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Starting Out by Sara Whalley


Squashed into a tiny, hot bathroom, trying not to get crushed by bags of equipment, I am applying makeup to my actress who is perched on the toilet seat. We only met moments ago and here I am practically straddling her to get on some lippy. Thankfully, we both see the humour in the situation. This isn’t the first time I have had to work in unusual locations and days like this one are becoming increasingly the norm. Welcome to the glamourous life of a TV and Film Makeup Artist!

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I graduated from BAMM 4 months ago and it’s been a busy few months adventuring into the film and television industry. Starting out it can seem quite daunting. I won’t lie to you – it’s hard work. A lot of what I am doing at the moment is unpaid and, although it’s tough finding the balance of paying rent and gaining industry experience, I am really enjoying myself. I love what I do and what I am learning after every job is so valuable.

To begin with I designed the hair and makeup for a couple of student films. I would highly recommend anyone starting out to do a couple of these as they are a great way to learn about making films, without the huge pressures of bigger budget productions. Not only do you put your newly acquired knowledge and makeup skills into practice but you begin to understand and learn about other people’s roles and what an on-set environment is like. You have the leeway to make mistakes and learn from them without the consequences being too drastic. Students are also really creative, with a lot of resources to hand- so you really can get to work on some really interesting projects.

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Recently I’ve been working on a few independent short films. It is on these that I feel I am truly finding my feet and beginning to develop as a Makeup Artist. You are part of the crew and need to ‘step up’ in delivering the high standard of work expected of you. As a result, I am so much more aware of continuity and the importance of doing a script break down (again, this increasingly builds on the strong foundations of knowledge that I acquired at BAMM). Knowing your stuff not only looks professional but saves valuable time as you are prepared for each scene coming up. Another time saver is making sure you are prepared for anything and everything- never be caught short and always be quick thinking. You never know what you will be faced with. Everything is a learning curve and although I have graduated from BAMM I feel my education is still only just beginning!

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From the films I have been working on I am already seeing some of the same faces on different jobs. It’s always a nice feeling to see someone familiar going onto a new project. Networking and making good professional connections is incredibly important as a freelancer as these connections are likely to help you find the next piece of work. So many times at BAMM we were told by tutors that being friendly and being able to work well in a team was a huge part of being successful in this industry and I couldn’t agree more. Working on these smaller films I have sometimes found I have needed to get stuck in, not only within my role as a Makeup Artist but to help in other areas too. When I have found I have some spare time (because often only a minimum amount of people can go to a location, for example), I’ve taken on other responsibilities to help out. Such additional responsibilities have included coordinating costumes, carrying kit, taking over cooking lunch for everyone- and then anything and everything in between! If it needs to be done to help keep us on schedule then I am willing to play my part in achieving that aim. Where I have been able to help I have done so. Being a team player not only helps you build those crucial working relationships it can help break up those long waiting periods in between takes!

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What I love most is the variety of work I get to do and the different experiences that come from it. No day is the same when filming. I get to meet new people from all backgrounds and go to different locations, often having to set up at some bizarre makeshift makeup stations (back of vans, derelict shops, toilets…!). Becoming a makeup artist has opened up a whole new world for me. It has tested my imagination, grown my confidence and challenged me to take control over my career. I am looking forward to taking these experiences with me into a makeup room as a trainee makeup artist and developing under the guidance of a designer but, until then, I will keep going for every opportunity that comes my way. Who knows what the next job may bring!?

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