Category Archives: Life, the universe and everything…

Are you an Effective Makeup FX Artist?

The new furniture was delivered in August for The Makeup FX Workshop. A swish new boardroom table and chairs, a couple of glass display cabinets, and five big bookcases for the offices.

Picking up piles of books and magazines from the floor that has been their repository for the last few weeks, and re-homing them in nice neat clusters on otherwise empty shelves is a very happy-making activity, and it got me thinking.

Organisation is an essential part of doing a good job, in any field, yes? A crucial… well, do you call it a virtue, a trait, or a skill?

However you arrange the words, organisation is crucial to being able to sustain a career in Makeup FX.

Whether it’s organising your kit so you can find things exactly when you need them, organising your time effectively in preproduction, organising the workspace, organising your workflow to sculpt, mould and make your appliances, and then, finally, being organised onset so you get your actors ready on time, if you don’t have the ability to systemise, arrange, and control your actions, you wont last long in this business!

But what is organisation, exactly, and how does it translate into action?
I have met many people throughout my life who devoted what seemed like most of their lives to being ‘organised’, with colour-coded everything and cross-referenced lists and categories that would put the Dewey Decimal System to shame. Entire retail chains exist dedicated to selling prettily coloured stationary and filing systems, and the self-help section in any larger bookstore will have an entire shelf devoted to systems of organisation that purport to change your life in ten chapters or less! However, being able to arrange your possessions according to category and need, pack a suitcase without creasing anything, or make and freeze a weeks worth of meals in one go, while undoubtedly EFFICIENT, doesn’t necessarily translate into being an EFFECTIVE use of your time and resources.

In short: It doesn’t matter how good you are at completing a task, if the task itself isn’t one that is helping you achieve your goals!

What’s the difference between Efficient actions and Effective ones?

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How Do You Make Contact With People Who Can Employ You?

When beginning your Makeup FX career, the perennial problem is this: Exactly  how do you go about getting someone to give you a chance to prove yourself?

Brimming with confidence in their newfound abilities (or not…) most people think their best chance to get into the business is to get noticed by a powerful and influential Makeup HOD (Head of Department).  Once having read your compelling introductory email, this person, of course, will immediately recognize that your passion and dedication sets you apart from all others, and will immediately make you their indispensable assistant and trusted 2IC  for the next five years. This will employ you full-time, and allow you to live the high life on the type of wages you could once have only dreamed of.  Until one day, while she/he is indisposed, you are asked to take their place, and you cruise your way to your first Award Nomination…

Or not…..

Firstly, if that is the life you imagine for yourself, then before you do anything else, please go and read So You Want To Be A Makeup FX Artist, Parts 1,   2, and 3.  

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A favourite quote from a favourite author, and a fabulously insightful human being.

“When you write something… you can place the tiniest piece of information you have so that it sounds like the tip of the iceberg of a vast amount of knowledge. Very often, it isn’t.” Douglas Adams
I always appreciate it when people find the information that I have posted helpful and useful. But no matter how much detail I cram in, please, bear in mind that there is always more to learn, more to know. Don’t ever take it as read that you have found all the available facts you need, but use those I have provided as a springboard for your search, signposts, to point you in the right direction…


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…..

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So You Want To Be A Makeup FX Artist Pt 2: Breaking out and Breaking in…..

At the risk of repeating myself, and bearing in mind that these are points worth repeating, ad infinitum:
1.  If you decide to train in Makeup FX, you are NOT going to walk out of a classroom and into a job!
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.
Unless you have a fantastic portfolio of the right kind of work work, and the appropriate skills for that particular job, and unless you can demonstrate a proven ability to work on your own without constant supervision, and consistently produce a top-end result, no professional Production Company can afford to take you on and pay you.
Insurance restrictions and Workers Compensation laws  mean no professional production will take on people working for free, either.   Traineeships are practically non-existent for the same reasons.
You will need to aim a little lower to start with.
2.  There is no such thing as steady, full-time employment with regular hours and pay.  
Unless you are working behind the counter at one of the Makeup Supply Houses, selling products to the people who do the actual work.
3.   What work there is is temporary. 

