How Freelancers Can Succeed: Pro makeup artist Carron Wells gives aspiring newbies a wakeup call as to the level of professionalism needed to enter the film and TV industry. She shares with Ande Schurr eleven essential traits of a successful makeup artist, and how a simple change of attitude helped turn her off-and-on freelancing work into a flourishing business.
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A few days ago, I was part of a crew filming a senior executive who was asked to talk about professionalism. "It's such a hackneyed phrase", he lamented, as he tried to replace the word so that it made sense to him.
I was surprised to hear his comment because I had just finished interviewing my latest freelancer for this column, makeup artist Carron Wells, who spoke about professionalism so eloquently and practically that I was left in no doubt as to the importance of the word in this day and age, regardless of how many times it is uttered.
I can only imagine that, in some corporate circles, certain words lose their meaning and become 'hackneyed' because they are repeated too often without proper understanding. It is a shame because, in my opinion, there is no greater experience than to work with a crew who embody a professional work ethic and attitude.
After 25 years in the film and TV industry, Carron Wells does not beat around the bush with words. She knows what she is talking about.
Carron brings to this interview certain understandings that I have heretofore understood as vague concepts. The chief insight being, that when you are in your element as a freelancer, your life is no longer your own - so to speak. You are 'overtaken' by your work and you become a different person; a professional. Your energy, time, money go towards perfecting yourself and your craft.
How did you become involved with the professional makeup franchise, Beauty On Demand?
I purchased a franchise 4 years ago called Beauty On Demand. It sent me off into another stratosphere as far as work load.
In the film industry you tend to be working full on or you're not and it was quite hard for me to manage my whole life - considering bringing up children and wanting to live an independent life-style and everything that goes with that.
I decided to get into this franchise system whereby the work load increased because it covered a whole lot of different areas that you could work in - reaching out to the more general public, weddings, parties, special occasions, anything that you want to get dressed up for and be made to feel great for the occasion. That's what made me get into that. After about three years of working really very hard, I decided that the best way to spread out and capture a wider audience was to bring on board newbies or other women who wanted to increase their income.
Being in the industry 25 years you get to be known so I was getting a lot of people coming to me directly rather than the franchise system. However I can only be in one place at one time so that's when I started sending people out on jobs rather than turning the job away.
22 years as a freelancer, 3 years in the franchise, now I have a bit of both; I'm freelancing but also subcontracting to the franchise because people are coming to me directly. For those people who work under me, I 'clip the ticket' , that is, I take a cut from their rate.
Don't people want Carron Wells rather than 'her people'? Don't they hire a person because of their personality?
That's what I thought initially but at the end of the day what people are concerned about is getting a professional job done. They're not really that interested in the personality. I had that belief for a long long time, which stopped me growing and expanding because what they want is 'Me'! But what they really want is a professional to turn up, do the job on time, work within a team, and deliver everything that is within the expectations of the director or the producer.
But surely on longer term feature films the production considers the personalities carefully before deciding on their crew.
Sure - I'm talking more about little jobs that come along.
How does your strategy of creating a team of makeup artists translate for the other crew positions?
[In the case of sound], I would be very interested in nurturing and looking after someone who has just been to sound school and wants to get into the industry and almost give them an apprenticeship. So you're bringing them up through the industry, nurturing them. They're getting the experience with you hands-on rather than being in a school and when you get more and more work come to you - and you're confident and they're confident in their ability - and they know exactly what to do then you could send them out if something popped up - if you were on a feature film or a big job.
After 25 years in the industry have you seen it all?
No. Every day brings new challenges. You are meeting new people, you're being thrown into the unknown, you are so open because there are so many different personalities out there and so many different people that they all bring their challenges and idiosyncrasies. So you have to be able to multi-function as a person and be able to live up to their expectations of whatever they expect from you so every day is different. You could be working on a film, in a studio setting, on a boat, in a paddock, with helicopters and you can't control what you're going into each day - you're at the beck and call of the production or the weather or the location. And with that brings its challenges - you have to be very adaptable each day.
You come across as someone who doesn't get displaced easily. Is that true?
I think so. You just learn to breathe, stay calm. Because that displaced feeling just adds to the boiling pot - throwing water on the fire as it were. So I've learned to keep calm and not getting too rattled by things from the outside. It is one of the most hardest things to learn because everything is out of your control.[Film shoots are] often run like an army with a strict sense of hierarchy and it has to be that way - people are money and time is money. If someone is speaking and dithering around for 40 minutes, it is costing a lot of money.
What advice can you give the people who wish to enter the film industry as a makeup artist?
You have to be very passionate about what they want to do because it is not an easy industry to get into. The reason for that is that there's a lot of people who dream or want to be in the industry. They see it as perhaps glamorous or very creative but that is only a little part of it. The reality, as you know, is long long days, uncomfortable locations and situations. So what they need to do is really choose their school well. What may look wonderful on the outside when they go along to interview the school - if they're going to be there for a year or two - is do your research. It may look glossy on the outside but the reality may not be quite what it is cracked up to be. Do your homework. Find out who went to the school and what they're doing now.
Do you suggest students contact people who are successful within the industry?
Absolutely. If you move and shake with the people who are doing well then you almost become the things you're thinking. You become a part of them and take them on yourself. Positivity is a really big one - you must think things first before they become a reality. If you want to succeed you must think of the people who already successful.
How can a student stand out while they're still training?
You can do a lot of hard work yourself over and above the school curriculum. Offer your services to photographers who want to do 'look books' and testing with models. Go out on your days when you're not at school with other hair and makeup people; go to other photographic shoots, or come to a set or hook yourself up with a local production. It's very full on. It has to become a life-style. It is not just a job because it entails many different facets of human nature.
