Ah, the glamorous life…or is it? Life behind the scenes with Hollywood’s most successful hair and makeup artists.
This story first appeared in the April 20, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
For movie makeup department head Tricia Sawyer, the film I Know Who Killed Me officially wrapped at 4:30 a.m. on March 6 after a 19-hour day and 14 solid weeks (excluding a hiatus of three due to star Lindsay Lohan’s rehab stint) of work.
Through it all, the makeup trailer was her home, as evidenced by the loose bags of almonds (for sustenance,) Mariage Frères candles (a calming pleasure her fiancé doesn’t quite understand), cupcakes made by her soon-to-be stepdaughter for Lohan and magazines strewn about the place to pass the time.
And on a movie set, if you’re a hairstylist or makeup artist, there is plenty of time to pass, but precious minutes to actually get the task done. Life is one long stretch of downtime punctuated by bursts of frenetic activity when actresses and actors are being prepped. For directors, makeup and hair, no matter how important, prevents stars from doing their main job: acting. The less time primping takes, the better.
On the last day of I Know Who Killed Me, Sawyer arrives on the set at 10:42 a.m. She, her assistant Brooke Bell, and hairstylist Anne Morgan make phone calls, check e-mails and chat—and try to calm the frazzled nerves of the assistant director, who stops by repeatedly in a state of extreme panic. He needs Lohan now and repeatedly pops his head into the makeup trailer to check if she’s there. “How long will she take?” he asks with life-or-death seriousness. A half-hour for hair and 15 minutes for makeup is the reply. “These guys have no sense of humor,” Sawyer says in an aside.
Finally, shortly after 1 p.m., Lohan moseys into the trailer with no aura of urgency. She updates the crew on her latest purchases—a phone and a tattoo. “I had to do something, I was getting too anxious,” she says, explaining the inking. After the schoolgirlish catching-up ends, Lohan plops down in the chair to be made over. She shuts her eyes as Morgan twirls her hair into curlers and Sawyer paints her nails and puts on fake eyelashes.
The pressure is on. The A.D. brings the news: Time has run out. With curlers still in her hair, Lohan exits the trailer. Sawyer spruces up her makeup on the set, just before the cameras roll.
Time is money, and nowhere is that more apparent than on a movie shoot. This low-budget film, Sawyer estimates, costs around $150,000 a day to produce. Every minute of overrun is a potential budget buster.
Making a movie, many in the business of doing so say, is akin to starting, operating and taking down a multimillion dollar company in a matter of weeks. The short lifespan makes the experience intense—the budget constraints, bonding, stress and workload are all turned up a notch. And of course, like any office, it has its share of politics, a particular breed of which exists in the makeup trailer.
“There is a stigma in this business that there are three types of hair and makeup people. There are the movie kind, the TV kind and the fashion kind,” says Richard Marin, who leaped from styling hair for the runway and magazines to coiffing the Friends cast for 34 episodes. “The TV people have the stigma of not knowing how to do very good hair and makeup because they don’t keep up with fashion. Movie people have a stigma of not having loves because they go away for four to six months at a time. The fashion kind, they say, ‘Oh, I would never do this [film or TV] job. I only do covers and advertising campaigns.’”
True or not, the perception of difference has historically kept makeup artists and hairstylists in the various fields on separate career paths. Case in point: When Marin consulted his peers about Friends, he was told it was an awful move for someone building a model- and celebrity-studded portfolio. Times change. Ultimately, says Marin, “It was the best thing I did for my career,” and more and more artists are making the move.
Madeline Leonard, who runs Cloutier Agency in Los Angeles, traces the growth in requests for personalized hair and makeup artists to Friends. The powerful cast could handpick crew members. Marin, for instance, has continued to work with Jennifer Aniston, most recently on an episode of Dirt, Lisa Kudrow on Analyze This and Courteney Cox on Scream 2.
Other actors and actresses craved their own support staff too. Of course, special treatment for stars is not new. Susan Cabral-Ebert, president of the nearly 1,700-member IATSE Local 706, the makeup artists and hairstylists guild, names Marlene Dietrich and Grace Kelly as two icons who had their own beauty teams. What is new is that a star now doesn’t have to be of Dietrich’s and Kelly’s caliber to make demands.
