So You Want To Be A Makeup FX Artist Pt 3: Breaking Through….

What’s holding you back?

What habits do you have, what beliefs and prejudices do you hold, that you may not even be aware of, that are preventing you from making progress in your career?
I mentioned in Pt 2 that when you are starting out in your career, and for the first couple of years, you will be working on small or non-existent budget productions.  It is not uncommon for people to resent this time and to feel that somehow it is time wasted when they could, should, be working in a “real job”.

The classic sign of arrogance in an early-career person who is indignant about having to start at the bottom, is the belief:

“I didn’t go to school for this!!”

Er, pardon me for being blunt, but YES, YOU DID!!  School or college or training of any kind, be it a twelve week intensive program or a three year Film and Media Degree course, does not thrust you out into the working world fully formed and worthy of the highest professional respect and the associated salary.  It merely gives you a basic grounding in materials and techniques, and the quality of that education will vary enormously from school to school.  In short, a formal education gives you enough information not to make a nuisance of yourself on a set or in a lab, and prepares you only for more learning. The real, on the job, practical kind of learning…..

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.”  (This quote has been attributed to at least three different people.  Suffice to say it is a truism we should all remember!).

As I said earlier,  no-one is going to hire you right out of training to work on a big job. Or even a medium sized job. Matter of fact, almost nobody will pay you to work on anything right out of training. You simply have neither the necessary level of skills, nor the ability to put them into practice on a real working high-pressured film job.  So you will, you must, start with what you can get, which will be low-budget and no-budget work to begin with.

BUT: never forget you are working with, and for, REAL people making REAL films during this time, many of whom will have invested THEIR OWN MONEY into the project.

These people are just like you. They are early career film makers and crew, doing their best to learn as much as they can and survive in a brutal and unforgiving industry.

  • DON’T look down your nose at them because they are not the kind of people you wish you were working with. Everyone starts at the bottom, and everyone has to EARN the respect they crave. One day these people too will have worked their way up the tree and be more professional, with all the associated benefits that brings.
  • DON’T think that just because its a small budget that it isn’t important to get the quality as high as you possibly can manage. If YOU had put your own hard earned cash into a project, wouldn’t you want to think that you had gotten the best result you possibly could for your efforts?
  • DO REMEMBER that every project you do, (even where you are barely getting enough to cover materials) should be treated with the same dedication and attention to detail the same as every project you do on your own for practice or for fun. Regardless of whether you think it is ‘important’ or whether it is as exotic or adventurous a challenge as you might like, it is giving you REAL WORLD EXPERIENCE.
  • DO KEEP YOUR EYES AND YOUR MIND OPEN. You can learn a tremendous amount from these projects if you are open to the possibility- more than any school can teach you!! You will have to deal with schedule changes, inclement weather, difficult relationships, tiredness and boredom, industry politics, mistakes, miscommunication, accidents and mishaps, and things not working when you really don’t know what has gone wrong or why, and having to figure out a way to fix it on the fly….. It may be a steep learning curve, but the difficult projects will be the ones you look back on with satisfaction afterwards, for having achieved things you didn’t know you could do….

“There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands.” Richard Bach

Every project you do takes you one step closer to your end goal, and the Makeup FX Artist you will one day be, is formed in the crucible of your trials and temptations.

Every problem that you solve, every trauma that you triumph over, brings you one step closer to being the kind of person who is a valued and respected crew member, in demand and well rewarded.

So whatever you might think of them now, the people with whom you work in your early days are your most important asset in your search for future work. One day in six months time, one of them, (who meantime, has gone from assistant director on a no-budget short to being a production assistant on a medium sized TV drama), will happen to talk to someone else and mention you when they are desperate for a Daily to come in and help at short notice.  Then six months down the track, that person might call you and ask about a three week job they have coming up in a few months time, which will lead you to your next step up the ladder, and then that will lead to the next, and so on.

Personal referrals and recommendations from people you have worked with will get you more work than anything in your portfolio!

But it takes TIME…..

The ability to accurately assess yourself and your performance is going to help you enormously in your work and your life. After every job, you should take a few minutes to sit down and honestly answer the following questions. Then, think about what you could do differently next time….

