Makeup and Wardrobe for Video

Though many people equate makeup and wardrobe with high-budget Hollywood productions, even the most modest video can greatly benefit by simple, inexpensive attention in this area. Wardrobe and makeup (this includes hair, as well) are closely tied to the whole look and style of a piece. They help tell the story and offer important visual clues about the characters — whether they are actors, spokespersons or interview subjects. They can subtly but significantly enhance your presentation — or, if you haven’t done your homework — seriously undermine it.

Even if you intend to shoot your subjects in all their raw, unblemished uniqueness, disregarding these "vanity" concerns can turn your searingly honest piece into an unintentional comedy. Do you really want your audience distracted by a bald head that gleams like a light beacon, by patterns on shirts that take on an animated life of their own, or by clanky jewelry, jarring color schemes, or faces that look like floating heads? If not, then you’re going to have to devote some time to makeup and wardrobe.

Planning Ahead

Like every other aspect of making video, it’s a good idea to think about wardrobe and makeup well in advance of production. As you envision your completed video, ask yourself what overall look you’re striving for (for example, glamorous, upscale and sophisticated; or hip, young and wacky). Clothing style, colors, makeup and hair should all support this look. Susan Stroh, a Los Angeles based pro who over the years has worn many hats on industrials and documentaries (producer, director, script supervisor, writer), calls this "image positioning," a term that is borrowed from the world of corporate marketing.

Even if you’re using real people in your video, as opposed to actors, you’ll want to make sure they are dressed in a way that fits their role in the piece. You probably don’t want your CEO to be wearing jeans, or your auto mechanic in a suit and tie. But then again, your concept may call for exactly that. Just make sure you convey your vision to your subjects.

Joan Owens, a veteran Hollywood documentary producer, director and writer (TV’s "Hunt for Amazing Treasures" and "ZooLife with Jack Hanna") feels the goal of documentaries is to capture people as they usually are, in clothing that reflects the flavor of their specific world. "Sometimes people want to make a good impression for the camera," she notes, "and dress more elegantly than they normally would."

Joan encourages her subjects to wear appropriate clothing, and also makes sure they have wardrobe changes for all the scenes they’ll be in. For instance, while making a documentary about the recovery of a Civil War submarine, one of her subjects needed an outfit for an on-camera interview and a very different type of outfit for a scene on a fishing boat to re-create an event from the past — and both scenes were to be shot on the same day. Sometimes, though, you’ll want one of your performers to wear the same outfit throughout the shoot. Joan points out that Jack Hanna, as host of his wildlife series, always wore a safari jacket. It not only clearly reflected the theme of the series, but also made it easier to mix and match scenes in the editing room.

Special Considerations

One important wardrobe consideration is whether or not you’ll be shooting chroma-key scenes, to electronically "transport" your talent to a different set. If your chroma-key background is blue or green (sometimes called "shooting bluescreen" or "shooting greenscreen") you want to make sure your talent is not wearing the same color garment. Otherwise, there will be a gaping hole in the talent’s clothing, filled in electronically by the chroma-key set.

You should also scout your locations in terms of your overall wardrobe approach. You’ll want your talent to be dressed in colors that will harmonize with the set and not clash with it. And outfits should be thematically appropriate to the environment, too. For instance, if one of your locations is a rough-hewn hunting lodge, your talent will look better in a casual suede jacket than in a tailored business suit.

During the planning stage, also give some thought to the physical appearance of your on-screen personalities. If you’re aware of facial features that may present special problems — acne scars, closely set eyes, a very round face — you’ll want to make sure you’ve got items in your kit that can handle this. It doesn’t mean, though, that you should attempt to turn them into something they’re not.

Greg Braun, a Chicago-based Director of Photography who owns his business, G.B. Productions, specializes in high-end work for major corporations and has strong views on this subject. "I’m not trying to re-create the person in any way," he states emphatically. "But I do want to enhance their appearance — to make them look their best."

If you realize you’re going to be faced with makeup challenges that are beyond your abilities, it may be necessary to call in a professional. This may be especially true if you’re doing a fictional piece. Both makeup and wardrobe can be extremely demanding in fictional dramas, particularly stories set in a different era. In projects like this, specialists can be a big asset. This doesn’t have to be as expensive as it sounds, as long as you’re resourceful.

Producer-director David Phyfer, based in Geneva, IL., has a number of ideas about how to get assistance without spending a fortune. His company, Stage Fright Productions, makes educational and children’s videos on less than lavish budgets. David suggests that community businesses might help out. A local store might offer clothing, costumes or shoes in return for a scene set in their shop; a beauty salon might provide hair or makeup services on the same basis. You might also be able to get wardrobe items in return for guaranteeing product placement in the video, or an on-screen credit.

