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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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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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