Melissa Street (aka @epicmakeup) is a 8 time NATAS Emmy Award winning, freelance makeup artist with over 30 years of experience in union and non-union film, television, commercial, print, corporate video and live events. Her past and present celebrity clients include: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carlos Santana, Michael Jordan, William H. Macy, Jeff Bridges, Christopher Reeve, and Cybil Sheppard to name a few. I’m so excited to share Melissa’s story with you all today, she’s such a wonderful generous spirit, and her advice for MUAs, especially those looking to break into film and TV is invaluable!
Tell us a bit about yourself and the work you are known for?
I went to Joe Blasco Makeup School in Los Angeles and graduated around the same time that I graduated High School in 1985/86. I also attended courses at The Institute of Studio Makeup and Elegance Academy, which were for Special FX and Beauty/Men’s Grooming for Film. I then secured an apprenticeship and worked for the next 3 years on and off with my mentor for free as continued education. That helped jumpstart my career and I have worked consistently for the past 30 years, taking off time to get married and have children.
Did you always know you wanted to be a makeup artist? How did your journey into makeup start?
I thought I wanted to be an actress or model. Nothing else interested me when I was younger and I did take the traditional courses like typing and home economics per my mom so that I could have something to “fall back on” in case my plan of acting or modeling didn’t work out. I could always be a secretary. I happened upon makeup when I my friend’s father, who was a latex mask maker at the time, suggested I attend makeup school for television and film. I looked into it, fell in love with it and begged my parents to signed school loan papers so I could attend. My makeup schooling was approximately $28,000, but I don’t regret paying that money. There was no internet or YouTube, and finding a veteran artist to teach you was very difficult back then, plus no social media to rely on.
As well as being an 8 x Emmy award winner and being an all round amazing MUA, you also have such an impressive kit set up. Tell us about your current set up, and your essentials for kit organizing?
I currently have 2 makeup and hair kits and a special effects kit. I learned hair styling along the way because freelance sometimes requires it. My smaller kit is used when I have jobs where I am working with 1 or 2 talent on a television commercial, press tour, interview or if I am a personal artist to an actor.
My large kit is used when I am Department Heading a film, working on a television series or working on a huge live event. I will bring that kit with me when have 5 to 10 or more talent in the chair. My larger kit also has more “character” type makeup in it than my smaller kit, which is mainly a beauty and men’s grooming kit. The large kit has much more vibrant colors in eyeshadow, blusher, lip products than my smaller kit because it is used to create a “character” that an actor is portraying.
It is essential for me to work clean and sanitary, so my kit is full of products that I can easily decant onto a palette when first applying or into a MYO Pod Case for touch ups in my set bag. I am loving the My Kit Co bags for their size and durability, as well as my PromaKit Bags for their organization qualities.
My smaller kit is the Relavel Extra Large case along with my Zuca Pro and my large kit is housed in a Burton Double-Decker Suitcase. My hair kit is in a Make Up For Ever wheelie duffle bag. It is also essential that I have tons of brushes with me for each talent so that I do not have to clean in between. Each talent must have a set of brushes that I keep in a labeled Make Up For Ever Envelope Pouch to avoid cross contamination and those brushes will be cleaned at the end of every day.
I also bring my own lighting kit to each job. I use The Makeup Light because it is incredible portable and provides with the pure daylight that lets me see the exact pigmentation of the product I am using so that I can match skin tone easily and accurately. I can also match the onset lighting to that in my makeup room so I do not have to make a ton of adjustments to the makeup on set.
What have been the biggest changes in film and television in terms of the makeup industry?
