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Advice for Working on Set

My good friend Matt Morelli from Frends Beauty recently gave me an opportunity to write a guest blog about set etiquette. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, taking notes, and learning new things continuously. I finally put it all into one big, cohesive piece of writing and I am happy to share it.

This article is a labor of love – it may seem harsh at times, but it is all of the things I wish someone had told me when I first got started in this business. As you read this, you may learn a lot, you may only learn a little, but hopefully you’ll gain some perspective on this industry, and as you move about the set, you will be confident in your professionalism. Some of this advice will sound like common sense, but all of it has been learned on the job; through a kind mentor, by watching and observing, or the hard way, being reprimanded by a seasoned crew member! This article is intended for artists who have an interest in working on film, TV, or commercial sets, or artists who are already getting started as a day player and want to soak up knowledge of this exciting new world like a sponge.

Advice for working on set:

Do not be overly comfortable – always watch and err on the side of caution. Never assume that anything is yours to touch, play with, etc. Ask questions, and listen more than you talk.

Get to know your call sheet, and read it thoroughly. It contains a plethora of information that will serve you well. What is my call time? Where is crew parking? Where is base camp? Are we shooting interiors or exteriors?

Get to know your paperwork. Most new jobs will give you the same or similar start paperwork, so try to be prepared with all of the needed information. Take a snapshot of your time card to help you remember how to fill it out correctly in the future. Look up a cheat sheet for recording your hours in military time.

Familiarize yourself with the daily “sides”. Sides are the pocket sized, printed pages of the script that contain the scenes that are being shot that day.

Be prepared for all different types of weather. Have some emergency items in your car, invest in raingear, and a pair of waterproof shoes or boots.

Sometimes it is appropriate to have a small, portable chair to bring to set. Ask your department head if you should bring one. There are many affordable, lightweight options available at sporting goods stores.

Being on time is being 15 minutes early.

In the trailer – set up your station and stand ready to greet / make up actors. Do not sit when you have talent arriving or talent going through other artist’s chairs!

Don’t be weird around actors. You’re at work, not working to get good Instagram pictures.

Spend a minimal amount of time on your phone, even if your Dept Head and Key use theirs often. You don’t know what they are using theirs for, and it really doesn’t matter anyway. It’s none of your business.

Listen more than you talk – it’s not about you.

Ask what you can do to help, then do it.

Bring a small, but comprehensive makeup kit. A large set bag filled with a little bit of everything is the holy grail. Do not expect other people to provide a kit, but try to take up as little space as possible with your day player kit.

Same goes for on set — try to have a small footprint, other people are working all around you and it looks ridiculous when HMU is camped out, looking like they’re doing nothing (even though this is not true). I think it’s important to earn the respect of other departments. That means having a professional and easy to move set up. Take pride in your ability to be clever. As artists we are constantly reassessing our kits and making them better, more condensed, more comprehensive. Use this inventiveness when thinking of ways to work efficiently.

Be aware, watch monitors when appropriate. If no one (actors) that you are watching is on camera, and video village is full of producers, necessary crew, etc. then you should excuse yourself (tell someone in your dept) that you are stepping away so you are not in the way.

Don’t complain – most of us are burnt out and overworked, and as a day player we need you to be optimistic and fresh. You don’t have to put on a fake happy attitude, but just remember that if you want to be here, you should not exude bitterness and a jaded attitude.

It is a powerful and emotional thing to be entrusted with someone’s face – never take it for granted.

Mind your own business. Other people’s conversations, phones, work talk, is not for you. Even if you are within earshot, don’t make unwanted comments, and pay attention to your own work. If you’re included, great! Being friendly and kind is a great way to meet people on set, eavesdropping is not.

Always stand up (if sitting) when introduced to someone.

You never know who someone is, or who they know. Word spreads fast, and this is a very small business. Be mindful of telling stories or voicing opinions about actors, shows, other artists etc. Always use cautious judgement.

Get to know the other departments on set, what they do, who they are. It’s always helpful to have a good relationship with the DP, and to be familiar with some of their terminology when it comes to lighting. Be respectful of other department’s time and space. The sound department may not want you trying to touch up an actor while they are adjusting a wire. When in doubt, ask.

