Elizabeth Fox is one of my fave people I’ve met in this biz, full stop.
She and I met when we were both teaching at a makeup school in San Francisco. While the types of makeup and jobs we do differ (she loves her some film set life and some FX/gore, and if you know me… lol), our sensibilities about working, the business, and what it means to be a professional are definitely in sync. Plus she’s a hoot!
As I continue to talk to my various makeup peers about their careers, how they got to where they are and the choices they’ve made along the way, I wanted to focus on miss Liz’ work in Film and her journey into the Union. As is almost always the case, the road to success isn’t a straight line nor are there any hard and fast rules on how to arrive at your preferred career destination.
Hello hello! Now in the spirit of disclosure to Makeup to Go readers, you are one of Makeup to Go’s original Experts, and you and I have been makeup buds for a bit now. But tell the new folks a bit about yourself, your background in makeup, and what kinds of projects you work on now?
Here is my official bio: Elizabeth Fox has been a professional makeup artist since 2001. She has worked on over 40 feature films in every aspect of makeup artistry, from Special FX makeup to meticulous HD beauty. Some favorite films include The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Black Bear, The Sky is Everywhere, Venom 2 and Sorry to Bother You. While living in Los Angeles, Elizabeth worked in Special FX labs, molding and creating prosthetics and constructing props, as well as leading the departments of many B Horror films. Elizabeth taught at the Blush School of Makeup in San Francisco and she continues to teach workshops throughout the Bay Area. When not working on location for a film, Elizabeth works on Commercials, with many top CEO’s and is a member of the Local 706 Makeup Artists Guild.
Here is my conversational bio:
I have been a working makeup artist since 2001 and I work primarily in film and television. I am a member of the Local 706 Regional Union artists here in San Francisco. I’ve lived and worked in New York, Los Angeles and the Bay Area. After graduating with a theater degree I co-founded a theater company and my day job was managing a beauty supply store, where I learned all about skincare, haircare and makeup. Maurice Stein even came up to train us on his Cinema Secrets makeup line! When I decided I didn’t want to work in theater anymore, Makeup Artistry appealed to me because it would allow me to work creatively, help create character and encompassed so much of my expertise and passions. I am one of those working artists that refuses to “specialize” (against MTG’s Tania’s recommendations 🙂 * ) because I love to do it all and I loathe boredom. I want to be an expert in all areas of makeup and I am pretty darn good in a lot of them. This coming month, I am booked on a magazine cover shoot for one of my favorite CEO’s, doing a 3 day commercial with HD makeup and hair, I’ll be helping create some period looks for a corporate video, working a wedding, planning an FX Class I’m teaching in January, leading a team at an event where we do big party FX horror makeup, designing a werewolf for a short film and I’m breaking down a script I’ll be Key Makeup Artist on in November & December. (phew!!)
My training came from my stage makeup background, workshops and classes and mainly assisting other artists. I still assist when I can as it keeps me on my toes, helps me see what others are doing and I always learn something so it’s like getting paid to take a class!
And how did you begin in films? Did you start out with shorts/student films or under a particular Key on larger films, or? What was your progression?
