The Basics: Makeup for Filmmakers - Melodie
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The Basics: Makeup for Filmmakers

On one of my many ventures into the YouTube vortex I came across this video of actor Adam DeVine (of Workaholics fame) on CONAN. Adam reveals that his ‘macho-man’ father is very unsupportive of his acting career because he has to wear makeup. Not even landing a movie with the legendary Robert De Niro could sway his opinion.

“I bet he doesn’t wear makeup!”. But, alas! Not even Big Bob De Niro is above this convention of filmmaking.

This is a perfect segue to discuss another element of mise-en-scéne and a great continuation from my previous post on the principles of lighting, as lighting and makeup work hand in hand together.

We know that lighting is a key part of creating a professional look in video productions. However, the light required for the camera to effectively capture everything can cause your skin to appear pale and achromatic. It can also highlight blemishes such as wrinkles or acne, and nobody wants that!

This is where makeup comes in. Makeup can be used to even out any distortions, highlight different features, cover up blemishes and counteract the pallid effects on skin tone. There are three main categories for makeup for filmmakers:


Skin is naturally oily and can reflect lights. Basic makeup reduces shine and works great in conjunction with lighting.


Used to cover or reduce blemishes and imperfections in the skin that may appear more prominent on camera.


A spectrum of styles that can be used to alter the appearance of an actor/character to fit within a narrative.

Whether your production is narrative or non-narrative based, makeup will play a key role in the finished product. On a basic level makeup is there to help the person on camera to appear ‘normal/natural’.

For a non-narrative production this is key as it will give the production a more professional and appealing look. Meaning your audience will take it more seriously and engage more with your content.

It will also make you look good! It’s only natural to want look your best, right Hey, it might be vain but no one wants to look bad on camera!

Here are some tutorials to achieve the basic ‘No Makeup’ look for a realistic appearance on camera.

Categories of Makeup In Narrative Productions

Character makeup in narrative productions can be used to exhibit tension or changes in characters throughout a film’s progression. Makeup in narrative films can also work symbiotically with costuming, though for now we will just focus on makeup.

The three major functions of makeup in narrative film are:


Makeup can be used to create scenic realism, particularly in period pieces to help the production appear more authentic and immersive. Cultural values are often tied into aesthetics so it is important to achieve realism when depicting certain people, places or times.

Character Highlights/ Differentials

Accentuating features of certain characters or creating a unique look to highlight personality traits. These can range from subtle cosmetics to extreme prosthetics. i.e., The Joker from Batman has a signature look of heavy-handed, dismal clown makeup, used to highlight his deranged personality.

Narrative Markers

The changes (or lack thereof) to a character’s makeup can indicate development of character and story throughout a film. The prosthesis used on Arnie’s face in ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ is a famous example indicating the extreme danger and turmoil the characters have been through in the film.

Applying great makeup is of course an art form in itself.

If it’s within your budget, hiring a professional makeup artist will be a worthwhile investment. Though, if you’re on a budget it can also be done yourself. If you’re unsure of what will work best, just ask. Most department stores and chemists will have specialist staff in their makeup section who can help guide you.

So, in this post we’ve covered the fundamentals of basic makeup, but as always we encourage you to use this as a springboard to get creative and aim high.

Here’s a video of the Top 10 Make-Up Transformations of All Time for some inspiration on your journey. Enjoy!

Craig Hodges

Craig's a musical all-rounder with more than seven years working in record labels & music publishing. He brings a discerning ear to Melodie's A&R team.