  1. Do you impress the Production team with your research and attention to detail in PreProduction?
  2. Do you offer solutions to their problems?
  3. When budget is an issue do you have realistic and achievable ideas that will give the Director the effect he/she wants but at a price they can afford?
  4. Do you turn up on time, fully prepared for the job?
  5. Can you organise a team of people, whether its two of you, or twenty… to make and prep FX, apply the makeups to the actors in the makeup room (at this stage you wont have a trailer…), then be onset to supervise the looks and FX during shooting, clean up the actors afterwards, and prep for the next day?
  6. Can you think on your feet when the schedule changes unexpectedly?
  7. Can you , when you need to, pull a rabbit out of the hat, with no extra money and no time, just so you can get something onscreen that everyone is going to be happy with?
  8. Are you organised, are you efficient, and most importantly do you use your time and resources effectively?
  9. Are you as good as your word?  Are you reliable and dependable – if you promise, can you deliver?  


Here are some direct quotes from a range of professionals with a lot of experience in the industry, on what they seek in a Makeup Artist on their productions, and what they liked about the best Makeup Artists they have worked with.

You may be surprised to find that the qualities they seek may have very little to do with anything you would have learned at Makeup School, and a LOT more to do with your personality, and professionalism….

“All I think I can do is tell you what I am looking for when I crew a Makeup department: I want someone who will tell me as it is, who will provide me the best quality and creative work while working well within my budget, I want a team that is professional and well presented, I look for a person who knows their stuff and can advise me and the director with confident and correct knowledge, I need someone who knows how to manage their staff so not to have too many on at one time or not enough, and most of all I want someone who is friendly and approachable.”



“When deciding on a Makeup and FX artist for any of my upcoming projects there are several elements that need to fall into place before I’d be offering anyone a job. These can include:

1. Are they happy to work under the umbrella of the Design Department? Do they know the Designer, and how well do they get along with them? Can they work within the Designer’s vision?
2. Have they been the head of a Make-up, Hair and FX team for long-form drama? How big was it, and and what is their management style? How have they handled conflicts in the past… between the team members… with the actors… with the director? Can they handle the long haul?
3. Are they affordable?
4. Oh, and before I forget, almost an afterthought: are they any good at doing make-up?
How would I decide on the best person for the job?
Probably a relaxed drink or two where we talk around the above, and many other elements that would undoubtably crop up. I’m not interested in the full hard line pitch… I’m more interested in the person who’s been filming, getting up at sparrows for six or seven straight weeks in the cold wind and rain… or desert summers… ”


“They are easy to work with and the fun element is always present.  …….  is always willing to give what they know to help others. Their skills are great and you can always tell that they go the extra mile to know and apply what is out there in film at the moment.  …….   does their job and does it well,  as a leader of a team they work each person well to their abilities and know how to people manage, I also notice that they earn the respect of cast and crew very quickly.”



“….  has a great amount of knowledge in their chosen field, that matched with fantastic dedication to jump on in and be part of a project, regardless of film-makings evil cousin… money!

The FX look good in pre-production, production, and post. So that’s worth a 10/10!”   



” ….. was  talented with their craft, responsive to direction, hardy, warm, generous, a multi-tasker and extremely committed.”



“Someone who puts them-self out there every time. The best Makeup Artists work endlessly and are fast, effective and supportive. Their work is of the highest quality and standard. They are flexible and ingenious, are open to ideas and not afraid to throw their own into the mix. And they are always courteous, kind and professional.”



“My favourite Makeup Artist is friendly, considerate, organised, punctual, skilled, aware, proactive and warm.”



“Someone who is enthusiastic, committed, and dedicated to getting the best result,; creative, dedicated, innovative, intelligent, hard-working & unfailingly cheerful during the (often) arduous applications & re-applications of her spectacular MakeUp & FX.

She is also the ultimate “team player”; a skilled artist in her own right who nevertheless appreciates that it is only through collaboration that the “lightning in a bottle” that is the magic of film can be captured.  She is also without the trace of bad temperament or ego on set. She is highly regarded and much sought after in a very competitive industry.

