Industry Seminar Series: Nikoletta Skarlatos

It probably isn’t a huge secret that a makeup department head should be one of the hardest working people on a film set. Nikoletta Skarlatos knows this very well, but she’ll also tell you that lower ranking artists need to work just as hard – if not harder. In her seminar with CMS students and alumni, she explained that a makeup artist should strive to master every single aspect of their craft and seek to thoroughly understand filmmaking as a whole.

The more complex a shoot, the more important it is to be well rounded. A diverse skillset can turn a limited role player into a flexible asset for a makeup department. High budget shoots have countless moving parts, and it’s massively relieving for a department head to be able trust their artists with big tasks. When it comes to honing these skills, Skarlatos recommends doing whatever possible to learn from the best. Approaching an expert in the field may feel intimidating, but there’s really no better source for essential knowledge. 

You should never be afraid to reach out to another artist for guidance. Even if you don’t have a prior connection to an artist, you can help ensure positive experiences by always communicating in a respectful mannerGood manners will do you favors in every interaction you have on a set. As a department head, there are times you’ll need to assert yourself and ask to take a look through the camera lens. There are times you’ll need to advocate for the health and safety of your department members. These and other similar conversations can lead to friction if not handled with care. If handled properly, not only will they serve the picture and the wellbeing of the crew, they’ll endear you to those around you. Even if someone does something to offend you, it’s better to step outside for a moment and clear your head than to act out of frustration. 

Skarlatos also conveyed that successful department heads often need to do a staggering amount of research. This is especially true for period pieces, in which a single missed detail can take a viewer out of the experience and hamper the storyShe recalled a specific instance of having to remove a background actor from a scene on Free State of Jones because his facial hair was too modern. A tough decision, but worth it to support the vision. 

A tone of humility was consistent through the lecture. Skarlatos stressed that every artist has distinct strengths and weaknesses; everyone around you can teach you something. And even if you’re working on a lower wrung of the ladder than you’d like, every opportunity is valuable. Your paycheck might be smaller than some of the other people in the room, but if you know the project inside and out, you’ll be prepared to make an impact and move up. You should approach a low-key commercial shoot with the same intensity you’d bring to a big budget feature film. Just do your best work; you never know who might see it.

You can watch the whole lecture with Nikoletta Skarlatos here.