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Musings of a Make-Up Artist
by Corey Castellano

Before I begin, let me tell you that I am a professional make-up artist. This means that I make my living working on films for money. When I set out to write this I was angry about something in the indie community and I wasnít sure what it was. My first guess was that I was angry with local indie filmmakers for not really having the true spirit of the indie as I defined it. Then, as I began to write and sort out my thoughts, I realized that being an indie filmmaker means different things to different people. Some folks do it only for the art. Some do it for the art and the hope of making a living. Still others do it with the money as the focus and the art being secondary. Then there are those who do it solely for the money and, finally, those who do it solely for the sake of the craft.

After reading and re-reading these definitions, I realized that my vision of the indie filmmaker is one of the filmmaker as an artist. I feel that, in its purist form, filmmaking is about expressing oneís vision and, subsequently, being an indie filmmaker is about putting a little piece of yourself out into the world to see if you are alone in your vision. I think that I feel this way because I often work on big budget productions in which the studio, the producers, the talent, etc. all have some input into the final product which essentially dilutes the directorís vision. Therefore, I see independent filmmaking as an artistic endeavor in which the director / artist retains control of the filmís direction.

Upon deeper reflection I also realized that since I donít feel that ANY of the reasons listed above should be considered wrong, it had to be something else bothering me. Then, in a brief epiphany, I realized that what was bothering me was honesty. Too often I have run across independent filmmakers posing as artists when they are really in it to make a buck. These are the guys who spin a grand tale of how the local film community needs to band together and be both giving and supportive but they seem hellbent on making a profit.

Please donít misunderstand me, I like money. It pays my bills and keeps my toy collection up to date and although I prefer the artistís approach, on a practical level I donít care if youíre an artist or an investor, just be honest about your motivations. Donít blow sunshine up my shorts, telling me, Weíll use Timmyís barn, Jenny can make the curtains, and weíll have a show!!! When you MEAN, Timmy will donate the barn, Jenny will donate labor and materials, and Iíll make a profit!!! In other words, donít say that if we all band together we can achieve our vision when the real goal is to produce an exploitative piece of derivation that will make you a few bucks.

I think that I am on this rip because all too often I am approached by indies who want me to work on their project. They are often referred by friends of friends, old contacts, etc., and when they approach me they hope to get high level work for the price of materials and a couple of pizzas. They are often shocked by my initial price quotes. This is when I usually get the "Well, we only have _____ dollars" speech closely followed by the and "Weíll have a SHOW!!" speech. When this happens I try to be polite but also direct. I really do derive my living from my craft. This means that working on a project for artís sake is not a luxury that I can afford. But, I am not without a heart. I am often willing to be flexible in my rates and my methods, but I am not willing to sell my hard-learned abilities too cheaply and I am not willing to do things in the cheapest way possible. Experience has taught me that using cheap materials or construction methods (for FX work) often results in making the end product look cheap and, since I take pride in my work, this is something I choose not to do.

This philosophy is usually in direct conflict with the filmmakerís desire to do things as cheaply as possible in order to maximize profit. Certainly, I understand the struggle of a limited budget and the need to get the most bang for the buck, but I find it amusing that filmmakers seem to forget how crucial make-up and/or make-up effects are in a film. Poorly done make-up can make an otherwise bankable star look ridiculous and bad make-up effects can make any production look cheap, yet the use of film students and amateurs is commonplace. This usually happens because someone who is green in the business is likely to work for free or for deferred payment in order to build their resume. Unfortunately, these folks often also bite off more than they can chew, underbid the job, overestimate their abilities, or all three. Again, donít misunderstand my intentions. I am definitely not saying that I think newcomers are hacks, and I donít think that every production needs a pro. What I do think is that, if you are telling me that your indie project is going to be as professional as you can make it, donít short yourself in such a critical area, especially if you have the funding.

More than once I have been contacted by a filmmaker asking for a bid on a job. After I provide my quote there is usually a long period without contact. Then, if the filmmaker has the stones, I receive a timid telephone call that goes something like Gosh, youíre too expensive. We found someone who will do it for a fraction of what you charge! I shrug it off and move on. This is usually followed by one of two scenarios. In the first, two weeks later I get a call asking me to fix a problem or take over a show because the person hired isnít quite what they expected. IF I take on the job, production is forced to pay my original rate in addition to what they have already spent. This effectively makes production pay for the same thing twice. In the second scenario I donít get that second telephone call and, on the rare occasion of seeing the completed project, I am flabbergasted at what is perceived as acceptable work.

Ultimately, the culmination of these thoughts and experiences boils down to a bit of advice that Iíd like to give to budding filmmakers and crewmembers. For the filmmakers, be honest about your motivations and your budget. You are more likely to get a committed crew if they know what they are getting into and why they are doing it. If they are pros or have a professional attitude, they should be able to work within budgetary guidelines. Also remember, donít be penny wise and pound foolish. You get what you pay for. For potential crewmembers looking for a job, be fair and honest in your dealings as well. If youíve never done it or you canít do it, donít say that you can. It will come back to haunt you. Also, working on student projects, or for free, or deferred payment is a necessary evil early in a career, but donít let your desire to flesh out a resumé put you in a position to be bullied or coerced into trying something that youíre not ready or able to do. In other words, for godís sake donít submit a lowball bid and kill yourself or spend your own money to complete the job. Not having a credit on a film in which you were forced to do substandard work wonít derail your career. It might even save it.

Corey Castellano
Imageworks FX

"Musings of a Make-Up Artist" is ©2002, 2003 by Corey Castellano. It was originally posted May 30, 2002.