Manchester Movies


We walked outside into the sunshine for one Monty Python-type shot. Two chairs had been placed on the road, with the Mersey in the background. Jill was clutching face powder and powder puff, ready to dab any forehead which dared to perspire.

Filming On the Waterfront on the Liverpool dockside

I'd always thought pan-cake make-up was used extensively in television, but there was none to be seen that morning. "That's used a lot in the theatre," Julie told me. "We only use it to get certain finishes. If we wanted a matt finish we'd use pancake - for a clown for example.

"I worked on Gulliver's Travels. If you imagine that period, with the pompadour wigs and pale skins which they powdered a lot. We used pancake to get that 'look'."

The shot completed and back in the portacabin, Jill began cutting up the back of Terry's bald-cap, so she could remove it. It was a bizarre scene, as the scissors appeared to be disappearing into his apparently bald head. It was also a painful process, because the spirit gum had stuck to the hairs on the back of Terry's neck.

On a dummy head, on the bench, there was another bald-cap, to which Julie had added a thick wax forehead. Beside it, a shiny black wig and a photograph of Herman Munster. All in readiness for a Frankenstein's monster sketch later in the day. Drama and special effects are much more demanding than interview or news programmes and research is often necessary, as Julie points out.

"If a drama's set in a particular period, then you need the make-up and hairstyles which actually match that period. For example, 1930's and 1940's make-up differs drastically from today's. Sometimes you can dress the artist's hair in the particular style but, nowadays people streak their hair and they wouldn't have highlighted it like that in the past. We use a lot of wigs for drama."

It takes years of training and experience on the job, before you can reach BBC standard. Julie Vincent has had a lot of training, even to do a normal, straight make-up on a person.

"You might think that a news presenter can do her own make-up, but we could look at it and think 'well, her eyes aren't defined correctly, she's put the shader in the wrong place, her lip line's not even..."

If you're shooting a production that has a budget, then you might consider hiring an expert like Julie. Until then, there's no reason why, as a beginner, you shouldn't experiment and have plenty of fun in the process.

Like so many things in television, make-up is at it's best when it goes unnoticed by the viewer. As Julie says: "The hardest thing is to make somebody look natural when they've really got quite a lot of makeup on."


  • Ordinary make-up from department stores and chemists is quite adequate. Ask whether they have any leaflets on the correct application of it.
  • Even in the most basic video, kill shine with a little face powder on a powder puff and keep it handy, ready to dab perspiring faces between takes.
  • Use a colour corrector to hide any spots or dark shadows under the eyes. A light base is enough in many situations.
  • Be especially careful when using make-up on men. If possible, use a colour monitor to check that your subject looks completely natural in close-up on camera.
  • If you're shooting a period drama, old photographs or paintings are a good starting point. Wigs can be hired from theatrical costumiers.
  • Enhance your efforts by imaginative use of lighting, camera angles and locations.

Thanks to the BBC and the professionals who helped with this article. It appeared in the April 1990 issue of the UK magazine Video Maker. All rights reserved.