In Appreciation of Hair and Make Up Artists

I’ll be honest, I never really respected hair and make up artists all that much. I didn’t get why it should take two hours to make an already attractive woman appear attractive on camera.1

The on-set hair and make up artists made even less sense to me. I can see the actors with my own two eyes. They look fine. Much better than I would standing under hot lights saying the same three lines over and over and over. So why do the MUAs have to jump onto set between every goddamn take to double check every strand of hair is in place?

Turns out, there is a very good reason: continuity.

As I’m standing by video village, worrying about the number of setups we’re getting before lunch, making sure the base camp PA knows who’s up next, keeping tabs on the director and producer and AD in case they need anything, I don’t really notice each and every detail of the actors’ make up. It doesn’t seem like a big deal. Who’s gonna notice?

That’s what I thought, anyway, until I worked on an indie movie last year that had a less-than-stellar hair and make up team. They didn’t dart between the camera crew and grips and whoever else between each take to ensure the actors looked their best. They didn’t attend to every detail. And I thought, “See? No big deal.”

Then I went to a crew screening over the weekend, and Oh. My. God. In one scene, an character gets on an elevator while chatting with her boyfriend. Cut to the ground floor, when she steps off, it looks like they took the express elevator with the windows open. Her hair was all over the place, and backlighting caught every single misplaced lock.

Even within scenes, continuity was all over the place. Her ponytail is nice and tight in one shot, loose and falling apart in the next. Parted on the left, then parted on the right, then dead center.

I’m not one of those people who lives to point out continuity mistakes. I swear, I didn’t even notice Ash’s chainsaw switch hands in Evil Dead II. If I catch something on the first viewing, it’s pretty bad.

So, I apologize, make up and hair stylists. Like many crafts in our business, your work goes unnoticed unless you screw up. And that’s okay, because ours is a thankless life. But it’s not okay that a fellow crew member didn’t notice.

That’s all changed for me, now. I appreciate what you do, and now some of my readers will, too.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Honestly, I still don’t, but I assume they’re doing something right, as this story tells. Why are you reading the footnotes anyway? Get back to the post!
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3 Responses

  1. There’s another thing nobody understands until they’ve been in the chair being buffed and puffed by hair and makeup artists — they serve as emotional boosters to get the actor (or in my case, non-actor) pumped up, confident, and ready to face the camera. I had no idea how important that was until I sat in that chair, having been drafted (against my will) to replace a no-show actor in a music video. As she worked on my non-thespian face, the makeup woman soothed and flattered me until I felt like Cary Grant, at which point I marched out of the trailer ready to give it a go.

    My newfound confidence lasted right up until I found myself staring into the cold glass eye of the camera lens — at which point I froze up like a cigar store indian. But hey, I was a gaffer at the time, not an actor.

    Still, I’ll never forget my fifteen minutes in the makeup chair — or my newfound respect for the skills of the make up and hair department.

  2. Thank you for sharing your new found appreciation for Makeup and Hairstylists !
    It’s important to many of us to keep continuity. I myself am taken right out of a movie/tv show when there is an obvious mismatch. As an IATSE makeup artist for forty years, I’ve been burrowing through crew members to reach actors for touch ups. It’s important to us and the outcome of the project is enhanced when everyone wants to do their job and help eachother achieve theirs.
    Cheers !!

  3. TAPA!! What the hell is wrong with you. It’s not just about making people attractive, it’s about fitting them into their characters. Take the same woman: smokey eye and a red lip, vixen. Minimal eyeliner and nude lip: FBI agent.

    PLUS, lighting washes out features and at a bare minimum they need to be seen. Men too. And of course covering up actors’ zits.

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