We are all freelancers. We are contracted to work on a specific project for a certain period of time.  Which may be for a couple of weeks, or up to a the best part of a decade in the case of multi-film productions.  But when the project ends, everyone goes home, and everyone goes back to being unemployed.
4.  There is no regular Superannuation, Sick Leave or Holiday Pay.  
Yes those things exist  when you are employed by one production house in some countries, but only for the period of employment.  If you want to buy anything you will need to save up for it- no bank is going to give you a loan without a regular income. If you want to have a retirement nest egg you need to save it yourself.  If you want cover in case you suffer a period of extended illness, or are injured, you need to take care of that yourself.   Get insurance. Get health cover. Get a superannuation plan
5. Most FX Houses are a one-man show.  
The vast majority of existing, actual working FX Businesses in the world are one or two person operations, running out of what is basically a big shed. And some of those sheds aren’t actually that big….
They survive in a tough environment by doing all kinds of work to pay the bills. Occasionally and in the good times they get steady work and can be quite comfortable. But most of the time they do not employ extra people because a) they can’t afford to, and/or b) there isn’t enough work.

And just in case you haven’t quite got the idea yet- you know all of those “big” well-known FX studios you see on the behind-the-scenes DVD specials?  The ones where there are forty or fifty people in the background feverishly working on FX for the latest blockbuster?  The kind of place you dream of working in one day?

Well, guess what happens when that project is completed?  That big, powerful FX business goes back to being pretty much “one man in a shed” again.  And here I am talking about the kind of FX Houses that are responsible for working on the biggest films in the world….. in the hundreds of millions in budget terms.   Yes, them….
6. In between projects, even highly successful FX Businesses retain only a very small core staff.   Everyone else is hired and released on a contract basis, per project.
Occasionally there are a lot of projects back to back and people will get hired for one, stay on for the next and can end up working for the same FX company for years, but those situations are NOT the norm in this industry.
Fewer than ten percent of people in this business will ever work full-time with the same company for more than a few months at a time.  In between jobs, you are on your own.
7. Competition is fierce.
You really think you have a chance of getting work at a professional FX studio for that upcoming film you’re desperate to work on, simply by sending in your Makeup College portfolio, with its wonky bald-cap,  latex and tissue gunshot wounds, and that 1920’s Beauty look with the cheap acrylic wig?
(Because you’re really, really keen, right? See Point 1.)
Who is your competition?  People who have worked on some of the biggest productions in the world. People from all over the world! People with serious experience and skills at the pinnacle of the business. People who have been personally recommended to the people in charge of crewing up. (That last is a biggie…)  People with a professional reputation that justifies their self-confidence. Oh, and most large FX houses get literally THOUSANDS of applications to work there when there is a big film coming up. One particular place I know has them stored in the backyard in Freight Containers. The kind that go on ships.  Three of them, each stacked to the ceiling…   Get the picture???
So if you DO send off your CV and portfolio, don’t be too surprised if you don’t get a personal reply next week. Or ever… Realistically, who has the free time to answer hundreds or  thousands of unsolicited applications?
Now, tell me again, why should they hire you for that blockbuster on the basis of a few school assignments?
Just because your family and friends think you are terribly talented and bound for glory, does not mean you have the relevant experience and appropriate skills to do the job.
Or at least, NOT YET.
If you are thoroughly pissed off at me right now for being so blunt, and full of indignant self-righteousness (“how dare she tell me I can’t make it… I’m DIFFERENT… I’M SPECIAL!”)  or  if you are feeling moribund and totally depressed about your lack of future prospects, (“what’s the point in even bothering.. I’ll never get anywhere… I’m just wasting my time… “)   then I recommend you give up the whole idea of Makeup FX as a career right now!
If you are not a quitter, however, pull your socks up , take a deep breath, get a nice hot cuppa, and keep reading.

Does Your Story Pass “The Bechdel Test”?

an interesting test to try on your fave films….


Dying to Succeed….. Health and Safety in the Workplace

Chemical Safety for Makeup FX Artists and Technicians

When people say they want to succeed or die trying, I dont think many of them mean it literally.  Yet you would be shocked to learn how many people are severely affected, and yes, even killed, by the work that they love so much.
Why? Because in most jobs you don’t have to worry about the quality of the air you breathe in the workplace, or toxins in the things you touch.  In Makeup FX you most definately do!

It is YOUR RESPONSIBILTY to educate yourself on the hazards of working with chemicals and take the proper precautions while you work. If you work for a bigger company they should provide you with PPE- Personal Protection Equipment.

Remember:  Safety gear is like Birth Control- it only works if you remember to USE IT AT ALL TIMES…….

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SFX Makeup Artists and Duty of Care:

  • A DUTY of CARE is a legal obligation imposed on an individual requiring that they adhere to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could foreseeably harm others.

    What does this mean to you? 

