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Make-up Trainee

Becoming a hair and make-up artist takes many years of practice and dedication, it all starts here with the junior role of make-up trainee.

My Fist Job in Film: How to become a makeup trainee

Practice makeup technique on a tailored course, build a portfolio of work for your website. Work on short and student films to demonstrate your skills.


Practice makeups in other areas of the industry, broadcast, fashion, theatre. Apply for trainee and junior positions in the Makeup Department.


It can take up to two years as a trainee to progress. When you have gained enough experience and at least 5 credits on features change your CV title and apply for makeup assistant positions.

What is the Makeup department?

The process of transforming actors, adding that palpable authenticity to their character allows us as an audience and the actors themselves to fully invest in a character. The work of the Makeup Department can be undetectable in one film, as they eradicate blemishes, create perfect pore-less skin, even out skin tone, hide tattoos and the signs of a late night away from the camera. On other productions their artistry can be unmistakable, MUAs create supernatural beings, monsters and replicate injuries that have us squirming in our seats.

The makeup team work tirelessly through the day, from the initial application in the early hours of the morning until the last touch-ups before the camera rolls on the last shot of the day. MUAs are rigorous in their work ethic and are permanently on standby either onset or in the makeup room/bus. Despite the long hours and workload, the Makeup Department can be one of the most enjoyable places to work; teamwork is the watchword as the department functions best when everyone is pitching in to get the job done. It’s not uncommon to see the makeup designer or supervisor putting on a wash or cleaning their brushes. The Makeup Department are responsible for:

  • Design and implementation of makeups for all on camera talent. Every man, woman and child who appear on camera will need a basic application of makeup or spot painting.

  • Special effects including prosthetics, latex and animatronics. Most makeup artists can create many types of SFX from ageing, burns, scars and lacerations out of their makeup bag if needed. SFX makeup, which includes prosthetics and animatronics, is incredibly specialised and will take many years to progress in. Some of the work can fall into the remit of the SFX Department rather than makeup depending on the project.  

  • Body makeup. A dedicated makeup artist will provide cover for any marks or tattoos and give the skin a beautiful finish that will register on camera.

  • Facial hair. Anything that falls on the face is the responsibility of makeup, sideburns, beards or stubble can all be created using false hair or makeup technique.

  • Contact lenses. The makeup designer will have these made for the production from specialist contact lens makers.   

  • Dental prosthetics. These are ordered before the production begins shooting and will require actors to have a cast and moulds made.

  • Hair and wigs. On large budget features, the Makeup and Hair Departments are separated. On more modest budget features and other areas of the industry, makeup artists will take responsibility for hair styling and wigs.   

how do i start a career as a make-up artist?

Makeup trainee positions can be found on feature films, high-end TV dramas, commercials and music videos, as long as the makeup supervisor has the budget, they will try and make space for a trainee or two. To be a makeup trainee you will need to have completed a makeup course and have a small amount of experience under your belt, senior members of the team will expect you to bring a basic kit with you on your first day. You shan’t be working with the principal cast, but if the department gets busy you can be asked to work in the crowd room, and for that, you will need your kit! You will also be expected to do the majority of running work, such as making the tea’s and coffees, loading the washing machine and pitching in when necessary. You are there to learn, so take notes, be observant and ask questions at the appropriate time. 

On low budget films, short films, student films, digital content, and fashion (catwalk and photography) new entrants may find work as makeup assistants. You will be called upon to work with the extra talent while assisting the MUAs and performing duties consistent with your level of experience. You will also be expected to style hair, once again this is all budgetary and dependent on your experience to date. Working as a trainee and assistant will require you to use common sense, your organisational abilities and display a level of diligence consistent with the rest of the department.

Many new entrants find themselves starting out with film runner jobs, with the aim of getting their foot on the ladder. If you find out you don't wish to pursue a career in the AD department and make-up is your thing, make time to seek out members of the make-up department - during the downtime - to ask their advice. Runner jobs are a great way into the industry and an excellent opportunity to find out what it's really like on a professional set but making your choice about your career path is vital early on. 


