Film and Theatre Hair Specialist

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Film and Theatre Hair Specialist


Have you ever wondered why television and movie stars always have perfect looking hair? Have you ever wondered why your hair does not look professionally blow-dried when you get out of bed in the morning? Well unless, you live with a personal hair stylist, let it be known that actors do in fact, have personal hair specialists constantly fixing and styling their lovely locks. Film and theater hair specialists create some of the trendiest hairstyles but also specialize in historical and artistic works as well.

Creating special hairstyles requires careful historical research. For example a baroque piece will require proper wigs and hairstyles for all of the characters. It would look a bit strange to see Brad Pitt with spiky hair in a film about Bach. Also, historical hairstyles were often intricate and involved specific ornaments. A hair specialist would know that in the renaissance period, women decorated their hair with precious stones, pearls, ribbons and even shimmering veils. They would also know how they braided their hair into crowns around the tops of the heads, or how most women dyed their hair light colors such as blonde and gold.

Accordingly, hair specialists must read and analyze the script and note all events that change each character's appearance, such as time periods, weather elements, injuries and sickness. Changes in a character's physical appearance are carefully recorded, as the hair specialist will have to duplicate the same look several times. For example if the protagonist has her hair in a ponytail in one shot, with three loose strands brushing the side of her face, the exact same style must be duplicated. This can be a challenge when working with people that have difficult, wild hair. Also, since films are shot out of sequence, they must be able to reproduce certain features, such as curls, which might only appear in specific scenes.

Due to the amount of down time in the film and theater industries, the hair specialists often act as confidants and friends. The relationship that develops between the stylist and the actor can be intimate, as the actors often feel relaxed and safe under the stylist's capable hands. Therefore, hair specialists must be sure they are patient, gentle and talkative people, who are excellent listeners when necessary.

Hair specialists need to build and maintain files of people's hair that they have worked on representing different nationalities, historical periods, and interesting or unusual looks. They also need to build a portfolio of photographs or videotapes of their best work to show potential employers. Hair specialists must supply their own equipment and hair supplies. A good, basic stylist set costs about $1,000, but experienced, successful artists often have equipment that cost up to $10,000.

Some hair specialists also work as make-up artists. Depending on the size and budget of a film, a hairstylist may also be hired to apply make-up to the actors. Finally, film and theater hair specialists are required to keep up to date with the latest hair fashion trends and technologies.
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  Interests and Skills  
Film and theater hair specialists should have excellent color vision, creativity and imagination. They must be able to accept criticism and suggestions from directors and producers. They must be personable because they spend a great deal of time with actors when styling their hair; therefore they must make sure that the people who are getting made-up are comfortable. Thus, self-confidence and an outgoing personality work well on stages and sets.

On feature films, they often work with a team of hair stylists therefore, they need to be able to bounce ideas off coworkers and formulate a common look. They should be flexible and be willing to work extremely long hours. Film and theater hair specialists should enjoy compiling information about character requirements and developing innovative approaches to their work.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Create character drawings or models based upon independent research to augment period production files
  • Examine sketches, photographs, and plaster models to obtain desired hair image depiction
  • Confer with stage or motion picture officials and performers to determine hairstyles and alterations
  • Study production information such as character, period settings and situations to determine hairstyle requirements
  • Design wigs, beards, extensions and other special hair additions
  • Create the illusion of a distorted or alien body by attaching hair and prostheses to a performer
  • Touch up actors' hair between scenes, takes and set breaks
  • A typical day for hair specialists in the film industry may involve standing for as many as 14 hours per day. However, there is a lot of down time spent watching and waiting. Hair specialists work under pressure to finish the job within a set period of time, as they must have the actors ready for the scheduled shoot times. Depending on the complexity of the hairstyle, sometimes it will take hours of work to achieve the desired effect.
  • Film and theater hair specialists will travel to location shoots for television or film, and work in all kinds of weather and terrain. They are required to supply their own supplies and the bags they carry to work sites can weigh up to 25 pounds. Most people think the job is so glamorous however, there is a lot of down time and high-stress situations.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Film and theater hair specialists work on a contract basis for employers in the film, stage and television industries, including film and video production companies, recording studios, television studios, theater companies, modeling agencies and dance and opera companies. They work with news broadcasters and actors in television, motion picture, stage and theater productions.
  • Until hair stylists establish contacts and build a reputation in the entertainment industry, they usually do other types of work as well. They may work in salons helping people prepare for special occasions such as weddings, graduations, photography sessions or Halloween. They may also teach in stylist school or in the fashion and modeling industry.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for film and theater hair specialists? They can move into make-up, wardrobe or other related fields. They can learn how to make wigs and create prosthetic limbs for work on fantasy and special effects films. They could also hair styling at hair styling or esthetician school.

Another area some choose to move into is sales, or working in retail hair styling, cutting hair and doing color and highlights. Some hair specialists may open up their own salon and work for individuals at weddings and other functions. Also, if they keep their skills broad and learn various styles and techniques and move into fashion and other commercial work.

  Educational Paths  
Although there is no direct academic route for becoming a film and theater hair specialist, it helps to have some formal training in hair styling. In fact, many start out as hairdressers in salons, working on their technique and trying to build up some experience. There are two ways of learning how to become a stylist: apprenticing or attending a private hair school training program, which will take about two years to complete. Both routes should provide on the job training, and the final step is to pass a licensing exam. Those choosing to attend a private college, should make sure to check out its credentials before handing over tuition money.

To get into film, theater or television styling, volunteer on movie sets and do as much networking as possible. A specialist may take an aspiring film and theater hair specialist on as an apprentice, to observe and learn how to work in the industry.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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