I have worked with this person on a variety of projects over several years & have never known her to be anything less than ultra-professional.

If she has a fault ~ if indeed it can be classed as a fault ~ it is that she is sometimes more concerned about the welfare of everyone ELSE!”



“their professionalism, the way ….. can  make anything happen, their team always works well together, they’re always well organised and their kit is always maintained to the highest of standards.”



“It’s very much about chemistry and personal relationships as that’s what always gets people work in the end. My personal rating on someone as a professional will make no difference, good, bad or indifferent…  it’s all down to who you know and how well you know them!

The best of the best that I have worked with are ALWAYS  calm, friendly, efficient, no nonsense happy people who also happen to be very talented at what they do. It’s all about attitude!”





Words create impressions, images and expectations. They build psychological connections. They influence how we think. Since thoughts determine actions, there’s a powerful connection between the words we use and the results we get.

Consider these two terms: spending money, and invested funds. If you entrusted your hard-earned cash to a bank, would you like them to spend your money or invest it? Since spending implies the money is gone, you probably want a bank that invests your money.
Think of your job. If you think of your budget as allocated company money you have permission to spend, you will feel no qualms about spending every cent, whether you need it or not. If however, you consider that allocated budget as someone’s hard earned money, carefully invested in their precious project, you may take a little more care to get the best value from it….

I have heard some people who have been in the business a long time say that if you are given a budget and you don’t spend it all, the next person in your position won’t thank you…. I guess that comes from the days when budgets were more generous than they are today and you may have had to put in some effort to spend it all! Those days are long gone. However, just because you have the money to spend, doesn’t mean you can blithely do so with no regard to economy or prudence. It is your job to use the budget you have wisely and to best advantage, in order to provide the best result for the production. That is not to say you shouldn’t be properly remunerated for your work, nor that you should cut corners. it simply means that if you waste money you won’t be too popular and are unlikely to get asked back again by that particular company. This is a very small industry and people talk.

And what about these words: problem and challenge.  You just made an expensive mistake at work.  Would you rather a boss see your mistake as a problem or as a challenge? It is more important than you might imagine. If the boss considers you, or your ability to do your job, a “problem”, then they are likely to have you disciplined, or worse. However, if they take you on as a challenge, and decide to help you through it, it can lead to a very different outcome. There is a famous story about Tom Watson Jr., CEO of IBM between 1956 and 1971, a key figure in the information revolution. A young executive had made some bad decisions that cost the company several million dollars. He was summoned to Watson’s office, fully expecting to be dismissed. As he entered the office, the young executive said, “I suppose after that set of mistakes you will want to fire me.” Watson was said to have replied, “Not at all, young man, we have just spent a couple of million dollars educating you.”

Problems are fixed; challenges are met.


You have chosen to work in a small area of specialisation, in a small industry.   I bet your mother probably told you, if you don’t have something nice to say don’t say anything- or at least not in public…..  It was never more applicable than in the film industry.  Remembering the Six Degrees of Separation theory, can you afford NOT to be polite?  We know perfectly well that when someone is difficult or unpleasant that word gets around quickly. Don’t let it be YOU they are talking about behind your back.

We all have jobs we don’t enjoy from time to time, and unfortunately sometimes you will be working with people you don’t like too much, but  the words we use to think and talk about our work, our goals, and the people we work with influence our thoughts and actions about them. A bad attitude can make our entire experience worse, and cause problems for us in the future.  Sometimes, we just have to grin and bear it.   The job will be over soon enough, and you will be able to walk away with your dignity and your respect intact.   If you MUST vent, try and do so to someone you can trust not to repeat your words to anyone else…..

So, how do you hear yourself speaking about the people you work with? How do you describe your team members? Your employers?

How do you think they are speaking about YOU?

Whether you are managing a team, or part of one, your words betray your attitude towards the people you work with, and to a certain extent, influence their actions and behaviour.   Poorly chosen words can kill enthusiasm, impact self-esteem, lower expectations and hold people back. Well chosen ones can motivate, offer hope, create vision, impact thinking and alter results.  The way you speak to your team on set, the way you respond to problems and stressors in the workplace, will have an impact on whether or not people remember you fondly, and whether or not employers ask you back for future projects.