  • Makeup designer: Hired in pre-production the makeup designer will break down the script and takes some time to get to know the characters. If the film is set in an explicit decade, they will research the period and the type of makeup used. Art, Costume and Makeup Departments all have a degree of crossover and are required to implement a shared vision when it comes to style, colour and texture. The makeup designer collaborates closely with these departments to complete the overall look for a character. While the production designer will have a colour schemes and textures they would like the Costume Department to incorporate, the costume designer may wish to discuss how the look of the character is reflected in their makeup. As well as being a skilled makeup artist, the designer will be a skilled negotiator and collaborator.

  • Makeup supervisor: Working closely with the makeup designer as their right-hand man/woman. The makeup supervisor takes responsibility for budget, hiring of staff, schedule, ordering consumables and products, and running the department from an administrative point of view.

  • Makeup artist(s): MUAs will be working under the direction of the designer, being thoroughly briefed and prepped before hitting the makeup room/trailer on the first day of shooting. MUAs will also be working on set, accompanying the actor they have been assigned to or dealing with the extra talent.  

  • Personal makeup artists: Often high profile actors and actresses will have a longstanding relationship with a makeup artist, who understands not only their makeup requirements but the process the actor goes through when working on a film. Actors spend their careers having people fuss over their faces; working with one dedicated MUA can be a preferred option. 

  • Assistant makeup artist(s): Once you are working as a makeup assistant you will be let loose with your makeup bag and brushes on crowd scenes, and assist the MUAs in more complicated processes. Again, expect to work for three to five years as an assistant before making yourself available as a full makeup artist on big budget features.

Dependant on the production, specialist makeup artists are brought in such as:

  • Special effects makeup artist: Anything involving prosthetics or animatronics will come into the remit of the special effects MUA, and the SFX team. This is a very exact job that will require years of training. If you are looking to specialise in SFX, there are courses you can take while working as a MUA, to help progress your career. The best course of action would be to find an SFX makeup artists to train under, as you will need hands on experience.

  • Body makeup artist: There are occasions when actors or models need to reveal their bodies, tattoos, veins, stretch marks, age spots or general skin discolourations may need to be corrected. Specialised body makeup artist will come in for the day; their work includes body painting also.  

  • Wig and hair specialist/stylists (if there isn’t a separate department). If you're not working on a big budget feature, you are going to be styling hair.  If working on a period drama, the designer may decide to bring in a hair specialist to work with the wigs. 

  • ‘Daily’ MUAs are brought in for crowd scenes or days with a tight shooting schedule. They usually bring their own kit and will either be allocated a workstation in the makeup room or be working out in the holding area.


The more time you spend practising makeup application, the more proficient you'll become. Alongside your portfolio (make sure to document your work on every project, when working as a trainee get permission from the supervisor first) you will also be creating a network as your career progresses, your network is the best way to generate future work.

You can expect to be working for two years as a trainee, during which time you can decide if you want to specialise or keep it general. Make sure you work in as many mediums as your time will allow, not limiting yourself to one sector of the industry at this stage means you will have more opportunities for employment, and more opportunity to build connections and experience. Your career path, if you decide to keep it general can have you working your way from trainee to assistant, up to make up artist and if you continue to work in film supervisor and designer. 

To aid your progression, you can always take courses to further your learning, such as wig making, airbrushing or SFX to name but a few. You can find short courses run by the makeup schools or NASMAH. If run through the private schools they can be costly, so make sure you do your research first. Adding to your skill set is going to be vital as supervisors and designers want to see you have a good all round knowledge and can with whatever is thrown at you.


Makeup artists are in demand all over the industry and can be found working on:

  • Film: all budgets

  • TV: drama, light entertainment, studio news, childrens tv, some factual

  • Corporate films

  • Music videos

  • Commercials

  • Digital content

There is also a demand for MUAs in other industries such as:

  • Fashion: photographic and runway

  • Advertising: photographic

  • Theatre

  • Bridal

  • Personal makeup artist


Makeup trainees can find themselves in the thick of the action relatively quickly. A typical day can see the trainee:

Setting up the workstations with appropriate equipment and supplies.

Each MUA will set up their own work space on the bus (if on location) or in the makeup room, as a trainee you can make sure that the surface has been wiped down and the workstation is supplied with all the relevant consumables.

Turning round work stations.