Familiarize yourself with film set terminology. There are many books and websites that will explain all of the different departments, as well as film set lingo.

Take responsibility when things go awry, and do not throw other people under the bus. Handle issues professionally and calmly, be all about solutions, not blame.

Kit inventory – Most jobs will pay you a kit fee or kit rental fee. Save yourself some time by typing this up in advance and keeping a copy in your kit, or having it accessible to print from your phone.

Do your research on the project that you’re working on. If it’s film or TV, familiarize yourself with the actors so you’re familiar with the cast. Look up the other artists on the call sheet if you’re curious about the kind of work they do. There are a few inexpensive continuity apps available for your phone, they may make it easier to keep track of the cast, and serve as a quick reference throughout the day.

Maintain integrity. Own up to your mistakes, accept compliments, do your personal best each day, and you will rarely have any professional regrets.Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep, drink lots of water, and stash protein bars in your set bag to battle a drop in blood sugar.Finally, one of my absolute favorite quotes, some wonderful words for both our personal and professional lives.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

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Everything but the kitchen sink (2014)

2014 was good to me, in ways that were both unexpected and long striven for. Of course, I wish I had done more, written more, read more…but that’s the way it is every year.  Instead of regret, I have so many things that I’ve been a part of, or learned, or people who I’ve met who have made this year a great one. So, here is my post that attempts to wrap it all up, and look towards even greater things in 2015!

The fun stuff: CONTAINERS!

If you know me, then you know I have an affinity for containers, large and small. I am always searching dollar stores, craft stores, art stores, home stores, for the latest and greatest magical container that can be used for makeup purposes. Check out the picture for some of my favorites from this year. Palette paper, by Royal and Langnickel. These were at Joann Fabrics for $1, perfect 5×7 size for a quick, disposable palette, and you can even leave some product on them and fold them up for touchups later. I keep a pad in my set bag. Semi-clear zipper bags from Blick. The ladies of Cirque FX introduced these to me, and they’ve become a staple in my kit for quick organizing. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and of course, are more affordable than most similar “makeup” bags. Pill boxes for creams. In an effort to condense my day-checker set kit even more, I made teeny-tiny cream palettes out of pill boxes. Sun – Sat, they were 7 for $1 at Dollar Tree. Lightweight, tiny, and just enough product to cover a variety of sins, in a pinch. Slider pencil boxes – for keeping brushes, pencils, tools, etc. Great for keeping brushes CLEAN, and separated for different actors. Blocks of asian market kitchen sponges! These look just like blonde stipple sponges, and guess what? I cut them into different shapes and used them for some fx, they worked just as well as the tried and true version. Two of the best containers and gifts I’ve received this year. I have to brag a little, my friend Chris is the Special Makeup Effects head on Chicago Fire, and he custom made these two-well brush / cup holders for us. I love it! The other ceramic piece is a beautiful handmade pottery bowl that I use for brushes, a gift from my boss on Chicago Fire.

Irresistible container fun

Irresistible container fun

Pillboxes

Teeny Tiny makeup boxes

The artsy stuff: Inspiration.

Japan. I have a somewhat new love of Japanese things. Maybe it started with makeup – Hakuhodo brushes are the most luxurious I’ve ever touched, and Koh Gen Do makes the most perfect foundation I’ve ever applied. But this year it became more of a “thing”. I’d go to an antique store and leave with a beautiful, campy, 1960’s paint-by-number Geisha. Then I found a small vintage decorative lamp, a little tableau of a woman standing on a bridge. It didn’t help that some friends in Las Vegas opened a perfect, Japanese styled, members only cocktail bar, a refuge overlooking Fremont East. That just fueled the fire, and now it’s becoming an obsession, maybe. I’ve started daydreaming about going to Japan someday, and looking up images of Buddhist temples in Kyoto, and Tokyo alleyways. And finally, sake. Delectable, cloudy, unfiltered Nigori sake.  Just because it’s delicious.

