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A lot of what I ask my assistants for is help keeping my work area organized. Clearly I needed an assistant here…

For this edition of #BizTalk I’m going to discuss pretty much the number one question I receive on a regular basis;

How do I become a makeup artist assistant?

This is a multi-faceted question for which there are a number of answers. Lots of Blogs have posted their thoughts on this (and I link a few of them at the end of this post), and here are mine;

1) What is Assisting?

In today’s era of the YouTube/Instagram/Beauty Blog “guru”, pretty much anyone can decide that they are a makeup “expert” gather a following and BOOM! While there are a few notable exceptions, that is not generally the case in media makeup. Whether you’re talking print, celebrity, film, TV, etc. in the world of media there is an established hierarchy and one must work their way up the ranks and pay their dues. This is the case for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that being a Key Artist or a Department Head entails a lot more than just applying makeup. Therefore when people ask me what does it mean to be a makeup artist assistant, I always reply that it depends on the situation and what your Key needs.

Bottom line: Your job as an assistant is to be what your Key needs you to be.

You may or may not actually apply makeup. You may or may not be asked to do hair. You may or may not be asked to maintain the artist’s kit. You may or may not be allowed to touch the artists kit. You may or may not be allowed on set. You may or may not be asked to run errands. You may be a one-time assistant or you may become a long-term assistant. Etc. etc. It can run the gamut and it will surely depend on the Key artist you’re working for but one thing remains the same:

Your job as an assistant is to be what your Key needs you to be.

It is also probably important to bring up what assisting is NOT. Assisting is NOT a free one on one makeup lesson. On-set is not at all the time to start asking “how do I do this, how do I do that” type questions. Assisting is also not a free one on one career counseling session. I actually hate that more than I hate the makeup lesson questions. The Key who hired you does not owe you a career. No one does. Being a makeup artist is not joining a clubhouse. Careers must be worked for and earned. Assisting can help you if you help yourself, and you can and will absolutely learn a lot working under a Senior artist by observing and following direction. Keys are not there to spoon-feed you.

2) Is Assisting Worth It?

Given that an assistant may not even be involved with makeup at all, many would ask if assisting is worth it or would I be better off striking out on my own? YES I think assisting is highly valuable. As someone who did not do much assisting, I watched my friends who DID assist get their “come up” much faster than I did career-wise. Also the caliber of job you are likely to be doing and the caliber of crew you are likely to be around are much higher than what a “just starting out” artist can expect on their own.

In film/TV the Department Head or the Key Makeup Artist is the person who hires the makeup artists. Therefore if no one knows you and your work you just cannot get into that world at all. In that world it is highly unlikely to be hired raw, and it is expected that an artist will have spent some time as an intern/apprentice or an assistant before they start being hired as an Artist.

Lastly, and this goes back to what I said early, a Key Artist and/or Department Head has duties and responsibilities beyond applying makeup. It is beneficial for most artist to learn what being in charge entails without being the one who has to take the heat. For example I was on the makeup team of a music video, and we followed the very vague directions that the Producer came in and gave the Key. The Key had already attended a production meeting going over the feel of the video and the various looks, etc. but as is often the case things changed at the last minute. After we completed our talent the Producer Let. The. Key. Have. It. Completely yelled at my Key in front of everyone on set that the makeup direction was all wrong and that we’d have to take all of the talent back and re-do everything. An inexperienced artist in that position would have died on the spot. However my Key was a seasoned Vet and took the needless (and in my opinion unprofessional) verbal beat-down in stride, asked for clarification on makeup direction, and we went back and did the talent as desired. Situation under control. How many reading this can honestly say they wouldn’t have freaked the funk out had they been in that situation? Assist first.

3 ) Who’s Job Is It, Anyway?

FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE IT IS YOUR KEY ARTIST’S JOB!!!!!!!

The client hired the Key artist and they Key artist (or their agent) hired YOU. You have no business with the client whatsoever.