Making sure all the consumables (cotton wool, cotton buds, mascara wands) stay stocked on the table and brushes swapped out and cleaned if so asked. MUAs often like to look after their own brushes. If the department is pushed, ask if you can help.

Pay close attention to continuity.

You may be called upon to take pictures, log them digitally or print out hard copies to put in each actors file. You will find makeup artists are fastidious when it comes to continuity note taking, from the principal cast down to the extras. MUAs know a re-shoot or pick up shot can mean replicating the makeup an actor could have worn months ago.  Familiarising yourself with the continuity system when you arrive in the department, you will be handed a printer and asked to set it up somewhere practical. Keep an eye on paper levels and always make sure the department has additional ink cartridges.

Charging batteries.

Each MUA will be using a digital camera for continuing throughout the day. Make a charging station for the camera batteries, and make sure they go on charge each night. If the power gets turned off in the bus/trailer, then ask to set up the charging station in the production office or where ever power remains available.

Maintain the stock levels.

Always keep the assistants apprised of what makeup stock you are low on.


If time is tight, you may be called upon to cleanse and moisturise an actor’s face and neck ready for makeup application. This will vary on each production as the senior makeup artist will set a precedent for the rest of the department. Some will expect actors to arrive with their face prepared for makeup application; others will commit to preparing the skin in the makeup chair. Make sure always to wash your hands pre and post cleanse.

Help stock and clean out set bags.

Set chairs and makeup bags of the standby makeup artists who will perform ‘touch ups’ during the day. Some makeup artist like to take stock themselves, so ask if they would like to you help.

General running duties for the department.

This can be putting the kettle on for tea/coffee to keeping the talent comfortable. MUAs will be hard at work from the early hours of the morning, knowing how to make good coffee is vital - do not plunge that cafetiere too soon! Actors can be in makeup for some time (especially if intricate makeup or wigs are applied) so offer refreshments when you are free to do so, it helps to write down how everyone takes their tea/coffee to save on asking each time. Running duties will require you to use some initiative, for example, if the bus is hotter than the sun see if you can find a fan; if its glacial, ask production for a heater.

Information gathering.

Ask extra talent if they have any skin conditions or sensitivities that the makeup artist should know about, then let the makeup artist know before the talent takes the chair or goes under the brush.

Assisting the makeup artists.

Passing brushes, cosmetic or assisting with the application of prosthetics. This is an ideal time to learn. More experienced members of the team will mostly likely answer questions, but use your judgement, and if the procedure is very complex ask after the actor has left.

Applying makeups.

Much of the work of the trainee is going to be dependent on budgets and staffing levels. If the supervisor is under pressure, you may be called upon to assist in the crowd/extra holding area where you can get some hands-on time with a variety of different faces. This is why you will need some experience of working with makeup application before you take the role of a trainee.

Putting on a wash.

The Makeup Department go through face clothes and terry towels at a rate of knots, so expect to be putting on a wash and the tumble dryer throughout the day.


You may be called upon to help keep track of the scenes that have been filmed and deal with the end of day department paperwork. Make sure everyone has their call sheets the night before, and a copy of the sides first thing in the morning.


There are many ways into the film industry, but one of the best paths of working on features in the Makeup Department is through the trainee position. If you've worked in broadcast, you're going to need to re-start at a low level to build up your drama experience. To be considered for trainee or assistant positions, either via Skillset's Trainee Finder, makeup school or your own work, you're going to need a strong portfolio and CV filled with relevant experience. To gain this initial experience you can work on short films, student productions such as the NFTS and micro-budget features. Other related areas of opportunity include TV, fashion, personal styling or bridal makeup. Be prepared for a few years of self-investment as a trainee. Investing in yourself not only means taking the time to build up your contacts, skills and body of work - often for low pay. It also means learning how to conduct yourself and present yourself as a professional. 


Taking a makeup course at one of the film and tv makeup schools provides the foundation of your CV, from then on you're going to need to pepper your CV with relevant work experience.  Alongside the opportunities we list here on MFJF on the collaborations board, look to our resources section to see the other service providers for collaborations. University websites have noticeboards or areas of their site that are dedicated to working together or swaps. If you are living in a town with a university that has an MA film course, keep checking to see if they are crewing up or needed any extra help.  

