Looking Good: Tips for the Director
There are those who say that Richard Nixon lost the 1960 presidential election because of his five o'clock shadow. For want of a little pancake concealer and a lot of translucent powder, Mr. Nixon appeared in his third and final televised debate with John F. Kennedy as a pale, perspiring and unshaven pretender. JFK, on the other hand, commanded the TV screen with his healthy tan, youthful hair and calm demeanor. Many pundits have said that Richard Nixon actually won the debates on points, but lost them (and the election) on style and appearance. We're talking make-up and wardrobe here.
Apparently, Mr. Nixon's advisors didn't know what movie directors learned earlier in the last century: Cameras are not always kind to their subjects. Unless you make some informed adjustments, the lens will often tell a true story about a person's age, health, social status, state of mind and general demeanor. Luckily, movie directors, stage directors, political advisors and thespians for two thousand years have developed amazing techniques to enhance or emphasize, conceal or reveal, fix, finish or faux the way we look.
Whether you're shooting a CEO for a promotional video or a best friend's wedding, your job is to make your subject look good, and there's more to this game than just lighting and exposure.
Paint 'Em Up
Let's start with make-up. Women are generally more knowledgeable about make-up than men, at least as far as everyday life is concerned. In front of a camera, though, you'll want to be able to provide a little extra advice. Since most women will prefer to apply their own make-up, your responsibility is to come prepared to enhance or refine what they've already done. Along with your camera equipment, you'll want to include a make-up kit (see the Sidebar). This can be as simple as a choice of powders, eyebrow pencils, hairspray, combs and brushes or as extensive as the professional on-set artist who lugs a suitcase arsenal of cosmetics to every shoot.
For men, your job involves hiding blemishes, evening out skin tones and killing shine. Most men do not have a lot of experience with this, so we have to explain a few things to them now that the shoot is about to begin.
The reason many people need foundation or base is to give the viewer a cleaner, clearer picture of the contours of the face without distractions, which the camera often magnifies. Early television cameras were notorious for making slight wrinkles look like saddlebags under the eyes, a minor mole on the forehead like a map of New Zealand and a drop of perspiration a tidal wave. There are two basic kinds of stage make-up: greasepaint (cream) or pancake. Pancake comes in a wide variety of skin tones and is less likely to "melt" under hot stage lighting or warm sunshine. You apply pancake with a sponge to create a matte finish, which generally doesn't require additional powder. It cannot be added to like greasepaint. If you're covering more than a freckled face, say a couple of freckled arms, freckled legs and a freckled chest; pancake is your best option. It's cheaper and quicker than cream.
On the other hand, a cream (greasepaint) foundation is more flexible and adaptable. It comes in an endless array of colors and skin tones and can be applied right from the bottle (or tube) to cover a tiny blemish or a whole face. It's purpose is to make an entire area of skin the same color and it provides a base for other make-up to be blended into.
Keep Your Powder Dry
The next ingredient is powder, which you'll use to set cream make-up. The cream and powder work together to establish a dry looking matte finish that will absorb moisture and skin oils that can shine in almost any light. A colorless translucent powder is the most versatile for keeping the shine off a bald head or upper lip in bright sunshine or under hot studio lights.
While women have the option of perfecting their make-up with blush, rouge, lipstick, liner, mascara and eyeliner in endless combinations of colors and effects, men typically don't. Just getting them to sit still for a light brush of powder along the ridge of the nose and forehead might be problematic. You should make every attempt to make the talent feel as comfortable as possible for their make-up session, but you need to do it with your lights on and with the talent in position. It might help settle any make-up anxiety by explaining that even Rambo, Arnold and Hulk Hogan wear cosmetics on camera. It's just required, that's all. And you might remind them that nearly 25% of American men now use some form of cosmetic on a daily basis. Or you could explain how Nixon's "black beard" cost him the 1960 election. In the end, confidently assure them that they will look better with just a dab of powder. It'll make them look good, which, in turn, will make you look good.
Dress For Success
You don't want your talent wearing Rambo-type costumes or Nixon-era neckties, however. For both men and women, the basic rule is simple: No extreme white and no extreme black. White reflects too much light, which can affect every other nearby color. The light can bloom, causing automatic aperture settings to a lower f-stop, thus making the surrounding area harder to compensate for. Black is the opposite: it absorbs light and can rob surrounding objects of their true hues and values. Reds, dark browns, dark blues are colors that generally don't work well on camera for the same reason. Bright yellows, magentas and some greens are like white in that they tend to flare, dominate and distract. Skin color also factors in here as well: dark-skinned folks wearing very light colored clothing and fair-skinned folks wearing dark clothing are both difficult shooting situations.
Feeling faddish & funky? Have you looked at your old yearbook pictures lately? 50's bowties and beehives, 60's headbands and bell-bottoms and 80's parachute pants and ruffles can really date a picture. Try to remind your talent of this and have them keep the trendy clothes to a minimum, unless this is what the shoot is all about.
So what's left? Everything else under the rainbow, of course, but especially neutral grays, tans, soft peaches, soft greens, light blues and so on. Make sure that your talent doesn't get too carried away with fabric patterns, either. Large stripes, checks, plaids and polka dots tend to distract the viewer, while smaller patterns, such as herringbones, can dance or shimmer on screen. By the way, you should check all of this – the make-up, the clothing, the lighting – through a television monitor before shooting. Your LCD viewfinder will not show you how your subject and background will appear on a home television screen, so it's important to "trust, but verify," as Nixon used to say.
Trust your audio instincts as well by asking your talent to limit the amount of jewelry they wear. Bangles and bracelets and cannonball cufflinks can play havoc with the audio portion of your production. Large hats and sunglasses are no-nos for obvious reasons unless, of course, your program is about large hats and sunglasses, in which case you'll need to re-think your lighting and make-up accordingly.
Unless they have experience in front of a camera, your talent will probably be a little apprehensive. They will want to know what to wear on their bodies and what to wear on their faces. Just tell them not to worry, bring a couple of wardrobe changes in the appropriate color schemes and their usual beautiful mug and you'll do the rest. After all, Richard Nixon's advisors learned enough about pancake and powder to win the 1968 presidential election.
Bud Elliott is an Emmy award winning broadcaster with more than 35 years in the news gathering field as anchor, reporter, photographer, producer and news director.
Sidebar: Make-Up Brands and Manufacturers
Here's a non-inclusive list of some camera-centric brands you might see, but drug store brands will work just fine:
- M-A-C — Very popular among TV anchors
- Ben Nye –Well-known among film and
- Tuttle –Top of the line and expensive
- RCMA — Research Council of Make-Up
Sidebar: Basic Make-Up Kit
- Cold Cream
- Applicators: latex sponges, lip brush, powder puff, fluffy powder brush, cotton swabs
- Base (pancake and greasepaint) 1 pale, 1-natural, 1-tan, 1-dark
- Concealer: scar, blemish or under-eye cover-up
- Powder: translucent, in either loose or cake
- Highlights: a few shades lighter than your base
- Blush: various colors
- Lip Color: as few or as many as you wish
- Lip Gloss: (optional)
- Eye Liner: pencils, liquid, or cake
- Make-Up Remover, Combs and Brushes
- Aprons and Drape Cloths
- Facial Tissues and Paper Towels
Sidebar: Colors to Avoid
- Blue – Too dark for most video work.
- White – reflects too much light.
- Black – it absorbs light.
- Green – Not a good choice, especially when chromakeying is involved.
- Red Pattern – Unless you like dot crawl patterns,
avoid like the plague.