Liz Boston, make-up and hair designer

 7 November 2014

Liz is a freelance make-up and hair designer. She has worked on film and television productions in Northern Ireland, Ireland and in England, such as City of Ember, Killing Bono and Game of Thrones.

"You can’t have hair out of place if it wasn’t out of place in the previous shot." (Image: Alex Rumford)

What job do you do?

Practically everyone in the film and television industry works freelance. I provide make-up and hairdressing services to studios and film companies. Sometimes I manage crowd rooms. That’s the room where extras are prepared for going on set. It’s often a huge marquee with maybe 30 freelance hair and make-up people working away.

Some might have their own salons or have worked in salons but they are flexible enough to be able to work on films too.

I also work for the BBC and do commercials at times.

How did you get started?

I went to art college in Sheffield and I did a year of fine art. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but was passionately interested in beauty therapy so moved to Chesterfield to study it.

Once I qualified I came back and found myself modelling for a while, both in Sheffield and London.

You have to keep on top of things. You watch and learn from other people all the time.

I ended up working for two hotels and I set up their spas with very little experience. I knew beauty therapy and I thought, “I can set this up”. Then a friend of mine was about to leave her job at the BBC to move back down south and work for RTE. She suggested that I go for the position she was leaving.

That led to me freelancing at the BBC. I travelled down to Dublin as well to do the same for RTE. During this time I met lots of people and a training job came up at the BBC. You had to do three exams. If you failed one, that would be you off the course. I completed the course then went home and took a position as a trainee.

Then I started to climb the ladder. That’s it. A pure fluke!

You have to keep on top of things. You watch and learn from other people all the time. Northern Ireland Screen award bursaries to people who want to learn a new skill – they’ll send you on a course.

But really, more than anything else, you need to have a passion for the work. You can’t complain about the conditions you work in or the hours which can be long. You have to love the industry and the part you play in it.

What’s the best thing about your job?

You meet very interesting people, such as directors, producers and actors. Some are quite extravert – they’re highly intelligent and think outside of the box because they have to.

You have to be very good at understanding these individuals, give people space and help them feel comfortable with you. You can get to know them quite well as you spend a lot of time with them.

It can be well paid once you find your feet and get yourself established, but it takes a long time.

What’s the worst thing about your job?

The hours aren’t great. Once you get onto a film most make-up calls start around 6.30am or 7am. On Dracula I was ready to start at 5.15am. It’s very disciplined. There are no excuses and being late is not an option. If you are late, you won’t be asked back.

You can work what they call an 11 day week: five days on, one day off. It’s how the industry works.

It’s hard, especially if you have children because it can be all-consuming. It can have a big effect on your social life, making you feel like your life is on hold. You put in lots more hours than more regular jobs and it can use up all your energy.

How can I get into the industry?

Northern Ireland Screen can give a lot of support to someone wanting to get into this line of work. They want to expand the skill base here so they will send the right people on courses.

There isn’t the skill base in Northern Ireland, but the industry is growing and new studios are opening. Film companies are having to bring a lot of people up from the south or over from England because there aren’t the people here to support the industry.

Northern Ireland Screen can also recommend people to film companies here. They can help you find a job.

There’s a big gap in Northern Ireland for hairdressing skills.

Film companies are looking for hairdressers. There’s a big gap in Northern Ireland for hairdressing skills. The industry here need people who can learn about period styles and who can make sure an actor's hair stays the same throughout the film, so there’s continuity.

You can’t have hair out of place if it wasn’t out of place in the previous shot. Or if it falls down during a shot, it stays down. There’s a lot to learn about the industry.

There’s great demand for prosthetics now and there are opportunities in that specialism. Research what the skills are and study them really hard.

4 tips for working in hair and make-up

1. Do a hairdressing course. For two years or so you can learn your basic skills really well.

2. Contact Northern Ireland Screen. They can give a lot of help, both with training and with getting a foot in the door. They might even let you see what it’s like first. Try to experience a day on a set.

3. Get some experience in your craft before you move into film. Wait until you’re a little more mature.

4. Work with some local photographers. It’s a way to get used to working with lighting. Or work in a salon for a while.

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