Although we do recommend collaborations, do your research first to ascertain whose going to be working on the production. Student films will be backed by the university, so you know there is a budget and insurance has been considered. If you're working on a short film with people you don’t know, make sure the check out the producer's track record and back catalogue of work; you want to know they are following best industry practice and will be running the production properly. This means the production will be insured, catering (or at least some form of feeding the crew) has been devised, there is a schedule that is realistic and location, transport and travel plans are all considered. If it’s a friend you’re helping out then obviously you will be less rigorous in assessing these things, everyone likes helping out their friends if they can, even if it means long hours and a sandwich for supper.  

The likelihood is you will be working for expenses on many short films (make sure that is the case always talk money before you agree), so although you will not be financially remunerated you need to seek recompense in other ways. Be certain you can come away from the production with what you need; which is an experience of working on a properly run shoot, experience of makeup application and hairstyling, working with others who are in the industry, make contacts and add a credit to your CV. Although inadvisable to turn down an opportunity if your gut feeling is you are not going to get these things, (you will know within the first five minutes) you could decide to say thanks, but no thanks, and look for the next opportunity.


When working on your CV check it through (or ask someone else to) to see it reads well and is correctly formatted. You can use the CV advice to create a CV and covering letter. You can check your CV against our example CVs to see it includes all the relevant information. You're going to want to keep your CV short and to the point, as many supervisors will be ‘scanning’ rather than reading, cut out the chaff and try and keep it down to one page.

Finding work and applying for positions can be a full-time job in itself. Some people will get lucky, finding work almost instantaneously. Some may have put in the hours on short films while they are studying, creating themselves a network to use when they graduate. Some people might just be in the right place at the right time. In whatever situation you find yourself, the resounding advice from professionals working in the film industry is be persistent; persistent and relentless in the pursuit of your chosen career. Keep applying for positions; which can mean contacting professionals and asking for advice, or seeing if they will allow you to come and help for a day or two. Work experience is at the discretion of the makeup designer; there's no harm in asking.

Website and Portfolio

When applying for jobs make a website that you can upload your best work onto, create a feature of the link in your CV. Make sure your site can load pictures quickly, potential employers often have little time to spare. If it's looking a little light on images you can add other work such as sketching or life drawing into the mix. You can also collaborate with photographers, models and stylists on ‘testings’. These are collaborations where the key roles on a photoshoot (photographer, model, stylist, makeup artist) come together for free to create work for their portfolios.


From the practical application of makeup to life working as an MUA, there is a wealth of information available to further your knowledge of makeup and the craft. Do your research on makeup designers, SFX and areas of makeup application you are unfamiliar with. Supervisors and designers are going to want to know you are furthering your development and technique. Demonstrating your ability to be proactive is hugely beneficial, although supportive there will be no hand-holding in the Makeup Department as there simply isn’t the time. There are a host of blogs, books and internet resources available to gain further insight into the work of the MUA, and although nothing is going to beat practical application they give you a feel for life on set.  So hit the library and keep searching on Google, here is a selection to get you started: 


The network you build while working on shorts and other productions will enable you to branch out to look for work elsewhere in the industry. If you have worked with other assistants or trainees ask them to keep you in mind for when they are unavailable to work, referrals to members of the makeup team are a great way to get your foot in the door. Keep in contact with everyone you meet, send the odd email, social media is an excellent way to stay in touch. Use your time to create opportunities, don’t wait for them to come to you.

Personality and Attitude

Looking for work as a makeup artist in the film industry is going to be hard work, opportunities are going to be scarce, so you need to develop a thick skin - especially in those first few years. The can-do, positive attitude required in the makeup trailer should be embraced when searching for opportunities also. Fortunately, being a makeup artist is a very versatile skill and you will be able to fit into many areas in the creative industries.  While gaining experience outside makeup school and looking for work you're going to need an income. If this can be derived from another area (bridal, photographic, run-way), that's all for the better. If not don’t worry, short films are usually shot over a weekend so you can still pay the bills and keep gaining credits, and more importantly experience and contacts. If you have external funding or have saved up before hand (a wise move as finding consistently paying work can be sketchy in the first few years) take as many opportunities as you can and keep in contact with everyone you meet - you don’t know where it will lead you.