Like a dream

Like a dream

Tokyo alley

Colorful inspiration

Museums. I’ve always loved museums, but this year in particular I’ve been thinking a lot about the texture of paint, light and dark, chiaroscuro. My favorite painting resides at the Art Institute here in Chicago (lucky me!), it is called “Resting”, by Antonio Mancini. When I talk about makeup, I find myself going back to the idea of light and shadow. So much of what we do as makeup artists is about light, and how it plays on the face. Understanding the art of lighting is something I’ve been working on, and hopefully learning from the talented professionals that I work with. This painting is so inspiring to me because it is a perfect example of how a blob of white paint means light, and the most subtle brushstroke reads as the plane of a woman’s face. I love how it demonstrates using paint in just the right way to convey light and shadow.

Resting, Antonio Mancini

Resting, Antonio Mancini

Italy. Cheating a little, these images are from 2012, but I absolutely fell in love with this series by Giampaolo Sgura of “Italian family” life, for Dolce & Gabbana. I have very little interest in fashion, but occasionally I’ll find certain images so arresting, intriguing, fantastic, etc. that they grab my attention and hold it. I love this campaign because of the over-the-top, character or caricature? aesthetic, and pure, old school Italian glamour. I also think Monica Belluci is the most beautiful woman alive.

Viva Italia!

Viva Italia!

The deep stuff: What the hell did I learn?!?

Professionally, I’ve experienced highs and lows this year. From this I’ve learned that neither one should define me, and that empty praise can be just as damaging as negative feedback. Having a true sense of artistic purpose is the only way I’ve found to combat the over inflated pride or the unnecessary devastation that sometimes comes with other people’s opinions. Also worth noting, you will probably never catch me posting “#alwayslearning” or similar popular sentiments. Why? Because the negative things I went through at work this year broke me down, but changed me in some good ways too, and to say something like that feels trite. F*@$ yeah, I’m always learning. Is it hard? Sometimes heartbreakingly so. But it’s a given that as an artist, I’m a lifelong student, and I refuse to turn it into a dull hashtag.  On the flip side, I’ve never felt more connected to some of my fellow artists, and after years of knowing them I can say that I trust and respect them deeply, and that is an incredible feeling. I’ve also learned that “be yourself” is not just a mantra for the first day of school, it’s truly the only way to find yourself working where you are happy and fulfilled, with like minded artists.

So what do I want from this year? The same things I always want; to read more, write more, and make art. To spend time with the best people I know, eat great food, drink tasty drinks, travel to new places, and hopefully discover some fancy new containers along the way.

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Patience, Good Fortune, and Hard Work.

As of September 20th, 2014, I am a member of Studio Mechanics Local 476. In order to express just how damn cool this is to me, or how excited I am about all the new possibilities, I can only reference these events: Getting engaged (and married, of course), graduating from college, buying a house. Major life events! Getting voted into the union is on par with all of those. I started moving towards this goal sometime in 2010, with the warning advice from a fellow makeup artist, “expect it will take about five years.” At the time, five years seemed like an incredibly lengthy amount of time, for anything really, but I was grateful to have a realistic idea of the process.

How I felt when I heard that I made it into 476!

How I felt when I heard that I made it into 476!

How did this happen? I think, because of these things: Having a lot of patience and persistence, a strong dose of good fortune peppered throughout, and working hard every chance I get. I know some really lovely people who threw my name out there every chance they got, wrote letters to the union on my behalf, and gave me advice whenever they thought of something that could be useful. People who knew very little about me gave me a chance to get on set and prove myself. Not only that, they treated me better than they needed to, and taught me more than I could have hoped. Artists who are generous with their knowledge are worth their weight in gold.

The other thing that is a constant with me is that there is always a list. After every job, big or small, there is a mental or written list of the things I could do better next time, ways to consolidate my kit, new things to add to my kit, better ways to work with talent / clients. I am constantly self-assessing and evaluating my work — I am a harsh self critic.  I do possess a strong work ethic. During the slow periods, I feel like a complete loser for not booking more jobs. When things do finally pick up after a slow period, I am relentless. I clean my kit, restock, shop if needed, pack it up neatly, and do any research that may benefit my performance for the next job.

I try to keep in mind that this life is short and, “you can’t take it with you”. Money comes and goes, or as my friend Karina says, “Your last shirt has no pockets”, a German saying. This year (the very beginning of May) I worked my final shift as a bartender and leapt head first into being a full time makeup artist. Naturally, the weeks immediately following that major decision, work was really slow. Then summer came, and a slew of jobs with some of my favorite people, a few of whom I’ve known since my first days on set.

