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Voice Of The Crew - Since 2002

Los Angeles, California

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All Made Up

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People get drawn to production work in all sorts of ways. Some of them are lucky to be born into it, pedigreed by family name and connections in this town. Others discover it unwittingly, perhaps starting in live concert production, as I did at the University of Houston. I joined a student group that negotiated with music agents and big-shot promoters for touring acts to play at the school’s two venues. I got to see the greatest musicians and bands the 20th century ever churned out: Wendy O. Williams and The Plasmatics, Miles Davis, Joe Jackson, George Thorogood, Randy Newman, Devo, King Sunny Ade, and everyone in-between, including Texas stalwarts like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Kinky Friedman and Joe “King” Carasco. The adrenaline rush that comes from producing a live event, whether a concert, TV show or film, is infectious. You can fall victim to its siren song. You get it or you don’t. I got it bad.
In 1980, big features were being produced in the Houston area, and the need for people to assist in some below-the-line activities became an opportunity for me to jump on as an assistant makeup artist. I had to start working when I was 15, lying about my age to get hired by a local department store where I landed in the makeup department. My makeup skills and sales were so good that a major cosmetics company sponsored my tutelage with the renowned makeup artist to the stars, Way Bandy. In his classes I learned a lifetime of cinematic secrets and techniques that eventually made me the hottest 17-year-old makeup artist in town.
Being on a real film set is a heady first-time experience that you forget about when it becomes your daily grind. I had never considered the possibility of a career in the entertainment world, certainly not in Hollywood. I had never even been to California, and my New England family didn’t understand the concept of making a living in what they considered a flaky fantasy business, and spoke about Los Angeles and California as if it were a bizarre parallel universe where reality and morals don’t exist. They weren’t too far off the mark.
Years later, I landed a unique production job where I was able to write, cast and field-produce short videos and ads. Not Hollywood, but still real production work. It was wonderful. I was earning a good salary, traveling, and making creative decisions that produced fine work. I hired below-the-line crew for the first time, and formed many friendships. Fortuitous, because my cushy perfect world came down fast when the economy hit the skids as investors started coming out of their “ether fogs,” asking the hard questions like, “Where did the money go?” or “What does this company actually do?” Businesses folded one after another, and before I knew it, my little company didn’t have paying clients.
After months of useless job searches for a similar gig, I eventually called upon friends to help me get work. My reel was corporate, and my experience didn’t mean much to the glut of out-of-work field and segment producers after the 9/11 fallout and continuous runaway production. Once again, makeup became my trade.
Makeup is the exposed confessional on the set. Façades get bared, literally and figuratively. You are usually on set first with the craft service and catering truck guys, and master all sorts of surprises, meltdowns and hurdles by first take. It’s intensely personal work. Makeup artists have to deal with distorted egos, fluttering eye tics and bad lifestyle choices. You likely will have to entertain the opinions and interruptions of anyone having access to the production trailer, not to mention the female production staff as well as the wives/girlfriends of the producers who corner you whenever you get a chance to breathe, wanting you to “fix them too.”
Once you have the actors ready, the next station is the set. The make-up work goes from application and blending, to blotting, blotting and more blotting. Some actors sweat like pigs under the lights, others barely break a shine. The lips are important. People dry up when they blow takes over, and over, and over—and you have to be ready with the lip balm and touch-ups. Hair can become a huge problem, and much more difficult than applying product on a freshly chemical-peeled face.
You can never have enough hairspray, tissue and blot powder in your kit. A kit must contain everything a makeup artist can need, for every skin color and condition, and wildcard items such as nail files, Altoids, tarot cards, knitting needles, baby wipes, nail nippers, sewing kits and tons of brush cleaner. Your brushes must be maintained like tires on an Indy 500 car, always in perfect racing condition.
Good makeup artists work quickly and quietly. Chatty artists are usually not looked upon favorably unless they have worked with the same group over and over and have built a comfort zone. Nightmare scenarios can happen. I once accidentally sprayed deodorant on my hands off set, thinking it was a can of hairspray, to smooth down a model’s flyaway hair. A friend of mine had to apply makeup on a diva-ish, A-list actress while she stuffed her face with a salmon-topped bagel; the actress then had the nerve to ask her to help floss her molars. Another make-up artist friend had an older actor, famous for classic war movies, smear orange stuff the consistency of Cheez-Whiz all over his t-zone and cheeks (he swore it made him look great and wanted her to work around this). Most recently, I worked on a commercial shoot where the dye from the logo of the exercise machine bled onto the sweaty bare backs of the male and female models demonstrating the various workouts. Windex and spit proved to be the only solutions at hand that successfully removed the giant purple and black stains.
There are times when a makeup artist cannot win. The talent wants what they want, and the wardrobe people, director and on-set producers want you to finish fast so they can begin their work. Makeup artists are capable of many miracles, but we cannot take more than 10 years off a face without the aid of prosthetics—or a Vaseline-smeared lens.
On the set there is an unspoken sense of place and position. Below-the-line people generally are friendlier, but there’s a barrier that separates the Teamster-types and grips from the soundmen, cameramen and lighting techs. I really notice this at lunchtime, when the crew chooses whom they’d like to sit with. I always seem to wind up with the wizened older drivers, gang bosses and career grips—crusty, profane men who are the antithesis of politically correct, adore NASCAR, wax on about their gun collections, and have lots of great stories to share.
Makeup artists know how to make themselves appear attractive, and this can be dangerous. Too attractive, and the talent can be uncomfortable with you. The female production staff can also get weird. Inebriated grips trolling the production call sheet looking for love might stalk you. Extras, PAs and unidentified set malingerers can often be found digging in your kit, playing dress-up in the makeup room while you are working on set. You graciously refrain from assault and battery because the person you would like to re-educate just may be the producer’s daughter, new squeeze, or nephew. Unfortunately, you need them all to like you. You need to be at the top of the list for first call.

Excerpted from You’ll Never Eat Lunch At The Catering Truck Again©

April MacIntyre would like apologize to Randy Newman for that poorly executed after-show interview for the U. of H. newspaper back in ’80. She still would like to hear from Brian Grazer. [email protected]

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