When you find you're not getting the roles you want, keep in mind the advice on being relentless and go back to your CV; think about what you can do to make it better, what experience could you gain in another capacity to start ticking boxes for potential employers. Reflect on the reasons your CV is not being chosen for roles; it could be a lack of experience, the way your CV is presented or if you’re sending in generic CVs and covering letters, you should give yourself the best possible chance by tailoring each one to each job role or production. Keep working on your portfolio and skills, remember each engagement and new experience is adding value to your resume.   

Although the industry is incredibly flexible when it comes to changing career if you’re applying for positions in another area of the industry you will need to be clear about why you want to make the change and give examples of what you have been doing to facilitate the move.



Looking for some advice or have a question on careers in this area? Then please get in touch, we are here to help!


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The makeup team need to have a majority of the talent in and out of makeup before breakfast, which means an early start and very often a late finish. The atmosphere in the makeup trailer/bus can feel relaxed and easygoing at times, but on other occasions, the working environment can be charged with a fevered rush of adrenaline and too many people. If the days are particularly busy trainees can be sent to work in the crowd room so you can get some hands-on time with your brushes.

While working in the makeup room you will be coming into contact with high profile members of the cast. It’s highly unlikely you will be called up to work with them, but their presence will be a feature of your day so don’t get shy. Always engage with members of the cast and try not to stare, remember you’re all there to do a job and most people, cast included, like to make the working environment as pleasant as possible. Undoubtedly you will also come up against personalities who will only speak to the principal members of the makeup team and barely acknowledge your offer of refreshment, make your peace with it and busy yourself with the next task on your list.

Having a sociable, calm and friendly personality is a must for working in makeup, not only is this the best way to present yourself professionally you need to embody the type of person other MUAs wish to have around. How you present yourself, and the manner in which you handle the working environment can be make or break for many new entrants. While working closely with colleagues and other crew members for the duration of the shoot, try to extricate yourself from any politics that may affect the department. The expression ‘if you can’t think of anything nice to say then don’t say it at all’ is a great mantra to have as a trainee in the film industry, professionalism is everything, especially when your career is in its infancy.

Makeup artists are cool under pressure, especially when they conduct their final checks. This is a quality that all trainees should try to emulate while on set, panic or any hint of flapping is not acceptable. Having a large crew wait on you can be a daunting experience, but so can working on a reshoot because you didn’t have the courage to give yourself more time to fix a problem. MUAs will have a good understanding of lighting, camera angles and how that affects their work. They will check the monitor repeatedly while on set without overcrowding the director or DoP.  


Makeup supervisors hire trainees with or without academic qualifications, though many experienced supervisors value the education students are given at one of the dedicated makeup schools. What matters most is a willingness to do the work, a love for the artistry, a desire to progress and learn how to work in the Makeup Department. Supervisors will want to see you can handle yourself within a working environment, can take direction from senior members of staff, that you are proactive, friendly and vigilant. They will be looking to take on trainees with some experience under their belt such as:

  • Working in broadcast.

  • Worked on bridal or personal makeup.

  • Have taken a makeup courses specifically tailored to film and television.

  • Have gained experience through short or student films.

  • Fashion shows/photographic.

You will be required to have experience of styling hair as well as makeup experience. Only the big budget features will separate the Hair and Makeup Departments, in most other cases you will be expected to work across both. Although you may not need experience of cutting or colouring hair it can be a useful addition to your skillset.


A makeup course specifically designed for working in film and television is recognised by many designers as ‘makeup school’, and it's what they will be looking for on your CV. Many experienced MUAs have set up their own makeup schools with the aim of producing set ready graduates who have gained experience of the working environment via the course in addition to the skills and technique of makeup application.  

Many of the courses can be costly (some in excess of £10,000) so do your research before you commit, ask yourself questions such as:

  • Who are the teachers; are they working in the industry or/and up to date with the latest techniques applied in film and TV?

  • What equipment is provided within the cost of the course?

  • Will they teach you about set etiquette and give you experience of working in a professional environment?

  • How many students are there per class?

  • Is the course connected to any professional institutions or makeup vendors?

  • Do you feel this course will give you the best value for money?