One of my summer jobs involved several local entrepreneurs. There were some common themes throughout the interviews, things that ring true and encourage me. Here are some of my favorites:
Be willing to work harder than anyone else you know.
Never give up.
Read voraciously.
Be brave.

As summer came to an end, I knew that things were going to change, for myself and all of the friends I’d been working with on a very regular basis. Lo and behold, “summer camp” ended and most of us were split up. Granted we all got on some really great jobs that have led to really great things, but I’m glad that I knew to appreciate all of the goofy, ridiculous things we got to do before summer ended. And now — I’m a union gal! On to my next adventures….

But first, how I spent my summer vacation:

At Cirque FX, bald capping is serious business!

At Cirque FX, bald capping is serious business!

Sometimes your job is to get on a bus with 100 dancers and ride around the city, touching up their lip gloss.

Just a regular day at work, on a bus with 100+ dancers, riding around the city, doing touch ups with my dear friend Cindy!

These guys.

These guys.

Sometimes you have to do important work on your phone, and sometimes you have to imitate #2ndcineboss while he's doing such things.

Sometimes you have to do important work on your phone, and sometimes you have to imitate #2ndcineboss while he’s doing such things.

Just because.

Ricky and I, just because.

...and the guilt trip that I gave Ricky when she got hired on Real World.

…and the guilt trip that I gave Ricky when she got hired on Real World.

Matt Hughes and I on Sinister 2, Pop Tarts are for sharing!

Matt Hughes and I on Sinister 2, Pop Tarts are for sharing!

Mallory and I, enjoying the sunset and having cute braids, out in the country on Sinister 2.

Mallory and I, enjoying the sunset and having cute braids, working out in the country.

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Product Post: Cleaning brushes

This is too cool not to share. All makeup artists have their preferred methods for cleaning, washing, shampooing, and sanitizing their brushes. Alcohol and brush cleaners are great in a pinch for killing germs and keeping things tidy on set. Many different brands make many different products designed to kill germs and clean your brushes, but I just want to share my current favorite method, and products.

Clean brush shampoo is a lovely product. Natural ingredients, and highly effective. Shampooing brushes is a process that normally involves getting the bristles wet, swishing them around in the solid shampoo, and then gently agitating the bristles. I do this in the palm of my hand, taking care not to damage the bristles while making sure to get them saturated with the shampoo. Powder makeup tends to come out of the bristles easier than cream makeup, and usually I just take extra time and care, rinsing and reapplying shampoo until the brushes are clean.

brushcleanerblog

Makeup artists LOVE any products that make our lives easier, save time, and are just plain cool and innovative. So when I was shopping for supplies at Target a few weeks ago, I was thrilled to discover a new toy. Roaming around the kitchen section, I spotted a little item called a Corn Scrub Brush. Palm sized, oval, with one side full of soft but densely packed almost-clear bristles. Perfect for cleaning brushes! I bought one and tried it out that night, cleaning my most stubborn red sable foundation brushes, tiny lip brushes, and synthetic bristle concealer brushes. It worked amazingly well! The color of the bristles makes it easy to see the makeup coming off the brush, and the softness of the scrubber doesn’t damage the soft hairs of the makeup brushes. It fits in the palm of my hand, and when I’m done cleaning brushes I give it a spritz of alcohol and let it air dry. Easy and effective!

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Character.

Why do I love what I do? On paper, I do makeup. My resume says I am a makeup artist, it lists the various jobs that I’ve done over the past few years, and neatly lays out my education and qualifications. It’s been six years since I had an epiphany about becoming a makeup artist, and in that time I have slowly and steadily practiced, learned, and earned a living as an artist. Clearly, I still love what I do. But I love more than just transforming faces, and applying product to skin, choosing colors and techniques. For me, it is about character.

When I was a little girl, I was a voracious reader. I would stay up late reading under the covers with a flashlight until my Mom would yell at me to go to bed. I devoured fiction more than anything, and I spent a great deal of time reading and re-reading descriptions of the characters. I couldn’t move past those introductions until I had a true, solid picture in my head of what the character looked like. I would take all of the detail the author provided, and mix it with faces I’d seen, until I could clearly see this person as I read their story.