    It means that if, in the course of your work, you perform any action that harms, or provide any service or product that causes harm, to another person, you are in breach of your Duty of Care and the injured party can sue you. *Important note: Although I say, ‘in your work’, the law appies to you WHATEVER YOU DO, ALL THE TIME, WHETHER AS PAID WORK OR AS A HOBBY….

    But I have insurance for that, right?  Well, maybe, maybe not….

    Since 1950, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have shared a common definition of occupational health. It was adopted by the Joint ILO/WHO Committee on Occupational Health at its first session in 1950 and revised at its twelfth session in 1995. (For further reference see Occupational_safety_and_health)

    The definition reads:

    “Occupational health should aim at: the promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being of workers in all occupations; the prevention amongst workers of departures from health caused by their working conditions; the protection of workers in their employment from risks resulting from factors adverse to health; the placing and maintenance of the worker in an occupational environment adapted to his physiological and psychological capabilities; and, to summarize, the adaptation of work to man and of each man to his job.”

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CHEMICAL SAFETY -IN THE WORKPLACE

Sensitization to Chemicals in the Workplace:

A collection of useful info:

Every day we are all exposed to some level of chemical fumes. Spray paints and household cleaners give off fumes. Different plastics and wood products in your home give off odors from adhesives and finishes, especially when new. But normally these fumes are at such a low level that they cause no problems. However, a number of people become sensitized or allergic to the fumes given off. Their bodies get overexposed to the vapors and become sensitized. From that point on, any exposure to even a minute amount of the chemical causes a reaction. The process of sensitization can make a home unlivable, or a job no longer viable, for people who become sensitized. If you work with chemicals, your risk is much greater.

For anyone who has been in this industry for a while, most would know at least one person with severe allergenic reactions from even the slightest contact with fumes. I personally know of people who can’t be in the same BUILDING as fresh resins or epoxies. So that says that the warning labels on the products we use have to be taken seriously.

Two of the most common reactions from exposure to industrial chemicals are occupational asthma and contact dermatitis.

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Setting Career Goals- Are You Going for Gold?

There was a lovely quote from Aussie Olympic swimmer Leisel Jones in the paper this morning.

In response to questions about her recent challenges in the 2012 London Olympics, she replied: “Smooth sailing doesn’t make a skilful sailor.”

How true this is. Yet, in our pursuit of our most fervent hopes and dreams, who amongst us would wish for a rough ride to the finish line? Surely we can simply stick to the easy path, and achieve just as much, if not more, than those who struggle? If we set our goals clearly and aim high, need we suffer in the attempt?

The Olympics are, so often, about expectation. The contenders, often young and in their early career, for whom nothing but Gold will shine. A Silver or Bronze is almost more devastating to them than never qualifying. Then there are the battlers, from countries with no history in their chosen event, or the ones who have self-funded and trained, often later in life, to fulfil their dream. They stand no real chance of winning against competitors with a lifetimes’ dedication and the financial backing of a nation, but for many of them just being there is the reward, and their triumph is achieved when the starter’s gun sounds. And, in London, we had the unusual case of Jones, who became the first Australian swimmer to compete in four Olympics, yet who has been criticised for failing to medal, and had people wondering if that achievement itself had been enough.

If you choose to work in the Special Effects Makeup Industry, you are choosing a rough road. That’s a given. Like any Olympic sport, many try to achieve greatness, and few succeed. But for many people, ‘just doing it’ is as far as their goal-setting ever got. When you have had your heart set on just being able to do Makeup FX, somewhere, somehow, that may be enough for you… Are you content to simply drift along through life, never knowing what is round the corner, as long as you are doing SOMETHING in that field? Then there are those who have a good run, who consistently achieve moderate success, or even, fleetingly, the glory of national or international recognition. At some point, your career will inevitably begin to wane, whether through age, ill health, or simply having lost touch with the up and coming in the industry, and therefore being deemed irrelevant. Do we judge our industry as harshly as the public judge our Olympians? Should we be allowed to pursue our chosen career as long as we choose, as long as we feel capable, or do we allow ourselves to be pushed aside in favour of someone younger and less experienced, but hungrier? And what do we do if that happens? Where do we turn then?

In order to be your best, in any field in life, even in life itself, we need clear and defined goals, and the discipline to pursue them. But goal setting is a risky business in itself. Set the wrong goals, and risk failure. It is sadly easy to spend too much time and effort climbing the ladder, only to realise, belatedly, that it was up against the wrong wall…..

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