Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Careers Day

 Last week I met a friend who was considering a new teaching post. 'Sounds good,' I said. 'Well, not so much,' she pulled a face, 'It's hardly prestigious work and the pay isn't great.' I was puzzled, it sounded like a fantastic job to me, and we both started wondering what my own criteria for taking work might be.

           1. Is it indoors?

Seems simple enough, most people when thinking about the kind of career they might like, consider whether they are indoor or outdoor people, even if they do so unconsciously. For some, office work would be too confining while others do not have the call for the wild. Some people perceive the elements as a necessary evil of the job. But should they find themselves say, policing a neighbourhood, or supervising Year Two's lunch break, they will, at least, wear a coat when it is raining, which will be absent when it is sunny. That seems like common sense, some employers even provide appropriate work clothing. 

            They will not be swimming off the coast of Brighton in January wearing a full-length woollen bathing suit and matching cap, all day. They will sensibly refrain from donning overcoats in a heat wave and camisoles in winter fields when the moon is full. This is because they listened to their career advisor and didn't become actors. Of course, part of the wonder of the job is the different challenges that each day brings, but shivering through a thunderstorm wearing nothing but a silk shift loses whatever charm it might once have had very quickly. Since the locations are often charmless themselves (see previous posts on disused mental hospitals, tunnels, caves, quarries) there is much to be said for working in a purpose built studio , particularly on period dramas. Which brings me to:

            2. Will I have to wear anything extremely uncomfortable for a long time?

Astronauts probably have to dress up in heavy gear when repairing the hulls of spaceships, and fire workers, while looking obviously very attractive in addition to being well-protected, may get quite sweaty running up and down ladders in the middle of a blazing inferno. But on the whole, if you were told you weren't going to breathe much or eat solid food when wearing your uniform, you might think twice before accepting the position. 

            The costumes on one film I was in were so enormous that we were unable to sit down and were supplied with leaning boards. Corsets pulled so tight that you regularly faint, sleeves that give you track marks, wigs and hats that cut off the circulation in your scalp. All beautifully made and incredibly expensive and everyone is very sorry that the skintight tweed habit that a child has peed on under the Tunisian sun, cannot be dry cleaned even though you are wearing it for another six months.

            Filming days are not short, lights are quite hot. It is something to bear in mind when offered the job. But not, perhaps, as important as:

            3. Will I get to wear anything at all?

Self-explanatory this one. Also, remember the indoors/outdoors question and consider the terrain. Naked, usually in close proximity to another naked body of some description, in public, might be enough joy for one day. Add a gravel pit or a haystack to the list and you could succumb to feelings of negativity. I hesitate to mention bodily fluids (exchange thereof) and I refuse to give them their own heading, lets call it 3a, but surely they must figure slightly in the 'how much do I want this job' equation.

            Yes, it’s all fairly sordid in this part of the career forum. Moving swiftly on .

            4. Will I be working more than a sixty-hour week?

Doctors and nurses often work these hours, emergency services don't look at their watches and clock off as they go into overtime, prime ministers and presidents age visibly by the day with the sheer amount of work. But these are important, life-saving jobs, not involving mascara and tear sticks and magic pants. Well, apart from the politicians anyway.

            The standard union contract for an actor in the UK requires that they have at least eleven hours off between filming days and at least one day a week for a rest day, or three days over a fortnight. You might be working for eleven days at a time, fourteen hours a day including travel, in a corset.

            Something to think about,  when you consider:

            5. Will I be well paid?

            Ah, the nub. As we are all aware, some actors are exceptionally well paid; they park their jets in the garage and wear new clothes every day. Good for them. They are paid that much by businessmen earning similar quantities and purely based on the 'return'. Stop earning for the suits and those stars will be selling exercise videos before you can say 'The Power of Now'.