Once I realized I wanted to be a makeup artist, I moved to NYC. With my stage makeup background and my beauty store knowledge, I was ready to be the #1 makeup artist on Broadway! That didn’t quite happen but it did get me to New York where I took intensive workshops (and put them on my credit card). Tobi Britton used to have a wonderful makeup academy in Chelsea where she brought in professional working artists. I think that’s what got me interested in film. These makeup artists were working on Pirates of the Caribbean and Saturday Night Live and the stories they told mesmerized me. I started working on student films after connecting with a film school in NYC. When I say connecting, I mean I put my name and number on an index card and put it up on their bulletin board. And the film students needed me too so I got a lot of calls. It was free work but I learned so much about film and what I needed for my kit! I started assisting as much as I could. It was the school of pain sometimes because I didn’t always know what to do or what to use or even how to behave. But I read every makeup book I could find and even called FX houses in Los Angeles to ask them how to do something. Sometimes people would sit patiently on the phone with me and explain (thank you Burman Industries)! I definitely was bolder in my youth. It was clear I needed to be in Los Angeles if FX was my passion. So I moved again. I answered a Craigs List Ad for a makeup assistant on a horror movie my first week there. And that was my defining moment. I met people I still consider mentors and friends on that film. They brought me on films, recommended me for others, and my career took off. I was brought on to be the beauty artist at an FX shop and the guys there taught me so much about lab work (sculpting, molding, painting, etc). I went on to work for a short time at a huge FX house as a molder. It was scary and intimidating and I was one of 2 women in the shop. I was yelled at on my first day for leaving a clay mold out in the sun too long, but I kept going back. I met another artist through a makeup event at Frends and she was looking for an assistant. She taught me so much about working on a film, breaking down a script and needs in a trailer. She’s a personal to an A-List Actor now and I can honestly say I learned from the best. The Department Head I work with a lot now has also been a huge influence on me. She’s younger than me-in fact we met when she was a PA on her first film and I was Key Makeup Artist but she is so wise about the business. She knows how to communicate well with producers, which if you don’t master, you will not get the big jobs.
Out of the various types of projects you’ve worked on – commercial, Bridal, etc. etc. – How did you know film was your jam? Was it a particular project or working with a particular talent, or?
I want to be a part of the creative process and in film I get to be creative and use my problem solving skills. It’s all about character for means the creation of character with the writer, director, talent and other designers. We do it together. We help tell the story. You don’t get that with commercials or bridal. I need a blend of it all though. Film can be draining and challenging in not fun ways. It’s nice to take a break and do some 8 hour days in a studio with a nice lunch and air conditioning (or heat, depending on the weather 🙂 ) But if I’m away from film for too long, I get irritable and lazy.
A friend of mine who is in Wardrobe for film/TV once told me that for her the difference is Story. And what is compelling to her in dressing and/or designing for feature Film and/or scripted TV is embodying a character via Wardrobe. Do you find a similar satisfaction in that with film work as a makeup artist?
100%. The job satisfaction is very real. Also, the satisfaction that you helped your actor do their best work is incredible. If I helped someone look who they feel like they are playing and I did it in a calm, soothing setting so that they can focus, I am the happiest.
Let’s shift gears a bit and start talking about the Union. The Union is mysterious to a lot of people, and there are a lot of misconceptions about its function in our profession. So first, briefly, what IS the Union and how does it work for makeup artists?
The union is so darn confusing and can seem like a club that doesn’t want you but that’s not true. There is room for everyone. The Makeup Artist Union is under the IATSE umbrella and the Los Angeles, CA branch is Local 706. The tricky part for Bay Area artists is that we’re noted as “Regional” artists which has some limitations to where we can work. It’s something I hope can change. There are rules for getting accepted, which is good because you need to know what you’re doing. For instance, if a union show hires you, you better be sure you know how to trim facial hair (with the trimmer you brought), lay a beard or make a bruise. Because that is the expectation of what a union artist can do. So it’s ok that it takes some time to get in. It is for experienced artists. Union shows can only hire Union Artists (there are a few exceptions). Unions are there to protect workers, to make sure we get our lunch hours and our overtime pay. I’ve worked on non-union film sets where there wasn’t a bathroom provided (don’t ask!) That would NOT be the case on a union show. I paid thousands of dollars to join and I pay quarterly dues (under $200). We have classes and seminars, meetings and get togethers, and a magazine. The union also hosts the Makeup and Hair Guild Awards, where we vote for our peers for the best hair and makeup of the year (definitely a cool evening!).
How did you get into the Union, and what has been your progression since joining?