  • Who will you be working on? Many of the makeup schools ask students to work on each other, so you may only get half a day of hands on practice. Look for schools that bring in models for you to work on. Not ‘models’ in the fashion sense but a variety of faces, young, old, men, women, children, different ethnicity and complexion.


Most MUAs have a personal preference when laying out their workstation; you will find the same cosmetics, but everyone has their preferred brands. MUAs will make sure their kit is in date and well stocked, brushes are clean, and they have everything they need when they start a job. MUAs charge a ‘kit rate’ or a ‘box rate’ per week which allows them to cover the cost of the makeup they are using on the actors. If the designer has a few products they like using, and wish to implement over the course of the job, they will have factored this into the makeup budget and distribute accordingly.

If working on a digital format, the designer may favour one type of makeup over another such as implementing an airbrushing technique for example. Some MUA will work directly from their kit while others prefer laying it out, making it easier to see what they have at their disposal. You will find that cleanliness is close to Godliness in the Makeup Department, and it would be wise to observe this practice from the off. On a workstation you should find:

  • Clean cotton terry towels. MUAs will lay these out, so brushes and products don’t touch the table.

  • Hand sanitisers (99.9% Alcohol) and hand wipes.

  • Water spray.

  • Bottled water (incase needed for eye, mouth or face).

  • Grooming equipment for men.

  • Nail care equipment.

  • Consumables such as cotton pads, cotton buds and cosmetic cotton buds (with the paddle end), disposable mascara wands.

  • Selection of makeup brushes (clean) such as foundation brush, blending brush, lip brush, eyeliner brush and a selection of eyeshadow brushes.

  • Sunblock. MUAs take their responsibility to protect the actor's skin very seriously, if working on location they will make sure to apply sunblock.

  • Makeup palettes with which to decant cosmetics. Nothing is ever taken directly from the bottle or lipstick. Palette knives are used to move cosmetics onto a palette or artists paper to avoid brush contamination. Eyebrow pencils, lip liners are sharpened after use.

  • Cosmetics. You will most likely find a selection of primers, foundations, tinted moisturiser, under eye concealers, powder, blushers, bronzers, eye shadows, eyeliner, eyebrow pencils, mascara, lipsticks, lip liners.

  • Hair products and a selection of hair brushes, pins and grips if the department is also responsible for hair styling.


When you’re starting out, don’t feel you need to include expensive items to begin with. Build on your kit, always keep an eye on the sell by dates and ask other MUAs what they recommend. If you've taken a makeup course, you will have been building on your kit for a year or so, and in most cases, any makeup that is left after the shoot will be distributed amongst the most junior staff. When you arrive as a trainee the designer will expect to bring the basics with you, do ask before you start the job but you should be aiming to have:

  • Foundation (s)

  • A light moisturiser.

  • Consumables such as: wet wipes, tissues, cotton pads. cotton buds, disposable mascara wands.

  • Tweezers, scissors and a pencil sharpener.

  • Fake eyelashes.

  • Powder puff and sponges.

  • Powder medium/dark and dark.

  • Selection of basic cosmetics (eyeshadows, lip liners, lipstick etc).

Hair Products:

  • GHD straighteners: they are expensive but are the best and last a long time so are value for money.  

  • Hair dryer.  

  • Dry wax: Aveda control paste - a little goes a long way but is quite pricey.

  • Tail comb.

  • Hairspray.

  • Round brush 1 large and 1 small.

  • Flat brush paddle or vent brush.

  • Wet gel.

  • Sticky wax.

  • Dry shampoo.

  • Bobby pins: black, brown and blonde as matt as possible.


Call sheets.

When you get your call sheet read it carefully, it will provide you with valuable information. If you are shooting on location make sure to look at the weather forecast and pack clothes accordingly, the makeup team will be required to perform their tasks in any weather conditions, rain or shine. Another important aspect of a thorough call sheet reading is to give yourself a heads up on the events of the day, and what the makeup artists and assistants will be up against.

Be enthusiastic.

It may sound obvious, but you do need to act as though you want to be there. Don’t spend time messing about with your phone, in fact, make sure you turn it off when you enter the department and check it at lunch time if you must. Your enthusiasm and willingness to get stuck in and do the work can land you your next job.

