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Set Etiquette for Makeup Trainees

This is our guide to set etiquette for makeup trainees. Being on a film or television shoot for the first few times can be overwhelming. There’s jargon, tonnes of kit and loads of people. You have to know when to be quiet and get out of the way. There’s an unwritten code of conduct for being on set. Here are some of the things to know and do, plus what to avoid when you first go on set. Ultimately, giving the right impression is key to getting more work.

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

  • Know where you are going.
  • It is easy with mobile phones, sat navs and Google maps to check the route you need to take. Also, check how long it will take you and add extra time for travelling. The call sheet will give the address of the unit car park where everyone needs to go unless you’ve been permitted to park somewhere else (for example, to unload kit). Do this preparation the day before, not in the morning when you need to leave.
  • The 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. In a word – give yourself plenty of time to be on time. Not only will being consistently late will annoy your department, but you also will not be employed by anyone on the team ever again.
  • Weather and clothing.
  • Look at the call sheet, as the expected weather is noted on there. With this in mind, wear the appropriate clothing for the duration of the filming day, considering the weather forecast and environment you’re working in. In any event, it is 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 (they can get caught in hair or costumes) and clanky jewellery (which is annoying when clanking in an actor’s ear). Always have waterproofs and warm clothing to hand – a sunny day can soon get cold – and vice versa.
  • Prep your 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. Likewise, ensure that your kit is clean and organised. Always assume that instructions will change as well, so be prepared. Similarly, make sure your set bag is clean, prepped and ready to go.
  • Prep and research.
  • At the very least you should have a general overview of what the production and script are about, so, for example, think about the period and genre it involves. Are there any special effects needed? Always have a file of reference material to hand, and take pictures with you. The 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

Call Day & Arrival

Park as directed and get to where you need to be.

  • Park where directed.
  • There will usually be people from locations there to tell you where to park. In that case, follow their instructions, as they often have to park a lot of people in a small area. Always 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 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 department or the MUA you need to speak to.

In the Makeup Trailer

Be useful, but don’t be a nuisance!

Makeup tents, trailers or rooms are often full of kit, people, people coming in and out, and people trying to do hair and makeup. Therefore, understanding the etiquette is very important.
  • Set up efficiently.
  • If you have been allocated a work station, set it up promptly and be organised. Put your personal belongings out of the way. Don’t block access, fire routes or 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 or supervisor 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 and down the stairs carefully and don’t slam doors. For instance, 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 so you can restock to get an item for someone in a flash. Know where to find the tea and coffee, spare towels and so on.
  • Find a place to be
  • Don’t be in the way, but pay attention to what is going on. When a MUA asks for something, get to it with enthusiasm and fetch! When the designer is talking to a MUA, an AD, an actor, or the director about a filming-related matter, they do not want you to stick your nose in. However, general trailer chit chat is different, and it’s OK to join in and be social.
  • Do your duties – whatever they 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 and tidying up, continuity printing, prepping for another makeup or de-rig. What a designer doesn’t want is you thinking you know more – you do not.
set etiquette for makeup
Once everyone is in the trailer, plus all the kit and other equipment, it gets pretty busy.

What the Makeup Team Does During Filming

Pay attention – watch, listen and learn.

This is a brief overview of what the hair and makeup department do during each aspect of filming a scene:
  • Blocking.
  • The director, actors (or stand-ins) and 1st assistant director (the 1st AD) will discuss the scene, maybe block it and decide on artistic and technical aspects. Heads of departments will watch, when called for, to see the final block to understand what is needed. Unless your supervisor has asked you to be there, 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 their trailer or have a drink. Now is a good time to have a clean-up and a cup of tea – and offer to get your teammates one.
  • Actors called to set. 
  • Once everything technical is set up ready to start filming, the actors are called back to set. You go with any actors you are responsible for.
  • Positions.
  • The 1st AD will call “positions”, meaning everyone gets to where you need to be. You will be on “standby” – that is, 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 and 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; for example, remove hairnets, put hair into the correct starting position for continuity, top-up lip products, powder, and so on. If you need to spray something, be very aware of costumes, cameras and people. Always shout “spraying” before you spray something. Do checks calmly and efficiently – don’t panic and rush. As soon as you have finished, calmly walk off the set.
  • 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. Do not crowd around the monitor – as a trainee/assistant, you do not need to see this and can stand back.
  • Cut.
  • When the director or 1st AD shouts, “cut”, that is the end of that take. Stay where you are. Wait to see what the 1st AD says, or what your makeup supervisor 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, 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 about to happen. If a scene is going again right away, you cannot get in to take pictures just yet.
  • And…. 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, think about what kind of impression are you making.


See something – say something!

