Set Etiquette for Makeup Trainees

Being on a film or television shoot, especially the first few times, can be overwhelming. There is jargon, tonnes of equipment and loads of people (… just what do they all do?). You have to know when to be quiet, and when to get out of the way. There is an unwritten code of conduct for being on a film or television set, be it in a studio or on location. Here are some of the things to do, things to avoid and things simply to know when you first go on set – our guide to set etiquette for makeup trainees.

The Day Before

  • Know where you are going: It is easy with sat navs and Google maps to check the route you need to take, and how long it will take you – and do this the day before you set off. On the call sheet, it will give the address of the unit car park where everyone needs to go, unless you’ve been given permission to park/go somewhere else (e.g. to unload kit).
  • Time you need to arrive: Know what time you are required in the makeup trailer/tent – then take into account parking up, moving kit and finding the right place to be. Give yourself plenty of time with a new location. Being consistently late will annoy your department – and you will not be thanked for this, or employed by anyone on the team ever again.
  • Weather and clothing: Look at the call sheet. Wear appropriate clothing for the duration of the filming day, weather forecast and environment you’re working in. It’s not a fashion show and if you turn up inappropriately dressed, you will look like an idiot! You must wear enclosed shoes for health and safety reasons. Tie long hair back and don’t wear big rings (get caught in hair or costumes) and clanky jewellery (annoying when clanking in actor’s ear). Always have waterproofs and warm clothing to hand – a sunny day can soon get cold.
  • Prep kit: Make sure you have the right items for the work expected (a good designer or supervisor will have told you what you are doing) and that your kit is clean and organised. Always assume that instructions will change as well, so be prepared. Make sure your set bag is ready to go. You should have an overview of what the film/TV is about e.g. period, genre and all that stuff.
  • Prep research: Know what genre and period the production is set in. Are there any special effects? Always have a file of reference material to hand, and take pictures with you. Two guides below give more information about building a reference library:

            What to Think About When Creating Period Hair and Makeup

            Creating Realistic Casualty Effects

Be prepared, look at the call sheet and turn up on time!

On Arrival

  • Park where directed: There will usually be people from locations ready to tell you where to park. Follow their instructions, as they often have to park a lot of people in a small area and keep access routes free. If you have a lot of kit to unload, ask to be as close to the unit base makeup trailer/room as possible. You may even be able to unload first, then go park.
  • Find the makeup department: If it’s your first day, find where you need to go and who you need to check in with. ADs and runners are on hand at the unit base to direct people to the right place – find them and introduce yourself and ask for the makeup dept or MUA you need to speak to.

In the Makeup Room

Makeup tents, trailers or rooms are often full of kit, people, people coming in and out, and people trying to do hair/makeup.

  • Set up: If you have been allocated a section/place, set up promptly and be organised. Put your personal belongings out of the way. Don’t block access, fire routes/doors or things like cupboards.
  • Turn off your phone and put it away. You are at work! It is not professional to be checking your email, messages or Facebook, except during lunch. Even if others have their phones out, you should still put yours away. Do not take it to set, unless the designer has told you to have it with you. Be aware that mobiles can interfere with sound equipment and it’s annoying to the sound recordist to keep asking for people to switch off their phones!
  • Tread lightly! Makeup trailers can be very bouncy, so walk lightly, go up/down the stairs carefully and don’t slam doors. If a MUA has a brush by someone’s eye, they will not appreciate you doing a baby elephant in the trailer!
  • Familiarise yourself with where things are: Know where things are kept, where the tea/coffee is, spare towels etc.
  • Find a place to be so you are not in the way, but can pay attention to what is going on. When a MUA asks for something, get to it with enthusiastic and fetch! When the designer is talking to a MUA, an AD, actor, or the director about a filming-related matter, they do not want you to stick your nose in. General trailer chit chat is different, and it’s OK to join in and be social.
  • Do your duties: Whatever that may be! Some designers let you know what they want, others are far less helpful and you need to be psychic. Either way, the common things for a trainee are making drinks, cleaning/tidying up, continuity printing, prepping for another makeup or de-rig. What a designer doesn’t want is you thinking you know more – you don’t.

