for ANYONE, not just us makeup artists.
FIXED COST (rent, utilities, debt etc) 50-60%
INVESTMENTS (401k etc) 10%
SAVINGS (vacay, house down payment etc) 5-10% S
PENDING MONEY 25-30% (this right here needs to be GUILT free spending! Get that makeup, shoes, purse, whatever you want!)
Let’s break it down so you’ll see how easy it is.
Say you’ll make $2,000 a month after taxes. At least a thousand of that needs to go straight to your rent, utilities and other mandatory payments like debt. Then you’ll put $200 to your investment account. Don’t freak out! I know that sounds like a lot, but you’re gonna thank me in 30 years. Another $100-$200 is going to your savings, and you will still have $400-$600 to play with! That’s a lot of lipstick!
You have to be smart with your money. Especially when your money doesn’t come in at the same rate every month. If you know you’ll be on a movie set for the next six months and you’ll average $8,000 a month, for the love of God, put away more than 10%. In fact you should budget so that whatever you make during that 6 months will last you the entire year. Because eating cold food in candlelight is not fun in December.
Now, I’m no expert in this, and totally stole that budget example from a financial superhero: Ramit Sethi. You need to go and buy his book like yesterday! Read it, start implementing it, read it again, and like I said, thank me in 30 yrs.
Dude, the book is only $7.31 as a Kindle version, get it NOW!!! Right HERE
I know this chapter has been super packed with information and your artsy fartsy brain is in desperate need for some lighter info so I will talk about social media next. YAY, pretty pictures!
CHAPTER 7: SOCIAL MEDIA AND FILM INDUSTRY
Instagram (or any other social media) is for the birds in film industry. Pretty harsh comment, isn't it?
Social media has taken over our lives at very rapid speed. You can find gazillion and one makeup enthusiasts in YouTube and Instagram. There’s one problem with these people though...
I might sound old and bitter for saying that but I do have a GOOD point, I promise. Let me explain.
What I like to call “The Age of Instagram” makeup artists are everywhere! You know those above mentioned artists from YouTube and IG that are extremely talented at putting makeup on themselves. Read those last few words again: “putting on makeup on THEMSELVES”... There’s that one problem.
No matter how talented you are at applying makeup on yourself, it is completely different ballgame to be doing the same on a large variety of shapes and shades of faces. We see this on and on again on a set. You might think you’re a great makeup artist when you can hit those contour colors just right on your own face, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Check out this true life story from a professional model, Mick Szal. All I can say is SCARY!
Another thing you don’t learn from putting makeup on your own face is the social skills needed for this job. The person sitting in your chair needs to go out to the world looking the way YOU present her (or him). Put yourself in their shoes for a second.
You sit down on a chair. You have a huge, make it or break it, photoshoot ahead of you, and in walks a makeup artist you don’t know at all... You try to maintain your calm but you’re secretly sweating bullets. You’ve had some bad experiences in the past where the mua never asked you what YOU like or what features you like to enhance. You try to strike up a conversation, and without sounding condescending try to figure out if this person has done your type of skin/ coloring/ ethnicity before. You tell her what you usually use, and how you like things done. It’s absolutely not your intention but the makeup artist becomes defensive and stops talking to you. You can tell by the look on her face she’s offended. But it’s not her, it’s you who has to be in front of that camera. Why is she making this about her? Isn’t she supposed to be there supporting you, not the other way around?
See what I’m talking about here? Way too often we as makeup artists only think about what kind of photos we can have for our portfolio from this shoot, or what would look the best on someone ever asking what they like.
Many people come running to you for advice, but when you are creating a character, whether it’s a bride, a monster, or a fashion look, you need to be working with the person sitting in your chair. You have to be asking them a lot of questions. Why? Because it ain’t about you!
As much as you LOVE seeing the pictures and videos of fab cut creases, when you work in the film industry, you can’t post your work. You’ll actually have to sign a piece of paper saying exactly that. If you go check out my Insta feed, you’ll see I have some very random photos from set, but you’ll never see me posting anything current that might reveal even the smallest detail about the project. Productions are extremely protective of their talent and project, and don’t want it to be blasted to the www before its official release date. On the biggest feature productions you often can’t even bring your phone on the set, you have to leave it in the trailer.
