Sunday, January 27, 2013

In Hollywood, Powder Puff Blues ~ Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Face Shrinking Job Market

Emily Berl for The New York Times
Local 706, representing makeup artists and hairstylists, celebrated its 75th anniversary last fall in Los Angeles. Attendees face economic challenges.

 LOS ANGELES — The shrimp was piled high. Corks from bottles of pink Champagne were popping. And the setting — the Hollywood Museum in the original Max Factor studio off Hollywood Boulevard — gave the night an air of mildewy glamour.

But many of the hundreds of men and women who gathered on a night last November to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the makeup artists’ and hairstylists’ guild (a k a Local 706) were feeling less than bubbly as they milled around photographs of Marilyn Monroe before she was blond, and gowns from “The Good Wife.” 

“A lot of people here are out of work,” said Jeffrey Fetzer, a hair and makeup artist, nibbling on a chocolate truffle dessert. 

Robert Constant, another makeup artist, who was wearing owl-shaped glasses and a paisley print shirt, said: “This isn’t the job your mother wants for you, O.K.? It’s a roller coaster.” 

Now, in the thick of red-carpet season, much attention is paid to the supposedly alluring business of grooming stars on-screen and off. And indeed there was a time when sculpturing a star’s hair into the perfect beach wave or contouring winglike cheekbones was a prized job. There was the proximity to A-list actors and actresses; the adrenaline-fueled commotion of a movie set or television show; and decent paychecks.
But many members of Local 706, who work on most of the major feature films, TV shows and theater productions here, find that it’s a struggle to get by. Movies and television have been fleeing to tax-break locales like Georgia, North Carolina and Louisiana; of the 23 new one-hour network dramas for the fall and midseason, only two were filmed in Los Angeles, an 80 percent drop from 2005. 

Hourly rates have also taken a beating and can dip into the teens on low-budget productions, said Tommy Cole, a business representative for Local 706. As a result, many members “work more for benefits than for wages,” he said, and stylists are having to reinvent themselves as “Johnny and Janes of all trades.”
“I recommend to some of our artists, please, find something that you can work on the side,” Mr. Cole said. “Have something to fall back on.” 

Union members are heeding the advice. 

“Yes, absolutely, oh my gosh,” said Melanie Mills, a makeup artist who won an Emmy for her work on “Dancing With the Stars,” when asked if she did anything on the side. “I run fashion shows, I’ll do a wedding — anything,” Ms. Mills continued as she hugged a colleague and fellow Emmy winner, Nadege Schoenfeld. “We just did a show called ‘The Taste’ with Anthony Bourdain. We love Anthony!” 

Emily Berl for The New York Times

Local 706 member, Terrell Simon showed his pride.
“So sexy!” cooed Ms. Schoenfeld. 

(The women were less enthusiastic about Nigella Lawson, who is also on the cooking competition show that began its run on Tuesday, because, they said, Ms. Lawson brought her own makeup artist from London.)
But Ms. Mills’s main extracurricular project is her makeup line, Gleam by Melanie Mills, which she said she operated “out of my garage.” 

“A lot of people create product lines on the side, trying to become a Bobbi Brown or a Laura Mercier,” she said. 

Kelly O’Leary, a 37-year-old makeup artist who has worked on “True Blood,” said she also modeled and did stunt work. 

“You can’t make enough, no,” solely as a makeup artist, she said. “I’ve even considered finishing my biology degree and pursuing something more stable.” 

Things were not always this grim, said Mr. Cole, a former child actor and Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeer who started as a makeup artist in 1965. 

“I’d get on a job for a week, two weeks, I’d get three jobs offered while I was on the job,” he said. “And I’d give them to my friends or compadres who I knew would do a good job.” 

 He rattled off some of the famous faces he has powdered and plucked over the years: Cher (“Never a bad word; she worked with me”); Raquel Welch (“A beautiful lady”); and Barbara Walters (“I did her for four years. I traveled with her back in New York”). 

Granted, there is still good money in primping celebrities for premieres and awards shows; for this, makeup artists and hairstylists do not need to be part of the union. And certain stars retain “personals” for rather comfortable salaries. 

But even then, there is no such thing as job security. Scott Barnes, who was Jennifer Lopez’s makeup artist for nearly a decade, has publicly discussed being fired when he was suspected of leaking gossip about the star. (He and Ms. Lopez have since reconciled.) 

Mr. Constant stressed the importance of a good reputation. 

“Are you honest?” he asked. “Are you reliable? Do you not make trouble in the trailer? Are you not telling stories? If you’re reliable and you’re good to be with, people are going to want to rehire you.” 

And if you know your place. 

“They’re not your friend,” Mr. Constant said, lowering his voice, of celebrities. 

Sheryl Blum, a hairstylist, had this advice: “You don’t want to come across as too gregarious. It’s not about us, it’s about them. It’s about the artist that’s sitting in your chair.” 

Ms. Blum, an industry veteran whose credits include “The Hunger Games,” said that she had no complaints when it came to finding work. “I’ve done O.K.” 

Michele Payne, a fellow hairstylist standing nearby, noted: “That’s because we work in groups, which helps. Like cliques.” 

Ms. Blum and Ms. Payne had just finished doing the hair for background performers on “Star Trek Into Darkness,” which comes out this year. (Most of the main stars “had their own people,” Ms. Blum said.) 

Emily Berl for The New York Times

Anna Torosyan, left, with Leanna Mkhitaryan.
“We invented hairstyles,” Ms. Payne said proudly. 

They joked about one: “a braid that comes right out of the top of the actress’s head,” Ms. Blum said. “We did it with chopsticks.” 

Ms. Payne mock-punched her friend on the arm. “You’re giving away our secrets!” she said.


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