THE MAKE UP STRATEGY
Byline: Andrea Bermudez
LOS ANGELES — Makeup artist Farah Bunch, who works on NBC’s “The Weber Show,” is dreading the possibility that she’ll have to move back home if the writers’ strike is realized.
Bunch is just one of the 3,000 or so unionized film and TV makeup artists and hairstylists facing the ugly reality of going on a forced sabbatical from primping the world’s most beautiful for their on-screen close-ups.
“We all understand the complaints of the writers and actors, but it’s really tough for us — who work just as hard, yet make one-sixteenth of what they make — to be that sympathetic,” said Bunch. “My friends and I are just not in a good enough financial position to be able to withstand this long of a drought.”
According to the Hollywood Makeup Artist & Hairstylist Union, Local 706, its members, who average two to three films a year, stand to lose from $15,000 for beginning to middle-tier artists per film to upwards of $50,000 per film for top artists.
Television hair and makeup artists who average two series a year stand to lose from $18,000 to $36,000 per series.
“Strike or no strike, hair and makeup people will suffer the consequences of this power struggle,” said veteran makeup artist Marvin Westmore, president of the Local 706 union.
Recalling similar strikes in the mid-Forties and Fifties, Westmore added: “All the studios have been in a major jam for the last six months finishing up projects in preparation for the strike and are now so stocked that it’s going to be a very slow pickup.”
Hairstylist Susan Germaine, whose film credits include “The Cell” and actress Jennifer Lopez’s yet-to-be-released flick “Enough,” agreed.
“The producers are fine. They have at least six month’s worth of film to get them through the strike,” she said. “It’s everyone else in the industry who is really going to feel this,” Germaine said.
Patty Bunch, makeup artist on the NBC shows “Will & Grace” and “The Fighting Fitzgeralds” (and mother of Farah Bunch), remembers the effects the five-month writers’ strike in 1988 had on her colleagues.
“It took years for those people to recover. I remember several hair and makeup people even ended up living in their cars for some time,” she said.
Patty Bunch added she knows of many people who work in makeup and hair who have taken out loans and extended credit lines to carry them over in the event the strike happens as planned.
Valli O’Reilly, a 20-year makeup veteran whose resume includes films such as “The Family Man,” said the “problem is that many people in hair and makeup live paycheck-to-paycheck. A lot of people really live their lives to the max and count on being able to work back-to-back movies. And while they do work a lot, they don’t put a lot away,” she said. “Fortunately, I’m one of those people who knows better to save for a rainy day anyway.”
Hairstylist Linda Gursaich, who’s worked on “The Doors” and “All The President’s Men,” admonished that “hair and makeup people have to remember that we don’t get residuals, we only get paid when we work. The veterans in the industry always advised having a years work of wages saved for situations such as these.”
Newcomers like Kathleen Freeman-Smith are aware of the disadvantage of their rookie status.
“I am nervous because obviously having not done it for as long as some other people, when there is work it’s probably going to come to me last,” said Freeman-Smith, who’s been doing makeup for four years and is currently working on the set of the Al Pacino vehicle “Simone.”
All hope to avoid an inevitable strike side effect when it comes to their fees.
“There’s definitely going to be a lot of low-balling out there because the producers or unit production managers know that there will be people wanting and needing work,” said Cheryl Nick, who made up Cameron Diaz on the “Charlie’s Angels” set and worked on both “Austin Power” films. “They’re going to offer much lower rates than we’re used to, and that puts us in a really uncomfortable situation.”
But not all are so fearful.
Well-known makeup artist Ronnie Specter, a 20-year veteran who’s worked on “Castaway,” said she was booked until late June on a film starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Robin Wright-Penn and was “personally not worried or upset, but could actually use the break to work on other things” such as developing her own line of cosmetics and teaching.
Madeline Leonard, an agent representing many top hair and makeup artists through the Cloutier agency, said she expects the strike to have little effect on her business, because most of her clients “also do editorial, which we don’t see being affected at all.”
But Leonard does expect the strike to affect all the premieres, charity screenings, press junkets and related events that go with a film release. “I think at the end of the day it comes down to how long the strike lasts, and since we don’t know that, we’re all in the dark until then.”
Daniella Milton, owner of Hollywood-based the Milton Agency said that “apart from silence of my phones, I’ve been lucky so far. I’m just trying to be optimistic.”
Farah Bunch is also “hoping for the best. We’ve all been kind of forced to look in other avenues. I was even thinking of going to massage school, but then my mom said, ‘What’s the point? No one is going to be able to afford a massage anyway.”‘