  • Safety in any workplace is ultimately everyone’s responsibility.
  • On a film set, there are those whose key job responsibilities include keeping the production safe for everyone involved. This includes the producer, the 1st AD, stunt co-ordinators, firearms experts when dealing with weapons, any special effects teams (meaning those who are responsible for rain, snow, fire, explosions effects), and all HODs.
  • Read the call sheet.
  • Basically, they should include copies of risk assessments relating to unusual or difficult locations or filming conditions – read them.
  • Work safely in your environment.
  • For example, don’t leave trailer cupboard doors open, sweep up hair, clean up spills immediately, remember that certain makeup products are flammable, and don’t kill everyone in the trailer with a cloud of hairspray.
  • If you see something that is not safe – do something.
  • Deal with it, but only if safe and appropriate to do so. Otherwise, inform your supervisor or HOD or someone nearby who can help, like one of the AD team. Ultimately, do not be frightened to speak up and if you are ignored, then go speak to someone who does give a damn.

Some Filming Terminology

There is a ton of jargon on set, but here are some of the commonly used words or phrases to get you started.

How a Shot is Called

It is the responsibility of the 1st Assistant Director (also called the “1st AD”) to make sure the set runs on time and to communicate with everyone what is happening. They do this with a series of calls:
  • Positions.
  • When the 1st AD shouts this, the actors get into their starting position and placement for that scene. The crew is on standby waiting to go.
  • Checks.
  • When the 1st AD shouts this, it lets the cast and crew know that shooting will take place shortly and is the chance for everyone to do their checks.
  • Quiet, please.
  • Basically, it means “everyone shut up and stand still – we are about to roll camera.”
  • Turn over.
  • This tells the camera operator and the sound person to hit record on their equipment. Once the camera is recording, the operator says “speed”. Likewise, the sound person will also say “speed”. The 2nd AD will then step in front of the camera and call the scene and take number, followed by a clap of the clapper board. They then get out of the way.
  • Action.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the director does not shout “action” – this is actually called by the 1st AD. Once the 1st AD has called “action”, the actors will perform the scene until the director shouts “cut”. The camera and sound then stop recording.

Other Common Film Set Terms

Common phrases and words you will hear on set:

  • Call sheet – a document that the 2nd AD and others produce for just one day’s filming. It outlines all information relevant to that day’s filming. For instance, it lists the scenes to be shot, which actors are in and when they arrive to set, 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 and is relevant for the next day of filming.
  • Closed set – often when there is nudity or a scene of a highly sensitive nature, the actors or director may request a closed set. This means only the essential crew and some HODs are allowed on set.
  • Dailies – for hair and makeup this means the extra staff that are brought in to deal with crowd scenes. So if someone is a daily, they are there for those days shooting, usually to do makeup and/or hair for the background artists.
  • De-rig – at the end of the filming day, all the actors need to be cleaned up and the makeup trailer cleaned and tidied. This is called the de-rig.
  • DFI – when instructions to the crew suddenly change. For example, one shot is being set up for but, for whatever reason, minds are changed and another shot setup is required. Then, you may hear people saying “DFI”. Quite simply it means: “Different F**king Instruction”.
  • HOD – simply means “head of department”. The makeup designer is the head of the makeup department. 
  • Honeywagon – the toilets.
  • Sides – an A5-sized printout of the day’s filming schedule. The call sheet is on the top, with the relevant scenes attached underneath. Sides are handed out at the start of each day’s shooting.
  • Split day – means that the filming day is part daytime and part evening/night. So, filming may start at 2 p.m. and end at 2 a.m. the next morning.
  • Unit base – also known as trailer city. This is the place where all the trailers are put, including makeup, costume, artists, catering, and the honeywagon. It is where you go first thing to find the makeup department, and usually where you have lunch.
  • Video village – the nickname for the place where the monitor is situated. The director and script supervisor will sit there, along with senior staff from makeup, props and costume. However, it often attracts a large number of other people, hence the name, and most do not need to be there.

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4 thoughts on “Set Etiquette for Makeup Trainees”

  1. Trainees and first timers need to know the importance of not crossing over into somebody else’s department to tell them how to do their job, borrow items, or take items. You may think you’re being helpful, but you’re really not. Departments are budgeted for their needs. So when wardrobe forgot to be Prepaired in their kit and goes to makeup department to get one, this takes time and resources away from make up artist. Or when wardrobe forget a hair dryer to dry clothing and wants to borrow one from Hair department, again it’s proper etiquette to be prepared and not have to borrow from another department. Yes, most likely they don’t mind but it’s not ok.

    No one should tell Key Makeup or Hairstylist how to do their job. That is for the directors or 1st AD to do. When you are hired to do a film, you were hired because everyone has their own special skill sets for that department. This is a teamwork environment, so be a team player and have your equipment ready to play the game!

    1. We have met too many trainees, fresh out of makeup school often, who think they know more than people with years, if not decades of experience. One of our personal bug bears is cocky know-it-alls who shit stir, back stab their department and cause problems. True team players are always the best to have around 🙂

  2. Very handy guide, thank you. The shooting a scene process and how it is called and where makeup artists get involved has clarified it right up for me as we never got taught this in make-up school and my first day on set, I found it all a bit much and overwhelming x

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