An inside look at the film and television makeup industry

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Photo credit: Sarah Blatcher.

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Makeup artists fulfil one of the most important – and certainly one of the most under-appreciated – roles on any film or television set. These professionals are responsible for distinctively styling our favourite characters; for bringing them to life and transforming them as we experience their hardships and victories; and for maintaining crucial continuity as the narrative unfolds.

In Screen Africa’s first feature on this aspect of the industry, we spoke to film and television makeup professionals Maritsa Maritz and Sarah Blatcher about some of the job’s most interesting quirks, its key challenges and rewards.

STARTING OUT IN THE INDUSTRY

Both respondents describe similar paths into the professional makeup world, characterised by intensive training, hard work, grit and persistence.

After majoring in makeup and props building, Maritz left Pretoria Technikon (now the Tshwane University of Technology) and immediately stepped into “a three-month unpaid internship on Isidingo.” Her good work on set was noticed, and from there she “ended up working for Endemol for two years on a live show called Play TV” before being snapped up by Red Pepper Pictures on a full-time basis. Now a freelancer, Maritz can reflect with pride on a 15-year career that has seen her work on “countless TV shows, music videos, corporate and photo shoots,” and – just in the last two years – act as makeup and hair HOD on three films: Vuil Wasgoed, Thys & Trix and the highly-anticipated remake of Fiela se Kind.

Similarly, Blatcher was “a fresh graduate of Performing Arts Technology” when she started out, a process she describes as follows: “In between my full time job at the time, I was trying to build my experience and portfolio on my days off and weekends. I took every single job that I could get. My very first job was an M-NET short film called André Metstrepie. Eventually, one makes a name for oneself – and by word of mouth, the jobs became more frequent.”

INDUSTRY CHALLENGES

As Blatcher puts it: “I have always been a drawer and a painter and I swung towards makeup as it fulfils my creative needs. I love film and, in the same breath, I often get to help woman feel more confident in their own skin – which has always been a huge job satisfaction point for me.”

But what do these professionals wish that outsiders understood about the role of makeup artists within the industry?

“Makeup as a career in South Africa is not really taken seriously,” Maritz says. “People outside the industry usually think it is a hobby and not something that actually pays the bills. But it is a sustainable career; you can make a living from it. We are workaholics with lots of stamina who can stand on our feet for more than 10 hours a day. Usually we carry our own body weight in makeup boxes. We can survive anything, from freezing cold to sweltering heat, trekking through impossible locations, ADs breathing down our necks, all the while still doing amazing work.”

Blatcher adds: “I wish people outside of the industry realised just how much prep goes into each movie for a makeup artist, as well as all the other crew members. Studying the scripts, researching the characters and developing their ‘looks,’ as well as ensuring your makeup inventory is correct for the specific roles or characters or scenes, all takes a lot of prep work which people don’t always know about.”

And Maritz points out that, “Aside from doing transformations with makeup, we are also the emotional support to the cast. We see them at their most vulnerable – first thing in the morning and last thing at night. We are the ones who wipe away tears, provide comfort and reassure them.”

TECHNICAL FEATS

We’ve all witnessed convincing transformations on screen – as a recent example, Christian Bale’s astonishing embodiment of Dick Cheney in Vice – but what makeup tricks are the most difficult to pull off? And how do makeup artists manage continuity in appearance over long shoots, where scenes are more often than not captured in a non-linear fashion?

Blatcher says: “Reverse ageing is the most difficult application to overcome. Reverse ageing requires a significant budget – and in reality, the budgets in South Africa are marginal, a lot less than what you would get overseas. We are often asked to make a very well-known actor a lot younger without being given the necessary amount of time to prepare prosthetics, even if the budget allowed for them.

“I manage my continuity by maintaining detailed face charts and constantly taking photos throughout the day of the specific characters and categorising them. As you can imagine, the paper work also becomes quite a challenge; however, if you are diligent and stay focused it is manageable.”

Maritz echoes these thoughts, saying: “Every different aspect of makeup comes with its own set of challenges. The key is to identify and plan for those challenges to the best of your ability in pre-production. Eighty per cent of the time your plans go out the window on set and you need to troubleshoot and adapt on the fly. I think anything realistic, like ageing, is challenging. Doing realistic ageing on a young actor takes a lot of skill and practice. Anything in the fantasy realm usually gives you a bit of leeway.”

Maritz also agrees with Blatcher about the need for thorough preparation to ensure continuity on set. “Pre-Production is key for makeup continuity. Making sure you know your script off by heart, doing a complete breakdown of every scene. Sourcing and fabricating everything you will need for every actor in every scene. Liaising with the continuity supervisor and director. Checking shooting schedules to see when you need to do what on a specific actor. It takes a bit of brainwork and juggling to make sure you think of everything, so that the day you start principle photography you are well prepared. There are not really many programs or systems you can use for makeup continuity. The most popular one is Makeup Pro, but it only works on iPads. So we usually create our own systems by logging digital and written data of every scene and taking a million photos.”

She concludes by adding, “You also need to surround yourself with an incredible team of assistants and standbys that you can trust. Film is a team sport. They need to be able to keep the wheels turning without you there.”

MILESTONE TRANSFORMATIONS

To wrap up our discussion, we asked the respondents to share their proudest makeup transformations with us, as well as some key pieces of advice for those looking to make their way in this unique industry.

For Blatcher, her highlight to date was “In 2014, when The Avengers sequel was filmed in the Johannesburg CBD. I was one of the lucky makeup artists to be selected to work every day of the 10 days of filming. The scene is only eight minutes long in the film and is mostly shots of the South African Police Service trying to keep the peace in the city streets as the Incredible Hulk tears up the tar beneath him. During this time, we had approximately 25 stunt men that could do the job, and each day we had to transform them to look like new police men with limited coloured wigs and hair pieces. But we managed to transform them each day to look like completely new police men by flocking on moustaches, flecking freckles and changing hair colours with the use of our airbrushes and other techniques. It was a first-class set and I was very proud to be a part of it.”

“One that really stands out for me is a film I worked on last year,” says Maritz. “A remake of Fiela se Kind written and directed by Brett Michael Innes. We had the same vision of where we visually wanted to go with the characters. Creating the dirty, weathered Knysna woodcutter characters was definitely a highlight, as well as changing their ages for the different timelines. Also, a couple of years back the rapper EVE was in SA for a tour and I was her personal makeup artist. That is also a fond memory.”

For Maritz, the secret to a successful career in the industry centres on “continuous education. Never stop learning and bettering your techniques. Do a business or entrepreneur course. Learn how to manage yourself , your money and your career. And be a team player, it takes a village to make a film.”

And in Blatcher’s view: “If I could give anyone starting in make-up some advice it would be to keep a thick skin and stay humble. Some jobs will be extremely challenging, and others will be very rewarding. Working in a country where the film industry is still developing, one can’t be too fussy about which job you take, especially when you are still starting out. You never stop learning in this life so get out there and paint some faces!”

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