Grace Phillips is a consummate professional. She has been a makeup artist in and around Los Angeles for years. Today she chopped it up with me about being self-employed in a field she loves. She’s worked on student films, indie film production, award shows, glamour photo shoots and many other projects. You may have seen Grace’s work on a red carpet or as one of her clients announces a Grammy or Oscar winner.
PBI: Now I already know the answers to some of these questions since we’ve worked before, but I want to get them in your own words. With that, tell me about your business and what you do.
GRACE: Well, I’m a freelance makeup artist in Los Angeles working in the entertainment industry which includes film, TV, magazines, special effects, red carpet events, and stuff like that.
PBI: And how long have you worked in the industry?
GRACE: It’s been over ten years now, closer to eleven.
PBI: How did you get started? What was the path that led you to your trade and starting your own business?
GRACE: Well, I’ve always been art school kid so as a kid, art was my forte. I didn’t know how I would turn it into a career and make money out of it. I ended up going to design school to be a graphic designer and I hated it. I hated being behind a computer desk all day, you know designing websites or updating and doing boring computer work. I ended up taking an interest in special effects makeup when shows like CSI and Buffy The Vampire Slayer came out and the really extensive effects make up or CGI generated FX weren’t required. This was more subtle and realistic makeup work. I went to school for special effects makeup and I discovered my niche and what I enjoyed doing. It was actually a career path that I hadn’t considered until I saw other people doing it. That’s when it took off from there.
PBI: Cool. And what school did you go to?
GRACE: I went to a school in Hollywood that’s been around forever called Elegance International. They were around when I was looking for a place to take courses that was reputable and accredited. I did research online and when I went to check them out it just seemed like a good fit.
PBI: So you got your first gigs after school?
GRACE: Actually during and after school I would work here and there. Sometimes the instructors would have projects that they hired on for and would take one or two students as assistants. I went on my first few jobs that way. One of my instructors ended up kind of being my mentor when he learned that I was interested in special effects makeup because he came to the school from the special effects side of makeup work. He took me under his wing and showed me his method of working and helped me get jobs. I worked with him for about two years and it was really great exposure to the industry and practical, real time experience on the set. Learning set etiquette and hygiene, etc. Not really things that school alone can teach you.
PBI: OK, I hate to sound ignorant but give me the quick version of definitions of set etiquette and hygiene.
GRACE: Set etiquette basically amounts to understanding and contributing to the objective of the employer. Being on time, being where you’re supposed to be on the set when you’re supposed to be there. Say if the crew is shooting a part, you don’t wander off to use your cell phone and you’re not there if suddenly they need you to touch up an actor between takes or what have you. Hygiene refers to ensuring you keep your supplies and products separate between the actors or models. You don’t use the same eye applicator between two people, for instance. If one person had an eye infection or irritation you could pass it on to another person by not practicing set hygiene. In a nutshell.
PBI: So your first makeup gig was what?
GRACE: My very first makeup job was at a small theater house in L.A that was doing a children’s play. There were a few actors playing a bunch of different roles so they’d dart backstage for quick changes and quick makeup application to create the next character they were portraying. There was no pay for this but it was fast paced and really fun to do. That was my first ever make up job.
PBI: What about your most high profile or most memorable job so far?
GRACE: Hmmmm.. well I got connected with Entertainment Weekly about seven years ago. Some cool jobs have come from that relationship. Our connection just happened to come from a random job posting on one of the sites used for hiring crew people. They were looking for people, at that time, to do makeup because of all the press that Comic Con was starting to get. Music, film and TV companies were beginning to acknowledge Comic Con as a major promotion event and they were hosting red carpets and launch announcements and such at Comic Con. So there was demand for makeup artists and I got hired on then. I’ve kept the relationship going by keeping in touch and seven years later we still do business. And Comic Con is one of my favorite events of the year because I’m a giant fan of comic books and some movie and TV characters. To bring together things I really enjoy under one roof that way is always really fun for me.
PBI: Now I have a different direction to take in terms of entrepreneurship. I know that a challenge for people who are self-employed is the discipline needed to manage your income and expenses when you don’t have routine deductions taken out for retirement and taxes and such. Was it hard for you to get that discipline ingrained when you went into business for yourself?
GRACE: Very much so. It’s always the hardest to be consistent in terms of bring self-employed because there’s no guaranteed paycheck. There’s no guaranteed work. I was kind of lucky because my dad was self-employed throughout my childhood and I got to see firsthand how he had to be diligent about saving and controlling expenses. He was an architect and I saw how he had to prepare for rainy days and really plan for vacations and things we needed. You have to be careful when you have a good month and not go off the deep end spending or doing something for immediate fun or happiness because the next month work could be slow. Being self-employed you kind of live in this limbo where you plan for this month and next month at once. Put money away for savings and for retirement. Luckily, being a makeup artist you can work as long as you want. It’s not physical work so you can work past retirement age if you want to. But you want it to be voluntary!! If you’re in the union there are options to have insurance and retirement when you are a member and current on dues.
PBI: Now how do you advertise? GRACE: Most of my work is typically through reputation, word of mouth and repeat customers. I do a little bit of work promotion through the web by posting pics of my work. But mostly the target market for people who promote primarily through Facebook and Pinterest are not industry clients.
PBI: So in your profession, there has to be some grueling days
GRACE: They can be. There are a lot of early call times where we have to be on the set a loooooong time prepping before they ever start shooting. The amount of work can vary. There may be a full film’s cast of people to do makeup for and retouch throughout the day or you could have just a few. Depends on the size of the production. You may or may not have an assistant, depending on the budget. It can be exhausting to have 14-16 hour days, but if you love your job you’ll never work a day in your life.
I enjoy these discussions with Black folks that are doing their thing for real. This was cool learning about Grace and her power to maintain for over ten years. You may never see Grace’s story in the media but she represents thousands of unsung positive Black folks that contribute to this world and I’m proud to know her.
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