Conversely, if you are offered the opportunity to be a part of a team, and you ‘bite the hand that feeds you’ by having a bad attitude, then word will get around, and you will quickly find that future opportunities dry up!

So what defines a ‘bad’ attitude?  

  • Feeling entitled to more respect than you have earned.  If a more experienced person feels you are up to a task, they will let you know!  There may be many reasons why you dont get the plum job- reasons that, quite frankly, are none of your business.  Don’t jump to conclusions.
  • Bitching and whining about not getting to do the ‘fun stuff’ and having to do other ‘boring’ work while your HOD handles the main talent or challenging FX.  All of those ‘boring’ jobs need to be done for the whole project to run smoothly. SOMEONE has to do them.   Remember- it’s the HODs head on the block if anything goes wrong or isn’t up to scratch- not yours!  Also, when you are learning you will not get to do things on a high-stakes project that someone else is better at than you!!
  • Lying, cheating, stealing, passing someone else’s work off as your own, or trying to make other people look bad.  Sadly there are some people out there who are just… nasty.  Avoid them like the plague, and certainly avoid playing their kind of underhanded games, unless you want a very short career.  The higher up the tree you get the higher the stakes are, and the dimmer the view that is taken of such shenanigans.
  • Talking back, being rude or arrogant, and undermining your HODs authority.   Your job as a team member is to be part of a Unit, not pursue your own ulterior motives by trying to get people to notice you… This is NOT the time or place to be handing out your business cards!!
  • Being overly friendly with the talent.  This one takes a while for some people to get the hang of.  Actors are required to turn up, often with little sleep, sit through the ministrations of the Makeup and Costume Depts, often for hours, and then wait around till their moment on set comes, when they must immediately be able to ‘switch on’ and give a fantastic performance.  YOUR job is to help them be prepared to do it.  You are NOT their best friend.  You should NEVER assume that a bit of friendly banter in the Makeup Trailer equals a genuine friendship, nor impose your personal opinions upon them.  You are working for the Production Company and your job is to fulfil the Directors needs for the Makeup, while at the same time being empathetic to the actors preferences and insecurities. If there is a conflict between the two that cannot be resolved, stay out of it, and ask for help from the Producer or Production Manager!!  And don’t chat to them outside the trailer unless its necessary.  You are required to help the actor get ready, not distract them from their job.
  • Being lazy.  Film is HARD WORK.  It demands discipline, dedication, and determination. It requires constant attention, being aware of what is going on around you, reading the signals to anticipate problems and correct them before they happen.  The Makeup Artist who is nowhere to be found when called for, only to be discovered offset, chatting on the phone, or having wandered away to make a coffee mid-take, is going to piss people off.  The person who rolls their eyes everytime they are asked to run back to the trailer to get something (and I do mean RUN…) will not be given another chance. The person who wanders off to take a nap in the middle of a very long shoot when everyone else is just as exhausted  (and don’t laugh, I know of people who have done this) will earn the wrath of every other member of the crew…..
  • Not paying attention.  Film also involves a LOT of waiting.  It can be very boring when you are waiting.  You have to be good at it.  BUT if you are the kind of person who disappears into your smartphone every five seconds and doesnt pay attention, you wont last long.  Let’s be honest- the proportion of film crew who own smartphones is possibly double that of the general populace… but you HAVE to know when to use them and when not to.  Ditto talking. Talking is ok if its quiet, out of earshot of the Director, and not distracting the actors or other crew. Talking when you are supposed to be on Standby is not ok. Talking behind the Monitor is Verboten!!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:   It doesnt matter how good you are technically, if you are lazy, disinterested, or a pain in the butt, nobody will work with you twice.

So, in summing up, here is what I have learned from everyone I have been fortunate enough to work with and for so far.

To be the best Makeup Artist you can be, you need to be:




A team player,


A decent person,





Good at your job,

and finally,  ALWAYS treat your cast and colleagues with consideration and respect!


Continued in “So You Want To Be A Makeup FX Artist Pt 4. What Now?”


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