Full of characters...

Full of characters…

When I started working in the commercial world I was exposed to new characters every time I booked a job. The outline is there, the dialogue, and of course, the product. I work within these parameters to build part of the physical manifestation of that character. Once I started working in film, I was a kid at Christmas. Fleshing out these characters and working with the director and actors was an incredible challenge and a rewarding, albeit exhausting, process. It’s the very best kind of work, for me. No one, single person can make it all make sense on screen, and I thoroughly enjoy my part of the process. Where is this character from? How was she raised, where does she work, is she happy, is her life hard, does she care about her appearance, does she drink or smoke? So many questions, and I take the answers (when I can get them) and turn them into a story on someone’s face. It’s not easy, in fact sometimes it’s extremely hard, but it is always seems to pay off in the end.

In the often discussed tv series True Detective, we watch the two main characters flip back and forth in time, over a seventeen year span. There are no less than eighteen makeup and hair artists listed for the series, all of whom are working under the direction of the Department Head, who has to design looks and come up with a plan to execute them with precision and continuity. The standout is the makeup for the character Detective Rust Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey. Not only has he been aged in an exceptionally realistic way, but there is a subtlety to every stage in which we see him that allows us to fully believe Cohle, without being distracted by the makeup.

Aging, tired, smoking alcoholic? But hey, perfect makeup!

Aging, tired, smoking alcoholic? But hey, perfect makeup!

Younger Rust Cohle, still surly, but less weathered.

Younger Rust Cohle, still surly, but less weathered.

I enjoy so much about my job, but it stretches beyond my makeup kit and paying attention to how an actor is holding up on screen. I am a sucker for a beautiful camera move, I am in awe over how things are lit, I will pause a scene to investigate a perfectly set vanity table, pointing out (maybe slightly annoying my husband) and appreciating the character’s “perfect” New Orleans go-cup next to a tube of lipstick, a flyer for a band, and so on and so forth. Someone else had to think about those things, and decide why this character would own these items, and how they would display them. I find it all endlessly fascinating. This world has its own language, and I love learning to read and understand what each department does to tell the story.

One of the True Detective sets. To read more about the amazing production design, read more here: http://www.vulture.com/2014/03/true-detective-alex-digerlando-set-design-props-interview.html

One of the True Detective sets. To read more about the amazing production design, read more here: http://www.vulture.com/2014/03/true-detective-alex-digerlando-set-design-props-interview.html

Sometimes, I think I need to be reined in. On a film last summer, I had an idea that a waitress character would apply her makeup so badly that she would have a line of demarcation along her jaw, where her cheap foundation didn’t match her skin. It worked, in theory. The character was strange, angry, and certainly not supposed to be attractive. Luckily, my wonderful assistant Kelly made an excellent point. The audience wouldn’t “get” that it was part of the character, it would simply look like BAD MAKEUP. Which led me to think, what are the audience’s visual and subconscious expectations of a character? How far is too far? When is an idea more distracting than helpful in fleshing out a persona? For example, realistic dirt and sweat on an actor is a great thing to do, but you usually aren’t supposed to detract from their beauty if they’re a lead actor. It becomes all about the careful placement of dirt, and the deliberate application of something that is supposed to look haphazard and organic.

I would never try to give Shelly a line of demarcation... a character from one of my favorite shows, full of interesting characters -- Twin Peaks.

I would never try to give Shelly a line of demarcation… a character from one of my favorite shows, full of interesting characters — Twin Peaks.

On set, I love all the moving parts, and the organized chaos that takes place in order to set up a shot. I love that everyone is under their own stresses, but trying their absolute best to do their best work, and come together seamlessly with all the other departments. I love when the shot is ready, and everyone is ready, and the actors are in place and then it’s STILLNESS and QUIET and it happens. As an introvert, I crave the built in break that comes every time the camera rolls. I love that “you guys, you know this is forever!” as one actress would excitedly / nervously joke before certain takes. I love that it is indeed forever, and then as soon as everyone is satisfied, we move on, and that specific shot and that specific angle and those moments with the actor are over and gone, and then everything starts moving again. The chaos takes over and everything is stripped down, and reset, and cleared out, and we just did something so fleeting, but we grabbed it forever.

