TV / Movie Sets
A lot of people get into beauty for the glamour. They want to do hair/make-up backstage on Broadway, on the set of a movie or for the cast of a TV series. It may seem like a big dream, but there are lots of opportunities for hair and make-up professionals who polish their skills and take steps that can lead to this type of work.
First, of course, you have to go to beauty school and then get your cosmetology license. No matter where you go in this business, you have to be licensed. After that, you can take a couple of roads.
Where to live
You can stay in any city and still have the opportunity to work on locally produced theater and TV shows such as the local news. Sometimes when movies are shot on location, the producers will hire local professionals. Commercials also are produced in various cities. You’ll probably work in a salon, too, to make sure you have a steady income, and this combination can provide a varied, fulfilling career.
If you’re thinking a little more big-time, though, you may have to relocate to New York City or Los Angeles. Beverly Hills hairdresser Billy Lowe has done hair on the sets of “Desperate Housewives,” “Queer as Folk” and Ellen Degeneres’s talk show, and he’s the personal stylist to Jennifer Coolidge, who played the manicurist in the movie “Legally Blonde” and Joey’s agent in the TV show “Joey.” Lowe says that a good way to start in this field is to try for a job at a salon that has a reputation for attracting a celebrity clientele. You also can freelance, which means you’re not based at a salon but are available for work as projects come up. To succeed at freelancing, you’ll need to already have some experience in film or TV work.
Whether you’re in L.A., NYC or small-town America, and whether you’re associated with a salon or freelancing, Lowe says the way to start is to get involved on community committees and volunteer for charity events such as doing hair backstage at a fashion show fundraiser. Once you start mixing with the right people, “one thing leads to another,” he notes.
What’s it really like
Doing hair or make-up on celebrities can involve two very different types of work:
1. You can become the star’s personal stylist or make-up artist. You’ll do her updo for a special occasion like an awards show, where she’ll be photographed a lot, but you’ll also keep her looking good day to day.
2. You can be hired to do the hair or make-up on the set of a show or movie, where you’ll create characters that probably are meant to look real, not necessarily glamorous. This job involves working with wigs and doing research, since you may have to turn an actor into a monster/creature, create a style for a different historical period or develop several looks as the story follows the character’s aging. This type of craft is a true specialty, says Sean Flanigan, head of the hair department on the set of “Grey’s Anatomy.”
When you first start working with celebrities, it’s easy to be very “omg, I loved you in that movie!!!” Try not to be such a groupie, cautions Billy Lowe.
“I never over-praise a client,” he notes. “When you’re with celebrities, it’s not your job to go over their credits with them. It’s ok to let them know you appreciate their work and enjoyed watching a show, but just don’t overdo it. Your job as a professional is to do their hair. They need to know that they’re in great hands and they will look their best. Often when they’re in your chair they’re studying a script or working on a speech. If they’re not, you can chat. But it’s not about boasting their credits to them. They know who they are. Once you get to know them you realize they’re people, too. They’ll talk about their dog or the grocery store. It actually makes you appreciate them even more.”
Elan Bongiorno, personal make-up artist to Eva Longoria and Heather Locklear, says it’s just as important to be discreet when you’re not with the star. “I never talk about the celebrities,” she says. “That’s probably one reason I’ve been successful.”
Flanigan tells new people in the profession that if they work hard and keep their eye on the prize, they’ll be able to get this type of work. “There are so many ends of our industry that I find amazing,” he says.
See related article, “I work with celebs.”