I’m not saying you should delete all social media accounts from your phone immediately. If you’re smart, you can find some serious inspiration from many accounts. But you have to be choosy and only follow the people who show makeup looks on faces other than their own. I don’t care what anyone says, if you put makeup on your own face, it’s not the same. It just isn’t. Many productions have found this out the hard way. I hope that trend ends soon. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
I personally LOVE following Danessa Myricks and Jordan Liberty. Not only are their looks super polished and beautiful, both of their stories are extremely inspirational. Their work is not for TV or film, but these two individuals are here to inspire and help other artists, you should absolutely follow their accounts for inspiration. Notice how I said their LOOKS, not “look”. That’s the difference between a real artist and a wanna-be. You can easily master one look on one face, but it takes real talent, tenacity, and years of practice to master all of them on all kinds of faces.
I heard this really amazing podcast interview (Scandalous Beauty) with Danessa, and I love what she has to say about social media. You can listen to it here. You’ll also hear her awesome sauce story how she ended up in makeup. She’s so funny, relatable and sweet! https://www.danessamyricksbeauty.com
Much like Danessa, Jordan got started in the industry kind of by accident. I’m in love with his YouTube channel! He’s one of the few artists that I follow in more than one social media. Not only are his looks extremely multidimensional and clean, his videos freakin ROCK! I want to be Jordan when I grow up. http://www.jordanliberty.com
Simply summarized: Use social media for inspiration, not as a bible!
All those influencers are starting to look exatly the same. Why fit in when you were born to stand out!
CHAPTER 8: SHOULD I BE DOING HAIR?
Short answer is hell to the YES! Although you can only do one (makeup or hair) as a union member, you should absolutely, positively know how to do hair. Not only styling, but you should know colour, cuts, barbering and wig making. Let me tell you a story.
I’m aimlessly pacing back and forth on set of some uber boring drug commercial when I get a phone call. Oh yeah, btw, sometimes we do uber boring jobs too... The caller is one of my favorite hairstylists in the industry so I walk out and take the call. After about 2 minutes of curse words she finally blurts out: “SOS! We have a wig emergency! I told “Sam” “I’m going to bed, he needs his ass to call you.” Long story short, I get a call from him not much later and he’s begging me to come and do something with their problem wig.
When you’re shooting a TV series and the wig in question is so bad it makes other actors forget their lines, there’s no time to waste. I went to their set the very next day. I knew someone out there was in trouble. What I did not know was the REAL depth of problems with this wig... Check this out:
“What the hell is that?” is right! I bet you’ve never seen a wig like that. Neither had I!
The poor actress had paid over $3,000 for this out her own pocket! She thought she had bought a real medical wig. It was sold to her as the best there is.
That’s some crazy shit right there! Dude, I almost died when I saw the damn thing. It’s seriously like someone went to Party City, slapped a piece of latex on the inside and called it a medical wig. “What should I do with this?”, my friend asked. I told him my best advice would be to use a blow torch on it.
I would never say this in front of the actress! She wanted me there for a solution, not to tell her she had made a huge mistake or to scold here. Remember, this ain’t about us!
I gently told her that unfortunately I could not refront the wig in question and that the best option would be for me to make her a completely new wig. Off we rode to the sunset with unicorns vomiting sparkles and rainbows.
This story luckily ended well, but that was not the point I wanted to give you. My main point here is that at the time of writing this guide, I’m the only wig master in the state I live in. That’s pretty crazy too! We don’t have nearly enough true wig masters in the United States, so if you want a real competitive edge to your career, learn how to do all three: makeup, hair and wigs. You’ll be able to pick and choose the jobs you want. Who doesn’t love that!
If hair is in your future, I strongly suggest you check out my dear friend Dana Boisseau’s movie styling courses: https://www.queenhollywoodsouth.com/atelier
CHAPTER 9: SUMMARY
Whaaatt?! You read the whole thing? As my husband, and many more southerners would say, YEAH YOU RIGHT!
First of all, THANK YOU, for reading my guide. And second, CONGRATULATIONS! You are now well on your way to becoming a money making movie makeup machine. See, no tutorials were needed! We should have drinks!
To recap this entire guide, here are your 10 action steps:
1. Find a school or course that teaches specifically makeup
2. Practice, practice, practice
3. Find the film offices
4. Send out emails to all the department heads and key makeup artists 5. Repeat steps 2 & 4 as many times as needed
6. Get a job as an intern
7. Use your active listening skills on set, and impress everyone with your helpfulness
8. Be Batman
9. Repeat steps 2, 4, and 6-8
10. Get a paid job on set as a mua
I love you to the moon and back for giving me the opportunity to share what I have learned during my many years as a makeup artist.