Deadly Ever After

Archive for the tag “life on movie sets”

My Life As A Makeup Artist

Today’s Brew: Blueberry, as usual. Lukewarm because it’s muggier than a dog’s armpit.

by Kristen

I thought this might be a fun post, because a lot of people ask me about my job.  I am a freelance makeup artist. You might think that means I walk around with a magic wand, spreading glitter and beauty to everything I touch. This is partly true, but it has nothing to do with what I do for work.

So let me tell you about it.  Like I said, I’m a freelance makeup artist. I work for myself, but I rely on clients hiring me for their productions.  Sometimes I work on movie sets, TV shows, commercials, or do corporate videos. I’m a member of a union, Local 798, which is the east coast hair and makeup division of IATSE, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

Movies seem to interest people the most.  Movies are long, long days requiring a lot of people to make things come together. I typically day play, which means I go in when there are scenes with a lot of background actors, aka extras, and help get them ready and keep them looking good. Sometimes, if we’re shooting present day, that is ridiculously easy. If it’s a period piece or a wedding scene, we have a lot more work to do. For example, on RIPD, we had a scene were there were “deados” from every decade of the 20th century, so we had to make them look appropriate for their specific period. Usually, we’re in the 70’s, 80’s, or 90’s for period work. The most fun part of that is dissecting the era, if it was 1983 in rural Maine, chances are, we’d really be doing a late 70’s look.

Sometimes I work on featured actors, I rarely key long term projects. I’ve been asked, but I prefer to to day play. That means while there are plenty of A-listers on the set of the films, I don’t work on them. I typically don’t talk to them, either, unless I’m working with them directly or I’m brought into the conversation. (EDIT: This has changed, since I’ve been working more on movies lately. Now I’ve worked directly with a few more A-listers, but I’m usually covering them on set, doing touch ups. Everyone’s been very nice, but it’s nerve-wracking as hell!)

We stay on set all day. Our days typically start before dawn and last 12 to 14 hours. We go in between takes to do touchups, or get actors ready throughout the day when they are called in.

TV shows can be like this, if it’s a big series show, but a lot of cable shows come to Boston, usually travel shows, and they’re much smaller productions. If I work on something like that, I’m typically responsible for the host, and just touching up anyone else that is on camera.

Commercials again can be similar to movie sets, if they’re big companies and national campaigns, or they can be a guy talking about his business against a green screen.  On commericals, I can be responsible for the main talent, the supporting actors, or just the background. It all depends on the size of the commercial.

Corporate work sounds boring, but it’s easy and it pays well. These are web videos, training videos, internal videos, and sales videos.

I do some weddings, but I’ve never been able to concentrate on putting together a proper business model because I’ve been too busy with production work. I’m fine with this, I like having weekends free, especially now that I’m going to writing events.

There is no typical day. However, it’s not very often I’m hired to make people “pretty.” I’m usually hired so you don’t even know I’m there. To make people look naturally good, to even out skin tone, to take out shine, and in the summer, to control sweat. Gross, isn’t it?

Where do I work? Typically in the Boston area, but all over New England. I very rarely get asked to go to New York, because they have so many artists there. Sometimes I go to New Jersey or Pennsylvania. The farthest I’ve gone is Arizona in the US and England internationally.

What were your favorite jobs? I worked Superbowl week in 2008 for ESPN, I worked for Farm Aid, and I worked election night at Romney HQ. All of them were amazing experiences.


How did I get in this?  I couldn’t stand working in retail management another second, and signed up for cosmetology school. I quickly realized two things: I didn’t want to work in a salon, and I enjoyed makeup way more than hair. I headed to California, and took specialized makeup classes, then came home and worked my ass off until I had clients.

My big break came around noon one day. I was scheduled to close Piercing Pagoda that night, and someone cold called me and asked me to come in and help with background actors on a movie called The Box. They’d exhausted union options, and were pretty much desperate for hands. They needed me at 4 PM. After some thought, I called in to the Pag and went to the movie. Best decision I ever made. I made a good impression on the other artists, and they’ve been calling me ever since.

How do I find jobs? They find me, now. I get jobs by word of mouth and referrals. It took a long time to get to this place, and I am thankful for it. When I started, I would drop everything, like the scenario above, to go to work. Even today, I got a call for later this afternoon. Why not?  I combed the internet for every job I could find. I was eager and enthusiastic. I still am, I just don’t have to look for work anymore.
When do you work? Oh, if you can answer this question, you are better than I am. I work when I’m needed and stay until we’re done. I work more in the summer and fall than I do in the winter and spring. Sometimes I work 7 days a week, sometimes zero. We never know when we’ll get out, because we have to stay until we complete the job. This is why I can get so much book work done. For part of the year, I’m a full time writer, and I’m used to working extremely long hours until a project is completed.

Can I bring you to work? Have you wash my brushes or something? Or just watch?  No.

Don’t be a bitch, Kristen. Come on. No. Let me come hang out at your medical office and watch you work with patient files. Weird, isn’t it?  If I do need an extra set of hands, I have to hire an experienced artist. I need to trust they can do any facet of the job I need them to. I don’t have time to explain things on the fly.

How do you get paid?  Clients buy my day. They contract me for a certain amount of hours, and if they come in under that, they still pay the rate. If they go over it, they pay overtime. Those long hours don’t sound so bad anymore, do they?  I’m not a salon, I don’t schedule appointments. I book by the day because I can’t book another job once I sign on to a project for the day, no matter how short it is.

Wanna do my makeup just for fun?  Sure, after you have the time of your life doing my taxes, or whatever you do at work.

Do you like your job? Very much. I get to meet interesting people and see places the public doesn’t always get to see. Every day is different.

What’s your favorite makeup brand?  I don’t have one. Everyone does something well, and not all products are one size fit all. A primer isn’t going to work the same on a 20 year old as it will her grandmother, as it is an someone of another race.

If I become a super famous author, will I give up doing makeup? I don’t think I’ll ever quit totally. I would like for writing to give me the freedom to say no when I want or need time off to do other things.


And now you know what I do all day. 🙂



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