As a ten year veteran of bartending, I’d come to realize how valuable those years really were, beyond the monetary gains. It was my job to pay attention to people. Whether or not I loved or hated them is irrelevant, it was all part of a lesson in character. It’s still my job to pay attention to people, now it just happens to be about fictional people as well as actual people. Oh, and there is far less real vomit involved.

No shortage of characters here! Gman Tavern, in Chicago.

No shortage of characters here! Gman Tavern, in Chicago.

Some of the things I most enjoy about my work make so much sense when I think about being a kid, reading way past my bedtime. I’ve always loved the details that make a character real; in books, tv, film, anything. I could go on about this subject ad infinitum, with examples from all of my favorites movies and tv shows, but I think I can stop here for now. One of the best things I’ve heard about finding what you want to do in life is this: Don’t do what you love, do your obsession. I’m pretty sure I am obsessed with character.

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Product Post: Fun with Containers

I recently had the enormous privilege of working as a day player on an episode of Chicago Fire. For this episode myself and my lovely fellow day players were tasked with making up over 100 background extras who needed some degree of blood and / or dust.

In the early, early morning the background came to see us for their first round of makeup, and we had to crank them out. They formed a line and we called them as quickly as we could get someone out of our chair and onto the next step in their process. After doing the initial makeup, we then spent the day keeping an eye on them on set, and running in to do touch ups whenever we could. For touch ups on a massive and busy set, you need to be prepared to do good work quickly, efficiently, and always making sure to stay out of everyone else’s way. For this, you not only need a system and good communication with your department, but also a few tricks up your sleeve.

I am a container junkie, I will wander the aisles of Home Depot, Michael’s, and of course, Container Store, looking for the next awesome item that I can use in my kit. When I was packing up the night before my first day on set, I tossed into my kit a small container designed for holding sliced cheese. It ended up being extremely useful on set.

This is how I packed the cheese container: One small travel sized container of cotton swabs, with the lid broken off so the swabs were easily accessible. Several makeup sponges, some with the ends ripped off so they could be used to achieve a more organic feel when applying makeup. Orange stipple sponge and black stipple sponge. All of these fit nice and snug in the body of the cheese container, but the real innovation was the lid. When doing touch ups I popped the lid open and poured a small amount of fake blood into the well created by keeping the lid open. This allowed me to hold the container in one hand, and use my other hand to grab tools from the cheese container or my set bag, and dip them into the blood to apply to background.

BloodContainerBlog

I used this little system for 6 days on set, and it worked really well. I still had a small set bag on at all times to hold the containers of blood, baby wipes, and other touch up materials needed, but the cheese container made it possible to jump from one person to the next very quickly, and with minimal mess. That’s my blood touch up trick, I’m sure the same container could be used for any number of different makeup artist purposes!

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IMATS Los Angeles 2014

One week ago I headed out west to the International Make-up Artist Trade Show (IMATS) in LA. This was my second year attending the show, and I took my notes from last year in order to be better prepared for this year’s madness. My notes, in short, read like this: “Shop first, shop fast, take as many classes as possible”. For those of you who have attended trade shows, especially ones in which there is a great deal of shopping direct from vendors, you know that it SUCKS. Maybe some people love it, but if you’re a bizarre, introverted type A like myself, the shopping part is sort of hell on earth.

Crowds and lines and elbows and huge shopping bags

Crowds and lines and elbows and huge shopping bags

See? Hellish, right?!? Opening night was pro-only, so my MUA friends (Crystal and Bek from Cirque FX, beauty artist Jen Brown) and I jumped right in with our shopping lists and cold hard cash. I stocked up on some long time favorites (Embryolisse products, a favorite mattifier, Crown brushes, Nurturing Force primer) and had a chance to see and handle some things I’ve been curious about (Linear Standby Belts, Vueset palettes, Viseart’s much beloved neutral eyeshadow palette). I squeezed my way in to say hello to my friends at the ever-swamped Frends booth, and elbowed my way in to say hi to my wonderful artist / educator friend Autumn, at the Crown Brush booth. Full disclosure, my travel companion Jen and I had a margarita before we hit the show. That is definitely going into my notes for next year, as a must do.

