A designer or key makeup artist needs great assistants. No one person can work a large makeup department on their own – it is simply not possible! Assistants are the oil that keeps the machine working smoothly. However, a bad makeup assistant causes more problems than they are worth. Likewise, a good assistant is worth their weight in gold! Here’s our guide to being the golden makeup assistant.
- Know your designer – if you are working with someone new, make sure you know about them. What have they worked on? What are their key makeup skills? Know who they are.
- Check, clean and pack – ensure that your kit is clean, in good working order and contains the essentials. Also, throw out old makeup and broken items. Of course, a clean and organised kit looks far more impressive than a dishevelled one.
- Read the script – you should ask for a copy of the script. The production office can supply this if the designer is too busy or forgets. Read it, break it down and understand the types of makeups that will be required.
- Be on time – every time! This is one of the most important things you can do – be on time. If you are constantly late, you are not a good assistant. And you will never work with anyone on that team again.
- Aim to arrive early, before the designer, to get things ready for that day’s shooting.
- Stay until the bitter end. Unless your designer lets you go early (yes, it happens!), keep your momentum until everything is completed for the day.
- Don’t get involved with petty politics, gossip or backbiting – it WILL get back to your designer. Clearly, no one wants a two-faced idiot in their team. Trust is everything. Ultimately, be a supportive team player, not a backstabbing little witch who thinks they know better.
- Don’t bring your personal drama to set. No one wants moods creating a bad atmosphere. Makeup should be a tranquil and happy place!
- Don’t take photos on set to put on social media. First of all, your phone should be off, unless the designer has asked for you to have it handy. In that case, set it to silent. Taking random pictures on set and sharing them with the world is a massive NO – this breaks all sorts of confidential and contractual issues. In a word, you could end up in serious trouble. Of course, taking legitimate continuity pictures is a part of the job.
- You do not know more than the designer. You are an assistant and if your opinion is wanted you will be asked. Of course, some designers do include assistants in decisions; however, others do not. Either way, do not involve yourself in discussions that are above your station. The designer will not appreciate you chiming in when they are talking to the director.
- Do be nice, positive, upbeat – and smile. The best makeup assistant will do everything with enthusiasm and willingness. This includes the crappy jobs like mopping and cleaning. Be nice – it’s not hard!
- Do get to know other people “on your level” – for example, costume assistants, runners, camera assistants, and so on. You will be mixing and liaising with them anyway, but it helps to know names and who does what. Be approachable – it’s far easier to resolve issues when there’s a positive connection with someone.
- Do ask questions when appropriate. No one should expect you to know everything or mindread. You are an assistant for a reason and are there to learn as well as work – a good team should support this. However, know when it is OK to ask questions and know when to stay quiet and observe.
- Take notes. As well as asking questions, it’s also OK to take notes. Just run it passed everyone first, out of courtesy, so they know what you are doing.
- Be attentive, quiet and self-sufficient. Pay attention to everything, watch and learn, but know when to do it quietly. No one wants you jabbering in their ear when they are concentrating. Being self-sufficient means getting on with tasks before you are asked.
- Be open to feedback. Some designers are supportive and encouraging, willing to share and show. Likewise, some can be difficult to deal with. Either way, take feedback and learn from it. You may need a thick skin sometimes, but take everything as a learning opportunity.
- If something goes wrong or you forget something, don’t beat yourself up. It doesn’t prevent you from being the best makeup assistant going forward. Everyone makes mistakes, so learn from it and move on. Even the best designers have messed up – it happens.
Look After The Kit
- Look after the designer’s kit. If you are asked to find something, find it with care and respect. Clean and put it back where you found it – most people have a system.
- Do ask if you can photograph the designer’s preferred layout on their workstation. This will help when putting things out first thing – when you get there early, of course!
- Clean brushes carefully – if you are asked to clean someone’s brushes, do so with the utmost care and respect. Find out how people like their brushes cleaned – everyone has their own preferred method.
- Know where everything is kept – so you can stock up and replenish supplies quickly. Also, keep an eye on supplies and notice if something is running low. It is also handy to know how the printer works, as well as knowing how to replace the paper and ink.
- Be clean, tidy and comfortable – you are on your feet for a long day, so have sensible footwear on. Be presentable, whatever your personal style is, and keep midriffs covered. In a word, be mindful of how close you get to someone when doing their makeup.
- Dress appropriately for the situation, weather and location.
- Be careful with jewellery – especially bracelets and big chunky items, as they can catch on a costume or hairstyle. They can also be really annoying when clanking in someone’s face.
- Avoid strong smells and perfume – we’d advise not coming in smelling like a department store. Not everyone likes perfume, it can trigger migraines, and fragrance is a personal preference – and not everyone will share yours. Of course, be clean and smell fresh but please keep strong fragrances away.
Make The Most Of It
At the end of the day, it is up to you to make the most of it. Primarily you are there to assist and no doubt you will be doing some boring chores. But, do you want to be known as the best makeup assistant or a mediocre one?
Go in with a CAN DO attitude, be nice, punctual, and make yourself useful. Ultimately, it should lead to more work. After all, teams want good assistants that are pleasant to be with.
And remember, you are also there to learn and gain experience. You should learn a lot by watching an experienced designer and team at work. No amount of YouTube will ever replace that!
Find Out More
- Set Etiquette for Makeup Trainees – more information on set etiquette.
- More about the role of a makeup assistant from ScreenSkills.