You almost have to be the type of person where it's part of your personality to do this. Almost like your 'calling'. That is, you've really thought about it and know that this is what you want to do. There's a lot of compromise. Because of the unsociable hours you often have to get up really early in the morning and you're often working late into the night. You're often working weekends so it has to become part of you as a person.
Can you describe the personality needed to succeed as a makeup artist?
1. You must have a real love of people.
2. Flexibility to work any hour of the day or night, at any location, with all types of people.
3. Very creative and a visual person so you can actually foresee what the end result will be before it is conceived.
4. Good grooming, personal hygiene, neat and tidy in your appearance.
5. Fashion conscious yet not over the top because that draws attention to you. Personal flair.
6. Being fit and strong within yourself.
7. A good listener because it is not all about you. It's not about you putting your whole self forward. Often you've got to be quite subtle in your approach and calm and really good at listening. For example, whoever you're working with - the people, the production - you must consider them rather than putting yourself forward and being loud and rash and exuberant and overly confident.
But wouldn't you say the film industry caters for all personality types not just the quieter ones or does makeup specifically require a more gentle type of person?
Yes, you have to nurture and build the person you're working on rather than being the center of attention. Flamboyancy and over confidence doesn't actually cut it. It is phoney. You have to believe in yourself.
It is widely known that a lot of things are shared between talent and makeup. How would you describe the relationship?
It's very very personal that relationship you have with your subject. You're often told a lot of things that have to be in confidence. I guess that comes with maturity. A lot of makeup artists and hairdressers that have been in the industry for a long time only become successful when they're in their 50s and 60s so the longevity is amazing. You know, you see all the key makeup people and head of departments overseas, and particularly in the States, are all 50-60 years old. I suppose with that, and why they're chosen and why they're so successful, is the maturity. You can only do it and work hard in the industry for a long time to get those badges and get those points. It's about winning your badges, doing your time.
What else differentiates a successful makeup artist from those who don't make it?
8. A really good kit with prestigious brands and good products. I've notice a lot of the 'newbie' people coming out of the schools, their kit is often made up of $2 shop products that they're using in a professional setting.
9. Good hygiene. Your brushes must be impeccable. They're the tools of the trade. If you turn up with dirty brushes that have been used on someone else - it just doesn't look good. It looks terrible and unhygienic.
10. Aligning yourself with good people in the world. Networking skills.
11. A willingness to be part of a team. From turning up to do a wedding and getting on with all the different personalities in the bridal party to working with a production.
What gives you the most joy as a makeup artist?
The ability to help people realise their dreams. Turning their dreams into reality. Whether it be the director's or creative director's idea and then making it happen on a film shoot or TVC - to - making a bride feel like this is her special day and turning her into the princess that she desires to be. So it is the ability to making people feel really good. It is about celebration and making people feel wonderful. I think that is the best part of the job. Along with this is the pleasure that comes when a production trusts you and your abilities and feels secure with you, your professionalism.
What is professionalism?
I think it is people having confidence in you. Let's face it, it is a major role you're playing. Everything is reliant on you turning up on time, bringing all the equipment that's needed for the job. There's a lot of trust and expectation. A person who is professional is trustworthy with people's private information, their whole self, being discrete, being confident, being self-assured, knowing that the job is going to be done. It's a huge relief that they know they've come to the right person to do the job.
I think it also entails being prepared, being totally focused and in check with yourself so it leaves no room for doubt or indiscrepancy. Knowing exactly what you're going into at all times. Everything is checked off and prepared the night before and leading up to the production so that no stone is left unturned. You're prepared and you're present. Your total focus is on that particular job.
Do you treat bigger jobs more seriously than smaller jobs?
Everyone's job is their special job and really important to them. It's an honour to be even considered to be part of their production or event so there is no more focus or anymore giving or professionalism from one job to the next.
The only certain thing in life is change. You can't control change and that is what happens every day in this industry. Just when you think everything is going well something always happens. That is what keeps me interested and passionate after all these years.
What mentors or Influencers did you have in your life?
My grandmother and my mother. My grandmother was a hairdresser back in the 40s, she had a hair salon on Queen St and her three daughters had hair salons. I really admired my grandmother and my mother was my best friend. My auntie trained me over in Canada.
How beneficial is overseas training and experience?
I was in Canada for almost three years. I think if you can get overseas experience it gives you a little leg up in the industry because it takes courage to leave your friends and family, and surroundings that you are familiar with and putting yourself in another location and another country. When you come back it gives you an edge.
Do production companies forget about freelancers who go overseas?
You've got to be seen to be heard and if you do disappear off the circuit it does take some gaining back of people wanting to book you.
I think the time out of NZ is a really positive thing. People are encouraged by your entrepreneurship and desire to better yourself. So when you come back there's even more interest in you so I wouldn't worry. You have to leave your mark. Gaining relationships and contacts further and wider around the world - not just from NZ - is a good thing.
I'm sure not everyone you work with has a pleasing attitude. How do you deal with people who don't like you?
[laughing] If you go into a job taking on how somebody has affected you then you're not being professional. It's not about you, it's about them. You shouldn't even consider it. You've just got to believe in yourself, have a strong faith about what you are doing, and just do the job. It comes back to "it's not about you", so it's maturity, understanding and being a good listener.
I had a situation the other day where I was working with a Russian bride and they have very different ways to New Zealanders. They are very abrupt, clipped - and there's the language barrier. And she was one of the most sour-faced ladies I have ever seen or come into contact with. The small talk didn't even cut it - it was aggravating her even more because of that language problem. So often it is best to just stay quiet and let them come around rather than reacting.