            And what of the average actor? What remuneration might they expect for an honest day's work? Well, the actor's union, Equity, just tried to get the weekly salary for all West End actors, raised to a minimum of £500. They didn't quite succeed. In the rest of the country, including the smaller London theatres, the average is about £350. Filming can pay better, with the starting rate at about £100-150 a day.  Voice-overs and advertisements can supplement/supply an actor's income. 

When my friend and I had finished my list, she looked thoughtful. ‘Your bar is set pretty low,’ she said, ‘I don’t think our positions are comparable’. But she took her job. 


Wednesday, 15 July 2009


The Make-Up Department holds a special place in the heart of an actor. Like the Costume Department, they work with you to create the character, but whereas with the costume designer much of the creative work is done before the production starts, the make-up designer will be with you in the morning before most of the crew are even awake, and you will spend many vulnerable hours in the shelter of their location van. That is not to say that the folk in Costume work any less hard, but actors depend on the make-up artist for more than just their skill with a powder brush. Apart from anything else, you simply spend so much time together that the hours must fulfill the basic criteria for a long-term friendship.

There are several different sorts of make-up that will usually be required for any character you play:

1. The basic, looking-presentable, natural make-up that your character will sport for most of the show. The standards for this may vary on either side of the Atlantic. In the US, full-slap is the very least you might expect, whereas in the UK, the natural look is taken a bit more literally (spend too much time on a long-running British show and you'll be lucky if you get your hair brushed). In any case, as you get older, achieving this look becomes both more challenging and less necessary. No one wants mom to look like she's tried too hard. Except during...

2. The glamourous make-up moment. This will be the evening party that your character will go to, either as a Cinderella suddenly transformed or as the sex-bomb who made a bit of an effort. The stage directions will read 'She looks amazing. All traces of her life as a welder are gone'. Here, the make-up artist will have a chance to get out that colour palette languishing in the bottom of the drawer. The make-up call will be even longer than usual and much discussion will have centered on the hairstyle in the preceding weeks.

3. The accident make-up. This will be for when your character gets hit by a bicycle/frying-pan/lamppost. Anything larger or more animated (car/dragon/ flying saucer) and you are probably getting into special effects territory (involving at least one different department). Cutting your finger opening the invitation to the ball, will mean a small amount of blood, perhaps a sliver of a silicone cut, maybe even some pretty little stitches specially prepared and stuck on, if you used a carving knife to open the envelope. Make-up artists always have a good amount of blood in their set bags, though there is often a minor argument between the Make-up and Costume Departments about just how washable the blood actually is.

4. Body make-up. Any nudity, tattoos, scars and birthmarks will require some body make-up. This is an intimate part of the job and, depending on the placement of the tattoo and the nature of the scene, often goes beyond the call of duty for the make-up artist. Some are more squeamish than others, though the conscientious make-up artist who applied full body paint to a young actor, with whom I was about to spend a day in bed, alerted me to his unusual rash by her assiduous attentions to his groin area. It took many hours for the results of the skin test I requested to be returned marked 'non-contagious'. Oh, how we actors laughed as we rolled about together later.

Most make-up artists also dress the hair of the actors, unless there are some particularly challenging wigs on a period film. In contemporary settings, it is common for producers to want their lead actors to sport a healthy head of glossy locks. Since these are often in short supply, the make-up department will use toupees, hairpieces, scalp paint, curling irons, straightening tongs, blow-driers and many cans of hairspray to reproduce the look. With long hair, this can take some time. If your hair resembles a sheep's bottom when you wake up in the morning, like say...mine, then your make-up call will be ungodly. That anyone in the make-up department continues to speak to you, let alone hold your hand while your weep globules of painstakingly applied mascara in their make-up chair at lunchtime, is a testament to their much-tried patience.

You certainly wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of a make-up artist, mostly because you won't look good for the rest of the film, but also because make-up artists are incredibly strong. Years of lugging three separate sacks full of make-up up the stairs of stately homes and down into the tunnels of abandoned lunatic asylums, just in case that third set of rollers/spare moustache/extra pointed-ears are needed, has given them the arms of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his Conan days. Yet, somehow they always remain elegant. Of course.