How I Became a Member of The Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Guild Local 706
For some context; The IATSE is the film & television workers union which spans all of North America and each jurisdiction is governed by its own local. Back in Toronto, I was a member of Local 873 where I had been working on major film & television productions for years.
Working on union television sets is a substantial step up from the non-union world when it comes to making a good living. The biggest differences have to do with health benefits and overtime penalties, and working overtime is basically synonymous with working in the film industry. Plus, all of the big studio shows are always union, while working non-union generally means that you're working on low budget, independent films.
Even though I was a member in Toronto, the specific requirements of Hollywood's Local 706 meant that none of my past film & television experience would mean anything. Basically, once I got to LA, I would have to start my career from scratch.
And, of course, LA is the city that people come to from all over the world trying to make their dreams come true, so the competition is plentiful. My colleagues in Toronto warned me about how hard it was going to be to get into 706, the local which all of Hollywood's makeup legends have been a part of.
As freaky as that idea was, I only really began to fathom it after I got here. I think that in order for me to wrap my head around a life change like this, I had to break it up step by step and only focus on what was in front of me. So, after I settled in to my new neighbourhood, got my morning runs going again and went out for some nice vegan lunches, it dawned on me that it was all just an expensive vacation and my "move" wasn't real if I couldn't find work to sustain myself.
As much as I wanted to celebrate being here, I was quickly overcome with fear and anxiety about my future. I needed to get a job. And, even if I did manage to land a few jobs, they likely wouldn't be well paying since I wouldn't be permitted to work on union shows, for years.
If you look at the Local 706 website, the most common way to become a member is through something called "60-60-60." The 60-60-60 way is to acquire 60 days of paid film or television work a year - in LA county, for three years over a five year period.
While there are other ways, and I called the union to learn about them, I was told that it would be nearly impossible to receive a special permit unless it was so busy that all of the available artists in the union were already working, and that's about one thousand artists.
But, if I did somehow get a special permit to work on a show, I would only need to work 30 union days in a one year period to become a member. Another way to acquire union days as a non-union member would be to work on a film that starts out non-union and then "flips" and goes union after you've been working on it.
Where to Begin
Before I came here I was let in on a website called Below the Line by one of my old bosses from Toronto that used to live in LA. The website gives you information about most film & television productions that are in prep around the world. I paid for the service and narrowed my search down to California film and started sending out hundreds of emails.
Most of them went unresponded to except for, ironically, one that came back from a producer who's name was wrongfully attached to a project.
He wanted to clear it up. He said, "Just so you know, I have nothing to do with that project, but I do have a couple of studio shows coming up in the new year and I'll keep you in mind."
I didn't take that to mean much but a week or two later I got a phone call while making my way back from one of my walks to the museum. He said, "Hey Scotia, it's Michael."
Michael, Michael, Michael...
"Mm-hm?" I said.
"You sent me an email a couple of weeks ago with your resume."
"Oh, yes, hi Michael!" How was I to know, who was who?
"I have a movie coming up in February. We need a straight makeup artist, but it also has a lot of special effects makeup, too." He said that as if it was going to deter me.
"I'm your girl!" I said. "I love that stuff."
"Okay, so it's going to be filming around LA..." (huge selling feature - since many artists here are used to having to travel for work).
"... it films for 30 days. It stars *** ***** (indecipherable)"
I was just going along at this point, even though I couldn't hear who he said. I was super excited either way. I actually thought he said Liam Neeson. Pretty cool.
He went on, "It's union,"
My heart sank. Here I was actually getting called about working on a movie, but I wouldn't be able to do it. I thought to tell him, "I'm sorry, I'm not in the union." But I thought better about it. I would just let it play out to see what would happen.
He ended the call by saying that he would send me the script. In his email I realized that the name he was saying over the phone was actually "Rainn Wilson," which, to me was a million times more exciting - no offense to Liam Neeson. I've always been an enormous Office fan. In fact, it's the only TV show I watch, and there isn't anyone in this industry that I would have been more excited to work with.
It felt especially serendipitous because while I was working on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds in Toronto, Rainn had apparently said publicly that he wanted to be on our show. I started joking with the team that I would come back to Toronto only if they put me up at the Shangri-La and I came back as Rainn Wilson's personal makeup artist. Now, a year later, there was the real possibility to work with him on my first show in LA.
I immediately got to reading the script, and I thoroughly enjoyed it (I didn't think I'd be so lucky to be considered for a project that I was actually interested in). I looked up the director's Vimeo and I loved his work. He had a unique style that reminded me of David Lynch in the sense that you could tell he wasn't trying to answer to anyone other than to his own vision. I wanted to work on this movie with him to help him bring his vision to life.
I started working on a visual pitch. I broke down the entire show by each character's look and expressed how I would portray them. I told the producers how I proposed to take on the show. I was specific. I got ahead of myself... I still didn't know how I would manage to get the show, given that it was union, but I kept working away anyway. If by some miracle I got it, it would give me the exact number of union days I needed.
I acted as if I had it already. I stopped applying to other jobs and told myself that I would work harder than anyone else for the position. I consulted with my friends back home who cheered me on and told me what to do. While I had been a department head before in Toronto, it was for smaller shows that didn't really entail any major prosthetics. In terms of the workload this show was going to be much bigger than anything I had ever done before.
I knew that I was going to need a strong team to pull it off, and since I didn't yet know anyone in town I started calling around to find artists that would be interested in joining me. I called up all of the FX houses in the city and toured some of them to figure out where I would source the prosthetics.
By the time I had my "interview" with the director it felt more like a makeup meeting, and then producer called me to officially offer me the job. I said, "Great! I'll take it. Just one little thing... I'm not in the union."
I was terrified that it would all end there and that I would be back to square one in terms of finding a job. But by the grace of God, by the time they wanted to hire me they still hadn't signed with the union.
They hired me early on in pre-production so that I could start facilitating all of the special effects. And, since I was attached to the project before it went union, I was "flipped" in. All I had to do was to make it to the end of the show, 30 days, to qualify for membership.
There was a moment when I was sitting at the office in the first production meeting, and I remember looking around the room and thinking to myself, wow, I really cannot believe that I bamboozled all of these people into thinking that I was the person to hire for this job.
We did it, though. We pulled off an excellent show, thanks to my team, and I became a member of 706 a few days ago.
Say yes first, and figure the rest out later?
I was betting on myself coming here. Amazing and miraculous things have happened to me throughout my career in Toronto, and to move to LA I had to be open to that happening again.