On Set

A brief overview of filming a scene and what the hair/makeup department does during each aspect of filming:

  • Blocking: The director, actors (or stand-ins) and 1st AD will discuss the scene, maybe block it and decide on artistic and technical aspects. HODs will watch, when called for, the final block to see what is decided/needed. You stay well out of the way and be quiet.
  • Technical set up: The technical people (sparks, riggers, camera and lighting) will set up. Everyone else moves out of the way. Actors go back to trailers, or have a drink. Now is a good time to have a cup of tea – and offer to get your team mates one.
  • Actors called to set: Once everything technical is set up ready to start filming, the actors are called back to set.
  • Positions: Actors then get into “position” (the 1st AD will say “positions”, meaning everyone get to where you need to be) You will be on “standby” i.e. waiting for just before the scene gets shot to go in and do checks. There may be a rehearsal, or final discussions. Be quiet when the director is discussing the shot with the actors.
  • Going for a take and checks: Once the actors/director are ready to “go for a take”, the 1st AD will call for “checks” (or “final checks”) – this is when the artistic departments go in to do their last-minute tweaking e.g. remove hairnets, put hair into the correct position for continuity, top up lip products and so on. If you need to spray something, be very aware of costumes, cameras and people. Always say “spraying” before you spray something. Get off set as soon as you have finished checking.
  • The scene is shot: During which time, you stand out of the way, keep still and be silent. Keep out of the actors’ eye line and don’t make eye contact (it’s really distracting to them!). Do not crowd round the monitor – as a trainee/assistant, you do not need to see this.
  • Cut: When the AD/director says “cut”, that is the end of that take. Stay where you are. Wait to see what the 1st AD says, or your MUA asks you to do. There may be another take, or the scene may be “complete”. If so, the 1st AD may say “moving on” and should tell everyone what is happening next. Sometimes one has to be psychic!
  • Getting continuity pictures: Once a scene has been shot on, this is the time to get continuity photographs. The actors and ADs know this has to happen. If you are using a flash, say “flashing” loudly so everyone knows that a bright light is happening. If a scene is going right away, you cannot get in to take pictures just yet.
  • It all starts again!

Basically you need to listen, watch and pay attention. Get out of the way when not needed, watch where and when you talk, and keep silent and still during a take. If you sit around looking bored or playing with your phone, what kind of impression are you making?

Say "flashing" when taking flash photos for continuity, and say "spraying" before 
releasing hairspray or other products on set!

Safety

Safety at any workplace is ultimately everyone’s responsibility. On a film set, there are those whose key job responsibilities include safety for those around them e.g. the producer, the 1st AD, stunt co-ordinators, firearms experts when dealing with weapons, SFX teams (for rain, snow, fire, explosions etc.) and all HODs.

Call sheets should include copies of risk assessments. Read them.

Work safely in your environment e.g. don’t leave trailer cupboard doors open, sweep up hair, clean up spills, remember that certain things makeup use are flammable, don’t kill everyone in the trailer with a cloud of hairspray.

If you see something that is not safe, either deal with it (if safe and appropriate to do so) or inform your supervisor/HOD or someone nearby who can help e.g. one of the AD team. Don’t be frightened to speak up and if you are ignored, then go speak to someone else who does give a damn.

Safety comes first

Health and Safety Executive (UK) | A Pledge to Sarah |

Some Filming Terminology

Call sheet: A document that the 2nd AD and others produce for one day’s filming. It outlines all information relevant to that day’s filming e.g. the scenes to be shot, which actors are in and when, locations, any extra crew/set visitors, the weather, call time, meal times and unit base address. It is handed out at the end of each day’s filming for the next day.

Checks: The 1st AD will call for “checks” or “final checks” just before filming of that scene/take is started. This is when the art, costume and makeup departments do their last-minute checking/tweaks.

Closed set: Often when there is nudity or a scene of a highly sensitive nature, the actors/director may request a closed set. This means only the essential crew and some HODs are allowed on set.

De-rig: At the end of the filming day, all the actors need to be cleaned up and the makeup trailer cleaned/tidied. This is called de-rig.

DFI: When instructions to the crew suddenly change e.g. one scene is being set up for, but for whatever reason, minds are changed and another scene set up is required, you may hear people saying “DFI”. Quite simply it means: “different f**king instruction”.

Honeywagon: The toilets. Often gross.

Sides: An A5-sized printout of the day’s filming – the call sheet is on the front, with the relevant scenes behind.

Split day: Means that the filming day is part daytime and part evening/night. So, filming may start at 2pm and end at 2am the next morning.

Unit base: Also known as “trailer city” –  it’s the place where all the trailers are put, including makeup, costume, artists, catering and honeywagon.

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