Martina & Jen wisely have a margarita before shopping

Martina & Jen wisely have a margarita before shopping

Vamping for Frends Beauty

Vamping for Frends Beauty

Day one of the IMATS began like this; strong coffee and long lines. Once we made it into the show, I headed straight to the education wing of the convention center, the place where you could visit the Makeup Museum, watch the “Battle of the Brushes” student competition, and take numerous classes from industry pros. The class I intended to sit for seemed to have been cancelled, and I found myself listening to Robin Mathews, the Dept. Head of Dallas Buyers Club. I was riveted. I sat down and started taking notes. Listening to her answer questions and talk about DBC with interviewer Joe Nazarro is truly worth a whole blog of its own, but I’ll do my best to sum it up.

Dallas Buyers Club cover of Make-Up Artist Magazine

Dallas Buyers Club cover of Make-Up Artist Magazine

Also worth a blog of its own is my obsession with character, and why that has led me to be passionate about film and tv makeup. For right now, I’ll try to focus. Dallas Buyers Club is an incredible feat of character makeup. Most people know that Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto lost weight to play their roles in the film, but most people do not know that it was shot in 28 days, on a relatively modest budget, with a handheld camera using ambient lighting. What does this mean to a makeup artist? It means camera was ready in 5 minutes, but makeup changes still take the same amount of time. Since the film was shot out of sequence (as most are) this also meant that during one shooting day the characters might have up to 5 different complete changes, and when you’re talking about people whose health deteriorates drastically, these are important and very particular looks. Because of the severe time constraints, Mathews and her team used old school, tried and true methods to add and take away weight. Plumping the face with reverse highlight and contour to add pounds, and using in depth knowledge of human facial anatomy to take away pounds in the areas that recede with illness; temples, under cheekbones, along the jawline.

Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club

Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club

Technical challenges aside, DBC also presented a number of exciting opportunities for the makeup dept. The film is set in Dallas in the mid-’80s, so it was a period piece as well as needing to have region specific makeup. Texas, you guys! In the 80’s! McConaughey and Leto’s characters battle illness throughout the film, and Leto’s character is a trasngendered drug addict, so there were endless layers to the character looks. During her talk, Robin Mathews said that for a project like this, you really need to “relish the research”. Some of her inspiration for Leto’s character were 60’s starlets, Bridgette Bardot, Twiggy, and Dolly Parton.

Some of the payoff for dealing with insane crowd congestion at IMATS

Some of the payoff for dealing with insane crowd congestion at IMATS

The next class I took was, “Pretty as a Drag Queen” with Courtney Tichman from OCC. I’m a big fan of OCC (not least of all because they were very generous and sent some amazing product to use on a film I did last year) and this sounded like a blast. Right from the start, Courtney said that the takeaway from this class would be, “Put more on. If you want to be more glamorous, put more on!” I’d have to agree. The class was fun, a good refresher in highlight and contour and sculpting the face.

"Put more on", drag queen / glamour makeup advice

“Put more on”, drag queen / glamour makeup advice

Day One of the IMATS, I got to have lunch with my beautiful and talented friend Karina, who I met on an indie feature last fall. We talked about working on this film together, and how it affected us. She reinforced the feeling that I am so fortunate to have worked on this, because of the cast and crew. Even though I had to keep pushing myself through all of the difficulties, in the end, I am so damn proud of what we did on that movie. I gushed to her about the DBC talk, and we sat in the sunshine and caught up on all the other things in life. I adore her, and the fact that she made time to see me (in Pasadena!) while I was in town just made me that much happier to be in the business that I’m in. She is a gem.

Sunny lunch break with this beautiful firecracker!

Sunny lunch break with this beautiful firecracker!

Next up was the Thomas Suprenant, Out of the Kit Character Makeup class. I really loved this one, he had two models onstage and brought only the ubiquitous large, clear set bag that I myself use. He unpacked it for the audience, and explained each product and why you might carry it. I loved seeing so many of the items that I carry and use, as well as some neat new tricks that I can’t wait to try. He talked about the challenges of starting your day doing a full makeup in a trailer, then going to set with everything you MIGHT need on hand, at a moments notice. The ever changing “perfect” set bag!