Get to know the rules on how to join. They are on the website http://www.local706.org
I thought I’d get in when I was working in Los Angeles. I saved all my call sheets and I was about 15 days of working away from completing the 30-30-30 rule. But I got pregnant and moved back to the Bay Area instead. I took time off film to parent and work commercials, industrials and teach. So it took me years to get in. I got in because a film I was hired on flipped to union and I had 30 working days to qualify. Flipping means we were all hired on a non-union and they raised enough funds so the budget got big enough that it had to be designated union. A lot of folks get in that way.
Since being in the union, I’m able to do the big stuff that comes into town and the union films and commercials. I had to turn down big shows like because I wasn’t union at the time. Being in the union doesn’t mean I’ll get the jobs, it just means I’m able to take the jobs. A lot of union artists up here work in the theater and opera because those houses are union.
How has joining the Union affected the work you do (or don’t do) nowadays?
Being in the union means a great deal to me. I’m incredibly proud to be a Union Worker. I respect the work my union representatives do to get us good contracts and support us.
And actually – even though this isn’t a COVID article per se – how is work in the time of COVID? When last we spoke of this COVID was still a big, scary unknown with no protections. The Union was definitely at the forefront of setting up the guidelines for safe working conditions. How are things now with vaccinations, etc., in place? Are you concerned about safety with mandates being lifted? (I just heard today that neither proof of vaccinations nor masks will be required in CA for 1000+ person indoor events effective April 1st.)
The most frustrating thing is that there is no standard. I’ll be on sets where not one single person is wearing a mask and no testing is done, and I’ll be on sets where we had to test twice (a PCR AND an antigen) prior to being on set. I’m just doing my best to protect myself, my family and my talent. I still wear a mask and glasses at all times on set. I guess it’s just everyone for themselves these days. It’s a relief that not as many people are dying or getting gravely ill but it’s still out there and I wish there was more of an industry standard.
Let’s close with advice for our readers who are thinking they want to join the Union. What advice would you give an emerging artist?
Please start the process! Read all the rules on the 706 website. If you have any questions, reach out to them (or to me). The union is sadly lacking in diversity so I would especially encourage people of all colors from all backgrounds. Our trailers need to represent the films we are making and the world we are in. Follow the union artists on Social Media and don’t be afraid to offer free assisting. People always need their brushes washed! It may seem like menial work but it’s about the connections and the observations you make. You can learn so much just watching someone set up their station and do someone’s makeup. Connect with film students. They eventually graduate and start making films with budgets.
Any last thoughts or anything else you want to share?
I cannot stress enough to emerging artists to get their professional act together. It’s a job. I’ve had many young artists on gigs who were just not ready for prime time. Everything from your wardrobe to the cleanliness of your kit to the way you speak to people speaks volumes. Be serious about yourself and your work. Definitely assist so that you can learn the strange weird world of set etiquette.Surround yourself with good people who make you laugh and be kind. Many MANY people can put eyeliner on. Not everyone is kind.
Many Thanks miss Liz for such a thoughtful interview! I loved reading your insights!
If you would like to stay in contact with miss Liz and keep track of what she’s working on, follow her on Insta at @lizzyfoxmakeup
(* CHYLE – If folks don’t quit taking me out of context on that 😂 . Girl you inspired a WHOLE ‘NOTHER blog post with that comment…)
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Glad to hear! Indeed there is much crossover in terms of working and the biz for all of us in the “vanities”. Thanks for reading and commenting
I definitely learned and confirmed a few things from this blog.
I’m not a makeup artist,I’m a hairstylist however I can relate.
Very much agreed. She has a very special rapport with students and is very ego-free despite being a very badass artist. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂
Incredible story! Liz has so much passion. As a past student I can’t help but discuss the warmth and kindness she brings. Our industry is based a lot on skill which is a breading ground for ego. Liz rises above, genuine and kind. We all knew Liz was one of those instructors who really wanted us all to succeed. Can’t wait to see all her upcoming projects!