Early mornings.

When you arrive at the trailer/bus in the morning knock on the door softly to announce your arrival, some makeup artists might already be working on actors who are in the process of waking up due to a 5 am call time. Don’t barge in loudly, and don’t forget to see who has had breakfast, offer to fetch some for the MUAs who won’t get a chance to leave.

Be considerate when entering the department.

If you’re working on location makeup trailers/buses can often have a little bounce to them, be mindful of this as you enter. 

Work across many mediums.

Don’t rule out working in different mediums while you're working as a trainee, fashion, television or theatre for example. Some MUAs site working on the chorus line in the theatre a great training ground for speed and accuracy. The average application of makeup taking between 8 - 10 minutes!

Never touch the designer/supervisors kit

As a general rule of thumb never touch anyone's kit without asking first. No matter how friendly they may be, no matter how tight on time - always ask.

What to do when you are let loose in the crowd room.

If you are asked to work on a crowd scene, keep in mind how the makeup artists work and try and emulate their behaviour, especially how to approach people before putting a brush to their face. It may feel like you are acting initially but finding a member of the team whose style of working you like, drawing from it, and making it your own is what the learning process is all about.

Practice! Practice! Practice!

Parents, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, anyone. Each face is unique and will present new challenges.

Learn how to deal with people who don't like to be touched.

Lots of people are sensitive to the way they look. When you have the opportunity watch and listen to how makeup artists deal with these situations. They are never dismissive, they listen, empathise and will do everything they can to make someone feel relaxed and comfortable while carrying out their job. Even if an actor has worked on numerous films, their reaction may surprise you.

Never stare at the talent.

If you're lucky enough to be working on a big budget production as a trainee, it’s likely you will be working with some big name actors. Over the course of your training, you will quickly be able to asses how to engage with crew and cast, as part of the Makeup Department, the cast will be a regular feature of your day. Some actors may prefer only to talk with the designer; others will be very easy going, after all, you are all there to do a job.


  • Final checks. When the director is happy that everything is in place, the 1st AD will call for final checks, which give hair, makeup and wardrobe a chance to perform any final tweaks or touch-ups needed before the camera turns over. Most likely the makeup artist will check the monitor before they signal they are happy.

  • ‘Flashing!’. If you are on set and asked to record continuity, you will most likely use a flash if working in a studio. If this is the case state clearly you are about to take a picture ‘flashing’ just so those in your vicinity can hear, and the actor isn’t taken off guard. Ideally, you want to be taking shots out the way of the main action, but it never hurts to be cautious.

  • Touch ups. After the initial makeup application, MUA’s will be onset to touch up the makeup before the camera starts to roll.

  • Crossing. MUA’s and indeed any other member of crew can be heard calling this if they are crossing in front of camera.

  • HoD. Head of Department.

  • Out of your kit. Meaning whatever you have brought with you. For example, MUA’s can be called upon to apply special effects such as bumps, bruises or scratches at the last minute, being asked to ‘work out of your kit’ is a common phrase, with most MUA’s having a little something with them just in case this situation occurs.

  • Working off the mirror. MUA’s will not only be checking their work directly but will be paying close attention to how the makeup looks in the mirror.

  • Bring it back to life. If the makeup is looking dull or tired, there can be a call to ‘bring the makeup back to life’.

  • Spot painting. Meaning exactly what you may think. If you are going for a natural look (where the actor has clear skin) or working with men or children, it can be easier to spot paint out the imperfections rather than apply full makeup.

  • Muddy. A term used to express how the makeup may look, muddy meaning unclean and not blended particularly well. It can also be in reference to dirtying up fingernails, making someone look grubby.

  • 'The makeup' can refer to the MUA or the actual makeup being applied, don’t be surprised if you hear and MUA being referred to as ‘the makeup’ in conversation. 

  • The natural look. Very rarely is the natural look ever natural. MUA’s will be working to accentuate the talents healthy glow.


What are the hours of work?

The hours you work vary day to day, job to job. Hair and makeup can clock up some of the longest hours on set, so be prepared for this element of your working life. Expect to work a 12-14 hour day minimum when working in the Makeup Department; there are always going to be things to get done before home time so that you can do it all again the next day.

