What do you want to become?
Assistant Makeup Artist
Career Overview: Assistant Makeup Artists can do everything from natural beauty to turning a person into a literal monster. They may also be in charge of body makeup, organization, or keeping Actors looking perfect while on set.
General Salary Range: $24,000 to $60,000
Become an Assistant Makeup Artist
Jessica Licata has been making people look beautiful for the camera for twenty-five years. While she didn’t get to start out in film and TV, she knew it was what she wanted to do from a very young age. What she loves about the work of an Assistant Makeup Artist is how much it varies.
“I originally started out in hair,” says Licata. “I then got into TV makeup, and now I am doing that most of the time if I am on a set. That can mean anything from having my kit ready, walking on set, having a conversation with the Producer, or whoever is directing. I work on smaller projects, so commercials, and usually non-union jobs at the moment. I am still aspiring to do more, and bigger things.”
Licata says to start her day she will ensure her makeup kit is ready. Then her job most typically falls in the range of beauty makeup, ensuring everyone looks good on camera (no zits, or dark circles, aka the best version of themselves). Throughout the day Licata then will watch the video monitors, if there are monitors, or just watch her Actors and ensure the makeup stays set, and do any touch-ups.
Day-to-day things can be unpredictable. “I’ll have stuff where people will call me, and I might have a week, two weeks, sometimes a month that a job will last. Other times I’ll get a phone call for a job that starts the next day. I just got a call at 2 pm and I had 14 hours before I had to get on a plane to go start work in another city. It really varies. I also do side work like working with headshot photos with Photographers to bring in extra money. It’s different every day.”
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Licata admits starting out as a Makeup Artist isn’t the easiest. “I did give work away at first. It’s a humbling thing to do. I do still do free work for here and there, but I am at the point now where I can pick and choose.”
Licata also says she has to spend an extraordinary amount of time networking. “It’s about building those relationships on set and then reaching back out to those people. If you aren’t getting a lot of work you might need to go back out and work on building your portfolio. I find people will also remember people who are good at what they did and good at communicating, and above all, good at executing the job at hand.”
Education & Training
Licata highly recommends going to school. “I have a background in hair and I was really lucky that I went to vocational school while still in high school. I knew that I wanted to be a Makeup Artist for film when I was nine-years-old. When I was sixteen, I had the chance to sign up for cosmetology school in high school. I didn’t want to do hair, but I knew I wanted to do makeup. I did end up doing hair for the first ten years of my career, and then I did bridal makeup, and then did cosmetics at a retail store.”
Licata says to never ignore any aspect of the experience you might get in the real world. “The makeup counter was a crash course for knowing color theory, skin tone, and sanitation. All those skills are so important on set. Because I didn’t get a formal makeup education I got to do it in real life, and do it in a retail environment on people who came to our counter. Through networking at the job I met a woman and followed her as an Assistant, and I ended up on a Food Network show. It was a weirdly big leap, but it was a nice merging of things coming together for me.”
Licata believes it’s important to take an opportunity when it comes along. “It’s a lot about learning how to reach out to people and to make connections with people. It has taken me to where I am at now.“
Experience & Skills
Licata stresses really knowing your color theory as one of your most important skills to have down pat as a Makeup Artist. “That and skin tones,” she says. “Being really well-educated and well-rounded and knowing what products work, which ultimately takes some experimenting.”
Licata also says staying connected in peer groups is so important. “I’ve learned a lot by watching other people since moving to California. You can learn so much by watching and studying MakeUp Artists you look up to.
Licata says to never underestimate the power of personality of Makeup and Hair on set: “You have to have a thick skin for sure but be open to feedback, I guess however that might come. Some people on set are gentler with feedback than others. Knowing that the Makeup and Hair Department sets the tone for the talent right before they go on camera, whatever energy we bring in can set the tone for the rest of the day. You can even neutralize that negative energy that might come in. Our stuff absolutely has to stop at the door, and we go in and are a little beam of light and can bring happiness and joy to someone about to go on camera.”
When working in Makeup, work really does come first and Licata cautions to be aware of that. “Being here in LA I have a lot of my friends who work in the industry. I have gone three years without seeing a friend sometimes just because we are so busy with work. I see my friends when I see my friends. We circle back to each other when we can. As far as dating, forget it… I am very much willing to go wherever my job takes me.”
“Being a Makeup Artist means being a freelancer,” says Licata. “That means I have to hustle for a lot of the work that I do get. That comes from both the networking thing… so photoshoots, where someone will reach out to me, and sometimes I will reach out to them. I will throw my hat in the ring in other cities as well. Sometimes I get paid to travel at the drop of a hat. I can be on stuff for multiple days, or I can be on stuff where I walk in, do makeup, and walk right back out.”
Licata also says when you are not working you are still working. “When I am not on set I send a lot of emails, usually reaching out even when I’m not working. It’s like throwing out a wide net. It’s gotten me work so far.”
Payment as a freelance Assistant Makeup Artist can come in many ways. Licata has experienced payment via “a lot of 1099, net 30, net 7. Sometimes people pay you right there, but it’s rare.” According to Licata, “I’ve also had a job with a client where it has been even 90 days before payment. I also know going in when I accept a job from that company it’s going to be a little bit until I see a paycheck. Meanwhile, it’s hustling.”
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
Licata is not yet in the union, but Local 706 encompasses both Makeup and Hair work. There are several ways to join the union and the IATSE Local 706 lays out how to join up.
Licata stresses, above all else, setting out to get both an education and experience. “Also be open to opportunities, everywhere,” she says. “You never know where your next job could come from.”
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Learn color theory and learn how to match skin tones — that’s my big one!”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Being too overconfident in your abilities, especially for TV because the camera picks up so much stuff. Sometimes it looks really, really beautiful and sometimes you can tell when someone is not very experienced.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“Be willing to put in the hard work, and put in weird hours, and know you have to do it with a smile. We can really set the tone on a set. I just feel so grateful to have my job, and I’m usually a fairly happy person on set, and it doesn’t matter if it’s 3 am or 10 am. Go in and be positive and put in the hard work.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Jessica Licata was born and raised in Seattle, WA. Starting as a licensed cosmetologist at the age of 18, she began her career pursuing beauty in its many forms. First, as a Hairstylist and then her true passion, makeup. She has over 25 years of experience making people look and feel their best for the camera or for a special event.
Jessica is self-represented and takes clients on a limited basis. Inquire about her availability via email@example.com or 303.704.0768.