Category Archives: THE BUSINESS OF MAKEUP FX

So You Got Your First Real Job As A Makeup FX Artist…….

Congrats on getting your first real gig.


Now comes the REALLY hard part!!


You are no doubt filled with excitement, enthusiasm, and a little bit of trepidation. Which is all to the good. 
There is nothing quite like jumping in at the deep end to find out exactly how well you can swim. And you are about to!!

If I can offer you any advice for the job it is this: 

BE PREPARED 
Yep, it’s the ol’ Scout Motto. 
And it holds as true for what you are about to do as for a soldier preparing for battle…

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Making Money from Someone Else’s Art: dealing with Licensing and Intellectual Property Rights

So, you are now starting a business, and you want to be able to sell your work.  Thats great!  You have worked hard to get to the point where you feel competent enough and that your work is of a high standard, and now its time to start reaping the rewards.

Except…. that along the way to get to this point, you practiced by creating work based on characters you admired or were inspired by, and although you have undoubtedly also done some fine original work, you have discovered that the work people most want to buy is not something you actually own, but rather a reproduction you have done of a well-known character from a movie/tv show/comic or book.

Of course you realise that selling this piece is totally illegal and could get you into some serious trouble, but after all it was only one… or three… or fifteen… no harm done, right?

Wrong.

You could easily find yourself being sued if someone who actually owns the copyright on that character discovers you are making money off their work. And in the case of movie studios and tv production companies, the stakes are especially high. Can you afford to lose everything?

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So you want to be a Makeup FX artist? Pt 4. What Now?

And now your thought for the day, here’s a little something that all of us should be reminded of from time to time:

In the latest issue of Makeup Artist Magazine, there is a telling quote from Tami Lane where she is describing the hiring process for Hobbit:  “Not only did we have to pre-paint the pieces we got from Weta, we also had to hair-punch the eyebrows on them. It was quite difficult to find people that could hair-punch a realistic set of eyebrows.  I had to turn down a lot of fantastic makeup artists I wanted to work with, because I had to incorporate both jobs into one person.”

You start out as a total beginner, armed only with enthusiasm and sheer desperate willingness to succeed, and then you do some kind of training, whether self-taught or formal training, and then you are somehow ‘qualified’.

Ok, so the minute you actually DO any training to get your basic skills,  you are going to realise that there is a long hard road ahead of you, which involves doing a lot of freebies or low-budget work to get the ACTUAL skills you need- i.e. the ability to put everything you have learned into practice, on real people, in an actual working environment under what is often immense pressure from time and budgetary constraints….

But what then?  Surely after you have put in the hard yards and paid your dues, the world is your oyster, right?

I think somehow that most people believe that there is some kind of magic threshold, and that once you have reached it, everything is easy, you will get the jobs you want, work on the projects you aspire to be a part of, and live happily ever after…..

Well, as the above quote should tell you, no, the world doesn’t work that way.

Yes, nepotism exists, and people like to work with people they know and trust, which is fair enough, but a little bit of healthy competition never goes astray.

When  it comes down to getting the job done, however, it doesn’t matter how long you have been working, or on what, or with who-  the single biggest factors in choosing crew for any particular job remain the same regardless of your level and experience:

1. Can the person do the job or are we willing to train them to do the job?

 2. Will the person do the job well?

 3. Will we be able to work with this person and can this person work with us, over the long run?

 

Fall down on any one of those factors, and you’re no longer in the running. And then, beyond that, there are other factors like availability, location limitations, and the sheer brutal reality that you can only afford so many people in any given team.

For Hobbit the crucial factor was the first and simplest one- can the person do the job?  They didn’t have time to train people to the level required in the very specific combination of skills that were required due to the particularly demanding nature of the type of work involved.  Not a lot of people already  had THAT particular combination to the level required, and so they didn’t get the gig, even if they were incredibly talented people in many other areas and the best fun in the world to work alongside on a hard job.

The truth is, you can’t be all things to all people.  You can be a generalist, and ‘jack-of-all-trades’, but the flipside of that coin is the other half of the expression: ‘master-of-none’.

You can be a specialist, and amongst the best in your field in your chosen area, but that carries its own risks, amongst them, being pigeon-holed and never allowed to try anything else, no matter how good you might be, because people value what skills they know you possess far more than the ones they don’t know about.

Whatever your skill level, you won’t get hired unless you have the relevant experience and appropriate skills required to do that particular job.

So don’t take it personally if you get knocked back, no matter how badly you wanted it, maybe that job just wasn’t meant for you.


The FX Artists Reply to Unreasonable Demands:

There are many people who want to be Makeup FX Artists. More than there can ever possibly be demand for. Most of them will never ‘make it’. Not because they don’t have the talent, or the drive, but because they get worn down by years of trying and failing, and eventually give up, poor, lost and disheartened. It takes more than just raw talent and enthusiasm to make it in this business.

Many people starting out are often so eager to make a name for themselves and get involved in something- anything! – that they become unwitting doormats, willing to do whatever it takes to follow their dreams. For some reason, perfectly sane people who would never consider behaving like this in any other arena of their lives start belittling themselves or prostituting their skills. They become totally desperate- like drug addicts, taking whatever so-called ‘work’ they can get, to get their next ‘high’… Unfortunately in that state of mind it is easy to be taken advantage of by people who really couldn’t care less about your desire to prove yourself, they are just in it for themselves and don’t care who they tread on on the way.

It is one thing to be enthusiastic and helpful and excited about finally getting to pursue your dreams, and another thing entirely to get the chance to do something that is going to help you actually do that.

The word “No” is often completely eradicated from peoples vocabularies at this stage, because they are so terrified of somehow losing out if they dare to refuse a ‘job’.

Well, here is a reality check for anyone who is at that point:

The FX Artists Reply to Unreasonable Demands:

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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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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.

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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