What is the set etiquette for trainees?

It can be hard for any new entrant to the industry to stay focused on a film set; there is so much going on it’s hard not to pass comment. However, a trainee who is going on set to assist the standby artist should be vigilant at all times. Things to think of when working on set are:

  • Have you bought everything the makeup artists will need if you have offered to take on that responsibility?

  • Be aware of what is around you. Make sure you are standing somewhere that isn’t in the way of the other departments or a light. 

  • Stay focused on the makeup artists and observe how they conduct themselves. They may appear cool and relaxed, but they are watching everything that is going on. While you are working don’t get into a conversation and forget why you are there. Always stay in the MUA's eye line, you may be needed to go and fetch something from base.

  • On set trainees are often there to observe, so do just that, don’t start texting or taking pictures on your phone, it will not send out a good message.

  • Be prepared. If you are placed on set, for whatever reason, be prepared. That can mean taking your kit, you are after all part of the makeup department.  

Which industry body represents the Makeup Department?

The Cine Guilds for the UK film industry offer courses and provide valuable information to new entrants and veterans alike. Please be aware of the work they carry out and the services they offer. The Hair and Makeup Departments is represented by the National Association of Screen Makeup Artists and Hairdressers (NAMASH). 

What should I take with me on my first day?

Your makeup kit and a notebook that will fit in your back pocket, plus a pen or two to make notes. Trainees can be given many tasks at the beginning of the day; you don’t want to forget who asked you to do what. 

What sort of salary will I be looking at?

BECTU’s current makeup rate card list makeup trainees earning between £375 for a 40 hour work week and £759 for a 70 hour work week. This is working on a production with a budget of £40m +. Please look at the website for more information on the different pay grades for production budgets.

Although work may be sporadic and the majority of the film industry is self-employed, the role of the trainee/runner/assistant is not currently recognised by HMRC as a ‘grade’ for self-employment. If you’re working on features films for weeks or months, the production will pay you weekly using the PAYE pay structure, meaning they will deduct your tax and national insurance at source, providing you with a P45 and P60 at the end of the engagement. However, if you’re just starting out and looking for work, potentially on dailies, this presents complications. 

Fortunately, HMRC is aware of the infrequency of work in the film and television industry especially in the entry level roles, so they use a seven-day rule. If an engagement is less than seven days, PAYE does not need to be applied, but the production company will still deduct your national insurance. This is to stop you being over taxed or emergency taxed, which could leave you with a very small pay packet indeed. Make sure you are meticulous with your record keeping, filing all documentation such as your P45 and P60’s, you may need them for reference at the end of the tax year. 

If you have been in the film industry for 12 months and worked for multiple companies on short term contracts you can be eligible to apply to HMRC for the Lorimer or LP10 Letter. The Lorimer Letter is a Letter of Authority that is valid for three years and can be applied to engagements of 10 days or less. To apply for this, you have to demonstrate that you are in business on your own account, so that individual short-term engagements which would otherwise be treated as employment are seen as part of an overall business set-up. So, even though you are not one the approved ‘grades’ listed by HMRC you will be invoicing the production for the full sum - but you will need to generate your own invoicing, file your own tax return as self-employed and be responsible for paying your Class 2 and Class 4 National Insurance

Please make sure to set up your invoicing structure in a way that will enable you to be consistent with your numbering. For example, if you're John Smith you may decide to structure your invoicing as JS01. Try not to go changing your formats too much, when it comes to the end of the tax year (April 5th), you’re going to want to keep things as simple as possible.

Do I need my own transport?

Having your own vehicle can be vital, especially if you're working at one of the major studios or at a remote location. Being independent from anyone else's travel arrangements can be especially important as each department can wrap at separate times.

Can I cross over from TV into drama?

Yes you can. If you have been working in news or providing makeups for contributors in factual or entertainment you will find drama works very differently, so despite being well versed in makeup application you may have to start again at a junior level to learn the etiquette an rules. On the plus side however, most designers or supervisors will acknowledge your experience and will have you working with talent sooner rather than later.

thank you's ...

My Fist Job in Film would like to thank Sue Sian, Sandra Exelby, Linda A. Morton and Hannah Wing for sharing their experience and giving up their time to offer advice for this guide. 

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