Let me repeat: You have NO BUSINESS with the client whatsoever. Even if the artist gets sick as hades and you finish the job (which happens) at the end of the day that client hired the KEY artist not you. You were the makeup artist assistant brought on-board by the Key. The client would not know you from Adam were it not for the Key. So to try to turn around and undermine the Key who GOT you on the job is just rancid. You are not to list the job on your resume without making your role as the assistant clear, and you should not use any of the collateral (magazine tear, advertisement, film/tv clip, etc.) in your portfolio unless your Key has given you permission to do so. It is the Key’s job, not yours.

Now before you start crying about that’s not fair, remember this is a profession fueled by word-of-mouth, reputation, networking and loyalties. A good relationship with a mentor can benefit you throughout your entire career. Have their back as an assistant on a job and the next time around, the Key may very well pass that job/client off to you. Get yourself a reputation as back-stabber, under-cutter, out-for-self, and disloyal? Yeah, good luck with that… You will quickly find out how small this industry actually is…

4 ) What Should I Expect from my Key?

Remember that your Key has – in all likelihood – worked very hard to be in the position that they are in. They have been all where you are going and they are now in a position that you are trying to get to. Thus they deserve your respect. THAT SAID respect is a two way street. I have heard horror stories of mistreatment of assistants by key artists that have made my toes curl. I think a makeup artist assistant should expect courtesy, professionalism and clear direction from their Key artist. I am not naive to the fact, however, that this does not always happen. Therefore I think Assistant artists should vet Key artists just as Key artists vet Assistants. By vetting I mean really know who this person is and if assisting them will benefit you in where you’re trying to go. The potential benefits of assisting a Pat McGrath are obvious but a local market artist may not be quite so obvious. HOWEVER, the pressures, expectations and skill level involved with assisting a great artist like a Pat McGrath will be much greater than it would be to assist your local artist. There are plusses and minuses to any situation. Do your research and don’t jump in blindly.

5 ) How Do I Become An Assistant?

Aye there’s the rub. This is not a “look a job up in the want-ads” type of profession, and assisting is no exception. Just as you have to research and market yourself for your jobs, you will have to research and then market yourself to assist. If you are in a market with agencies for Hair/Makeup/Wardrobe, you would contact the agencies regarding their Assistants Roster. If you are not in a market with agencies, you will have to contact Sr. Artists directly. These people are not sitting around waiting for your email so the onus will be on YOU to stay in contact and you will in all probability have to do so repeatedly. As they say, it takes making contact 9 times in order to land a sale. When you do contact people, be on point. Make sure your website up and working, and make sure the email that you send is clean and concise and makes it clear why you are making contact. When you follow up, make sure you have NEW work to share. Stay upbeat and stay persistent. Eventually an opportunity will present itself.

There is a lot more I could go into, but most people do not read five page long blog posts so I’ll stop here LOL! Part of the reason the topic of the makeup artist assistant has become so contentious is because so many artists have been burned. From Jr. Artists working 2 jobs and deciding they are now “above” assisting to artists trying to undercut and outright steal clients, its a jungle out there. I am pleased to say I have also had amazing assistants who – in the words of Rachel Zoe – “thought for me and thought before me” – and made my job easier and helped me make my client happy.

Many of my fellow artists have written on their experience with assistants and they’re dos and don’ts of Assisting. Here are some of my favorite posts on the subject:

Yisell’s Babbling Blurbs – Assisting and Interning

DeShawn Loves Makeup – Here’s Why We Don’t Answer Your Emails

Beautylish – On-Set Schooling: How to Become a Successful Makeup Artist Assistant (interview with one of Billy B’s lead assistants, Katrine Lieberkind)

Creative Artistry FX – Matters and Manners for Mentoring / Set Etiquette for Interning & Apprenticing by Suzanne Patterson (explains the differences between interning, apprenticing, and assisting)

My final thought on assisting is this: Being in the company of someone who is already doing what it is that you want to be doing is always an opportunity to be grateful for and not one to be taken advantage of. Likewise remember that if you are fortunate YOU will one day be the Key hiring assistants. So as with most things in life it boils down to the Golden Rule: Treat others how you would wish to be treated.

© 2014 – 2016, Tania. All rights reserved.

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