In between classes, I wandered around the makeup museum and watched makeup demos

In between classes, I wandered around the makeup museum and found this cool cat

Day One ended with Steve Prouty discussing the transformative makeup for Johnny Knoxville in Bad Grandpa, and the nature of making a film in which the public cannot know they’re on film or that Johnny Knoxville is the man they’re interacting with. Fun fact, Prouty notes that, “In North Carolina you can get people to help you bury a body”. The makeup and prosthetics had to be “bulletproof” due to the amount of expression that Knoxville uses with his face, hands, and whole body. There were stunts involved too, so that adds another element of challenge. And a makeup artist’s favorite — stunts followed by a CLOSE UP (note: not actually a makeup artist’s favorite). He talked about working under time constraints, and the need for the makeup dept to become a well-oiled machine and execute the look with perfect precision each time, in under 3 hours. Say what you will, but Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa has an Academy Award nomination.

Steve Prouty talks about the unique challenges of Bad Grandpa

Steve Prouty talks about the unique challenges of Bad Grandpa

Day Two of the IMATS began with a class on Color Fundamentals, with my friend Autumn Scruggs. Autumn has an unusual and fantastic background in that she started in makeup effects and animatronics, and then discovered that she loves beauty makeup. Her philosophy is exactly what I love about beauty makeup; clean and fresh, with healthy skin that actually looks like skin, not plastic. Her color theory is spot on, and it is apparent that she loves teaching. She knows her stuff when it comes to product, and is happy to share, however she does emphasize that being an artist is about experimentation and thinking on your feet. Use whatever works best for you when it comes to brushes, makeup, and technique. I’m lucky to call her a friend, and I get to pick her brain about makeup whenever she’s in Chicago!

Softest brush ever made?!? From Crown, the Ve's Favorite collection

Softest brush ever made?!? From Crown Brush, Ve’s Favorite collection

The Bill Corso keynote was exactly what you’d expect, a retrospective of his brilliant career with some truly mind-blowing makeups. I’m sure the reel didn’t even scratch the surface of the work he’s done. A truly fun part of the talk was dedicated to an old age makeup he did for Heidi Klum last Halloween. Klum is known for elaborate Halloween makeups, and she contacted Corso with her request months in advance. It was a full body makeup, complete with custom prosthetics and painstakingly applied vericose veins. Show director Michael Key noted that if this makeup had been in a movie, it would likely be nominated for an Oscar.

The process...

The process…aging a supermodel

The last talk of the day, Joe Nazarro interviewing Dexter Dept Head Keith Hall, was a great way to wrap up the show. In a recurring theme for me, I was fascinated by the variety and the task creating “normal” characters (cops, regular citizens), regional makeup (Miami tans), and ultimate gore. Hall was humble and softspoken about his work, but when the Q&A began, his excitement about his job was clear. The intense schedule of working on a episodic (especially one with so much BLOOD) and breaking down a script one week in advance is something I have yet to do, and I hope I get a chance to work on someday. During their respective talks, both Hall and Mathews spoke about the actors involvement in their character’s looks, and I love that collaborative part of the job.

The ladies of Cirque FX and I SURVIVED the IMATS! Now, let's get a cocktail and look at all of our loot...

The ladies of Cirque FX and I SURVIVED the IMATS! Now, let’s get a cocktail and look at all of our loot…

I enjoyed the whole weekend, but truly, the winner for me was listening to Robin Mathews talk about DBC. For me, it was everything I love. It was the perfect mix of behind-the-scenes stories, character design and collaboration with actors, clever product usage (grits and cornmeal borrowed from Mathews’ Mom!), and the entirely relatable less-than-perfect conditions of filmmaking that end up leaving an artist with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. After the show, I spent three more days in LA with my husband; eating, drinking, sightseeing, and hanging out at some of the coolest dive (and non dive) bars I’ve ever been to. I caught up with friends that moved out there years ago, and now that I’m in the same business, we had a ton of catching up to do. I admitted to a DP friend that I kind of want to live, eat, and breathe my work right now. I would definitely not hate it, if work in LA became a part of my future. It’s all about the company you keep, and I’ve got some awesome friends out there.

Our last night in Silver Lake, for now...

Our last night in Silver Lake, for now…

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