The Friends phenomenon coincided with the demise of the supermodel and the rise of the super celebrity in its place. With actresses gracing magazine covers, they became accustomed to top hairstylists and makeup artists. In turn, those stylists and artists have tied their careers to the stars, taking film and television jobs previously frowned upon to build relationships. “The line is blurred,” says Marin.
The staggering power of Hollywood to set trends has made its allure to hair and makeup artists undeniable. “In America, only when something exists on television is it real or important,” says Kristofer Buckle, a makeup artist who works with Mariah Carey and has been behind the scenes on her films. He outlines the arch of a hair or makeup trend: It starts on the runway and gets filtered through magazines, movies and films, where it is interpreted for the masses who take pictures of their favorite stars to makeup counters or salons to emulate the looks.
Angela Levin has worked in all media during her career. “The profile of the girls whom I work with is that once they find someone they’re comfortable with, they prefer to keep working with them,” says Levin, a celebrity makeup artist who is under contract with Chanel. Her “girls” include Bette Midler, Aniston and Nicole Kidman, for whom Levin did makeup on three movies—His Dark Materials: Golden Compass, The Invasion and Margot at the Wedding—in production this year.
Still, such requests can cause tension on the set. A top star might request a stylist from a favorite salon who cuts her hair but has no film background. “This happened recently and the person had never been on a set before. They didn’t even know the word ‘wrap,’” says Bunny Parker, who headed hair departments on Crash and Bobby. “It makes it hard on the rest of us who are qualified.”
Nicki Ledermann, known for her makeup artistry on The Devil Wears Prada and Sex and the City, notes another drawback: Consistency of the movies’ look can suffer. On a movie like Bobby, for example, Parker was hair department head, but Demi Moore, Sharon Stone and Lohan all had their own hairstylists and makeup artists. The result: Some criticized the film’s makeup for not being Sixties-appropriate throughout the cast.
That’s why one of Sawyer’s always-there professional tools is a continuity notebook with digital pictures of characters during scenes throughout the movie, along with a list of the makeup used. Horror stories abound in makeup and hair circles about failures of continuity. During a movie he declined to name, Donald Mowat, a makeup artist who worked with Mark Wahlberg on The Departed and Shooter, bloodied a lead actor for a fist fight. The fight was nixed in the editing room, and the actor’s mouth went from unhurt to busted for no apparent reason. “Sometimes you watch a movie and say, ‘Why is she made up like that and there is nothing to link it up,’” Mowat says. “Those breaks are hard. The audience should [be able to] follow it.”
Schooled in hair on fashion shoots and runways, John Frieda expert Kerry Warn says nailing down film continuity can become repetitive. On Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick dragged out one scene for weeks. Every day of shooting, Warn was required to perfect the exact same hairdo on Nicole Kidman. “Doing fashion, I never really paid attention to [continuity]. You altered the girl as she was standing there,” he says. “[On movies], to have to make sure the hair looks the same, it’s a stretch.”
The studios resist star demands for their own reasons. According to a 1993 labor agreement between the studios and the union, a base wage scale for a makeup artist or hairstylist on a movie with a budget of $10 million or more is $44.51 an hour. That doesn’t include overtime—an average day can run from 14 to 16 hours—and what is called a box rental for supplies that can be several hundred per day. But a primo celebrity makeup or hair person doing a movie can earn up to $6,000 or more a week in rare instances, not to mention first-class airfare, luxury hotel accommodations and use of an air-conditioned car during shooting.
Studios simply don’t want to cover the extra salaries. To cut costs, many have capped star perks at lump sums. They’ve also lobbied for makeup and hair people to double up on duties, taking care of both a lead star and the department. Makeup or hair department heads report to the director, hire staff (a six-person staff is about average, but reportedly up to 80 makeup and hair people worked on Marie Antoinette) and oversee a film’s look.