Wardrobe Dos and Don’ts

Once you’ve decided on your wardrobe approach, you’ll want to go over it with your talent, since in most cases they’ll be using their own clothing. Here are a few examples of what your talent should not wear:

  • fabrics that wrinkle easily, like linen

  • baggy clothes (they make people look heavier than they really are)

  • shiny or noisy jewelry; dangling earrings

  • silk (it rustles, causing sound problems, and shows sweat stains quickly)

  • hats, unless necessary for the identity of the character (they cast shadows)

  • fabrics with tight patterns, like checks, stripes, herring bone and hounds tooth (they create an unstable, vibrating, jumpy effect called a moir´ pattern)

  • clothes and shoes that display brand names or commercial logos

  • outfits in the latest style (fads will quickly date your video)

  • deeply saturated colors, especially red (video doesn’t handle them well and they tend to bleed when duplicated)

  • bright white or extremely dark colors

This last point deserves special attention. While it’s true that video cameras are able to deal with sharp contrasts in tone better than formerly, it’s still challenging to light someone wearing bright white or very dark clothes. White, for instance, picks up all the light, and to compensate, faces tend to be underexposed.

Joan Owens recounts an incident illustrating the problem with white. She was writing a documentary set in an exotic foreign locale, and the cameraman shot a great scene of the American ambassador riding a motorcycle through the city streets wearing a white tee-shirt — "a wonderful Marlon Brando image." But when the footage came back, everything was too dark, virtually unusable, to compensate for the white shirt.

Extremely dark colors are equally difficult, and sometimes create bizarre effects. Los Angeles producer-director Bob Silburg, who’s done hundreds of PSAs (Public Service Announcements) and short videos, ran into this problem with a PSA featuring Jack Lemmon. The subject matter was quite serious, so he’d asked his star to wear a dignified navy blue blazer. Unfortunately, the office they were shooting in had dark walls, and as a result, Jack Lemmon "…looked like a floating head without a body." Luckily, Bob was able to solve the problem by tweaking the backlighting.

For wardrobe colors, David Phyfer recommends pastels and pale shades — light blue shirts and gray jackets, for instance. "Avoid sharp contrasts between dark and light," he advises, "and pull your colors together as much as possible."

When it comes to fabrics, natural materials like wool and cotton shoot much better than synthetics. Susan Stroh, for one, pays close attention to fabrics and textures, believing they help convey the message of the video — tweed and corduroy for an earthy look, for example, and damask for a luxurious look. She feels simple clothes work best for women, and are the least distracting. She prepares a detailed wardrobe checklist for her talent, and instructs them to bring duplicates, or near duplicates, of shirts and blouses, in case of spills or stains.

For most productions, it’s a good idea to have talent bring three completely different outfits, including shoes and accessories, to provide ample choices. Men should bring a selection of ties, and women might be asked to bring some scarves.

On the Set

Most women in your cast will probably apply their own makeup and do their own hair. They should be encouraged to strive for a natural look, which works best for a video camera, unlike heavily exaggerated makeup, which works better for the stage. A good foundation is important, because it covers blemishes and evens out color. But if a woman is inexperienced in applying it, watch out for makeup lines around the eyes and jawline, where the foundation leaves off and the skin begins. You might also need to add some blush to emphasize her cheek bones or chin, or eyeliner to make her eyes look larger.

Though men need makeup, too, some are uncomfortable with the idea and even professional actors rarely apply their own. Greg Braun, who shoots many top executives, is careful to make sure none of their subordinates are nearby while he’s doing their makeup — the last thing they want is an audience. And he jokes a little to put them at ease. "This is what made Charles Bronson so handsome," he might say as he dabs on the foundation. He works fast, completing the job in two to three minutes. Bald heads — "chrome domes" — are a common challenge. He uses a fat makeup brush and loose powder to remove the shine. Greg carries three different shades of powder and three shades of foundation to cover the range in skin tones.

Once your talent is made up, dressed and ready to go, don’t forget to check them out in a color monitor before you shoot. You’re sure to catch things you hadn’t noticed with your naked eye — smudged mascara, a crooked collar, or a moir´ effect on a tie. But after you’ve made the necessary adjustments, don’t think your makeup and wardrobe duties are over. As you shoot, be alert for wrinkled shirts, bunched up jackets and faded lipstick. Fly-away hair and glint from buttons and eyeglasses are extremely common problems. And then, always, there is facial shine — oil and sweat brought on by the heat and tension. But before you add more makeup, blot off the moisture and oil with a tissue. Otherwise, you might get caking and streaks.

For fly-away hair, experts recommend spraying your hands with hair spray and lightly patting the hair, rather than spraying the hair directly, which can result in an unnatural "crispy" look. Shiny buttons and jewelry can be dealt with easily with dulling spray, although be cautious with costume jewelry, which could be damaged by it. Eyeglasses are a tougher problem. Dulling spray could ruin them, and there aren’t any other good substitutes. You might have to take care of the glint on glasses by lighting adjustments or re-positioning the talent.

Finally, pay close attention to continuity, making sure wardrobe and makeup and consistent from scene to scene. Carelessness here can give your video a sloppy look. If possible, have an assistant keep notes as you shoot. Is there always a hanky in that pocket? How is the scarf draped? Is there a lock of hair tucked behind the right ear?

Clearly, there’s a great deal to consider in terms of makeup and wardrobe, and some of it is quite minute. But each detail contributes to the overall quality of your production. Yes, your mother may have tried to convince you that beauty is only skin deep. But when you’re making videos, the visual appearance of your performers is hardly a superficial matter.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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