The biggest change for me has to be technology. Cameras, lenses and lighting are just so much more advanced than they use to be. You have to really have a light touch and know what type of product you have in your kit and how it will work on camera. I have a 10x mirror and test everything I use in my kit on myself first so that I know how it will work. I want to feel how it will feel on my actor or actress. I want to see the texture, pigmentation and the wearablity before I purchase new for my kit. The birth of 4k, 6k, and 8k technology is extremely unforgiving and heavy, heavy makeup doesn’t work well when it is just slapped on and unblended. Your skill level is shown when you are working digitally. You don’t want anyone to concentrate on seeing the “makeup.” In fact, the biggest compliment for me is when a Director or DP says that “they really didn’t notice the makeup,” because that means they are concentrating on the acting and the character and the makeup is not a distraction, it is just exactly how the character would look if it was real life!
Within your career what has been your biggest challenge and how have you overcome that?
My biggest challenge would have to be when I decided to relocate. I moved to Las Vegas in 1992 and had to completely rebuild my career there and then I decided to move back to Southern California in 2001 and had to rebuild my career again. Both times I knew it was going to be hard to carve out a place for myself amongst the artists that were working, but I also knew that I had solid skills and I was good at building trust and relationships. It took me a few years to establish a reputation, but word-of-mouth spreads when you are both a good makeup artist (and a bad one).
What’s the biggest difference working in Film and TV makeup compared to say working in fashion and advertising?
I have never worked in fashion or advertising, but I guess the biggest difference is that you are bringing the Director’s vision to life. The Director is the “story keeper” and it is imperative to remember that when you are working on a film or television show. The actor/actress will have some say as well, but the ultimate decision is from the Director. Then I have to keep the “continuity” every single day because film and television can be filmed out of sequence. We bring to life characters that have to be believable and time appropriate and we help the actor/actress get into that character. A larger film can bring a crew and cast together for very long periods of time and that is when you really start to develop the important relationships.
What products have stood the test of time in your pro kit that you continually repurchase/have to have in your store cupboard?
Senna Cosmetics and Temptu Airbrush are really the only two brands that are consistent in both of my kits. The products just work amazingly on film and television. Recently, I have been loving B3 Balm, Kosas, Glossier, Sian Richards of London and Cozzette. Those brands are working their way to becoming “staple” brands in both my kits too.
Tell us three products you’re currently loving and why?
1. Temptu AirPods – I get such a flawless finish and a quick application using this brand. Men’s Grooming is a breeze and I can get great coverage with this product. I carry pods in Foundation, Eyeshadow and Blush colors and the Temptu Air is totally compact and cordless so I can transport it to set and touch up easily.
2. Senna Cosmetics Earth, Wind and Fire Eyeshadow Palettes. They are just gorgeous powder shadows that can be used for beauty or for character makeups and look amazing on every skintone.
3. Skin Illustrator Matte Setting Spray – they came out with colors and not just clear spray. You can use them on the lightest to deepest of skin tones and they will create a matte finish that is perfect for camera. Plus, if you need to give your talent a little bit of a tan, then this spray can help do that instead of putting on so much bronzer.
How should someone go about getting experience and or assisting in film and TV makeup? What do you look for in your assistants?
I have a team of artists that are my employees now. Most of them contacted me and we ended up talking for a long period of time. I could tell that there was zero ego in all of them. There was respect and a strong hunger to learn. They were interesting people who were smart and had common sense. All of my artists started out as my apprentices and they accompanied me to every single set when I worked so that my clients could meet them, feel comfortable with them and trust them as well.
In my industry it is important to climb the ladder, but not skip a step. Each step up the ladder is an invaluable experience and sometimes that step needs to be repeated over and over again. It is not a contest. I have always said that Makeup Artistry is a Career and not a Job. You have to build a Career and it takes a long time to master it.
What advice would you give to makeup artists in all fields who want to grow and be successful?
To understand that you will NEVER be finished learning. The industry changes all the time. My business mentor taught me the value of working on my habits, attitude and skills daily and I have never forgotten that advice. If you have great habits and a great attitude and great Skills then developing a relationship with Directors, Actors and other crew will be easy. Being referred for a makeup job is the feeling and if you are an authentic artist who understands what it means to be a filmmaker and to work in the trenches along side the crew, if you never over promise and under deliver and if your actors trust you…then you will have this career for a lifetime.