The structure of the hair and makeup industry itself helps keep costs down. Celebrity makeup artists and hairstylists stay out of film because they can make better pay elsewhere. Makeup artist Molly Stern, who regularly handles Reese Witherspoon’s red-carpet events and joined her on Just Like Heaven and the upcoming Rendition, estimated an in-demand celebrity freelancer notches $1,500 to $4,000 a day, versus at most about $10,000 a week on a movie. On top of that, lucrative contracts with makeup companies are not doled out on the basis of movie or television credits. “Someone who doesn’t work on films, but who has freelance and celebrity [clients] has the same opportunity to get a contract with a line,” says Stern, who has a deal with CoverGirl.
Money isn’t everything. Movies are arduous. Weeks at a time may have to be spent in remote destinations and the days are long. After four months in London on Killing Me Softly with Heather Graham, Stern had her fill of the movie business. “It was a miserable experience. The people weren’t hellacious, but the hours [were]. I was far away, and I was lonely,” she says.
Teamwork is necessary to get through the process. The only diva on a movie is the star. No others need apply. The collaborative environment attracted makeup artist Ledermann, who originally broke into the business practicing her craft in magazines. “Fashion is very superficial. It’s very in the moment. It’s very glitzy. It depressed me because I felt there is more to life than this,” she says. “In film, because of the screenplays and all the variety of people, you experience life in very different aspects.”
The type of work is very different as well. A film makeup artist’s job, unlike a celebrity makeup artist, is to make a character realistic, not ultraglamorous. Celebrity makeup artist Stern found toning down the makeup tricky on Just Like Heaven. Witherspoon’s character was in a coma—not exactly red-carpet ready—for the majority of the movie.
As a rule, makeup artists and hairstylists carefully study the script to tease out clues about the character and the context. Then discussion takes place with the director and actor, who share thoughts about how the character should be developed.
That was Enzo Angileri’s protocol on A Few Good Men, where he styled Demi Moore’s hair. The hair had to be convincing for a military woman. It had to exude toughness, and simultaneously be sexy and beautiful, all while hidden under a hat for much of the movie. The solution was a short cut that would loosen with a quick blow-dry.
On the movie Georgia Rule, scheduled for release in May, Marin had to believably style Felicity Huffman’s hair to follow dramatic plot twists. Huffman starts off looking normal, even trendy, then goes through a breakdown and chops off her hair. Marin took his scissors to wigs over and over again, but director Gary Marshall pushed for more. “I don’t have a lot of practice making people look horrible, but finally I just went for it and cut these big holes in the wig,” recounts Marin. “[Huffman] walked out onto the set and showed the wig. [Marshall] yelled out, ‘You look hideous. It’s perfect.’”
On period pieces, makeup artist and hairstylists raid Warner Research for vintage Look, Ladies’ Home Journal and Vogue magazines for inspiration. Old movies can come in handy as well. Brad Wilder watched Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday before starting on Leatherheads, a movie set in the Twenties. Russell’s attitude and liberated style informed Wilder about the makeup for Renée Zellweger, who plays a ballsy reporter. A modern woman of the time, he learned, was empowered to use makeup extensively, even—gasp—audaciously flashing her lipstick and compact in public.
Shooting on film can be complex, too. One rule of thumb according to Wilder: Everything skews darker. “You can use a dark brown eyeliner, and it’s going to look relatively black on film,” he warns. Another mistake is to apply overly iridescent foundation. On film, it can make the actress appear sweaty. In the height of Technicolor, foundations with pink in them were a mainstay. Yellow-tinged bases are the current staple today.
Working on The Hours, Warn learned firsthand how camera filters can alter appearance. Because Kidman’s character aged, he had to turn her hair gray. On the initial tries, her hair came off as blonde through the filters. “It’s a question of toning it, not changing it drastically,” he says. “We should cool the color down a bit if it’s looking too warm and vice versa.”
To Sawyer, certainly, being comfortable behind the scenes in the makeup trailer is key to the job. After all, she’s in one a lot. Sawyer, who is also busy spearheading a namesake beauty line for QVC, is headed soon to Florida to age Sharon Stone 20 years for a cameo in Rocket and then probably off to London for a movie with Lindsay Lohan and Keira Knightley. If her schedule seems crazy, that’s because it is. After all, this is Hollywood. And as Audrey Hepburn said in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, “A girl can’t read without her lipstick.”